Editorial: Browser-Based Beauty

Ten years isn't bad for a game with no future.

The Kingdom of Loathing devs even mock their own creation.

With the release of the next generation of home consoles almost upon us, I thought that I would pose a question to the Lusipurrian community; can browser-based games compete with any of the major gaming platforms? Flash games have always had their place on Facebook and other sites dedicated to hosting them, but these are more often that not simple affairs lacking any real depth that have the same goal as many games in the mobile space; to extract as much cash as possible from people who would rather pay to get ahead than work to get the same benefits. There are other games though that, while being free, still have enough thought put into them to keep me coming back for more.

Let us look at one of the oldest first. Kingdom of Loathing is an adventure game that is unlikely to win any awards for its art. In fact, it is comprised entirely of stick figures. The real genius is found within the writing of the game. Monster descriptions, weapon attack text, adventuring, and a host of other areas all have clever references to gaming, books, movies, and much more. With ten years of development put into the game post launch, there is more to discover than could be encountered in one play through. The game is designed to be played over multiple times, as once the final boss has been defeated, the player can start again as a new class while having limited access to all the items they have collected from previous runs through the game.

Card characters on a card board using cards abilities.

Card Hunter characters are moved around a table-top board.

New content is continuously being added to the game, even revamping older material as the developers construct new tools to allow themselves to add more interesting content to the game. Even random server problems or bugs in the game have in-game story and event associated with them. Servers had to be rolled back because of an infinite money bug? New event with time portals popping up all over the Kingdom! The developers are not afraid to have these events run for short periods of time, making items from older content unobtainable now, but often these have alternatives or outright better items anyway. A yearly fan meetup keeps the community fairly tight-knit and gives the development team the confidence to keep working on the game.

Now on to something more recent. Card Hunter was released a month ago and already seems to be generating a lot of interest. The game is a mix of table-top, CCG, and loot collection that has been blended into something quite awesome. Each piece of equipment adds cards to a characters deck. Better gear has a better selection of cards and possibly some negatives, though individual cards cannot be removed from a deck. Each round characters draw two cards and and a movement card, then take it in turns to play cards until no more can be played, then a new round is started. A Dungeons and Dragons style campaign can be played, or players can pit their heroes against each other in PvP matches.

If not much content.

Still in early development, Project Atlas already shows a great deal of promise.

Each campaign victory awards Diablo style loot with randomised rarity and properties. Maps can be revisited to collect more items, or they can be bought for game currency in a shop. As characters level up, they gain more equipment slots, increasing the pool of cards that each character can draw from. The type of equipment dictates what type of cards are added to the pool. The whole campaign is themed like a D&D game right down to the dungeon master AI. There even seems to be a little bit of story revolving around the dungeon master and his bully of an older brother, though the dungeons themselves have very little to draw adventurers to them other than the promise of shiny new toys.

Finally, we have not so much a game, more of an engine in development. Artillery Games is constructing their new engine to allow people to play games that are graphically equivalent to StarCraft 2 using nothing more than HTML5 in a web browser. No plug-ins or downloads, just point a browser to the URL and it starts running. At the same time they are developing an RTS, Project Atlas, to run in this engine, and while they are still in the early stages, they have managed to secured veteran StarCraft 2 player Sean ‘Day[9]’ Plott to help them rival the depth of Blizzard’s title. Early tech demos show surprisingly detailed 3D environments and models, as well as the workings of a strategy game. While the project only started last month, a beta could be ready by the end of the year.

Are there any web games that keep you busy between new traditional releases? Would you pay to play a web game that offered the depth of a console title? Let me know in the comments!

6 comments on “Editorial: Browser-Based Beauty”

  1. I want a real D&D game that plays like D&D.

    Or rather, I did, befor 4.0 came out. Now I want a Pathfinder game instead.

  2. As someone who had experience with 3.5 and mainly plays 4.0, I think there’s a lot to recommend 4.0. There are certainly problems with it, but it was a great gateway for the new players I DMd for and many of the problems (simplified alignment for example) can be eliminated or at least heavily managed with proper DMing. It would also probably be the easiest system of those I’ve played (3.5,4.0,NEXT) to translate into a video game.

    Did the Neverwinter Nights series not play enough like 3.5 for you Lusi? I thought those games did a reasonable job of approximating the rules in a restricted environment.

    last note: You might take a look at NEXT Lusi, it doesn’t play much like 4.0 at all and the playtest materials are downloadable for free from WotC. If what you disliked about 4.0 was the simplification of many aspects then you’re likely not going to like NEXT much as it is very streamlined.

  3. Some flash games look promising, but I think the endgame for this scope of project may end up being mobile technology.

  4. Triple post:
    Have you considered covering tabletop gaming on the site Lusi? Is it just a matter of having someone willing to do it?

  5. @DA: There used to be posts on tabletop gaming back when it peaked the interest of the staff.

    We’re not like the big sites that need to have the latest Barbie Makeover Simulator covered because we have to cover EVERY game. We generally write about what interests us, and right now tabletop gaming isn’t grabbing our attention.

  6. Kingdom of Loathing is fantastic. I will have to look into Card Hunter and see if it’s a good time. It at least looks like there’s potential there.

    @Lusi I want that as well. I tried D&D tactics for the PSP, and it was borderline awful. I am with you for the most part on 4e, though it had a couple of mechanics that I thought were interesting (minions in particular, which allowed for battles that felt bigger, without making them so huge that the challenge would be too high).

    @Dice Admiral I have been tracking Next closely, and I think it looks like it’s going to be very good. The hard part will be trying to convince the rest of my gaming group to give it a shot. It steps back towards a 3.5ish style, while (at least I think) simplifying the major rules and allowing flexibility through the choices you make while creating/developing characters (I haven’t looked as much into the DM side of things yet, though I would be shocked if it weren’t built similarly).

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