EDIT: THIS IS TOO LONG SKIP THE FIRST THREE PARAGRAPHS TO GET TO THE ACTUAL TOPIC
I’ve been playing a lot of Daggerfall lately. That is The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, the second early access beta for the critically acclaimed Skyrim GOTY. I wasn’t born until a year after it came out so I hadn’t played it back then. I think I first fooled around with it shortly after Skyrim’s release. At that point the fan-mad Setup.exe for the game hadn’t yet reached the point where you could skip actually having to input commands into DOSbox to start the game. I didn’t get terribly far; there was the compounding frustration of getting a letter at some point that I’d been booted from the Mages Guild for inactivity, and getting stuck in Scourg Barrow, one of the few mainquest relevant and hand-crafted dungeons in the game, because I’d jumped down the wrong hole and didn’t yet realize some of the scenery was interactable and would cast spells like Levitate on you. I found this out after consulting the internet again, and was frustrated enough by the games design that I quit.
I came back to Daggerfall more recently, just in this past month, and I’ve been having a good time with it now that I better understand its faction systems and that it is at heart a dungeon crawler. I’ve occasionally been taken in by how pretty the game can be, when the time of day and weather and scenery and music line up just right. How effective transitioning into a dungeon is as being teleported to a nightmare hellworld where nothing makes sense and the hostility towards you seeps out of the walls. I’ve come to love the little messages you get when entering the worldcell that contain a graveyard or tomb-style dungeon “A ghostly wail call out from a tomb stone,” “You smell turned earth,” “The air is still.” Or when you come to something themed like the ruins of an old manor (on the outside,) and get a message telling you that “the earth beneath your feet has been burnt black.” You get the feeling something terrible happened there. I love its 90s fantasy schlock aesthetic, and the sprites of at least the static NPCs hit that sweet spot between detail and grainy suggestion. There’s a wonder to the fact that the world is so large, a small out of the way hamlet that gets few visitors is genuinely a small out of the way hamlet that gets few visitors, and not an illusion of one.
On this current playthrough that I intend to actually complete the mainquest on, I’ve been playing a squishy diplomat with no weapon skills at all, just converstaion, stealth, language, and utility magic skills. Dungeons have been effectively little survival horror games for most of my time with them, and I’ve had to get creative to navigate them and reach my goals. I was always planning to become a Wereboar, to get a cool contrast from before and after the transformation, and now that that’s happened its a rad little arc I’ve made for myself.
Most people who are aware of Daggerfall but haven’t played it will never play it. The majority of those looking at older TES titles will likely be turned away after seeing a few screenshots and noticing its grainy fidelity levels. People who get past that have and will be turned off by the first rat you fight that will kill them and probably the controls, and people who learn how the character system works will be turned away by the potential to fail the main quest completely without your knowledge because those deadlines the NPCs give you are hard ones.
Some of these are issues with the game not forefronting vital information; RPGs at the time left that stuff for the (frequently inaccurate,) manuals. Morrowind, a more recent game, would be put down far less quickly by far more people if it explained how your accuracy and spell casting chance tied to certain Fatigue thresholds.
What I want to talk about though are the first points of interaction with the game, the visuals and the controls. I said above that I’ve found Daggerfall genuinely pretty and absorbing when the audio and visuals interact just right, and not offensive to my eyes otherwise. The game looking old and using styles of presentation that aren’t really present in mainstream videogames these days, like 2D sprites in 3D environments that turn to face you is just going to be a straight-up deal breaker for a lot of people. If that doesn’t stop people the controls will. You can turn on a modern-feeling mouselook and rebind the keys to your hearts content, but plenty of people won’t get that far. There is a whiplash of “Old As Shit” that smacks people out of any interest in the game. My question is why, exactly?
I’ve played a not small number of old-looking games with old feeling controls by this point, RPGs in particular. After New Vegas came out and was built from the ground up to support a particular kind of freeform roleplaying through its dialouge, systems, and world you could only really scrape at in the RPGs I’d played like Fallout 3, Dragon Age: Origins, and Oblivion, I started to delve eagerly into the game’s that I’d heard it was descended from. All the old Black Isle and Interplay and Trokia stuff. I loved this kind of roleplaying so much that I tried to do it in games that it had no business being done in, like Dark Souls.
The graphics were never an issue for me, and the UIs stopped being clunky and frustrating after about 30 minutes of game time. This I find is pretty true of most older PC game’s controls; they don’t innately make any less sense than what we have to today, they just operate on a different logic it takes a little time to get used to. If you put someone who’s never played a videogame in front of the most recent Mario game, and then in front of Ultima Underworld, I don’t think either would be more or less intuitive to them.
Yet, this stuff prevents plenty of people from even considering touching these games.
I guess I’m done here actually, I had some kind of argument in mind when I started and was eventually going to find my way to my frustrations with how readily people dismiss older games based on “nostalgia,” including those who played them and have nostalgia for them, such that it shuts down discussion for them altogether too often and how that is immensely frustrating for me who has spent most of last decade playing older games, because playing new ones costs too much money and I’m interested in the history of game design and lots of things I like aren’t really done today, but I don’t see how I was going to get there based on what I’ve written so far, so here’s his paragraph instead. This is why I don’t get paid to write.
Anyway am I being unreasonable? Like comment subscribe.