Gamers to this day continue to look back on titles like Master of Orion 2 and Civilization with nostalgia. After listening to a recent 3MA podcast on 4X games, board game designer Olver Kiley (Hegemonic) was inspired to dive back into the subject and try to figure out, exactly, where the whole genre took a wrong turn.
What Kiley found was a number of diverse factors that all help explain what happened to 4X games. These include fragmentation of the genre into sub-genres, vacillating interest in simulation vs. toy-style game elements, and paralyzing devotion to the very nostalgia bringing people back to those famous older titles.
Personally, I find a lot of truth in the idea of sub-genres. Much like the dinosaurs, 4X games were awesome, mentally dominating spectacles for my growing high-school and college brain. Nothing in the gaming ecosystem could compete against them. But the dinosaurs changed. Some of them died out. Some turned into birds. What we enjoyed about 4X games can still be found, just not all together in precisely the same way.
And when people do try to create the experience, you end up with a terrifying chimera, holding the outside appearance of everything you wanted but with inner workings mostly pasted together with ostrich eggs and frog DNA.
But Kiley brings up some things to be hopefully about, notably the explosion of indie publishers and the kickstarter fundraising phenomenon. More and more ideas can be made into real things, and as long as people do not grasp too tightly to the past there is no reason for a bright 4X future.
Just as long as we don’t care too much what the X’s stand for. But who can remember, anyway?