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Shifting Focus

For this, the blog’s 200th post, I wanted to share some ideas that I have been pondering recently. Long time readers of the blog will recall an article I wrote about how the challenges presented in games are a core component of the design and to a large extent, “define the gameplay…”. In that article, I mentioned a classic game of old called Descent by Parallax Software. Lately, some friends and I have been getting back into the multiplayer portion of the game by way of the DXX-Rebirth project which adds some features and updates it to compatibility with modern machines. Descent is as excellent and classic as I remembered.

I can give some summary and identify some key points, but it’s hard to convey what makes Descent so special without you playing it for yourself, so if you haven’t, I highly recommend it. The full rotation and free-flying freedom are the golden basis of this game. Descent’s circle-strafing, dodging, rolling, flipping, fast-paced flight takes the combat of a typical first-person shooter and elevates it to true thrill-ride status. Every aspect of the game is multiplied by the additional freedom in movement, including tactics. Each of the weapons and missiles uniquely contributes another possible tactic. The game’s core design is fairly simple, but its implications are deep and varied. Modern designers could learn a few things by firing up some matches of this game with some colleagues.

Now that I’ve established the game’s quality for you, think about this: Descent was released a mere year and a half after Doom, and over a year before Quake. I recognize the accomplishments of id Software’s titles, such as classic FPS gameplay and the use of BSP trees for rendering and so on, and I like their games – I have nothing against them, let’s get that out of the way. Still, I don’t understand why Descent isn’t regarded with the same level of acclaim. While Doom has you running and gunning against demons in flat, minimally 3D environments, Descent gives you the freedom to fly without restriction in creatively designed, completely 3D areas. While Quake improves the technology, the gameplay still struggles to eclipse the lasting appeal of Descent. Don’t get me wrong, I like Quake and Descent. But what would the gaming world be like today if its participants had latched so tightly onto Descent instead of the origins that led to the flood of first-person shooters we see today? Better yet, what if it had learned from the best parts of both?

It’s food for thought, to say the least.

If you have comments on these classic games, or if you would like to throw in another great game that deserves more attention, leave a comment!

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