Lo-Fi games

Created on Thursday, January 25, 2007.
Filed under , .

There’s a lot of noise the intertubes regarding how so-and-so game or gaming system sucks because it can’t put out awesome graphics. This is the part where I start scratching my head, because graphics are both a blessing and a curse.

I like text-based games, and I like 2D tile-based games. Prominent examples of these games are text adventures (or Interactive Fiction, nowadays), roguelikes and old graphical RPGs like Ultima IV and V, and Ragnarok. These ‘Lo-Fi’ games will always be more complex than any hot-graphics game that will ever be released.

Blame combinatorial explosion, or the curse of dimensionality. In the context of game-building it means that adding an extra dimension to a project increases the work that needs to be done exponentially until the project can no longer be feasibly accomplished.

Imagine a chair in my 3D game. To let players sit in this chair I would have to create new sit down and stand up animations. What if there were eight playable races? I would have to make sit/stand actions for each of them. What if one of those races is a giant crab, and I want my game world to react realistically by having the chair break when one tries to sit on it? I would have to create not only a sit/stand animation for the giant crab, but a ‘breaking’ animation for the chair as well, and then create a new ‘broken chair’ model to replace the original chair in the environment. What if players wanted to set the splinters of this chair on fire, or wield some as weapons? What if each race held a weapon differently?

You get the idea: at every stage of developing a 3D game new models have to be created, new textures be applied. When making a 2D game — especially a tile-based one — the work load of a graphics artist is greatly reduced because model building and texturing are essentially at once in the drawing.

With text-based games the problem is moot. “You sit down,” or “You stand up,” or “The chair snaps under your weight, and a splinter strikes your weak point” are enough, and accomplished within seconds. The time saved on sexy graphics can then be put to implementing new features and interesting gameplay.

A textbook case of the combinatorial explosion happened to Iron Realms Entertainment. Iron Realms opened their first text-based MUD (Multi User Dimension), Achaea in 1997. They’ve since released three other MUDs, all of them consistently ranked in the top ten. These text-only games contain gameplay elements that have rarely been seen elsewhere (balance and equilibrium being affected by the type of blow you give or take, and entirely player-run governments for example) simply because these things are more easily communicated in plain text.

Iron Realms is now developing their first graphical MMORPG, Earth Eternal (I’m on the Alpha Test list) and finding it very different. Iron Realm’s CEO has already written about the combinatorial explosion:

“A single outfit of clothing costs us hundreds of dollars, vs maybe 2 minutes of writing in a text MUD. A single entirely new creature costs us a minimum of several thousand dollars by the time it is modeled, textured, and animations created for it.” — Matt Mihaly

One of the points they made clear very early on is that it was not one of their MUDs in graphical form: the time and money spent developing graphics makes unfeasible (or in some cases, entirely negates) the inclusion of complex features that have up to now had in all their games.

Stick to Lo-Fi if you want to make a deep game. Hi-Fi games are for joystick-jockeys who’ve never played better. I’m looking at you, Shoot-‘em-up fanboys.

On a personal note, I know someone.

I really like her. She means a lot to me. She knows.

And that’s all I have to say about that. I wonder if she’ll comment?

That's all there is, there isn't any more.
© Desi Quintans, 2002 – 2018.