Back in 1999, I picked up the latest issue of Incite magazine at the store as I did every month, anxious to read more about Daikatana. There wasn't just some basic preview inside the magazine itself, though; instead, the included CD-ROM featured a 4 minute video showing the developers hard at work. After watching, my want for the game (and a new graphics card) was at an all time high.
Well, the rest as they say is history. The game came out, flopped, and became a big part of why development studio Ion Storm (Deus Ex, Anachronox) shuttered (though Deus Ex: Invisible War sure didn't help, either). After Daikatana's release, it seemed certain that John Romero would never head-up another game again, much less a first-person shooter. Well, we've now been proven wrong, and I admit I'm quite happy about it. We're talking about a designer for Doom, Quake, Wolfenstein 3D, and a lead programmer on Commander Keen, after all.
We're not sure what Romero's next FPS is going to be called, but by all appearances, he seems to be going into this venture with the right mindset. Instead of simply relying on some ultra high-end graphics to sell the game (not that those are not great), he's focusing on good game design. I think most would agree that above all, gameplay is what's important. Daikatana was a game that had a huge emphasis on graphics, and we can see where that got us.
John Romero's Daikatana
With all of the Battlefields and Call of Dutys that seem to hit the market every other month, many believe that the FPS genre is stagnant. Romero doesn't, and I'd agree that there's plenty of room for innovation. "There are unbelievable amounts of new stuff to do in that genre. The idea of a shooter is running around with weapons, in first-person, blowing things away. But what are you really doing? What is the world like? Who are you, and what do you care about? What are you doing in the world that’s different?"
Admittedly, the FPS genre is one that could use a lot more uniqueness, but there have been some gems over the years. BioShock Infinite would be a recent example, and if I might go all the way back to 2006, I'd say Prey was pretty good, too. There's room for a ton of innovation outside of the FPS genre, as well. Romero in particular gives some major props to Minecraft: "Look at Minecraft – it’s unbelievable that it was made by one person, right?" He continues, "I think we’re seeing the start of that genre – Minecraft is the Wolfenstein of creation games – but we need people to push that idea forwards, not just make clones for a quick buck."
Commander Keen - One of Romero's earliest successes
Someone needs to spread the latter part of the thought fast - sometimes it seems like there's a Minecraft clone for every Minecraft player out there. Nonetheless, even as a hardcore PC gamer, I can't help but agree with Romero on this point, as Develop relays, "This leads Romero onto the main message he wants to share with us: the key to success and advancing the industry is not 1080p graphics, jetpacks and other incremental new features, but the design at a game’s core."
There are many examples of games that have been released (once again, including Daikatana) that have had such a huge focus on graphics, that the gameplay suffered. And if the gameplay suffers, the graphics alone are not going to keep someone sucked-in. Minecraft is hardly a gorgeous game, but its success has been unbelievable.
Ultimately, Romero's biggest goal with his next game is to design "Something that gives people a fun experience". I do hope that whatever the game becomes does prove to be a grand success. It goes without saying that even with his genius, Romero's challenge to pull that off will be difficult.