Lament for the fallen:
I am a great champion of the notion that video games are a powerful medium for storytelling and a legitimate art form — or, at least, I would be if I had a bigger audience. I have recently discussed here some of the major advantages of games as a storytelling medium.
But they also have unique flaws, as well, and perhaps the greatest of these is their lack of longevity. A book can be enjoyed hundreds or even thousands of years after it was written. I read and enjoyed Homer’s “The Iliad” despite it being so old we’re not even sure who “Homer” was, where he lived, or even if he was a single person or a group of people. Movies, likewise, can continue to be seen long after their release.
Video games aren’t like that. They quickly fade into obscurity after just a few short years, and even those who do bother to go back and look at old games have to deal with all kinds of technical hurdles and compatibility issues, not to mention the difficulty of finding the games in the first place. And let’s be honest; even the most open-minded gamer isn’t going to enjoy the crude graphics and awkward interfaces of older games.
And so many brilliant games are destined to fade into obscurity. Many already have.
One such example near to my heart is a little known series of real time strategy games: Myth: The Fallen Lords and Myth II: Soulblighter. They were an innovative pair of games released in the mid-90s with features such as a realistic physics engine the likes of which I’ve rarely seen equaled even today, let alone 15 years ago.
But what really endeared them to me was their epic, bleak fantasy storyline, which I suspect was strongly influenced by Glen Cook’s “Black Company” novels. Told from the perspective of anonymous front-line soldiers, the Myth games managed to make a vast war between Light and Darkness seem incredibly real and believable by focusing on the human toll of such a conflict.
They also featured a vast universe with a rich and fascinating history, but interestingly, they told us little of that history, favoring isolated snippets here and there over lengthy info-dumps. I’m not normally a fan of such ambiguity, but in this case, it furthered the feeling of reality. The history of the world was common knowledge; why would the characters waste time explaining what all of them already knew?
Another interesting thing about the Myth games is the way they defied traditional fantasy archetypes. Instead of Elves and Dragons, we had original creations like Gholls, Trow, and the nightmarish Myrkridia. Instead of the traditional Judaeo-Christian paladins, Myth’s holy warriors, the Heron Guard, were inspired by Aztec and Maya cultures, bearing names like “Ten Jade Puma.”
But then Myth’s developer, Bungie, was bought by Microsoft and shifted focus to a new game called Halo: Combat Evolved — you may have heard of it. The Myth franchise was passed on to unknown developer, which promptly released Myth III: The Wolf Age and essentially butchered the franchise like a hog.
And so Myth faded into obscurity. But by no means are they the only great games to suffer such an inglorious end. They’re merely the example most dear to my own heart.
So let’s appreciate the games we play now while we can, and perhaps spare a moment to remember not just Myth, but all the other brilliant games of the past who have fallen by the wayside in the breakneck progression of the gaming industry.
What of you, dear reader? I’d be curious to hear any tales you have of great or beloved games who were forgotten over time. How do you feel about the short lifespan video games have? Do you agree with my regret over it, or do you think that it’s fine for a game, once played, to be forgotten?