The Weekly Whine: Pen & Paper Video Games

Where are all the games at? By games, I mean video games. Remember a few years ago we had the wonderful Baldur’s Gate which heralded a new era of RPG video games based on pen & paper franchises that were, dare I say, good? After that, we were pretty much hit with a goldmine of other games after that. Pools of Radiance, Baldur’s Gate 2, Planescape: Torment, Icewind Dale and the list goes on. Eventually we had PC and consoles rejoicing in the goodness of pen & paper games brought to the virtual world. But where have they gone?

Let’s look around now and see what we have. We have Neverwinter Nights 2, Warhammer Online, Champions Online which was as recent as we get and we have D&D Online. Speaking of D&D Online who the hell thought it a good idea to make an MMO in today’s competitive space and base it on a new setting which was not as established as Wizards of the Coast’s other flagship titles? The MMO has lived thus far and has even been offered in a new free to play format, but really, it fizzled rather quickly. You can argue that World of Warcraft is the king of massive multiplayer games but it’s an easy to play and decent game. Neverwinter Nights heralded the creation of your own world with it’s inclusive toolset almost ringing in a new era of virtual pen & paper rpg platform. Again it’s got a ongoing community, but rather fizzled.

For the above, I think there have been opportunities wasted and exploitation of franchises. Between the PC and consoles, how many Baldur’s Gates did we end up with? Four? Two of which had nothing to do with each other, other than using the name. Why not just simply use the Forgotten Realms moniker? It was used for the game Demon Stone, mind you, which I hear was an OK game. And let’s not forget Planescape which was a game that was very well received, critically. So well received that people wanted to know when the next would come out. But not only no other Planescape games came out, the setting has essentially been dropped and sliced up to fit in the new cosmology. Now let’s be honest, the setting in pen & paper format was not as popular as the rest of their lines. It was out there in concepts and style. It wasn’t your typical high fantasy game with flowers blooming and a hydra ripping from the ground… (ok, that’s a story for another day).  BUT it was a great video game and had a future which was not taken advantage of.

Now we have had other video games over time, both good and bad and not just TSR / Wizards of the Coast. We have had some Call of Cthulhu games with the last one being extremely good, we have had Vampire before they all went New World of Darkness on us, Heavy Gear (WTF happened with this franchise?) but otherwise not much else has hit the radar. I think this is a medium that needs to be tapped more but not in the exploitive way of Baldur’s Gate. Call of Cthulhu was a valiant effort into getting something else out there. Dawn of War has been also a great series of games but I think it promotes the miniatures more than their pen & paper counterpart. But it’s good exposure thats needed. Back a few years ago I just knew Games Workshop as a company and expensive miniatures but now there are stores popping up everywhere and… expensive miniatures. The idea is there however: the idea that they built themselves up over time and they found a way into the video game medium to portray their product. RTS-styled video gaming was perfect for Warhammer. And Warhammer Online was a decent venture into the MMO market. Oh and before I forget how about Champions Online?

I’m sure we will see an influx of pen & paper settings turned into video games but I would like the quality & quantity to step up a bit or some consistency in releases. How about a Dragonlance game based on one of their trilogies? How about a Midnight game? Perhaps Rifts? (Not the N-Gage one) or maybe just maybe some other World of Darkness games? Let’s experience this new creation of your’s. Let’s not just deal with vampires. And explain to me why we don’t have an Exalted game? It seems to me we should have a cell shaded anime styled game out there. Maybe on the Xbox or maybe the Wii with controls that let you perform martial arts attacks or using your anima.

The thing is that if you listen to me, I make it sound black and white. It’s a dangerous game moving in between markets and doing well. I commend these companies for jumping out there and doing it. Especially Palladium! Who the hell would have thought we would see anything Rifts on the shelves of an EB at the time? But it’s awesome to see that. It may not have been the best way to get out there but companies need to make a jump at some point or at least publishers of gaming companies should take notice. There is a big well to be tapped and sometimes for games like Planescape that are maybe misunderstood, a walk through a well made video game might end up bringing more to the flock to see what it’s all about.

It’s a tough market out there but my fingers are crossed for more games along the way with hopefully some surprise names. Here is a list of games that I highly recommend trying out.

Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth

Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning

Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines

Champions Online