We can all agree, the influx of remastered games is a good thing. I don’t just mean HD remasters but the really juicy ones rebuilt from the ground up. Not only do they satisfy our hunger for trips down memory lane. But they can also introduce a new generation to the delights we experienced as kids. This year, we have seen the return of retro games giants like Wipeout and Crash Bandicoot. Even early last year, we were treated to the return of Ratchet & Clank. These franchises have had new life injected into them. The gamers are not complaining by any stretch of the imagination.
Developers now have a silver platter from which to choose older titles to bring back, as is the trend right now. They would be smart to consider it too. Every rebuilt title has enjoyed roaring success on release day. It could be said, like Crash, our fond memories are giving way to a cash cow in waiting. Which begs the question… What do retro games have that ours do not? What is it exactly, that is guaranteed to make them so successful?
Retro Games Had A Less Serious Take On Things, Leading To More Playful Themes
As you can see from the title image, there is a discernible difference to be considered here. It could be argued that AAA titles of the 90’s were more wacky, cartoonish and colourful. Graphics weren’t great, so a mixture of bright colours had to be relied upon for the wow factor. Now, those designs are saved more for today’s indie titles. Then, our frontier AAA titles take themselves more seriously, disposing of such colourful environs in favour of more realistic palettes.
This trend falls in line with how our games have grown up alongside us. Gamers in their twenties and early thirties are now in the majority over gamers in their teens. This majority now finds itself sandwiched between generations less inclined to buy into gaming.
Less is Always More
The gaming generations of yore, that we remember so dearly, were less complicated too. Back then all kinds of things were still in their infancy. I’m talking things like polygon count, A.I algorithms, processing power etc, to deliver complex game worlds… The list goes on. As such, we weren’t expected to learn much to enjoy the game in its entirety. This gave our beloved retro games an ease of play factor that meant, as kids, we could pick up a controller and play without having to go through ten minutes of tutorials. Like I’ve always said:
“Creating an addictive and enjoyable game experience is easy. Take the oldest platformers for example. Sonic, Mario or Castlevania if you like. All you need is easily replicated world design, and things to collect. As long you nail a player reward system or some vague sense of progression – you have an addictive game”
When you have that simplicity in a game, the road to reward is more straightforward. If the player knows that, they’ll likely be happier for the duration. Is that to say our modern games are straight up “not as good”? Hell no. The complexity we have now in resource management systems, mentally prioritising tasks and targets etc, is fine. We’ve grown up with a hunger for new and complex things to learn. Yet, there’s no denying that when things are simple, there’s less room for things like glitches… Or opportunities to mess up.
When you have a super complex game, a shadow of frustration looms over you. When you encounter those occasional frustrating moments per title, they naturally colour your long term remembrance of the game. This is a situation more likely in AAA titles on the shelves today. Yet, in our retro games of old, these instances were few and far between. Sure you had that maddening bridge in Crash Bandicoot and the random T-Rex in Tomb Raider… But they were so rare in the lovely-ness of your experience of gaming at that time, they only served to provide an even more memorable experience.
Born In The 90’s? You Were There For The Big Gaming Explosion
It’s fair to say that, as kids, we were more visual people. Even kids today go for colourful animated movies. Or colourful toys. We’ve already established that gaming at the time was more heavily reliant on colour to wow its audiences. So that suited us kids down to the ground. Although, when the original Playstation released, it redefined what gaming could be capable of. Naughty Dog’s fresh idea of creating a 3D world with a fixed camera following Crash was so important. It would give rise to game creation methods seen in God of War, or the original Resident Evil! (I would say “not for kids” there but let’s be honest, we all played them underage).
This revolution in game presentation sated our hunger for bigger, better, more vibrant games. In comparison, graphical fidelity is now so high, it’s threatening a plateau. As the industry has settled into its fancy new clothes, graphical images are more recognisable as belonging to say, Unity or Unreal. Heck, the last generation was dominated by Unreal Engine 3 as we witnessed the likes of Gears of War and the Arkham franchise give way to the same dependable gloss.
Yet this explosion in videogames, moving into the PS2 era was all the more satisfying for the development of game mechanics that have led to the complexities of today. After Crash taught the entire industry what could be done with 3D, we stood witness to newly presented fighting games, shooters and sims. These new worlds allowed game developers to get extremely creative and the simple left and right of 2D was long gone. It was a noticeable set of developments that applied to all genres. No matter what kind of games you liked to play, the next one was going to better in every way. That is why we remember them so fondly.
The Impact Of Today’s Shareholders And Publishers
When looking at this stark decades-long difference between then and now, there is a discussion in the air as to whether or not developers are starting to run out of ideas. Well, I don’t believe that’s a fair statement. Human ingenuity has gotten this far after all! No reason for it to dry up in the gaming space. As the games industry was starting out on its road to fame, many developers opted to self publish. The publishing giants of today, like Ubisoft or EA were just starting out themselves.
It could be said developer creativity is being stifled by shareholders and investors demanding a list of bullet points. These demands can range from all kinds of things like “game must have a British accent” or “game must have female protagonist”. Basically, things that big shareholders believe will make the game more profitable and, in turn, fill their pockets. That creativity can at least be tapped into again when appeasing these profiteers with ideas that gamers appreciate the good ol’ days. Then we have the likes of Wipeout: Omega Collection surfacing.
These shareholders are often people who have nothing to do with videogames other than to profit from them. This can trickle down to publishers. Which, of course trickles down to devs. Who don’t want their game canned. This is why independent publishing is a good thing. Why do you think today’s indie games are usually so unique in concept? Just check out Pyre or Inside to see what I mean by that. During the time of what are now considered retro games, this kind of shareholder sway was not held over publishers’ and developers’ final outputs.
It’s clear to see now that we love our retro games for a great smoothie mixture of reasons. They weren’t “better” per se. But the industry was exploding, simplicity was fun and heck, we were kids. Some rose tinted glasses are going to come into play eventually. Perhaps those shareholders are starting to become aware of that. While nobody is complaining about the big names coming back, I wonder if the games industry is now immortal, never giving in to a creative dry spell. In another twenty years, will we have remasters of VR games that our kids will want to play? For the rest of us oldies on our Playstations, we’ll still have the latest and greatest from Sony… and maybe Microsoft.