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