I was in a store yesterday and Crystal Castles was playing. It was fun seeing how long it took the obviously hip person behind the counter to come up with it, finally they acquiesced and checked Pandora only to see it was Crystal Castles. Win one for me.
I don’t make much of a solidified point in this article, so I just want to let you know the general theme here is just nostalgia and all the bad things that can come from wanting the past, and some good things too.
I want to talk a little bit about nostalgia and how I wish we’d all collectively be cool with just moving forward instead of always trying to go backward. I was having a long conversation with a friend about this. When I was little, Star Fox was AMAZING.
Let me explain why, first of all, you were sort of used to any attempt at 3D to be something similar to Pilotwings which was barely unplayable beyond the novel concept that if you were some god of the controller, you could land a plane or fly through some hoops. The closest thing to 3D at the time was DOOM.
If you believed that you failed SNES history, DOOM came in 1995 where Star Fox came in 1993. The official port of DOOM was GREAT on the SNES, but by then the SuperFX chip was sort of stock in most games, DOOM of course using SuperFX 2. Before then, was Mode 7 based games like F-Zero and PilotWings in 1990 or Super Mario Kart in 1992.
The novelty was that Star Fox was 3D in a time where you had to go to the arcade to play Virua Fighter. Oh wait, ha, Virtua Fighter wasn’t until late 1993 actually! Even the arcade had a few 3D games worthwhile in 1993.
Point of the matter is that it was a 3D game in a time where side scrolling was the norm. That is what made it so much fun. That was what made it so interesting to play. It was novel to everyone who had a console and was it was something new. Playing it now is novel, it’s retro, but it’s not fun for me.
It’s just not fun because it looks like someone vomited on the screen while the world’s most painful violin solo plays. I tried to play some recently and the controls were so terrible I almost wanted to cry, the graphics were so horrendous I could barely make out what was going on, and the sound, when they say “emergency” is comical and just jolting. Now, 20 years ago I was like WOAH this is the best thing ever and overcame all of these difficulties because of how different the game was and how much more depth it had over some other games. It was like the arcade was truly in your house.
Now it’s just, I don’t know, not my cup of tea. I can appreciate the longing for the days of old. The Book It! Club from most of our childhoods has returned with a free coupon for a personal pan. Which is neat, but at the same time, it’s just a marketing stunt reviving an old trademark to rub in our faces and get us inside of the store where they hope to upsale you on some wings, some sauce, dinner for the family, whatever.
We don’t have this “new” thing anymore. There isn’t “groundbreaking graphics improvements” anymore. We have games that just progressively get fewer artifacts and textures that are drawn or imported at a higher DPI. Nintendo tries to innovate, but people brush them off as for “kids” even though every hard core gamer I know has a DS and buys the Wii because it’s inexpensive and the only thing you can play with friends in real life.
So without innovation, we get stagnation. Going back is the last thing we all collectively want to do. Nintendo has our backs there with the virtual console and Sony keeps a nice fresh list of classic games coming. Yet here we are, the industry feverishly working tirelessly on most of these retro titles. Not just like remakes either, totally new games based on archaic game mechanics that existed only because of technical limitations.
RPGs used to be turn based for a few reasons. First, it was traditional, like D&D. Second, on the NES and early PCs, it was a lot easier to have the computer pause and wait for input than it was to constantly run the clock and compute damage. I coded MUDs for awhile and turn based is a lot easier than having a run clock ticking and having to update everything involving a player and combat every tick.
Now, we mostly don’t do turn based, because it’s not fun except in strategy games, like Civilization, where turns are required for fairness and for strategy. In a game like the original Fallout it was great, because you had multiple enemies on the screen and no real way to deal with them without it being a pure action game. So the pause in combat was great. Disgea and FFT are great examples of where turn based combat works because of the genre.
Anyway, the point of the matter here is that I’m not a huge nostalgia fan. I grinded my fingers off in DAoC. I spent countless hours of my life I won’t get back. It was hardcore. It was hard. The grind was impossible. I kept doing it. It was great at the time! It was literally the best option. Yet now, grindy MMOs just seem pointless because they’re not fun. They don’t utilize anything at all beyond kill ten rats.
We used to kill ten rats because it was a miracle there was this massive multiplayer framework, so killing some rats was amazing. Now we have games where there is no static gameplay, it is always evolving, new features are made available, and there is no longer this sense that kill ten rats is all we get.
Yet, people who are nostalgic, say we must UPHOLD this idea that things in the past must revive in the future. See Star Citizen, people want a freelancer sequel and are ready to throw 50 million at it of CROWD SOURCED MONEY to get their childhood backs.
There are instances where nostalgia makes a good game: see Shovel Knight. Shovel Knight is an elevated retro game where they tighten all of the mechanics of a retro Mega Man-esq side scroller and turn it into a masterpiece. Meanwhile, due to the insanely long development time of MMOs, we’re stuck 5 years in the past perpetually, while the community often laments it’s not the same as the days of ‘ol.
Well the days of ‘ol are gone. It’s no longer 2002. We can’t just all collectively sit around and have fun killing ten rats anymore. We need a game that starts off shooting you out of a rocket, into space, where you fight in hand to hand combat for your right to win your weapon from the old man, since it’s dangerous to go alone in that tall grass, and we need to get a spaceship, some money, and told to go out and explore the infinite reach of the galaxy.
Not get SWTOR which is a WoW clone with some fancy speeders and a companion that feels like it’s straight out of a Guild Wars 1.
I’ll stop talking your ear off here, but let’s probably revisit this topic at some point with a single example of where this nostalgia craze can shift the scales from fun to boring, and maybe look at some examples like Shovel Knight where it’s done right.
See y’all tomorrow.