Genre Reset

What on Earth is genre reset? Quite simply, it is technology (or something else) resetting a genre to the point that it has to be partially reconstructed or even rebuilt from scratch. Oftentimes, this means that it becomes much more difficult to do what was considered normal in the genre previously with the new technology. I’m going to take a look at the traditional fantasy gaming realm rather briefly, starting from the present and diving toward the past.

Let’s first step back and take a look at traditional fantasy MMOs. Where did they come from? Current fantasy MMOs are 3D, and the last genre reset occurred when they shifted from 2D to 3D. The 2D graphical era of these games was the briefest of them, as far as online games are concerned, especially in North America.

When we shifted from 2D to 3D, we lost a lot. Player-controlled ships, mounts, player housing, among other things. Since that time, we’ve had to work hard to make them possible in 3D, and that’s a much greater task than making them work in 2D. Only now are we beginning to match the potential of 2D MMOs in the 3D realm, which will hopefully set us up to surpass the 2D potential in the near future.

Where did 2D graphical MMOs come from? You could really separate 2D isometric (Ultima Online) from its predecessor style, which hearkened not at all to dimensions, (The Realm Online) but I’ll leave them together because they had very similar capabilities. Really, where 2D graphical MMOs came from was a combination of 2D graphical RPGs and MUDs.

Not surprisingly, we lost a lot in that transition. From the single-player RPG we lost the sense of heroism, and from the MUD we lost the sense of vastness, of richness, and of near-infinite possibilities. MUDs were significantly more flexible because you didn’t really have to “make” everything–a part of the world was a text description creatively linked to the rest of the world, not something that had to be created by an artist and a designer together.

So, to the origins of MUDs and single-player RPGs both: Pen and Paper (or Paper and Pencil) games. What did we lose here? The infinite possibilities of the tabletop RPG. You could do literally anything that could be imagined, confined only by the game’s rules, and even then you could break them if you convinced your GM/DM to do so.

That’s at least 3 distinct technological genre resets. We’ve lost so much potential between the time of the P&P RPG and the 3D MMORPG that we’re still recovering 8 years after the first 3D MMO. 8 years. In 8 years we have just started to recover most of the 2D potential (and even then, things like clothing layers still can’t be done quite as well, or at least haven’t). How long will it be before we get to the point that 3D MMOs have as much potential as a P&P RPG?

It could be forever. There may come a time when, with the right skills, talent, and creativity, players will be able to do as much in a 3D world as they can in an imagined paper world, but it could be a while, and even then it will be much more cumbersome.

I hope to see traditional fantasy MMOs of today reaching with fervor to the olden days of Dungeons & Dragons and Earthdawn and other role-playing games. I want to see the infinite potential of P&P in modern MMOs. I want that same feeling that has long been absent in online games of possibilities and heroes and anti-heroes, of a world in which I can make a difference and be known throughout the world, and of a place that is so epically vast and so real that I lose myself within it blissfully.

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