Myth is a good example of taking an established genre and then adding new elements to it in order to transmogrify it into something new and unique. The original genre in question here is real-time strategy games such as WarCraft and Command & Conquer , which had risen to tremendous popularity a year or so before development on Myth began . The games were so popular and seemed simple enough to develop from a technological standpoint that suddenly every publisher had to have one. A sea of clone games soon flooded the market. Most of these games attempted to function nearly identically to WarCraft and Command & Conquer , with minor improvements such as waypoint systems for unit movement and production queuing. These changes were far from revolutionary, however, and as a result, these games failed to offer any compelling reason for the public to purchase them. Consequently, they disappeared without a trace.
In a way, Myth was a part of the real-time strategy bandwagon, but Jones was too smart to just clone the success of RTS games. Instead, it would appear, he examined the games differently and questioned how they could be altered and improved on a more fundamental level. What if, instead of the 2D graphics technology that all of the games to date had used, a game used a truly 3D engine? With the sole exception of his first game, Minotaur , Jones games to date had all been 3D, so it made sense for him to continue to use that technology for his new project. The 3D component would not be added merely for visual flair, however. As with id Software s Wolfenstein 3D , which years earlier had taken a relatively simple action game and, by incorporating 3D technology, dramatically changed the nature of the game design itself, Myth took strategy gameplay and molded it to suit the new technology. The result was an entirely new game design, not merely another clone.
However, it appears that the 3D technology used was not completely dictating the game s design direction. The 3D engine developed is one uniquely suited to modeling outdoor environments, and hence supporting RTS gameplay. Instead of taking the technology from his previous game, Marathon 2 , and trying to make that work with a real-time strategy game, Jones wisely started over with a whole new engine. Marathon 2 had used a Doom- style BSP engine, a technology suited for simple indoor, non-organic environments but not so conducive to the needs of RTS games, which require wide- open , outdoor environments to play well. So a new terrain engine was created that was uniquely suited to the gameplay requirements of a 3D RTS project.
With the 3D technology in place, certain game design changes could be made to the fundamental RTS form as established by WarCraft and Command & Conquer . In Myth , the elevation of the terrain where combat took place would have a dramatic effect on how well players units fared. Place the archers at the top of a hill for maximum effectiveness. Place them in a gully and watch them get slaughtered. Myth also uses a simple but effective physics system that serves to emphasize the 3D nature of the landscape. When players send a dwarf scurrying up a hill to throw one of his Molotov cocktails at an enemy atop that hill, they should be prepared for the bottle to possibly roll back down the hill before detonating. Should the projectile hit its intended target, players can marvel as the ground at the explosion point ripples in a visually interesting way, altering the landscape for the rest of the game. Of course, if the target is killed , players can expect the body parts of that destroyed enemy to roll back down the hill toward the dwarf.
Another significant improvement that results from the 3D engine is the ability of players to see the battlefield at a level of detail not possible in a top-down or isometric 2D game. Players can rotate the camera in order to see past objects that might obstruct their view or merely to find the perfect angle for a given battle. Furthermore, players can easily zoom in and out on the action. The zooming in has little gameplay benefit, and is almost exclusively useful for the visceral thrill of seeing a battle close-up, immersing players in the action in a way 2D RTS titles simply cannot. The angle of view is significantly different as well, being at a much lower angle relative to the battlefield than any strategy game that preceded it. The camera s position was no doubt chosen partly for aesthetic reasons and partly for gameplay considerations. Regardless of the motivations, the result of Myth s close-up view of the battle is a decidedly more intimate experience for players, where the individual units become more important and more real than they ever do in an RTS game with a more removed perspective. Thus, the intimacy of a first-person shooter such as Marathon is married to the tactical gameplay of a strategy game, resulting in an entirely new type of gameplay experience.
The 3D engine employed by Myth is not all that sophisticated, especially by modern-standards. The characters on the landscape, for instance, are simple sprites instead of being fully 3D polygonal beasts. This was no doubt important so that a great number of units could be on the screen at once. What fun would an RTS game be if one could only have three units on the screen at any one time? At the time, rendering a large number of fully 3D, humanoid creatures on the screen at once would have brought PCs to a crawl, and even today can be an extremely challenging undertaking.
In Myth , every bit of technology is used to its greatest gameplay effect, as is typical of projects run by designer/programmers such as Jones. This hybrid developer understands what the technology can do perfectly while also understanding what would be compelling in terms of gameplay, making for very economical game development. Thus, when the technology does something that can enhance the gameplay, the designer/programmer instantly notices it and is able to exploit it to its maximum effect. This differs greatly from so many projects where programmers implement complicated functionality that is never used because the designers never fully understand it.
Of course, adapting gameplay from 2D to 3D is not without its drawbacks. For instance, despite being able to zoom in and out in Myth , one is never able to zoom out from the action quite as much as one would like. This is in part because of the precedent set by other RTS games, which, because of their 2D engines, can have a much more distant viewpoint, a viewpoint that lends itself to tracking and moving large numbers of units. A patch was released for Myth shortly after its publication that allowed players to zoom the camera out farther, but with the side effect of decreasing their frame rate, since more landscape and hence more polygons are now in view. Of course, the engine could probably support viewing the landscape from still farther away, but the amount of polygons on the screen would quickly become prohibitive, decreasing the game s overall speed unacceptably. Thus, the limitations of a 3D engine come to constrain the gameplay choices the designer can make. Another gameplay drawback that results from the technology is the often confusing camera. Though the camera is able to rotate to view whatever side of the action is desired, this camera rotation can often become jarring and disorienting, causing the players to lose track of different locations and units on the map. It is as if previous strategy games had used a skilled cameraman who generally showed players what they wanted, but for Myth the job was handed off to the players, who could then look at exactly what part of the world they wanted.
Unfortunately, most players were not quite up to the challenge of framing the action themselves . For a novice, a casual gamer, or anyone without a good sense of direction, the camera s movement would probably be altogether unmanageable.