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I believe these words were once sung by Nelly Furtado. But I don't care about Nelly Furtado, nor do I about most other pop musicians. If anything is to come to and end, please let it be cheesy pop music. Oh, and can it please take dance with it? And hardrock? And hardcore? And rap?
Wonderful. Now the world is a better place, it's time to make a point. I'm a human, as I'm sure most people are aware, and that means I like to challenge myself from time to time. Another thing that makes me human is my inability to do much harm to other people without feeling sorry. Games can enrich this part of our lives a lot. Take Assassin's Creed II. About a year ago that was the most challenging game ever (assassinations got harder and harder) yet it was a very humane game still. After all, you could kill people without having to actually, well, kill people. With all this brilliance and much more I half expected its sequel to be better. Without going into too much detail about Brotherhood, the general idea is that half of the singleplayer storyline has been removed and replaced with multiplayer, which is worse. Sure, it's great for hardcore, crisps-and-beer gamers, but for civilised humans, it just doesn't cut it.
Yes, I suppose I am a human. I like to dream, but I also like a certain degree of realism, and when games give me the opportunity to make both dreams and realism come true, I'm a happy man. Empire: Total War is such a game. It was a game without being too much of a game. It was there for fun, it was there for the strategist that lurks within all of us, yet it was also more realistic than most games could be. Empire: Total War did what nobody else had dare do before, and instead of having a clear cut unit raster, they didn't just make British musketeers. No, they made Line Infantry, Highlanders, African Native Infantry, Company Infantry, Colonial Line Infantry, Sepoys, Coldstream Guards and the Black Watch, all in one, all for one faction. A cold-blooded gamer's nightmare, but I loved it. Finally somebody had found the guts to not only please hardcore gamers, but also those people who care about realism and history. When it became apparent that the next game in the series was going to be about Napoleon, I kept my eyes so focussed on it I could hardly see anything else. But then, disappointment. It was one of the developers (of all people) who claimed in a blog of his that the game studio deemed Empire to have had too many near identical unit choices, and promised everybody that Napoleon would have less. Reading the blog I could almost see the smile on his face, as if he genuinely believed that he was doing the world a great favour. In fact, he was busy ruining the series. And yes, as soon as Napoleon came out, it turned out to be much worse than Empire. So much for evolution.
I should have to believe in evolution. Society should be able to improve itself over time, and so should game studios. There is no need for a game to be worse than its predecessor. There just isn't. And unfortunately, that brings us onto Robot Entertainment. Leftovers of Ensemble Studios, shaved and trimmed but battle ready they seemed, until they gave us a first glance at Age of Empires Online. Even disregarding my dislike for multiplayer focussed games, what were they thinking of? Was it really necessary to spend so little time on a game? Surely spending a little more time on it could have resulted in a game even better than AoE3, spending much more time could have resulted in perfection. It's hard to believe that the same people who showed such progress from Age of Empires to Age of Empires III should mess it up so horribly.
With Age of Empires Online, it really seems as if civilisation's final hope in gaming, graphics, has gone to rest as well. With all gaming studios swapping brilliant features of their games for not-so-good ones, it really looks as if the industry is once again separating itself from the world, creating games for a small enclave of people who do not care about graphics, who do not care about history or realism, who do not care about a decently designed singleplayer. No, at the very point in history when gaming became a very acceptable pastime for all ages, game studios have turned themselves 180 degrees round, and went back to the braindead it's-all-about-high-scores gamers. Such a pity.
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This group is the developers of Knights and Barbarians.
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