Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Wax Nostalgic Responsibly

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classic_gameAs time ticks by the threshold of what is considered nostalgic and retro grows exponentially.  I dare not even define the term or the guidelines one may foolishly attempt to place on what would even be appropriate for a site like this.  At the going rate of Internet coverage I could probably justify reviewing a game a month old or that has recently earned a price drop as retro, it’s all relative.  Still, there is a place for looking fondly back at gaming days passed but it is important to realize that with the ongoing clutter of fan created gaming sites that we all do our part to stand out.  I don’t want to read articles about things I already know, I want to read articles about things no one knows.  This is why you don’t see much coverage of Super Mario World or reviews of the latest virtual console releases – too many have already done it before.  When you set out to talk about the past, try to impress with what unique items you can bring to the table, not recycling.

It’s a hard road to figure out what to cover and frankly we tend to migrate to what we know best, but remember that as a consumer product there were so many copies of Super Mario Bros. 3 that perhaps one does not need to review it for the thousandth time.  I may be off base, but I propose that anyone talking about old games either try to cover what has rarely been touched before or bring a new angle.  Also it’s important to understand that with different eras ushers different players and neither is the correct opinion.  I scoff at the people who played pinball in the 70s and 80s and tell me that I should play a real man’s game and put aside kiddie video games.  In that same regard I know there are plenty of you out there who want to dismiss me immediately for feeling that N64 bred few winners, especially when you find out I like Shadows of the Empire and don’t much care for Goldeneye.  It’s all perspective.  So here is a fun list of rules I have created when delving into the games of the past that hopefully you will find helpful.

Embrace the Faults of your Favorites

This month we are playing Super Metroid for the game club.  Having now completed the game, I get why it can be considered by some to be the greatest title of all time and yet others can’t figure out why the hell I knew to look for all the wacky hidden paths and items in that game.  It’s simple, I just pretend I’m back to that time and start to think like the designers of that time.  I knew the landscape, I knew the game concepts, and I knew the style, but unless I acknowledge what was going on at the time Super Metroid is not a competitor to today’s titles, especially when you consider the wall jump.  This is true of any game in the past and it will be true of any game today when more than a decade has passed.  Another great example is my favorite title: Resident Evil.  I get a little excited every time I boot that game up, in any iteration it was available for, and I happen to own it more than 10 times over on as many different consoles.  It is undeniably my favorite title, but I dare not say it is the best game of all time, this simply isn’t true.  To play and appreciate Resident Evil means that you have to appreciate long load times, slow pacing and reaction time, one-hit kills late in the game that can set you back 30+ minutes, and endless backtracking.  It’s not for everyone, but it impressed a great many at the time of its release.

Appreciation Without Masochism

There are a great deal of influential games that paved the way to many staples in contemporary game design.  Some of these titles, like Chrono Trigger, withstand the test of time and are great to replay today.  Others, like Half Life 2, don’t quite hold up when compared to the sea of first-person shooters that grace the walls of most game collections.  I know it’s mean to pick on Valve’s baby, one of the highest rated games of all times, and probably the title that created all of our favorite shooter franchises but that game just doesn’t hold up.  Graphically, thanks to the Source engine, it can still look nice, but it doesn’t play nice.  First person platforming, pathetic pseud0 jet ski controls, blocky mindless monologues, and the annoying thin-wire-under-the-bridge sequence aren’t exactly what today’s gamer views as fun.  Sure if you desperately want to know the building blocks of the franchise/genre or go into it with an open mind there’s no denying the innovation it reveals, but you don’t have to play it to appreciate that.  Just do a quick search for “Half Life 2” and you will be blasted with endless articles explaining, justifying, dissecting, and begging for a return to this title – no gameplay required.  This and countless other titles are games you should know and be aware of when brought up in conversation but the twelve-hour romp of the main campaign and the so-so follow-up episodes are really only there as a reminder, not an all-powerful example through the ages of how to make an FPS.  Oh, and just in case you don’t think I can slam my own favorites, just know that I consider Deus Ex to very much be in this same category.

Try It Before You Buy It

illegalJust like illegally downloading music tracks, gamers tackle emulation much in the same fashion – it’s illegal, it’s wrong, and everyone does it.  Putting aside the dark and brooding side effect of playing games illegally on the take, emulation also allows you to experience a game before pulling the trigger of buying it on a digital service or *gasp* for the skyrocketed prices of classic collections.  How many of you have played N20: Nitrous Oxide?  It’s quite an intriguing title that seemingly combines tempest, Starfox, the effect of tripping, and songs by The Crystal Method.  I find it to be a fascinating game that’s fun to pull up and blast away at from time to time.  It’s also a niche title so perhaps before you drop even a measly $6 for it on PSN you might want to test drive it.  This is where emulation can be a friend and asset.  Think of emulators as demo consoles, allowing you to get involved in the first 30-60 minutes of a game and, if you are convinced, a way to justify purchasing it.  You can try tons of games, most of which you hopefully have never heard of or not touched, and decide which is going to be the next retro gem for your collection.  Technology works for us, not against us, and no one can afford to buy every old school game they don’t know or heard something good about.  When you find that magical title, write your thoughts.  I’m always interested in finding out why someone today was compelled to play something from the past, especially if it isn’t well-known or liked.

Retro gaming is an endless web of unique gameplay, technological breakthroughs, fascinating adventures, and utter trash.  When you choose to explore, dissect, or cover these titles it’s optimal to do and play something original.  Keep that in mind when it comes down to replaying Grand Theft Auto Vice City for the tenth time or giving Shinobi a go.  You may find that the game talked about the least becomes the title you cherish the most.

Written by Fred Rojas

May 9, 2014 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Blog

Tagged with ,

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