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Links and appreciating older games

Brad Gallaway's picture

So, I find myself playing another XBLA game that's currently under embargo. However, this is certainly a title that deserves much praise from what I've seen of it so far...

I've put in a request asking to specify whether I can talk about it (or not) as long as no official review is published, but in the meantime, let me just say that [redacted!] is pretty friggin’ SWEET.

... seriously, nothing but love for it.

My friend @PeterSkerritt is an extremely sharp guy and he has a lot of really on-target things to say about the gaming industry. One of his recent blogs talk about some of the mistakes that Capcom has made recently, and even though I'm someone who has a lot of love for the house of Mega Man, I certainly think Peter is preaching the gospel here.

Finally, I can't quite remember what brought the subject up again, but I often think that it's a shame that a lot of older games don't get the appreciation they deserve. Or, more specifically, I think a lot of players lack an appreciation of history. [disclaimer] It's a bit of a complicated problem and I'm not sure that I am awake enough to do the entire subject justice at this particular moment [end disclaimer] but it seems to me that there are two main issues here:

The first is that many players trying older games for the first time lack historical context, and the second is that games, moreso than any other medium, suffer from the rapid pace of improving technology.

GoldenEye 007 Nintendo 64 Box Art

As an example of the historical context problem, put GoldenEye 007 (N64) in front someone who's never played it before, and I guarantee that their reaction will be less than positive. However, people who are old enough to have played it when it first hit often speak of all-night multiplayer binges in reverent tones. The difference there is that people who have the proper context know what gaming was like at the time, and what it was like before GoldenEye made the strides in multiplayer that it did.

I'm not saying that current players must play the game and love it the way that older folks do, but I do think it's important to remember that particular games became milestones for a reason, and forgetting that means forgetting how we got to where we are today.

The second issue, improving technology, is a fairly obvious one.

Anyone can go to the library and pick up a book from ten, twenty, fifty, or even a hundred years ago and appreciate what the author had to say. Oh sure, some of the language may be different, but the barriers to benefiting from such a work aren't really that high. The same goes for films. Anyone can track down a movie from the last few decades and watch it, and although special effects and production values have risen quite a bit, the quality of the performances and the message of the writing will still be able to be enjoyed. That enduring quality does not seem to hold as true for games.

I'm not trying to say that current gamers are shallow, but it's rare when I meet someone who’s interested and motivated enough about educating themselves on the medium to put up with the graphical quality and technical issues of a game from last generation, let alone two or three generations ago. That is, of course, completely putting aside the issue of the logistical difficulty of finding the games and hardware to play in the first place…

(For more on this, my friend and former E3 roomie @KyleOrl wrote a piece on his own journey of discovery.)

I think there’s a lot of value in seeing where games came from and what they used to be like. Not only does it give a greater appreciation for the quality of games being made today, but it also shows which "innovations" are actually iterations on ideas previously put forth and provides a lot of insight into current design. I'm not even forty years old, but when reading certain reviews or talking with gamers younger than myself, it seems quite clear that many of them have large gaps of knowledge that, if filled, would increase their appreciation of the hobby, not to mention informing discussions and examinations of same.

What's the solution?

Well, I've certainly got a few ideas of my own, BUT I'm interested to hear the thoughts of my blog’s brain trust. So... if you've got some ideas, what say ye?

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360  
Series: GoldenEye 007  
Genre(s): Shooting  

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The difference in your

The difference in your Golden Eye example I think is that the people who played the game back in the day are wearing nostalgia goggles. You don't need a sense of gaming history to understand that Golden Eye (or Game X etc) is not a good game. Like you say, all you gotta do is sit down and play it for twenty minutes.

It's fun to be the expert and lament forgotten innovators and discourse on genre roots to young whippersnappers etc, but I don't think you really need to know anything about the past to judge a new game.

Older Ages Better

I'm not really responding to the question you pose at the end of your blog, but rather, you brought to mind something I am quite adamant about: old 8 and 16-bit games (with graphics built from pixels) age volumes better than early polygon/3D games, like much of what was on the PS One.

Go play Metal Gear Solid...it's fairly hard to look at, which is disappointing. Then go play Super Mario Bros, or Final Fantasy VI, or The Legend of Zelda...these games look great and play great. I'm not saying they will forever stand the test of time, but they are far more impervious to it then even early Xbox and PS2 titles, in my opinion at least.

Actually, now I will address your question: the solution is HD remakes. They make old games sing graphically and easy to obtain. It really bothers me when the cynical gamers accuse these new release of being quick cash grabs...I think it's a brilliant strategy where publishers and gamers both win.

I just played Ocarina of Time 3D on the 3DS, and it looked phenomenal. It not only looks lovely, but I doubt I would have been motivated to revisit it, had it looked exactly the same, dated graphics and all. I think it's even less likely that a newcomer would take the plunge.

Repackaging old games in compilation packages with shiny new graphics is totally the way to go. In the examples I've seen, all of these games retain their soul from the original.

And personally, I think gamers could benefit wildly from going back in time. Musicians do it almost as a requirement; why some gamers wouldn't even be curious boggles my mind.

Smoke and mirrors

Ilya Zarembsky wrote:

You don't need a sense of gaming history to understand that Golden Eye (or Game X etc) is not a good game.

I don't think that Goldeneye is a bad game, far from it. Just because it doesn't follow modern conventions doesn't make it bad. In some ways its actually better, for example the death animation in Goldeneye are a lot more fun then anything you see in modern shooters. They are over the top and theatricality for sure, but they have variety and impact often missing in modern days shooter where enemies just fall to the ground or ragdoll through the air, boringly and without style.

I think the by far biggest problem with old games is not quality, but simply accessibility. Back when you where stuck without Internet and without Steam sales every day that would give you new games for $5, you simply had to invest some time into a game and learn it. Today its much easier to pass on a game that doesn't capture you in the first five minutes and move on to a more accessible modern one, where you don't have to read a manual and don't have to learn the controls. But as soon as you make it over the first hour or two, get accustomed with the controls and graphics, I really don't see a problem with old games.

If anything, old games make me often realize of much its all about smoke and mirrors these days, as while graphics and animations have improved a lot, a lot of the underlying systems haven't really changed half as much. A dialog tree for example today really is no more depth then it was 20 years ago. Shooting an enemy still makes him just dead as it did decades ago. The interaction with the virtual game world these days sure looks different then back then, but it really works very much the same.

Technology - I don't fully

Technology - I don't fully buy the technology argument, for a couple of reasons:

First, while I agree that games do depend on technology, I am not convinced that they are that much different than books and movies in that regard. Citizen Kane was a technological marvel at the time, but many people still find it boring today, and many people won't even bother watching old films. And if we look at the earliest films, we see that the makers were feeling their way through the dark. Historical context is equally important for other media as well. Look at Shakespeare - it's filled with historical references and idioms of the day.

Second, there are plenty of games that stand the test of time, regardless of technology. For example, Tetris, PONG and Super Mario Bros. These are still the top selling games today, even over critically acclaimed stuff like Mass Effect and Uncharted. Sure, these games have been repackaged and reskinned (Wii Sports Tennis, New Super Mario Bros Wii), but the core game remains the same. You might argue that Wii Sports Tennis relies heavily on new technology because of the motion controls, but I would say that pong had some custom inputs (the knobs) that are similar to the motion controls because they are very tactile. Tetris is still just as fun today as it was back then - it doesn't depend heavily on technology and still spawns clones.

Historical Context

Ilya Zarembsky wrote:

I don't think you really need to know anything about the past to judge a new game.

Completely disagree here. You don't play games in a vacuum. As a consumer, you are trading your hard-earned money for a game where it could go to an infinite number of other purposes. Knowing the history of the products you are buying helps tremendously in judging value. So it helps to know what is out there, what has been done and what is possible, and what you are looking for in a game, or even if you want to buy a game at all. Developers can look to the past to see what is fun and what sells and what doesn't.

Brad Gallaway wrote:

I'm not trying to say that current gamers are shallow

Why hold back? Hardcore gamers are a shallow bunch in general. They buy into hype and uber graphics, which is why you'll see the sales of super hyped hardcore games massively spike in the first month or two and then taper off to nothing. Casual gamers do other things with their lives, so they are more likely to be discerning in their tastes. Hardcore gamers generally don't lead interesting lives as they are playing games all day and not doing interesting things. The reason they don't care about history is because they are not interested in it, and they want their next quick fix.

How to get people more informed?

I think it would largely take some self-motivation on their part. Connecting the older games directly to the current games in a gamer's life would help this. People might not read up on their world history regularly, but if current events transpire that have direct impact on them, they may be more motivated to learn about the past to be informed about the present. Likewise, to inspire that motivation in gamers, I would suggest recommending high quality "old-school" products that the gamer finds fun, and connect them directly to current games that the gamer enjoys. If gamers play them and find them fun then they will be more likely to experiment on their own. Maybe they'll buy a Virtual Console game (what else are they doing with their Wii?), something on XBLA, or some remake on a handheld.

Respectfully Disagree

Odofakyodo wrote:

Why hold back? Hardcore gamers are a shallow bunch in general. They buy into hype and uber graphics, which is why you'll see the sales of super hyped hardcore games massively spike in the first month or two and then taper off to nothing. Casual gamers do other things with their lives, so they are more likely to be discerning in their tastes. Hardcore gamers generally don't lead interesting lives as they are playing games all day and not doing interesting things. The reason they don't care about history is because they are not interested in it, and they want their next quick fix.

While I would love to agree with you and point the finger at every person drinking mountain dew and playing the latest FPS, I'd be doing myself a disservice, as well as many other hardcore gamers. What you said should not be put forward as representative of ALL or even MOST hardcore gamers.

I'm a hardcore gamer. What makes me that way? I've played games for years, since Atari. I can rock a 200 hour RPG, or play 5 hours of an FPS online. These days, I play mostly single player, and only a couple of hours a night, because that's all that my life allows. I have a girlfriend and a job and other interests, I enjoy the latest art house "snobby" game just like the next "I'm better than those hardcore gamers" guy, and I have spent time revisiting the history of video games time and time again. I'm a hardcore gamer and I'm nothing like what you describe...and I'm sorry, but I can't believe I'm the only one.

nostalgia goggles vs. historical enligthenment

Ilya Zarembsky wrote:

...people who played the game back in the day are wearing nostalgia goggles....

Yeah, some do.

It set FPS standards, together with HL and NOLF, which are not always matched by current games. AI standards were raised by Far Cry, Crysis and FEAR. But as soon as they get excelled by newer games they are really just what they are, milestones, but not ultimately the first recommendation i would then give.

I loved Goldeneye at its release. It kicked the asses of Half Life and Unreal. But it's a game i would not recommend today without some disclaimers.

Old games might be significant milestones but graphic (/technology) matters with some games more with some less (and for some gamers less or more) and old games age not as well as black and white movies or cell shading games, since this is a specific style, sort of ageless. Wannabe photorealism sucks when getting wrinkles.

Games that might become the new classics from current generation might hold up better since photorealism is not so far away anymore. Though i am not quite sure if the pad-interface will not be considered in near future archaic...

Having some knowledge in gaming history is rather a side note information than changing my mind if i like a game or not.

Currently Demons Souls reminds me of Swords&Serpents on the NES. Not really the same genre but the slow pacing, the somewhat crippled way i have to plow through the levels is imho very similar.

It's also a game that lets me believe that a ton of reviewers and gamers are so desperate for something new that they believe something that falls back in time like DS can be called innovative. IMO it plays a lot like NES-games, just with up to date graphics and more buttons on the controller. Kind of retro, not innovative, imho.

Ilya Zarembsky wrote: The

Ilya Zarembsky wrote:

The difference in your Golden Eye example I think is that the people who played the game back in the day are wearing nostalgia goggles. You don't need a sense of gaming history to understand that Golden Eye (or Game X etc) is not a good game. Like you say, all you gotta do is sit down and play it for twenty minutes.

I think it's a little more complicated then that. Do B&W movies suck because they don't have color? Are handwritten bibles inferior to ones made on a printing press? It just takes a different sensibility to appreciate past works that contribute to the evolution and growth of an art form.

Ilya Zarembsky wrote:

It's fun to be the expert and lament forgotten innovators and discourse on genre roots to young whippersnappers etc, but I don't think you really need to know anything about the past to judge a new game.

Anyone can express an opinion, but what's going to separate opinions with value that help shape the history of video games are ones that appreciate the past and put present games in their proper historical context.

By in large I agree with Brad in that a lot of younger game critics and writers are doing themselves a huge disservice by not taking the time to research the history of games and ultimately end up looking foolish when they overly heap praise on games that literally don't deserve it.

HD remakes

I definitely agree that HD remakes of classic console titles are completely worth it. And in fact I agree that re-releases and special editions in general, optimized to run smoothly on the current generation of tech, are a great idea.

I missed Chrono Cross the first time because I didn't have the right tech; I massively enjoyed playing it through on the Nintendo DS a couple of years ago. I have friends who never got to play The Secret of Monkey Island way back when who have since enjoyed it enormously on their phones or iPads.

I owned a huge number of PC games between 1992 and 2006 that I've since re-purchased via Steam or GOG, simply because it's worth $5 to me to say to a publisher or developer: (1) there's still a market for this kind of game, and (2) I would rather find a way to buy it legally in a format that will straight-up *work* than have to cobble together something myself in DOSBox.

To me it's comparable to the way Criterion carefully remasters and distributes old films. Sure, if you have a film print or a VHS or a laserdisc of an old movie you could see it as a "cash grab" to get it on DVD and Blu-Ray, but if you appreciate the content then you also appreciate the improvements in delivery. These games are part of our canon, and making them accessible and playable is always wise.

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