Gaming My Way

15 Oct

Video Games: Old School vs. New School

It’s a fairly common lament these days. New games just aren’t challenging enough, or they lack gameplay, or any of a number of things people have to say about them. Old games look awful, are frustrating, and the list goes on. Some people care about some issues more than others. Of course, how do these claims really stack up? Here’s my own take.

Gaming today is easier in general. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some hard games out there. The Xbox Ninja Gaiden carries on the proud tradition of the Nintendo Ninja Gaiden, and games like Contra: Shattered Soldier exist to carry on the legacy of tough-as-nails shoot ’em ups. I hear that Dead Rising is a pretty rough game, but I’ve never played it, and wouldn’t know myself.

That said, given the proliferation of the ability to save more often, some games have become easier, while others have the illusion of being easier. In a game where you can save, try a battle, or difficult jump, then reload if you fail, it certainly does make the game easier, since you can make the most of high-risk high-reward situations. For games where saving is more spaced out, I would argue the game seems easier since you don’t have to replay everything all over again. Really though, it’s just as hard, you just get to keep any progress you made already.

Some people point out Super Mario Galaxies as being an easy game to complete. That may be so, but if you compare Galaxies to say, Contra: Shattered Soldier, it’s safe to say it’s similar to a comparison between Super Mario Bros. and the original Contra. I think it’s fair to say you could make similar comparisons for many other sets of new and old games.

Of course, these days it’s in the best interest of companies to design games that are easier to complete. After all, people want to know how the game ends, see the end of the story, something new to most games that aren’t adventures or rpgs. If they don’t get to see it, or the even just the rest of the game world, they might not come back for a given company’s next outing. Whether or not this is fair, or how games should be designed, is something I’m not going to get into. Games are designed for both markets of players who like easy games and those who like hard games, so I’m not worried about it.

Before, it was in the interests of game designers to make games hard to finish though. In arcades, death meant more quarters, which meant more profit. This is what people came to expect, and it got carried over to video game consoles for a good long time. The change to easier games that are more about the experience developed very gradually, over time. This also happened as games became larger, since it didn’t make sense to force a player to repeat forty hours of playtime because he got a game over at the final boss battle.

For instance, up through Super Mario Bros. 3, there was no way to save your game, though the third game was so large that they included warp whistles, the intent of which were to let you reach the last world you had played once you wanted a break and turned the system off. They often weren’t used this way of course, but that’s beside the point. In Super Mario World, a game roughly the same size as Super Mario Bros. 3, but on a more powerful console, the ability to save after any castle was beaten was included in the game. This allowed players to pick up the game for short periods of time, play a bit, and not lose any of their progress. Even a game over was a temporary setback, as you still started from the last save. In Super Mario 64 and beyond in the Mario series, you can save the game anytime you make a significant achievement, usually finding a Star/Shine to finish a level. Since you could save after every level, lives became mostly irrelevant, though they’ve stuck around, mostly a remnant of when they meant something significant.

As a result of this, games today are generally less frustrating, as it’s almost never necessary to repeat large chunks of a game you’ve already played through. This also has the effect that it can be less rewarding when you do finish the game, as you didn’t do it all at once, and it seems much more of a foregone conclusion that you will finish eventually. Of course, there are some people who do feel this way, and others who don’t.

But old games look awful! And new games lack the awesome game play of old. I ask you to look again if this is how you feel. Some old games do, in fact, look awful. However, so do some new games.  And despite the technical limitations of older consoles, some games in fact looked great. Not realistic, mind you, but aesthetically pleasing. And that’s really all that’s needed. If the graphics let you recognize the varied creatures, people, and objects throughout the game, and they look good, they’ve done their job.

As far as gameplay goes, this is trickier. To some people, the gameplay of old means lightning fast reflexes, no room for error, and if you lose, back to the beginning to try again. If this is the case for you, I have some bad news and some good news for you. The bad news is, you’re a niche market. Get used to it. The good news is, this is no different than it was over twenty years ago when the NES came out. The difference between these types of games and all the others is certainly more pronounced these days, but extremely hard games were still rarer than games of middling difficulty back in the day.

Other people are looking for well designed levels with a tight control setup. This is actually still very common to find, and good news for those of us who are primarily looking at this. Unfortunately, it’s also more common for games to try to get by on looking good, even if they play awful. With graphics the way they are now, it’s not too much of a stretch to put out a product that falls in this area and get people to buy it. Our culture is big on appearances after all. With bad games masquerading as good games due to good appearances, it sometimes looks like we’ve lost the good gameplay of old games. Really, people are just more willing to try the bad games because they still look good, whereas in the past, games that weren’t fun weren’t bought, since they had nothing else going for them. This isn’t always the case of course, but it does play its part sometimes.

So there are some of my rambling views on the differences between old and new games. Personally, I like both old and new, as they both have great experiences to offer if you find the right games. Feel differently? Let me know in the comments or by email!

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