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The Guts of Retro Gaming

Posted by Mr. Slate on Thursday, 1 April 2010

Post by: Mr Slate

I wanted to take a few minutes to investigate one of gaming's recent trends: Retro gaming.

This subject is dear to me as I am developing a game that would be at home on an old system (I'd like to say the Super Nintendo because that would immediately endear it a lot of hearts, but truth be told it's probably somewhere between that and the Sega Saturn). The main reason being that while I'm enjoying this current generation of consoles and games, my affections lie with the 16-Bit era. I've been (home) gaming since 'Pong' thanks to my parents, and as an Elder GamesMan I've seen firsthand the evolution of gameplay. In my humble (or inflated if you choose) opinion, Gameplay has hit 2 plateaus. The first in the 16-Bit era and the second in the 128-Bit era for similar if not identical reasons. The shared aspect being that for the kind of graphics being utilized, 2D for the 16-Bit and 3D for the 128-Bit, the respective technologies were able to wonderfully realize the developer's ideas. The argument could be made that both of the kinds of GamePlay that were used during these eras were introduced in the corresponding former eras: 8-Bit for 2D and 32/64-Bit for 3D. While that is true, I believe it is due to the increase in processing power that more objects were able to be displayed at one time, resulting in true freedom for the developer.

The 16-Bit plateau burned itself into my psyche because aside from my being a 2D fanboy, there was a greater sense visually and aurally of the developer's vision, and the results were epic. I'm going to site the far overused 'Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past' as my example. Looking back through time with the glasses of current gen technologies and imagining that everything could be improved upon because of the increases in processing power would be a mistake. This game doesn't feel incomplete in any way, and it's because of the brilliance in gameplay, storytelling, pacing etc. Two of the few things that could be changed are that the sprite resolutions would allow for more detail in the graphics, and the sound processor would allow for more realistic instrumentation. But the truth is that these would not IMPROVE the game in any way. It's the innate understanding of this truth that has helped Retro-Gaming become popular lately. Obviously there are other contributing factors in this Retro-Revival, like the small pockets of Indie Developers and the small screen size of the wildly popular DS and iPhone.

Castle Crashers is a great example of Retro-style gaming. They took a genre that was pretty much perfected in the 16-Bit era (my cousin would offer a Guardian Heroes argument here), and put a fresh coat of paint on it. The renewed interest in this type of gaming is offering us an opportunity. An opportunity to return to the early 90s when the birth of 3D gaming sounded the death knell for our Retro styled games. By this I mean taking all of the elements of the 16-Bit era that worked and expounding on them as building blocks to keep this niche of gaming open, thriving and even innovating. In no small way, we as Indie Developers owe a debt to what Capcom is doing with 'MegaMan' lately, Sega's upcoming 'Sonic the Hedgehog 4', Konami's 'Contra' and 'Castlevania' franchises, and last but obviously not least Nintendo's 'New Super Mario Bros. Wii'.

Let's keep the 'Guts' of Retro-gaming while moving forward with this renewed opportunity.

peas out.


CaptainD said...

I too have such a fondness for the 16-bit era that it's hard to think of games as getting "better", especially with the initial 3d obsession. Still, some updates of great games - Sid Meier's "Pirates!" and Cinemaware's "Robin Hood: Defender of the Crown" spring to mind as great games that are (perhaps!?) even better than the originals.

I think the old maxim of "gameplay comes first" should work in any time frame though :-D

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