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Thread: Everything used to be better - not for videogames!

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    Default Everything used to be better - not for videogames!

    Everything Used To Be Better - Not For Videogames

    (Alert: this isn't a post, it's a novel!)

    In the last couple of months when I hit the stores for new games, I had tough choices to make. Familiar titles like Metroid, Rygar, Shinobi, Super Mario, Contra, or Zelda sucked me into a warp zone to the past. Dark screen, "welcome, you enter the 80's." I had warm flashbacks of my first Zelda and Metroid experiences, and remembered the good old game ads in which kids were nicely dressed with clean haircuts instead of wearing cool sunglasses showing you the finger. Two boys, maybe 14 years old, brought me back to reality when they had a dispute which game to buy. "Not Super Mario, it's so cheesy." Are these kids spoiled? In 1990 I almost stood in line for a Super Mario 3! Then I remembered that the new Super Mario Sunshine wasn't my first priority either. What happened? Didn't everything used to be better and easier in the good old 8- bit times, from gameplay to less confusion which games to buy?

    Was indeed everything better in a more innocent era of videogames? I'm afraid not. In hardly any other branche of the entertainment industry can we observe such a fast development - incredible graphics and bombastic sound add to gameplay than never before, and more than 30 years of experience in game-developing have dramatically increased the overall quality of games. When it comes to play lenght, control, graphics, sound and difficulty level, there are hardly any real stinkers offered; and this wasn't the case in the good old 8-bit times in which lots of games were clearly below average and had such bad control that they were hardly playable despite their arcade origins. The days are over in which two guys in a basement could develop with lots of hard work in a couple of months a game. It was sometimes innovative, but more often than not amateurish, just slightly out of target towards the audience, and more often than not just plain bad. Money played always a big role, but much less so than nowadays, and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

    What we observe in the videogame industry is a degree of professionalism which was hardly foreseeable 15 years ago. The mass appeal of games and the prospect of big profits which rival in the meantime the movie industry professionalized the game industry in every aspect, from marketing research, recruiting game developers, costs for game development, and the distribution of games. Increased marketing research means that we players are offered to play what we want. Professional organized input of gamers means that mistakes of gameplay are less often repeated and the quality level increased over time. Defeating "Goldman" in "Dragon Warrior" over and over and over again wasn't as much fun as playing the smooth and involving story of Final Fantasy X, and Final Fantasy 2 was already an improvement over Final Fantasy 1 in this regard.

    And there are the top hits with several millions of development costs which can make or break entire software development firms. Not necessarily bad if you think about that the quality testing for these games are better than ever before they hit the market because a lot of money is at risk. Money doesn't rule over quality today, quality IS money in a fierce competitive market.

    The often heard argument that the golden age or ages of videogames were more innovative doesn't hold true either. We observe a game industry which tests in an exciting way the limits of game content because the socio-demographics of players (except for gender) changed dramatically in the last ten years. Experimentation with new play concepts and graphics in almost every genre produced a lineup of high quality games which the industry never experienced before; Grand Theft Auto, Final Fantasy X, Gran Turismo 3, Xenosaga, XIII, Viewtiful Joe, Jak and Dexter 2 are the search for new concepts to breathe new air into old genres. My lamentation about too many choices of games and worries if my ever beloved Nintendo will survive is the result of increased competition from which we all profit. Nintendo was never forced to release a new Metroid, Zelda and Super Mario within SIX months - clearly the result of the fierce competition with Sony and Microsoft. Yes, I don't know what to buy anymore, but I won't complain about it when I look at my stack of first-rate games I haven't played yet or games I still have to buy - Rygar, Shinobi, Xenosaga, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Grand Theft Auto Vice City, Suikoden 3, Medal of Honor Frontline, Morrowind, Dark Cloud 2, StarFox Adventures...and the list goes on and on. In every genre we are spoiled in the meantime with quality games and complain about phenomena which are as old as the game industry with the only difference that they exist nowadays to a lesser degree; clone games, copycats, lack of innovation, premature releases, quirks in gameplay, and about the ever-so-familiar beating a once successful game concept to death.

    More innocence and naivite of the games and the industry are appealing and heart-warming in retrospect, but it also meant less professionalism with all it's negative aspects. My uneasiness with a changed industry is clearly a product of increased professionalism and competition which in the end is good for game players because we have more choices of games and better games to play. Baseball in the 30s was less professionalized, and truly Babe Ruth was an exceptional player; although business aspects play more than ever a role in baseball, the overall quality of the sports went up. Same goes for videogames.

    No, not everything used to be better, at least when it comes to videogames.

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    Great post. I agree with you 100%. I still play classic games now and then (one every week, for sure), but 90 percent of my gaming money is spent on modern games, which I play at least every day. And it's not like I'm a 'new' gamer either -- I cut my teeth on the 2600 and grew up with a NES as my first love. Just as I've goten older and games have gotten better, the modern games (the 'current' games) have kept me coming back time and time again. Maybe that trend will change in a few years as I aproach my late 20's.....I'm not sure. Many people may not have time to play a modern game -- that's fine, I understand that. For me, I MAKE time if the game is good enough. And is the game fun -- that's STILL the most important question. Always has been, always will be!
    "Four o'clock and all is well.....wish I was in bed, Sir."
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    That may be valid from a business/management perspective, but I'd beg to differ on the creative end. It seems like 90% of everything that's come out has been locked down to a handful of genres. We don't wind up with very many genre-defining games like Defender, Pac-Man, Night Driver or Donkey Kong, all of which I would argue changed the rules completely and changed how everything was done afterward.

    Now we've got tons of first-person racing games. And I'm sure they're making someone money somewhere. But the innovation doesn't seem to be there anymore.

    Or maybe I'm an old stick in the mud. That's possible too.

    To qualify this, I'll also admit that I've been playing Clickum like mad for the past week or so. Tons of fun - and it was written by none other than our own Steve Woita, pretty much on his own. Quality does not necessarily lean so heavily on money. I'd say the small development houses, and the folks writing games on their own time (see also Bejeweled, that great killer of productivity over the past few years), is where the real innovation is - and arguably the fun too. I guess it depends on how much you like the genres that the mega-budget releases are locked into.

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    @Soulblazer: I play my old Willow and galaga also once in a while, and of course I bought Final Fantasy Origins...but like you, I LOVE to play a Metroid Prime, or a Panzer Dragoon Orta (damn, what a game!!!); and don't be worried that will change with age...my first experiences are with the NES, and I'm 45 (yep, no typo ...and still...I think the present times are paradise for videogame players.

    @Phosphor:

    "We don't wind up with very many genre-defining games like Defender, Pac-Man, Night Driver or Donkey Kong, all of which I would argue changed the rules completely and changed how everything was done afterward."

    True, but don't forget, if an industry it's in an infantile stage, the most basic ground breaking ideas can be hardly topped. The basic layout is always done in such a stage.

    "Quality does not necessarily lean so heavily on money. I'd say the small development houses, and the folks writing games on their own time (see also Bejeweled, that great killer of productivity over the past few years), is where the real innovation is - and arguably the fun too."

    Money and its pressure and CREATIVITY is a difficult topic. I'd say that basically there is no relationship between the two. Musical composers like Bach were forced by contract to produce a liturgical mess every week (!), and it didn't hinder their creativity; Brecht wrote "Mack the Knife" the night before the premiere becasue the actor who played Mackie threatened not to play if there is no song about HIM Rubens had a great sponsor who gave him all the time of the world to produce his fanatstic paintings.

    My point is, the increased business aspects and incresed role of money aren't necessarily bad for us gamers, because more and overall better games are produced. Nintendo would LOVE to have a fresh, innovative, and groundbreaking game to shorten the distance to Sony - like they passed the Genesis with Street Fighter 2 in the 90s. Increased competition means a desperation for innovative ideas, and quality is money for developers, publishers, and the hardware manufacturerrs. That doesn't mean that bad games like this awfully hyped Enter The Matrix can make a big profit sometimes (unfortunately!) - but these instances are fewer than twenty years ago becasuse we can cjoose from more first rate games.

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    At least once a week or day I return to playing some classic games myself, either via emulator or I spend a few hours with Activision Anthology. For me it's good to kow where we came from so we can see how much we've progressed with games and the content of them then and now to see where we could go next.
    My Gaming Collection (Now at Google Drive!)

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    Hey Lendy! Welcome to the DP boards! Definitely more lively here than VGB (no offence to VGB who may be lurking in the shadows- still a good forum but doesn't get the traffic this place does).

    I have to re-read your novella and see if I changed my mind from 4 months ago (note to all: Lendelin and I had a discussion on this exact topic back in April). This thread should get some interesting comments with the larger member base here.

    Be prepared all, I'm sure it's going to be a battle of verbosity!

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    , YOSHI!!!!! I had no idea you're on DP! That's a great surprise. Yeah, we two had a great discussion about the topic somewhere else, and Yoshi had fanatstic and intelligent arguments (although we're pretty much split on the topic, hehe)

    I posted my verbose lil essay on this board because in another section ("urge to become a collector") someone wrote that he prefers the current games over the classics.


    Great to hear from you guy again!!! Really a nice surprise!

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    Default Re: Everything used to be better - not for videogames!

    Quote Originally Posted by lendelin
    Was indeed everything better in a more innocent era of videogames? I'm afraid not.
    Not better, not worse. Just different.

    In hardly any other branche of the entertainment industry can we observe such a fast development - incredible graphics and bombastic sound add to gameplay than never before, and more than 30 years of experience in game-developing have dramatically increased the overall quality of games.
    Someone get the crack pipe away from lendelin!

    But seriously folks... beautiful sights and sounds do not a game make. Cliche? Yes. But it's absolutely true. Do games look and sound better now? For the most part, yes - as a direct result of better technology. I dare say that - overall - games "now" are as good as games were "then."

    When it comes to play lenght, control, graphics, sound and difficulty level, there are hardly any real stinkers offered; and this wasn't the case in the good old 8-bit times in which lots of games were clearly below average and had such bad control that they were hardly playable despite their arcade origins.
    Hardly any stinkers now? To a certain degree, that's a probably a matter of personal taste, but I'd dare say that there are just as many (if not way more) stinkers now as there ever were.

    The days are over in which two guys in a basement could develop with lots of hard work in a couple of months a game. It was sometimes innovative, but more often than not amateurish, just slightly out of target towards the audience, and more often than not just plain bad.
    Those days are not over now, nor will they ever be over. Look at all the homebrew stuff for the 2600, 5200, ColecoVision, Vectrex, Intellivision, etc., etc. Look at the budget PSX games. Two-guys-in-a-basement games will always be around.

    What we observe in the videogame industry is a degree of professionalism which was hardly foreseeable 15 years ago. The mass appeal of games and the prospect of big profits which rival in the meantime the movie industry professionalized the game industry in every aspect, from marketing research, recruiting game developers, costs for game development, and the distribution of games.
    Is professionalism the term you're looking for? Maybe commercialism? More cooks doesn't mean more professional - there's really no relationship there at all.

    Increased marketing research means that we players are offered to play what we want.
    No it doesn't. Just ask our pal Aswald...

    Professional organized input of gamers means that mistakes of gameplay are less often repeated and the quality level increased over time. Defeating "Goldman" in "Dragon Warrior" over and over and over again wasn't as much fun as playing the smooth and involving story of Final Fantasy X, and Final Fantasy 2 was already an improvement over Final Fantasy 1 in this regard.
    Then how do you explain the Infogrames/Atari Matrix Reloaded debacle.

    And there are the top hits with several millions of development costs which can make or break entire software development firms. Not necessarily bad if you think about that the quality testing for these games are better than ever before they hit the market because a lot of money is at risk. Money doesn't rule over quality today, quality IS money in a fierce competitive market.
    Quality testing is better? Then why are all these crap games still coming out at a frightening rate? Drek like Pac-Man Fever, Evil Dead, Matrix Reloaded, Gubble, etc., etc.

    The often heard argument that the golden age or ages of videogames were more innovative doesn't hold true either.
    It's not an argument though. It's a fact. Old games, by definition, were more innovative. That's not a fault of new games, just fact.

    Gaming now is different, to be sure. But I'd never give up Robotron, Sinistar, Joust, Crystal Castles and Millipede in order to play GTA Vice City, Amplitude, Super Monkey Ball, Virtua Tennis and Samba de Amigo. I think we're lucky to have as many awesome games, old and new, as we do. And as long as they keep making 'em, I'll keep buying and playing 'em. Regardless of whether or not they're "old" or "new."
    Selling collection, Atari through XBox. Send a PM with whatever games you're looking for.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lendelin
    , YOSHI!!!!! I had no idea you're on DP! That's a great surprise. Yeah, we two had a great discussion about the topic somewhere else, and Yoshi had fanatstic and intelligent arguments (although we're pretty much split on the topic, hehe)

    I posted my verbose lil essay on this board because in another section ("urge to become a collector") someone wrote that he prefers the current games over the classics.

    ..and well, you might know why I left the other website, I had a run-in with this Arrha guy who behaves like a mixture of a spoiled brat and a drama queen ...and this guy is a moderator for heavens sake, lol.

    Great to hear from you guy again!!! Really a nice surprise!
    This was really my first "home", as it were. Stumbled onto VGB from one of his posts. And I had no idea about difficulty between you and Arr, but I can see where you come from.

    I'll stew on your post over lunch and I'll post on topic later.

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    Bleech. Video games used to be a lot more fun... now they're dark, violent, and depressing, and almost always presented in frustrating 3D. Your post may have been eloquent and from the heart, but that doesn't mean I even remotely agree with it.

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    Quote Originally Posted by lendelin
    , YOSHI!!!!! I had no idea you're on DP! That's a great surprise.
    Slightly OT, Dan "YoshiM" Mahlendorf is our section editor for the N64 Collector's Guide, and it's coming along really well. Check it out if you haven't already http://www.digitpress.com/lists.htm

    (our section editors are a humble bunch - great work and they never crow about it - leaving me to do that for them!)

    Sorry, back to the topic!

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    I don't think Nekko has played some of the lighthearted stuff for the GC and GBA like Pikimin, Super Mario Sunshine, and the upcoming Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Hardly dark and depressing and not all of them are full 3D either.

    Games are always made that fit SOMEONE's taste -- you just have to look for them.
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    Default Re: Everything used to be better - not for videogames!

    Quote Originally Posted by lendelin
    What we observe in the videogame industry is a degree of professionalism which was hardly foreseeable 15 years ago
    I think for many people it was ABSOLUTELY forseeable and expected. Maybe not as much in the classic era, but as early as the NES days there were ramblings and thoughts of the videogame industry potentially evolving and growing to a point where it was a mainstream entertainment medium surpassing even the movie industry. I mean it really didn't take that much effort to imagine just how far videogames and the videogame industry COULD go. I remember seeing the 'cinemas' in NES Ninja Gaiden and saying.. "it's only going to keep getting bigger and better" and naturally, it has. . I for one expected it to happen a lot sooner than it did (although I have yet to see the immersive holographic games I also imagined ).

    No, not everything used to be better, at least when it comes to videogames.
    Well naturally. I sure as heck hope that in the year 2023 people won't be making arguments as to how the Xbox/ps2/GC games from 2003 are NOT better than the "current" batch of games. Heck we BETTER have better games by then or something is friggin wrong!

    That being said, all generations have their own respective timeless diamonds which is why I just can't get into this "which is better" mindset. Because to me, it's just one big stream of videogames. I think it's a mistake to compare and contrast games of today to games of yesterday too seriously because of the simple fact that they are from different times. They may not seem as entertaining today but for their time they were indeed CUTTING EDGE. And that's the light that I still see and play them... not in some colored "after the fact" lense of 2003.. but as IT WAS.

    e.g. I can't see my 5200 Joust as anything but the best for it's time, and indeed in 1982 seeing those graphics on the tv screen was as good as any consumer could get. Ditto for 2600 games like Demon Attack. Or even SNES games like Starfox. It aint all about graphics either. The twitch gameplay of games like Kaboom! have yet to be truly replicated in any modern game and has pretty much been forgotten... I'd imagine that it will get revived in some form or another someday though.. who knows.

    I guess I'm just rambling on at this point.. :P But my childhood Atari 2600 sits comfortably next to my Xbox and everything else in between. And I see nothing unusual about playing Madden 2k4 on the PS2 then challenging my friends to Intellivision Baseball. It's just videogames.. and it's all good baby I'm definitely always right there on the "new" as I've always been, but there's no way I'm gonna miss out on playing the gems of the past

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    Great post, NE. Pretty much sums up what I was trying to say in my eariler posts, and I agree with you fully.

    I think the hardest problem is trying not to look at a 20 year old game that we have fond memories of with rose colored glasses, but look at it in the time and place it was made. Just about impossible to do, myself included.
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    It's just videogames.. and it's all good baby I'm definitely always right there on the "new" as I've always been, but there's no way I'm gonna miss out on playing the gems of the past
    This is my philosophy as well. I really have no preference for one era over another and I don't look at my enjoyment of the older games as a nostalgia trip either. To me any game I get that I haven't had or played before is "new" whether or not it's for XBOX or Intellivision. I'm just happy I've got so much to choose from.

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    "I don't think Nekko has played some of the lighthearted stuff for the GC and GBA like Pikimin, Super Mario Sunshine, and the upcoming Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Hardly dark and depressing and not all of them are full 3D either. "

    Yes, I'm familiar with those THREE games. That's not enough, though. Games like Quake and Grand Theft Auto get a lot more press and are a lot more popular. It's gotten to the point where game companies are cancelling the *cute* games and releasing the controversial ones instead, rather than the other way around like it was in the 80's. Case in point: Goemon for the Playstation. Some have claimed that it was because Sony and Working Designs didn't have a great working relationship, but if Working Designs has made enemies with every game console manufacturer in existence, I have a difficult time understanding how they can even remain in business.

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    My point is, the increased business aspects and incresed role of money aren't necessarily bad for us gamers, because more and overall better games are produced. Nintendo would LOVE to have a fresh, innovative, and groundbreaking game to shorten the distance to Sony - like they passed the Genesis with Street Fighter 2 in the 90s. Increased competition means a desperation for innovative ideas, and quality is money for developers, publishers, and the hardware manufacturerrs. That doesn't mean that bad games like this awfully hyped Enter The Matrix can make a big profit sometimes (unfortunately!) - but these instances are fewer than twenty years ago becasuse we can cjoose from more first rate games.

    That's still pretty much in the eyes of a beholder. While we are seeing some pretty fresh games trickling through (KOTOR, Viewtiful Joe and Otogi come to mind) the money makers are still coming from sequels, rehashes and whatnot. Not saying they are bad games, just something I wouldn't call "first rate".

    As for increased competition and innovation-where are they? Many developers are either going for the money pot by releasing on PS2 only OR will release on all of the platforms to try and snag a larger audience. If there is this despiration to compete and rise above others why do we have such things as Enter the Matrix or RTX Red Rock? EtM was going to be an obvious moneymaker, but still why make such a shoddy game? One would think if the developers put the same effort into EtM as Rockstar did to GTA 3 it would sell even MORE copies, right? RTX Red Rock has been in development for what seems to be forever and what comes out is a couple steps above shovelware doesn't make sense given that the developer was Lucasarts. I'm sure the idea of making a truely quality product was the original intent when the game was inked on paper but it typically boils down to the money. The bean counters watch the trends, watch what sells and what doesn't and they (usually) decide what gets made and it BETTER go out on time, quality be damned. In the case of the buggy and generally sucky Enter the Matrix, George Orwell's idea of "doublespeak" from 1984 is in full effect (and borrowing from Lendy's statement): "Money=quality" (meaning EtM sold like hotcakes so you KNOW some pug nosed exec is going to try the same manuever in the future with some hot property without a thought about actual quality).

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    Quote Originally Posted by ManekiNeko
    Case in point: Goemon for the Playstation. Some have claimed that it was because Sony and Working Designs didn't have a great working relationship, but if Working Designs has made enemies with every game console manufacturer in existence, I have a difficult time understanding how they can even remain in business.
    WD's relationship with Sony deteriorated after certain Victor Ireland-favoring peeps at Sony left the building, but Goemon's rejection was primarily because it's a zero-generation PS2 title (Japanese launch) which WD wanted to sell at a premium price. That's also why WD is being forced to bundle Growlanser 2 and 3, two playable but obsolescent strategy/RPGs.

    And yet, Atlus is allowed to ship Disgaea, which runs at the same resolution as a PS1 game, as a full-price title, because Atlus and SCEA are tight. The politics, always the politics.

    Working Designs will never publish an Xbox game because Victor has repeatedly slammed Microsoft, and will never publish a GameCube game because third parties don't make money on GameCube releases unless they're triple-A titles. Victor is thus stuck with Sony.

    Victor hasn't just alienated console manufacturers, incidentally -- he's universally hated by game journalists, with the exception of Play's Dave Halverson, and even they feuded a while back.

    -- Z.

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    a lot of the retro gaming scene is about recapturing the fun from your childhood so its matter of your age and prespective. for me its not that the old games are better, they're not necessarily but where i was in life when it all came out. i'm old enough to been alive when videogames didnt really exist (well a few rich people had pong but not mainstream), i dont think the kids of the 80s on can relate to that. we went from board games to video games and what a leap that was! one day you're all over rock em sock em robots and then its like whoa space invaders on the TV! back then parents could pretty much buy their kids friends with an atari, we'd ride our bikes great distances just to get in a game or two. the sheer novelty of the early 80s gaming scene can never be duplicated, not to sound like a 60s hippy but- you had to be there man!

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    Quote Originally Posted by YoshiM
    [In the case of the buggy and generally sucky Enter the Matrix, George Orwell's idea of "doublespeak" from 1984 is in full effect (and borrowing from Lendy's statement): "Money=quality" (meaning EtM sold like hotcakes so you KNOW some pug nosed exec is going to try the same manuever in the future with some hot property without a thought about actual quality).
    In the future? Game companies have been shipping licensed games without quality gameplay for more than 20 years, dating back to E.T. on the 2600, which, like Enter the Matrix, sold very well.

    It's foolish for a developer to worry about quality with a licensed game, anyway. The main concern is using lots of audio/visual assets from the property -- which Enter the Matrix most certainly did. Even if a developer attempts to inject original gameplay ideas, the licensors will shoot down those ideas to "protect the brand." There's no need to waste time and energy on a licensed game that will sell based upon the popularity of the brand, not the quality of the gameplay.

    -- Z.

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