Might and Magic I vs. Dragon Age

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Matt Barton's picture

Might & MagicMight & MagicRampant Coyote has a great blog post up that compares Dragon Age: Origins and Might & Magic Book One: Secret of the Inner Sanctum. Which is the more compelling? Well, it's no surprise to many of us that the Coyote prefers the latter game, but the interesting thing is why. Here's what he comes up with:

The only answer I have right now is that with the twenty-four year old Might & Magic, I’m playing a game. One I’m familiar with on some levels, but in a new (to me) and exciting world. In Dragon Age, I’m playing through somebody else’s script.
I don't know if I'd agree with him 100% on this, but looking back, it did seem like DA:O was relying much too heavily on cinema and less on great gameplay. I didn't really enjoy the battles very much, and found myself far more interested in seducing companions than combat or acquiring better gear. Maybe that's a good thing, but it did seem far removed from the usual satisfactions of a good CRPG like Baldur's Gate, which was much better able to combine the cinematic aspects with the gameplay.

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RampantCoyote (not verified)
New for me, at least

That's the peculiar thing... I'm new to Might & Magic 1. Relatively. I'd played a little bit of the later games, but this was my first serious experience with the first game. I wasn't expecting much. So this wasn't really based on my experiences of the past seen through rose-tinted lenses or anything. It's my experiences last week. There was no need to compare it against its era or anything like that. One game hooked me. The other did not. One game I still have to work to resist playing when I'm supposed to be getting work done. The other I'm merely interested in resuming some day when I have time.

I don't claim my experience would be universal. I've already come to accept that I'm wired funny. :) But I am interested - as a gamer and as a game developer - in understanding why.

ironmaidenrule
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Interpretation

From a personal experience I tend to find with the older RPG games that had limited graphics, I made up the rest of the environment and atmosphere with my own imagination and mind, much like reading a book. With games like Dragon Age, the whole world has already been created for you, not leaving much room for the imagination to get engaged, thus resulting in a less personal and stimulating game world.

Bill Loguidice
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ironmaidenrule wrote:

From a personal experience I tend to find with the older RPG games that had limited graphics, I made up the rest of the environment and atmosphere with my own imagination and mind, much like reading a book. With games like Dragon Age, the whole world has already been created for you, not leaving much room for the imagination to get engaged, thus resulting in a less personal and stimulating game world.

I don't know if I agree fully with the "made up the rest" part, but there's certainly an element to that. I would lovingly roll my characters just right and take great care with the map making at time. The latter though I must admit is not something I miss. I think the biggest divide for me between the classics and today's mainstream RPGs is simply a matter of play style. Certainly visual presentation is a factor in that, as modified top down views (kind of like today's map views) provide considerably more "clarity" and environmental awareness than today's first or third person games.

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yakumo9275
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DA:O was certainly a bore,

DA:O was certainly a bore, the combat was more than tedious for the engine it employed...

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Matt Barton
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Ian Bogost has a good

Ian Bogost has a good discussion on the topic here, in the context of Will Wright's The Sims. Wright had commented that he felt the "simlish" (IIRC) language was vague enough that players could "fill in the blanks" with their imagination, supplying actual conversations over the gibberish. On the other hand, other actions were shown on screen. A designer creates a framework and then must decide what he will supply directly and what the players will be allowed (or forced) to imagine for themselves. In the old-fashioned CRPGs, the players had to imagine all the interactions among their own party, for instance. Were they all good friends? Did they feel protective of the weaker members? If you had a mix of males and females in your party, did any of them have relationships?

One problem with something like DA:O is that all of this is supplied by the game. That is a good thing in that it is exciting to get to explore, in a simulated world, situations that seem so realistic. I really enjoyed flirting and seducing the women in DA:O because it felt so realistic. I felt this even more in the first Mass Effect, where I got some faint tingles of actual love for Ashley. Others have remarked a similar feeling of attachment for the dog in Fallout 3, and of course there's the famous Floyd death in Planetfall. I was a bit disappointed by Drakensang because the characters felt too generic. I don't agree that the characters in DA:O are just like every other game. Alistair and Morrigan were particularly interesting to me, though most of the other characters left me blank.

In any case, a designer needs to think carefully about this ratio of implicit to explicit details. What I mean by that is what details will be supplied by the game vs. what will be left to the player's imagination. I think Wright is 100% correct when he says that the aspects of the game that are impossible or infeasible to generate dynamically (such as natural language parsing) should be implied only. Show characters talking but don't let us know what they are actually saying. On the other hand (pun intended), things that can be easily generated should be shown, such as a character swinging a weapon or taking a wound.

Of course, we should also talk about the role of narrative, and how much of that should also implied. I prefer games with a fairly defined narrative, so I feel like I'm progressing through them like a book or movie. I do like to have some forks, though, and the ability to make some meaningful decisions that will change how the story unfolds. This might amount to choosing different companions, each with their own side-quests, or all the way to choosing to be a hero or a villain.

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Chip Hageman
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The criticism of "too much

The criticism of "too much scripted cinema" is something I would level against most bioware RPG's as of KotOR.. Not saying I didn't enjoy them.. just that I don't consider them traditional RPG's.

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clok1966
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Old and an, one reason I have

Old and new, one reason I have always enjoyed RPG's is the discovery aspect (its that way for me in all games). As I was a AD&D player, RPG stats and combat, while the meat of the game was just something to figure out (still fun), but my pure facination was the locations.. in early games it was all words, and I wont lie, for me, after hours and hours of AD&D , I liked fleshed out explinations, but they where there to keep me in the game, and where not a heavy part of the game. Knew skills, new monsters... new monsters, when games got pictures! wow, it was way to cool. Bards tale animating them was somthing that blew me away.. you waited for the next monster, you flew throuhg levels to see what was comming up. The secret areas, waht a trap did (teleportation ones where alwasy a love/hate with me). I think that is the reason I say M&M II wouldnt hold up as well as DA:O to me today... I liked DA:O and the artwork and characters where excellent "art" to me. Seeing new monsters, pure bliss, new locations, again pure fun to me.. The battle system.. hated it actually. I have played plenty of RT- spacebar pause to give orders games.. this one was by far the worst (to me). Felt like i was in the most painfull shoot um up.. i was tapping the spacebar almost as soon as I had turned action back on. Combat was simply way to fast. you couldnt let it go for more than a second without needing to issue another command. Some battles where one and lost not by skill, but the role of the die (yes AD&D was like that too, bu that is where the other players came in, they covered your mistakes) DA:O was really all you, and many battles if one preson went down, it was over. The undead attack on the town.. I did that like 20 times before I figured out some tricks, and even then usein the same exact tactics, I would win one time lose 3 times, win 1 time... (I soeldm replay battles like that, but I was frustrated in this case and was exploring how the combat worked in this game). I simply dont like the total randomness..
Draknsguard- yes pretty generic RPG, but they had some nice graphics, plenty of fun stuff to explore. The big thing, the battles (named/special fights) all felt hard, but not so random to me.. The first "named" wolf battle.. about the only thing I had to figure out was, Kill it(named), or the adds first, or have a party member on each monster.. some tatctics worked some didnt.. There was till a randomeness, for sure.. (one battle the named killed my tank in first attack!) but I felt I had way more control on combat than I did in DA:O (of course that is just an opinion thing).

This is where I prefer the new games, pure and simple graphics.. Im not talking eye poping.. Im just talking more of them.. lines for walls and discriptions was awsome in the 80's.. but I just prefer actual textures to my walls, actual animation to my monsters...

Sombody said they didnt car for Farcry (matt?) as it was to open ended... maybe this is why my opinion varies from most here, I loved the fact I could go anywhere, I found little shacks, paths, even if they where empty. I spent almost 45 minutes on one of the small islands becuase I saw the game wanted me to confront the camp head on, I swam the whole way arond the Island so I could come in from the back. To me letting me make the dicissions on who i wan to attack is so cool. Its another reason newer games facinate me.. most are open world type, they do put many artifical limitations on you (fallen trees, bushs you can go through, water) but they "try" let you pick where to attack from. DA:O is not a good example of this as almost all maps and encounters are almost set to work in a order (onece on the map, you do get to chose whre you want to go first). That is the one place OLD games fail me.. they had a set way you could go, no deviation. It was all game designe and it worked well.. and was perfect for its time.. but when you see what can be done now, that is where they fail.. When I played them, they where "IT"! I loved um, but replaying them now.. I still enjoy many of them, but no where near what I did.

Much like cars (im a car nut).. there are people who will alwasy love the old (really old) cars you used a crank to start, had no windows and ony did 30MPH.. I prefer cars that go the current speed limit, are warm (or cold) in all weather, and use a key to start. People drive both types for enjoyment.. I prefer the newer ones.. they just do more things..
My first car was 70 impala.. beat to heck.. I loved it and treated it like it was brand new.. but as I progressed.. even if that was my first favorite.. the newer cars I got down the line where better in other ways.. but none would ever be my "first" car.. I look at games like that, at the time they where GREAT, but I just dont see them standing up to some (there are alot of new games that are worse than the old ones for sure) of the newer ones.

Matt Barton
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Rampant has added a new post

Rampant has added a new post about this topic, apparently in response to the discussion. (He doesn't say it was this discussion, but who knows?)

He thinks M&M had more surprises that made exploration more fun, a richer metagame (especially concerning resource management), and limited exposition. These are all valid points.

I'm not intimately familiar with M&M 1, having picked up the series at the 6th installment. The earliest CRPGs I played back then were Bard's Tale and Pool of Radiance, both of which have much more in common with M&M 1 than DA:O. What I know about M&M 1 was that it was a labor of love that was itself considered a throw-back to earlier games, particularly the early Ultima and Wizardry games. Contemporary reviewers complained about the lackluster graphics. So, it's an interesting case--the designer, Jon Van Caneghem, wanted to make the ultimate CRPG, and he did that by making some truly epic-sized games with lots of glorious pack-ins. Some argue that he hit his peak with World of Xeen, which is surely one of the biggest CRPGs ever made (it combines IV and V into a single game).

One thing to keep in mind is that it's not always helpful to talk about "better" in any concrete sense. It's more fruitful to talk about styles of design and styles of gameplay, since how we play a game is often more important than its design. As we've talked about ad nauseum, if you're not willing to do the role-playing work to bring the characters in PoR to life, you aren't getting the full experience. A *lot* of these games takes place in your head, not on the screen.

In any case, I think we could talk about exploration in a CRPG the same way artists talk about landscape painting. Consider this painting for instance. Note how that when you really look at it, you long to explore those far-off mountains; you can sort of see a village or something in the deep background. Who knows what's really down there? You can't help but feel a little suspenseful if you gaze there for long. However, you feel safe, since you seem to be viewing this scene from a distance, and no one seem to notice you. I believe I heard this referred to as subterfuge.

A CRPG should work the same way--you are aware of things far off, potentially very dangerous things, but know you can retreat to a safe location. I think that's why I found it so appealing in Pool of Radiance when I fought off a brigand and was able to take over his secret lair (located under a well). That became a safe haven. Even though it was practically "useless" in the game, I liked returning there to "heal up," as I imagined, and give my party a chance to, well, party.

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clok1966
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I know my point was Kinda i

I know my point was Kinda i think in that area.
When I played M&M 2 when it was new (again I didnt not play M&M1 untill many years later) the game was excellent, I loved every minute of it, mapping was somtimes enjoyble, sometimes not (alwasy a love hate area for me in RPG's of old).

When i played DA:O I "liked" the game I found combat a bit tiresome, but enjyoed the game.

If you take my "gut feelings" when I played each the first time, Hands down M&M2! No question. But TODAY as right now, you put them both in front of me and ask me which i want to play. DA:O wins.. better interface, better graphics, more varied locations, and even easier to play (no grid paperwork, easier to save, etc).. Time has not been kind ot the old RPG's.. they still tell the same story, and you can still imerse yourslef in them if you ahve a mind too, but the cumbersome interface, sparse graphics soon loom to large for me to think the same way I did about them today as i did in the past.

Do I think DA:O is the better game, no ... not even close... But I would rather play it today, right now.

Keith Burgun
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Want a reason?

How about because M&M actually lets you PLAY, just about 100% of the time the software is running, whereas DA:O (and all new games just about) are like this:

- Loading Screen (10 seconds)
- Cinematic (5-20 MINUTES)
- Tutorial (Half hour to an hour or more)
- Loading Screen (10 seconds)
- A little bit of gameplay allowed
- Cinematic
- Loading Screen
- Little bit of gameplay...
- and so on.

Seriously I want to do a project where we actually sit there watching someone play DA:O or FF12 or any new game really, and time how much of the time they're *playing* and how much of the time they're sitting there, idly. What's worse is that even when you ARE playing in most games, you have no choices to make so it may as well be a movie. Bleh.

People sit down to play a game because they want to play a game. Older games (and some new indie games) let you do that, and that's worth a lot.

Oh want one more reason? M&M was designed by game developers, whereas DA:O was designed - as nearly all multi-million dollar productions are - by publishers.

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