When I was 11 and started writing Basic programs on my Vic 20, I quickly decided that I wanted to write games. I went to college to get a Computer Science degree and quickly discovered that if you want to write games, you have to be in the right place at the right time. I never got into a position where I could write games.
Now, I'm old and decrepit and I don't even like writing software any more. I like designing software. I like playing with new computer systems and new technology, but I prefer to leave the actual coding to the youngsters.
But, I still like computer games and I can see where some game companies do a much better job of writing code than others. Blizzard (for example) seems to do a very good job of writing the software. They seem to have stable releases, balanced game play, and most of all... maintainable code. Big companies always seem to undervalue maintainable code. They want to immediately reap the profits of a new product, but never look ahead at how much it'll cost to maintain a hastily released product. I see FunCom as a prime example of hastily released unmaintainable code.
Recently I've discovered BioWare. I realize they've been around for a while, but I found out about them because of Dragon Age: Origins. If you haven't played this game yet, you should. I went out and bought the DVD, but I highly recommend going to the EA Store and purchasing it there. If you purchase it and download it directly from EA, then you don't have to have a disk in the drive to play it (which is very annoying). While you're there pick up Mass Effect for $9.95. It's a steal.
The BioWare games are polished and they seem to have a niche. Mass Effect, for example, would be considered a science fiction role-playing game on the surface. But the dialog and the graphics and the effects make it almost a movie. You've got a theatrical science fiction role-playing game where you control the dialog. If that wasn't enough, they add a first person shooter quality to it as well for the combat system. They've even recently released Mass Effect 2 although I haven't purchased that one yet. For the elderly amongst you, their games are like those books you might have read when you were a kid where at the end of every page or chapter you are given a list of options and you turn to a different page, depending on which option you pick, to continue reading. The story plays out in variations based on your decisions.
Dragon Age is just like Mass Effect except fantasy rather than science fiction. Also, Dragon Age is a little more about strategy. They've added more strategy and removed the first person shooter aspect. My favorite part about Dragon Age was creating the tactics for your party members. You control one person, but the characters not in your control are programmed via tactics that you pick out. Like you can have your mage heal allies that have less than 50% health. Or cast fireballs at enemies that are clustered in groups of 4 or more.
What I don't understand about all games though is why they don't borrow more from each other. Is it for legal reasons? For example, why can't MMORPG's, like Age of Conan, allow you to hire computer controlled party members to which you can assign tactics? Now, suddenly when you log in to an MMO, if there are no groups available to play with, you can just get NPC's...
And why can't the combat system in Dragon Age use the melee system brought to you by Age of Conan and the guys at FunCom? It would actually bring a little bit of FPS game play to Dragon Age.
In any case, Dragon Age is the best RPG I've played since Wizardy. And they have already announced an expansion pack...