May 6, 2009 // 8:00 pm
- Today the topic is the mythical creature called "The Golden Age of Video Games," or more commonly known as, "The 90s."
Lately many gamers across thousands of forums have been complaining about the reality show called WCG Ultimate Gamer
They dislike the people on it. They hate the games being played. And they hate how gaming has become less of a social taboo. Of course, they also bring up the topic of the "good ol' days."
I haven't watched the show, so I have no idea if it's bad or not. I only have two reasons to turn on the TV, outside of playing video games; House and Gordon Ramsey. However, when I read someone arguing about how great video games were in the 1990s or 1980s, I have to wear my goggles and a rubber suit because there is so much bull being spewed.
The sad reality of it is, we are so much better off now than we were 15 or 20 years ago. Games have improved greatly, and it isn't costing us a fortune just to get a mere afternoon's worth of entertainment. I'm going to shatter the myths of the "Golden Age of Gaming" because I'm rather of sick of cleaning bullshit up in my room.
Games were difficult back then.
No they weren't.
A game with legitimate difficulty would be one that requires reflexes, timing, and full understanding of the game's mechanics. Most games of both the 8-bit and 16-bit eras did not promote any of these things. Instead, what most of these games boiled down to is mere level memorization.
After dying so many times through silly trial and error, you'll eventually be able to go through the game like water because the game offers nothing else. Games were done this way because they didn't last for hours, sometimes they didn't even make it to the hour mark. This was simply a way to artificially increase the "length" of the game.
If you're looking for some examples of this type of game design, just take a look at almost anything published by Capcom or Konami in those eras.
Memorization wasn't the only challenging component; a lot of games were difficult due to poor game design. In some games, you might find yourself stuck in a certain area, and not have any clue how to get passed it, forcing you to buy a player's guide or the latest issue of Nintendo Power. A perfect game to demonstrate this idiotic format was "Castlevania 2: Simon's Quest," or anything by Sierra.
When you compare this to today's games, it's much different. Most modern games labeled "difficult" by the gaming community often have a great game design behind them. On the other hand, retro games considered difficult is simply an exercise of monotonous trial and error and memorization. Beating a retro game only told the world that you died a lot.
Today's games are too short.
Whenever I hear this phrase, I can automatically tell that whomever shouted these words wasn't playing games in the 90s, since they weren't born yet.
Today's games are much longer than ever before. A "short" game by today's standards would be considered an extremely long game in 8-bit and 16-bit eras. Not only that, but games were actually more expensive due to the now antiquated cartridge format. So, not only were you paying more for a Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis game, but you also received less.
And before someone says it, yes, some games were long, such as "Zelda" or "Metroid," but that doesn't go for the majority of games. The most common games barely gave you a weekend's worth of entertainment, and had little to no replayability.
If you need examples of this, type in any game with the words "speed run" in YouTube and you'd be shocked at how short these games are. "Contra" for the NES? Not even 15 minutes.
My "Rad Racer" attempt in Retro Play Theater? An hour, even after so many retries. "Street of Rage 2"? 45 minutes.
Imagine buying a game for $80, and only getting an hour's worth of play time. Suddenly "Madworld"'s five hours for $50 doesn't seem so bad now, does it?
Today's industry is nothing but first person shooters!
It's hard to argue with this one, because there is some truth to it. Yes, we have way too many first person shooter games nowadays, and, I admit, I love shooters. I played "Doom" religiously and even purchased the "Demon Gate CD" which contained "666 levels."
In fact, some of those levels were adult rated and showed innocent me pictures of naked chicks. Yes, "Doom" introduced me to porn.
But, whenever I hear this line, another one is usually added talking about how creative games were back then. By stating such an ignorant statement, I can't help but say that these people simply weren't there.
Back then, there were only three noteworthy genres; platformers, shooters (vertical and side-scrollers), and beat-'em-ups. Sure, there were other genres, like fighting games ("Street Fighter 2″ comes to mind), and sports games (anything by EA), however, in terms of quantity, they were eclipsed by these three genres.
Take a look at the platformers: a lot of them were used to promote company mascots and movie licenses. Beat -'em-ups were considered the ultimate co-op experience with your friends. And shooters were the best way to test one's reflexes. Don't get me wrong here, I love these genres, but to say that today's industry is nothing but a handful of shooters and RPGs, yet preach about how great things were in the 90s isn't going to garner you any respect.
Fortunately, with the introduction of 3D visuals in the mid-90s, games became a little bit more creative due to the advancement of a third dimension. But these games were still in their primal state, and saying they were "the best" due to being the first to pioneer the technology is a rather stupid thing to say (hi "Ocarina of Time" fans!).
Besides that, first or third person shooters are our new platformer. Back then, you were on a 2D plane, and saw your character at his/her/its side. Now, you are in a 3D environment and all you ever see your character's rear, or through their eyes. In other words, the only major change was the inevitable evolution of technology.
The Nintendo Seal of Quality meant something.
One of the most common misconceptions about the history of video games was the quality of the games. You'll hear phases like "It was about the gameplay, not the graphics" and "we weren't so marketable so they had create unique games."
This is an incredibly silly argument because it assumes that developers were intentionally holding back on graphics to make a good game. What really happened is developers had to work within many limitations, and were forced to work around them in order to create a profitable product. You'd think developers would still create games with a small number of sprites if the NES had no flickering issues?
As for creativity, again, that's another myth spawned by people who weren't even alive in that era, or people with their nostalgic glasses on too tight. Much like today, games in the past were knock-offs of one another; "Streets of Rage" was "Final Fight," "Mortal Kombat" was "Street Fighter," and the numerous animal-related platformers were "Sonic."
I still remember the ad for the unreleased "Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill" starring the Clinton's pet cat. And, since we are on the subject of creativity, do you think a games like "ICO," "Flower," and "Shadow of the Colossus" would have survived in the early to mid-90s?
Quality is a subjective matter, but some of the key factors that make a great game are its length, design, and replayability. I've already explained that most games in that era didn't last long and had no replay value, but design? One needs to remember, when talking about the games of the past, that the designs for most of them were simplistic at best.
Besides the memory and hardware limitations, the controls themselves were rather limited as well. The original NES and Sega Master only had two action buttons, the Sega Genesis had three, and the Super Nintendo had six; which is one of the reasons why it wasn't until the PlayStation when developers started creating more complicated games.
The reason I bring design up is because many retro gamers swoon about how great games were back then. When you look at them in more a subjective matter, one cannot deny that most of these games were pretty much just experiments for what the future might hold. Let's take a look at "Mario 64." Yes, it was one of the first well-done 3D platformers, and was, initially, the driving force behind the Nintendo 64's sales.
However, when "Mario Galaxy" was released, it refined the mechanics of the previous title yet "hardcore gamers" still claim that "Mario 64″ was the better of the two. As for "Zelda" fans, "Ocarina of Time" versus "Twilight Princess." "OoT" started it, and "Twilight" improved it many ways, yet the nostalgic gamers prefer the older title despite the glaring improvements.
To even further prove of my point about the quality of retro games, just look at the Seanbaby.com
, the Angry Video Game Nerd
, and Spoony Experiment
. If retro games were so amazing, why are so many people gaining Internet fame by bashing them?
Today's games are casual!
I saved the worst for last.
Ever since Sony created their marketing blitz for the PlayStation, video games as a hobby has slowly become more of a mainstream activity to be enjoyed with friends. The old video game audience consisting of comic book nerds, social outcasts, and young kids has expanded towards teenagers, young adults, and even seniors.
BejeweledYou would think that with a growing audience, and more developers jumping into the market would result in a bit of happiness for gamers, right? Instead, they detest this.
They view video games as their "turf" and no one should be allowed to set foot on their sacred ground. When Sony wasn't trying to advertise a console but a "hip lifestyle" to the public, gamers everywhere were scared of the future of video games.
Why? Because they believe that games are going to become too "casual." Slowly the enthusiast games of the past have become elitists, and look down their nose at anyone who was new to video games or didn't buy the same games as they did.
I know what you are thinking: I complained about kids thinking they were hardcore by talking about games of the past, so I must be a hypocrite. Nope, I'm not insulting casual gamers, I'm insulting posers. A casual gamer sees video games as entertainment. He buys a few games, enjoys them for a few hours a week, and doesn't waste their time posting on the forums. He simply views games as a toy and that's exactly what they are.
Yes, this quarter-of-a-century-old writer who has spent too many hours playing video games admits he plays with toys. Video games are simply an entertaining distraction, and a way to kill time between waking up and going to bed.
The only reason why people love 'em so much is because they provide a level of competition and challenge that G.I. Joes or He-man figures couldn't provide. They allow us to challenge the creators of the game, beat our friends, and see who is the best in the world.
But again, casual gamers see something we love as toys. They don't like games that take 40 hours to beat, or games with complicated control schemes. Do I have a problem with this? Of course not, why should I?
However, there is a group of gamers that feel the need to belittle those who prefer casual games over "hardcore" games like "Quake" or "Starcraft." It shouldn't matter if someone enjoys "Halo," "Madden," or "Rock Band" over "your" games; it isn't your concern. If you are going to go completely ape over someone else's taste in games, you have bigger issues to deal with.
The other reason why gamers detest the casuals is because they feel the quality of the games has been degraded because of them. They either complain about the short length, the difficulty, or the simple control scheme. They say these things, yet continue to talk about the good days with "Super Mario Kart" or how they beat "Starfox" within an hour.
Worst of all, they either end up buying very little games due to their stupidly high expectations, thereby contributing barely anything noteworthy to the industry, or simply pirate them.
Meanwhile, those casual players spend hundreds of dollars on video games and give low budget developers an audience to sell to.