Anticipated titles versus surprises

Let’s look at the last year for a moment:

  • Lots of action gamers looked forward to Unreal Tournament 2003. They got Quake III.5 and were disappointed…

… but they got Battlefield 1942.

  • Lots of strategy gamers were looking foward to Civ3: Play the World… They got a buggy mess, and were disappointed…

… but strategy gamers did get Age of Wonders 2.

  • Lots of RTS gamers were looking forward to Warcraft III and Age of Mythology. While arguably good games, many gamers were disappointed, because they seemed like more of the same…

… but sleeper hits like Europa 1400 arrived on the scene.

The point I’m trying to make is that what we drool over are the big games – and many of them sequels to games that are practically canon in the PC gaming pantheon (oops, sorry about the mixed similes).

At any rate, I think there’s quite a few good games still to come, and most of them aren’t necessarily highly anticipated – and will be all the more fun for that.

I can recall what a thrill Battlefield 1942 was – not necessarily because it’s a good game (it is, after some patches), but because it came out of left field.

It’s possible that MOO3, or Unreal II or Freelacner or any game that has legions of eager gamers waiting for it can possibly live up to expectations.

As ever,


At least one RPGer looked forward to Morrowind, Dungeon Siege, and NWN – and found them all disappointing in varying degrees. Then Divine Divinity came along and was as much fun as I had all year.

But yeah, I think the lack of anticipation is part of why it seems more fun. One of the most positive moviegoing experiences I ever had was “Robocop,” I think in part because I went in thinking it would be terrible. It was a great movie anyway, but if I’d gone in expecting a great movie, I might have spent more time paying attention to its shortcomings. Weird how the brain works.

UT2K3 is not Quake III.5. It’s more like an over-done UT.

Unfortunately, “anticipation,” or as our friends in marketing and ad-sales refer to it, “hype,” is generally considered important for games to sell well. And unfortunately, psychotic fans turn anticipation into some kind of weird, fanatical bloodlust. As a result, if you say anything bad about “their” game, they’ll skin you and eat you alive. Also, if you’re developing the game and it turns out to be bad, they’ll skin you and eat you alive.

Also Loyd, to your point about BF1942: that game really was that good, and it stands on its own merits as a terrifically fun experience, not just as a pleasant surprise. Better examples of great games coming from out of left field might be Serious Sam or IL-2 Sturmovik.

But when anticipation is vindicated by experience…there’s no sweeter feeling. I love surprises, but when you’ve waited for a year for a game to be released and then it surpasses expectations, it’s amazing.

I doesn’t happen often enough, but it’s great when it does.


Divine Divinity didn’t do much for me, but Morrowind was actually a pretty big surprise. I wasn’t expecting much after the staggering disappointment of Daggerfall, but it turned out to be the best RPG I’ve played in years.

Age of Wonders II, on the other hand, surprised me not at all. I liked it, but I’d been anticipating it for some time, and had been playing the beta months prior to release.

That’s the downside to being a game writer–there aren’t many surprises. If you do the trade shows, you know about most games long before they come out. That’s why I value all the small developer and indie titles all the more. Sometimes I stumble across something that I’ve never heard of, and it turns out to be good. I love that.

… but strategy gamers did get Age of Wonders 2.

And Advance Wars, if they hadn’t gotten around to it in the first three months it was out.

My cure for the inevitable letdowns is to ignore the hyped, big name titles pretty much until their release, where possible that is. Sure I could visit Rise of Nations sites far and wide and salivate over screenshots and CGM previews, but that just pumps that bar of expectation up to unattainable levels. I know RoN is coming, it will probably be really good, and for now that is enough for me. Although the recent delay found its way to jackhammering me in the kidney, but I am not going to dwell on that. :)

I attempt to find, follow, and get moderately excited about relative unknowns. Empire of Magic, Knightshift, Spellforce to name a few. Now, all too often, they do not pan out…Celtic Kings, Highland Warriors…With low expectaions in hand, they can then suck with a minimal amount of weeping from me. Occasionally, you get one that no one expected and yippeee!!! I loved Netsorm, Myth, Disciples 1. Granted many of these, once the publicity machine kicked in, were not "sleepers’ per se, but they were wonderful finds for me as I followed their developments.

OTOH, I could just be so jaded I do not get excited about anything anymore and I am just talking out of my ass.

LOL!!! funny that, I was thinking the same thing

Have you played Arx Fatalis? No? Go get it. Money well spent. But bad marketing and a brain dead name are whats killing this gem at retail. Damn suits.

I dunno… I still don’t have high hopes for Knight Rider.

That’s a good idea. I was turned on to Europa Universalis about a year before its release by a European friend on another site. So I followed the development keenly and was always delighted to follow the discussion of a game that only a few people seemed to know/care about. I felt like I was in on a secret, even though, of course, most serious strategy gamers knew it was coming. If it didn’t work, well, I could chalk it up to boyish enthusiasm for a marginal developer. When it did, it started a love affair that even the morass of Hearts of Iron couldn’t kill.

I’m still pretty keyed up for RoN, though Pax Romana is the new marginal strategy game for me to follow.


Two surprises for me - IL2 Sturmovik and Operation Flashpoint.

Both were far better than I could have imagined.

Agreed - they were both 2001 games though, to the extent that’s relevant.

It’s hard to be surprised when you see most games so far in advance at trade shows, etc., so it’s great when it happens (Battlefield 1942 and Divine Divinity were great surprises for me last year).

It took me several years to get my hype legs, but now that I’ve got ‘em, no game has disappointed me because my expectations are under control. I too follow the indie developers because often, that’s where interesting design stuff is going on, and where expectations are so low that a gem seems twice as shiny when you find it. Like Dominions – What a freakin’ mess in a lot of ways, but what a thing of beauty in others.

The 2002 game that most exceeded my expectations was Freedom Force. I had been dying for a squad-based tactical superhero game since the inception of the Curse, and had tired of pinning my hopes on a succession of vaporware products. I was excited about Freedom Force but then, like other old-school TB-heads, crestfallen when I discovered it would be real-time. I bought the game prepared to return it, and ended up having more fun than I had in ages. Irrational completely upended a lot of my notions of what I thought was essential in a game like that, and totally won me over in the process.

The big “left field” find for me last year was LSN, to which I subscribed early on, and which I continue to play on practically a daily basis.

I’m not denying for a moment that BF1942 is a great game – it is a great game. But it did appear out of left field, brought to you by the same people that brought you the oh-so-memorable Codename Eagle.

As ever,

Loyd Case