My Retro Experience
I remember back when saw my first computer game, it was Qbasic Gorrilas. I know, very retro and an interesting hidden game in the dos shell. I played this game for hours and really I loved it and would play it all the time. Then my dad got Civilization and I think I lost a bulk majority of my childhood to that game.
My dad had a 386 computer and I probably spent about as much time on that thing as my dad did. He was not much of a gamer, but he would indulge me. He brought home 3d Tetris and I found another obsession.
I saved up a ton of money at the time and then I bought myself an aging 286 and spend hours playing different games on that one. I would play a game called 688 Attack Sub.
One game blew them all away and that was Mechwarrior 2 by Activision. My dad took me down to the local computer store and showed me that game playing on one of their computers and I fell in lust with that game. I had never wanted anything so much as that game. Sadly, my 286 was not up for the task.
Luckily I had a doting grandmother who learned I needed a new computer and for Christmas I got my first Windows 95 computer and along with it came Mechwarrior 2. I disappeared from my family for days playing that game. I was hooked I spent way too many of my days playing video games then.
I have been a gamer ever since. I have always tried to find good inspiring games, either through game play or story. I luckily had a friend whose family was better off than mine and I would always go over to his house to play the latest games. I remember when I saw Master Of Orion 2 for the first time it blew me away. My friend and I played that game for hours whenever we were over at his house. I found Master Of Orion 2 in a bargain bin at Radio Shack one day for $10 and I couldn’t part with my money fast enough to enjoy that game again.
So Why Is Retro Gaming So Popular?
It could be just nostalgia goggles. I do admit to some of this, but there is more. You see, back in the day video games did not cost the GDP of a small country to make. They were small in house affairs made by people of passion. People who were not afraid to say “what if we did this…” and then do it. Experimentation and a little copying and improving were the order of the day. One company would come up with a game dynamic then another game development team would see that idea and say hey this could be so much better if we do this instead. This is how such classics like Doom came into being. Which saw Wolfenstien 3D and improved upon their formula. Wolfenstien 3D improved upon Catacomb 3D and created a whole new genre that people still love today.
It was a different time then when game developers were more interested in creating enjoyable art than making better graphics. Game play was favored over graphics because most computers and consoles were very ill equipped to even run graphic intensive games at the time. This led to the gameplay being top notch, even if the game itself is god awful to look at sometimes.
One game franchise that embodies this is the Deus Ex franchise. The first game when it came out looked amazing, simply jaw dropping really, but it has not aged well. The game play, though, was top notch you could do whatever you wanted to beat the game even avoiding an important boss fight all together. The level up system was amazing too, where you could build whatever character you wanted to play as. The story was also amazing and involving, asking some very interesting and relevant questions.
The newer game Deus Ex Human Revolution looks amazing. Sadly though the story is paper thin and much shorter. The game play is less involved and more linear. This is due to more interest being put into the graphics than the story and game play. Let’s not get started on the micro transactions of the sequel Mankind Divided. Where the progress of the game is sold to people who do not want to actually play the game.
Deus Ex Human Revolution and Mankind Divided are not bad games, but they are not as good as their predecessor was in story and game play. They have been simplified and are not as deep as the first Deus Ex.
One genre that has gotten worse is the space 4x game genre. Master Of Orion 2 was perfection itself as if god had graced us with the best 4x space game ever created. Minus the visuals which have not aged well.
Why is Master Or Orion 2 so much better than its more modern counterparts? Very simple really more options for one. The species creation at the start is amazing and allows various different play styles. The universe feels lived in with random events happening that are either good or bad. Many games have tried to duplicate some of the nuanced parts of this game and failed.
More modern 4x space games feel sterile and more like a spread sheet simulator than a game. Where Master Of Orion 2 had atmosphere new games in the genre have just small text boxes stating what happened. You feel disconnected from the world and more like you are playing a game rather than a ruler of a vast empire trying to conquer the universe and bend it to your will.
Another thing about Master Of Orion 2 vs modern 4x space games is its sense of progression. I remember when I first beat Sword Of The Stars I was like that’s it. There was no sense of this last battle being the last one since I had no idea what the state of the universe was. The other thing that Master Of Orion 2 does is have other visible goals on the map. The most immediate is conquering Orion itself. This is a hard feat and not one taken lightly otherwise you can lose your entire fleet that you spent a significant time building up. The reward is well worth it and worth racing other species for. This gives the game a goal not just conquer the next unknown star for no tangible rewards just another sterile star to take over and expand my empire.
Master Of Orion also rewards the sense of exploration providing random planets that have great little goodies on them that will help your future goals. Games like Galactic Civilization tried this but were more punishing about it providing a moral choice where the best option was horrible and would make it harder for you to achieve other goals if you sought the best option. Sword Of The Stars also was punishing in the fact that everything that you found wanted to kill your fleet and normally was overpowered enough to do it very quickly.
It is the same with most other 4x space games. None have hit the amazing formula that Master Of Orion 2 hit where you just wanted to explore because it was rewarding and interesting. Most 4x games are now just either hollow spreadsheets or if they try and bring intrigue into the mix it in the form of a punishment not a reward.
Another old game that has never been beat was the original Mechwarrior 2, 3, and some of 4. These games made you feel like you were really in the cockpit of a big machine of destruction and woe be the person who strayed across your reticle. Sadly the simulator genre is almost all but dead with only the die hard game developers trying to resurrect it. Let’s not mention Mechwarrior Online where it is just an empty battle royal experience with teams and no story and no real game play except pew pew die. Now this is not to say I am not excited about Mechwarrior 5 coming out. I am really looking forward to this game and I really hope it doesn’t suck. I am dusting off my joystick as we speak for it.
A Culture Of Imitation Not Innovation
The new gaming scene is one of cookie cutter games all made the same. Where few stray from the formula that has been proven to work and where the game is so basic that it is easy for most people to access but not there to inspire. The only selling point of these games is the amazing graphics where they look amazing, but they have a wafer thin story and even thinner game play.
Most are just there to tick off boxes of game play in their genre.
- Cover based shooting, check
- Limited inventory, so a person has to choose what weapon to keep, check
- Ever present evil bad guy, check
- Betrayal cliche midway through the game, check
- Linear game play with very few explorable areas, check
- Game taking control of the player so they can experience the game as intended, check.
- Quick time events to make people feel more a part of the action, check
- Mandatory vehicle section, check
- Mandatory online play, check
Most modern games are just carbon copies of each other with just different set pieces. Their biggest selling point is the graphics. Not the story which is very forgettable. Nore the game play, which is like almost all other games of their genre. The gaming industry has become too scared to innovate since the game is too expensive to fail.
Remasters And Remakes
A lot of old favorite games are being remade and remastered. Sadly, most game developers doing this are completely unaware of what made the original game so good in the first place.
Take Master Of Orion Conquer The Stars they took a modern empty, boring 4x space game and wrapped it in the clothing of Master Of Orion.
The same can be said for Homeworld remastered collection. They were so hell bent on using the game engine of Homeworld 2 that they broke the original Homeworld in gameplay and game style entirely. Formations which were a big part of the original game were destroyed. Some missions are unplayable since the damage ratings are set wrong. The game also uses the Homeworld 2 engine where it matches your current fleet so you can break the game by retiring your entire fleet. This was not present in the original game and makes this not a remaster, but a remake, and makes Homeworld 1 more like Homeworld 2.
The same can be said for the upcoming Final Fantasy VII. It looked like crap, but it made up for that with fun game play and one amazing story. This game was so much fun and enjoyable with the complex materia system and the summons. Now they just want an action game where the combat is fast paced rather than strategic. I do not see how they can include both the complexity of the original with the fast paced action that they want to include in the new version. This is all granted that the game is even is still going with all the internal upset Square Enix has suffered recently in regards to this game.
What I want is just a graphic update of an old game that is all. I am ok if they do add new game play features, but also make it a choice. For instance with the new Final Fantasy VII coming out they could give the option to play the game, including the battles the old way or the new way and let the gamers decide what they like.
The same with Master Of Orion Conquer The Stars give people the option to play Master Of Orion 2 but better graphics or your new and boring vision. The community would be so happy and would be so excited about being able to experience their childhood again, they would forget about the outrage they have with the bog standard remake.
Ray Of Hope
Now there are some games I will always revisit and love the experience every time. There are some game developers that are branching out and creating new and interesting games today. Namely the indie developers. They work with significantly lower budgets and make amazing games.
One such game that I love is Subnautica that game stole my heart. The only two complaints I have about it is the game is not optimized at all and has a lot of graphic issues. Second is now that I have played through it many times the sense of wonder and awe are gone from my first time playing it. I felt so elated every moment the first time, but now it is not new to me so it doesn’t feel the same, and that saddens me. Luckily, there is a DLC coming with a new biome to explore, my sad days are going to end soon, and I can feel the wonder and awe again.
Some of the new games from these indie developers are copying not new games, but old classics even down to the crappy graphics. This is an exciting time in some ways because there are developers who care about innovation more than amazing graphics. The other thing is that now with so many communities embracing older games it is getting easier to find ports for old games that can play on more modern systems. So I can have my cake and eat it too, I can play old games and new games on the same system and not spend tons of money building an old gaming computer just to relive the old amazing games from the past.