The RIFT Revolution.

12 04 2011

Kick. Punch. It's all in the mind.RIFT is dynamic. (I like to start out with controversial statements, you know? To get your attention and set the mood.) I know that’s about as heated a statement as I can make right now, short of asserting that it’s better than WoW or even revolutionary (as Trion’s reps suggest in this CNN article). The reason I’m stating that it is dynamic is that I keep reading very cursory or blanket challenges that it is not. So, let’s first examine dynamic.

If you examine the definition of dynamic, you may be a bit surprised to find that none of it’s accepted definitions involve the word “unpredictable.” It’s a synonym for energetic.  But people aren’t looking for it just to be hectic and chaotic when they think dynamic; it’s as if what they really want is for it to be stochastic.

The rift events are the computer science-y definition of dynamic (see the fifth bullet in its definition) in that they spawn randomly (at preset locations) and have clear impact on the game environment. If you do not deal with them, you lose quest areas and, in some cases, quest hubs, even forming effective blockages against cities so you cannot enter or exit them without helping to put the attack down. They are predictable because computer programs are deterministic. Even if Trion’s running a quantum computer in their warehouse to make the rifts truly random, each is still planned-out content which, after a few exposures, each of us will know how to mitigate. If each rift were truly random, spawning random creature types, new creature-types, even dynamically created creature-types, what we would end up with is bad game design; something impossible to balance. When you impose balance on a game event, you are imposing structure on it; structure begets predictability. Is this still dynamic? Yes. Because there are degrees of dynamic.

Dynamic in this case means that areas on the game map are not always the same way. WoW does this too, sure, with phasing (a change I very much liked and I’m sure we’ll see it again in other games). Is RIFT revolutionary?  To be truly revolutionary, you’ve got to break some serious ground. Here is a short-list of things I feel were actually revolutionary in video games (in no particular order):

  • The first video game ever. What game it was is still in dispute.
  • Rogue, the first dungeon-crawling game ever…with procedural generated content.
  • Dragon’s Lair, with it’s full-video integration.
  • Okami, especially on the Wii. This game is revolutionary in three ways: the art (is amazing), the game play (your weapon is a giant, godly paintbrush with which you breathe life back into forests which then fight for you), and the application of the Wii mote (which was the paint brush).
  • Doom, as it set the foundation for FPSs. It also revolutionized development with full texture mapping, non-perpendicular walls, and the .WAD: modular game resource files. And, let’s face it. I don’t care how uber your lv85’s raid gear is. If you haven’t taken down a Baron of Hell with a chainsaw, you are weak.
  • Half-life, for redefining FPSs; it’s scripting allowed for an actual story (beyond what previous FPSs achieved).
  • Diablo. The first one. Not for it’s game play, but for Battle.net and it’s impact on social play.
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, with time reversal. Both explicitly (using the dagger) and implicitly (the game is a story, told by the protagonist, so when you die, he muses “That’s not how it happened” and it reloads to the previous checkpoint for you).
  • Braid, for it’s presentation and usage of time reversal in puzzle solving.
  • Parappa the Rappa, the first rhythm-based video game ever. If you like Guitar Hero or Rock Band, you owe Parappa a debt of thanks.
  • Super Mario 64, for being one of the first games (if not the first game) to use a 3d perspective appropriately: free-moving camera, free-form exploration, and a lot of places to explore.
  • Left 4 Dead, for it’s rebranding of co-op play and enforced dependency on your teammates.
  • Final Fantasy 4 (2 in America…the one with Cecil) for setting the foundation for truly story-driven RPGs. (My buddy asserts Dragon Quest 5 deserves this title; unfortunately, I write this blog and I was a FF nerd.)
  • Dance Dance Revolution for getting people moving while playing video games.
  • Portal, for presentation and unique device (which allowed for some unique puzzle designs).
  • Zork and Return to Zork; one for free-roaming and unforgiving exploration, the other for adequately applying a GUI to it…which then led to games like Kings Quest (all of Sierra’s titles, really) and Myst.
  • World of Warcraft, for it’s sheer amount of quest content. (MMOs before WoW were all about you saving the exact same princess every week and otherwise grinding every hour of your life away, literally.)
  • Master of Orion 2. Shut up, I love that game.

You may have read through this list and thought things like “Hey, Left 4 Dead isn’t the first game that forced co-op on players!” and “Why isn’t Duke Nukem Forever on that list!?” I think there’s a valuable take-away here: a game need not be the first to do a thing for it’s application of that thing to be deemed revolutionary. Braid wasn’t the first game to use time reversal, but did so far better than Prince of Persia (as a puzzle-solving mechanic instead of just an undo). World of Warcraft was by no means the first MMO. Games build upon one another so much that it’s difficult to really nail down what your definition of revolutionary video game is. There are a lot of games that – by building upon previous games – stake their own claims to being revolutionary. You can see a lot more on this if you read my previous article on genre.

But, Thade, you didn’t answer the question. Is RIFT revolutionary?

Is RIFT revolutionary? For it’s world events, public quests, or class system? Take another glance at those titles above; most of them are a decade or more old. We’ll have to let RIFT cook a bit before we really put a ruling on it, either way. That’s my answer.

Credit to Syp and Keen for inspiring me to write this article. Credit to my friends Marl and Romdles for helping me brainstorm revolutionary titles and also to this Forbes article for reminding me about Parappa.

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