There was a collective sigh of sadness from global strategy game gonks like me at the news former Firaxis and Big Huge Games big huge brain Brian Reynolds had thrown in his trad-gaming towel and joined Farmville and Mafia Wars outfit Zynga last year. Did this mean an end to playful, progressive and p-thoughtful strategy titles like Civ II and Rise of Nations?
What with Zynga being a pretty closed-doors kinda company - rarely talking to the media - there's been very little word on exactly what lovely Brian's been up to there. A talk at GDC Online a couple of days ago saw him make a rare re-entrance into the limelight and reveal that, even if some of us aren't interested in the games he's now making, he's still putting a fair bit of thought into it.
Sounds like FrontierVille's been his baby and, again, even if you didn't like it (which you're entitled to do, though the mindset that cries for it and its ilk to be scrubbed from existence does trouble me), it does a least strive to add a bit more game to the endless crop-collecting.
Here's a tell-tale quote from Gama's coverage too:
"When you're making entertainment you can't just keep making the same things over and over again. Innovation doesn't mean inventing a kind of game that nobody's ever ever seen before. You'll be lucky if you make one or two things like that in a whole career of game design. But innovation also means combining the things we know in new and innovative ways. Remember that in social games, the social innovations are the most important of all."
Which suggests he's genuinely interested in how to make people who don't play, play - and that's an argument we can all surely get behind. There's a lot of stuff that might be worrying/irritating about many company's approach gaming on Facebook, but that doesn't mean the universal intentions and possibilities are sour.
This is nicely-intended too:
"Our tutorial just says, 'Hey look, there's stuff. You can click on it and everything you click on does something good. Go.'"
More coverage on Gamespot. Nothing especially revelatory in any of his comments, for me, but it's the clear sense of enthusiasm, of still wanting to make something that entertains people, which made me feel a whole lot better about his departure from 'our' games.
Zynga's a frightening entity to be sure, unbelievably huge - recently renting a 2000-person office - and historically prone to releasing projects arguably very similar to other studios' titles, but all the devs and technologies it's been buying recently hint it might be in a position to take a few more risks alongside its sure-fire click-based hits. I hope. I really, really do. And I hope that involves Reynolds turning his not inconsiderable experience and savvy to projects that might, say, appeal a bit more to RPS' audience.
He also says a bunch of scary stuff, like 'monetise' and how it's cool to make people pay to find out where the story goes next, but then again he is in the business of making microtransaction-funded games now, so it'd be pretty odd if he came out and said that stuff was bad. Just keep the flame burning, Brian, please.