In a surprise twist that no one could have predicted, graph paper has made a surprising return to my life. It all started last week when I realised that roleplay games had not advanced in game combat narrative in years, if at all.
Essentially, the writeup of combat in modern roleplay games is often one of the following... a number that drifts above a combatant's head that represents the damage dealt or sometimes the word 'MISS' or a some text that says something along the lines of 'A attacks B and misses' or 'A Attacks B and hits for 10 damage'. Often this text isn't even visible til you switch it on. Obviously in game animations representing this has come on in leaps and bounds, but the text hasn't.
In fact, its taken a step back.
The original Bards Tale (a classic game from 1986) at least played around with the verbs a bit. E.g. a zombie might grope your hero (a description I still find funny, to this day, although I bet that isn't what is intended) while a berseker might try and pummel the hero. This was something, at least, which opened it up a little in my imagination back when I was a kid playing these games.
It seems to me that modern games have forgotten that all the good stuff really exists in our heads and not 100% on the screens. Not that I'm against modern games (just check my gamer profile to see I play the latest and greatest regularly, and often do complete them). A trick that good directors of horror films know is to give the viewer a brief silhouette of the nasty and let the mind fill in the rest of the details.
Along the same kind of lines, I was fortunate enough to sit in an accessibility demo by a blind person, showing how he used windows with a screen reader. This was very educational especially when he loaded up a number of games designed for people with no sight. These games are all sound based. I bet they are quite immersive too because most of what is going on is in the imagination of the player. Like how games used to be before we were forced to view the same animations, over and over (think Final Fantasy type games where the battle animations are initially impressive but pretty soon you wish you could skip them).
All this got me thinking. I reckon that in game combat narrative can be improved immensely if real writers get involved. So I'm putting up some of my own money to get a prototype together to see if my ideas will work, which I'm pretty excited about.
But back to the graph paper. I downloaded the Bards Tale 2, Destiny Knight, as part of my research and got playing it using a DOS emulator on my macbook (hehe, who'd have thought). Its just as addictive as I remember the first one being back when I used to play it on my trusty Spectrum. But its impossible to navigate around the dungeons without mapping them. So I've had to dig out my old pad of graph paper, a pencil and an eraser to avoid getting lost. It has been literally at least a decade since a game made me do that.