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We’re All Doing Classic Gaming Wrong

As I’m winding up to start my own indie game development studio I’ve come to realize just how warped the “retro” genre is.  Many “me too” mobile developers seem to think oversimplification equals retro.  Many retro gamers never get beyond the brands and games of their youth.

Did David Crane seek to create the lowest common denominator when creating Pitfall?  Did late 70’s gamers refuse to explore games beyond that which they already own?  Of course not.  Why do we as consumers or creators settle for this today?

In part I blame the middling generation of video games. Without the constraints imposed by earlier systems companies focused on branding rather than play.  Would Microsurgeon for the Intellivision have been made in the Mario and Sonic filled marketplace?  Could you see Warlords for the Atari 2600 given an equal chance beside Super Smash Brothers?  No.  We became excited by content and characters over games for their own experience.  We consumed and defeated rather than enjoyed and mastered as in earlier forms of entertainment such as chess.

When developers deign to mock the good ‘ole days they both oversimplify play yet over-compensate visually.  Despite (or rather because of) hardware constraints games became highly distilled visions of creativity and enjoyment.  Atari Adventure did not have “retro” graphics.  Warren Robinett took the essence of earlier text based role playing games and delivered a visual experience that engaged ones imagination.  Today with the expectation of lens flare, rag doll physics and 4k displays we are given reality instead of interpreting it.

As consumers, digital downloads and inexpensive homebrew carts have allowed us to take a risk on unique titles.  In turn developers can afford to spend time focusing on the game rather than existing properties and glamor.  Maybe nostalgia is less about regaining a moment in time and more about what made us feel excited in the first place.  Triple-A titles cannot afford to be unique.  Indie developers cannot afford to be niche.  It all begins with us as gamers saying YES to old school values in games.

I’d be lying if I said that the computer industries’ downturn hasn’t hastened my plans to go full time Indie developer.  Realizing that we’ve lost what made the pre-NES generation brilliant has been my true impetus though.  I’ll stake my livelihood on creating new games with old school values.  In return my hopes are you’ll enjoy the fruits of my labor.  Classic gaming is not a memory but sheer joy and creativity distilled.  Let’s bring that back together.

Lead Developer, CEO and General Fool of Gemintronic, LLC

Jason Santuci

Jason Santuci

Jason Santuci has worked in the I.T. industry for decades. At various times a Tech Monkey, Software Tester and finally Indie Game Developer. Focusing on using beginner friendly tools Jason has created over a dozen games ranging from Atari 2600, Sega Genesis and PC.

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6 Responses to “We’re All Doing Classic Gaming Wrong”

  1. I agree on many fronts. We cannot blame the next generation of gamers because if we were them, then it is very likely that our thoughts towards would be focused on gaming much in the same way as theirs.

    It is very much like how our generation took color television or air conditioning in an automobile for granted, while our parents cited to us how “back in their day” that they never fathomed such possibilities.

    Our generation, or the gaming generations of the 70’s and 80’s made a point to understand the limitations of the gaming consoles which we loved, both in the arcade and in the home. Unfortunately, much of today’s generation has almost no clue. When we saw a game, such as Tron Deadly Discs playing on Intellivision, then translated to the Atari 2600, we we astounded by how Mattel Electronics could create such magic on such a system because we understood the limitations of the machines in which they had to create for.

    Nowadays, gamers simply expect better graphics, better sound, broadband group gameplay, etc. on their systems, and are only in astonishment when such bells and whistles are missing, rather than when they are included.

    In short, it is just a sign of the times and the much too fast advance in technology that may be to blame. But as retro-gamers, I feel that some of us have failed to teach the gamers of today to respect what we once held sacred and why, and instead have allowed ourselves to bask in our former glory at how we once ruled the arcades [another dinosaur that is sorely missed by yours truly] as if our gaming days were somehow better, when in fact they are just different.

    Gaming, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder…

  2. TwinspectreGaming101 says:

    what i missed from Retro gaming is the Challenging games without the insulting handholding.

  3. Michael_Ponder_JR says:

    Honestly, i prefer anything that came AFTER the atari i’m afraid.
    NES all the way to PS1 is where i’m happiest.
    I do have a thing for visuals… but i don’t need realism.. but i do need graphics to be better than Atari for me to wanna bother with a game.

    • slobu says:

      I get that. NES era introduced games with a finite ending. That lent itself to story based games like Dragon Warrior. The 2600 era treated games as a lasting experience onto themselves. Just like you can’t “beat” chess.

  4. Very very well said!

    Retro style is a big tent, though. It’s not just simplistic platformers. Off the top of my head, I can think of many modern titles with retro sensibilities that are still pretty innovative. Grimrock, FTL, Prison Architect, You Must Build a Boat, Papers Please, Nidhogg, Futuridium, TxK, Downfall, Shovel Knight ….oh my I could do this for a long time.

    The clever days of Microsurgeon and Space Shuttle never really ended. Remember that those were innovative gems in a sea of crap, too. Like any big market.

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