Video Games Are Better Than Movies
October 05, 2021 | By: Blaize
As much as I hate to admit (actually, I don’t) video games had a huge impact on me as a writer, probably more so than movies. There have been countless fantasy-themed video games such that It’s impossible for me or anyone document them all, but I can at least do it for myself. With that in mind, I probably need to qualify my exposure.
First and foremost, my video game experience is limited mostly to PC games; I have and will likely remain a PC-only gamer.
Second, I never really got into MMOs. I tried them off and on over the years with EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Lord of the Rings Online, and others, but I never got hooked. Maybe it was the amount of grind, but I never really understood the appeal.
Third, I haven’t gamed much in recent years, so newer titles have escaped me.
So, within those parameters, I have played a few games that captured my imagination and influenced me as a writer in one way or another. So, with no further ado, here’s my list.
Ultima is a long-lived series of video games that has its roots in the late ’70s. I can’t say that I’ve played every installment of the game, but the ones I have played were, for their time, quite a break from the typical video game of the era. Most video games at the time were arcade games with fast-paced action, simple objectives, and little or no storytelling. Ultima tried to turn that on its head by delivering an immersive role-playing game that had an expansive world with non-linear play, a more complex game model, storytelling, and lore that made the game playable for hours and hours. Ultima is credited for creating the archetype for RPGs that followed years later. My first exposure to Ultima came years after many of the original games had seen their day. Still, after playing them, I found the content to make the games endure even if the graphics and other media seemed dated for the time.
Of the franchise, Ultima V is probably my favorite because it was the first one I played, and it set a high bar. The subsequent games were more adaptive of that but still made for hours of fun gameplay because of their complexity and rich content.
King’s Quest is a franchise that focuses on media more than depth. Most of the Kings Quest franchise installments were simple in their approach with a basic, point-and-click experience that focused on solving puzzles. The stories associated with the games were usually quirky, but the associated media made these games stand out. They pushed the graphics and audio hardware of the time to its limits to deliver vivid scenery, animation, and sound that made the games fun to play. Perhaps the crown jewel in the series is Kings Quest V, which came out in 1990 and made heavy use of VGA graphics and sound cards at the time. The media seems quaint today, but at the time it was quite revolutionary.
After KQ-V, the series went into a decline. I played a few other titles, but the series had played out by the last installment in 1998. Without the ability to wow folks anymore with its media, there really was not much appeal left, so this series has all but died. Still though, I enjoyed it when it was in its heyday.
Master of Magic is one of my favorite games of all time. It’s a fantasy-themed “4X” (Explore, Expand, Exploit and Exterminate) game similar to the Civilization franchise. The game had three significant spheres of play. The primary one was building cities for resources and for raising up armies. Each city had a unique fantasy race with specialized abilities and specialized units with strengths and weaknesses. Second, the game featured different schools of magic, and a player chooses “books” that represent relative power within that school. This allowed the user to be anything from a versatilist with many general spells to a specialist with a few powerful spells. Third, it also employed a crafting system for making artifacts and hiring heroes to equip the artifacts. All these systems had tons of switches and dials that made the game almost infinitely replayable. I still love to dust this game off every now and then to play through it with something I have not tried before. To this day, the game still has a cult following, and there’s a remake in the works to update the content while still preserving the gameplay that has stood the test of time.
I love this game because it was genuinely unique, even compared to other 4X games. I played Civilization and other games like it. However, this one is the only one that I have continued to love even after 25 years because it offered a breath of fresh air into a tiring genre, and even so, that freshness still holds up rather well.
When Diablo launched, I was hooked. This is a game that I would get off of work and play for hours, even on a school night as a teenager. The gameplay was relatively simple, just a hack-and-slash adventure to collect loot and money to upgrade your character for the final fight. Still, Diablo delivered real-time action with the RPG style of gameplay offered by other tile-based games with rich content and dynamically generated levels. This made the game relatively replayable, and it was a romp every time, especially with the online component. The gameplay was still linear, but that was forgivable because it was immersive with decent storytelling and cutscenes. Diablo II took what the original Diablo did and cranked it up to 11. This game had more complex gameplay, more character classes, more content, better cinematics, and better storytelling. It still delivered the fun hack and slash gameplay that made the first one so addictive. Diablo III had the promise of this, but the game upon launch felt too controlled. The grind was monotonous, even though the game was an improvement in many ways. Later, Blizzard fixed some of these shortcomings with new content, and tweaked the gameplay to make it seem less restrictive. Later iterations allowed for more experimentation among the different classes, which made the game have lots of replayability even of the story was the same every time.
Ever since the launch in 1996, I have enjoyed every installment of this series. I hope that the next installment is as good as or better than the first three, all of which have improved iteratively over their predecessors.
I’ll admit I was not a big fan of the Elder Scrolls franchise, that is, until Skyrim. Skyrim took everything I liked about Ultima, Kings Quest, Master of Magic, and Diablo and rolled it into an amazing game that is hard to put into words. From Ultima, it delivers the non-linear gameplay and story that make fantasy RPGs appealing for hours on end. From King’s Quest, it delivered cinematic content, except there was a lot more of it. Like Master of Magic, it delivered the complexity that makes characters tunable and opens the world to experimentation. And finally, from Diablo, it provides a fun, accessible experience even if you don’t like all the other things I’ve mentioned.
This game is still going strong, having created a vibrant modding community and having been ported to dozens of platforms. Moreover, Skyrim has set such a high standard for RPGs, that I think it is going to be hard to surpass. Even ten years after its launch, I have not seen or played anything that delivers something as compelling as this game. It will likely only be surpassed by whatever Bethesda launches next in the Elder Scrolls franchise.
Prince of Persia
The original game was unassuming, but man, was it fun! The premise was simple: rescue the princess by working through a series of levels in less than an hour. Players fought droves of henchmen and skeletons, leaped from tall buildings, walked through death-delivering traps, drank mysterious potions, and even battled one’s doppelganger. It was a fun game that I still love to this day.
Legend of the Red Dragon
This game was just quirky and fun. It took the fantasy tropes of many RPGs and attempted to deliver them in a way that made the game accessible through a BBS door. The basic premise was to be the first to slay the Red Dragon and get the girl before any other player did. It was predictable, so the way to win was to be sure you log on to the BBS every day, play the game, and you’d be sure to win. Still, it was fun.
In this game, the player engages in fantasy-themed gladiatorial combat. The game is straightforward, but it has tons of hidden gems that make it fun. If you didn’t know where the gems were, you’d spend your time grinding away in the arena and never get anywhere for what seemed like months. However, if you know the secrets, you could beat the game in as little as four or five hours of gameplay. Still, its fantasy theme and hack and slash gameplay made it fun for a BBS door, at least. With the EGA client (pictured above) it was even better.
I’ve probably played other games over the years that I have liked to one degree or another. However, these are just the ones that came to mind because of how enjoyable they are. These are the ones that make an impact, and for a writer, that’s all the difference in the world.