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Space for Rent: The Appeal of Retro-Gaming


Tweet of the Day: Star Citizen

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So, what is the appeal of retro-gaming?

The easy answer is: nostalgia. The first generation gamers are now becoming middle managers, parents, teachers and business owners. They long for the days of 2-bit computing (as in the Atari 2600), dropping quarters in the local arcade and those trippy chiptunes of old.

No points for easy answers.

What gamers want are two things sorely lacking in the modern games market: value for money and solid gameplay. Today processors dive right into the uncanny valley, produce gorgeous vistas and worlds populated by thousands of game avatars.

And little else. Sure there are some quality games out there, but with a lot of strings attached such as:

    • Always online DRM (for single player games),
    • Online passes (again for single player games),
    • Bolting of multiplayer features where they don’t belong,
    • Lack of depth in the experience,
    • Day one DLC, pay
    • Pay to Win microtrasaction (where in you pay extra to get the stuff needed to win game),
    • Unfinished games whose proper ending is relagated to DLC and,

Painfully short games that offer you something like five hours of gameplay

All for the low, low, low price of $60+tax (even more overseas)

It is no surprise that men like Chris Roberts (of Wing Commander fame, see the Tweet of the Day) and Richard Garriott (of the Ultima series) are turning to Kickstarter to bypass the big publishers (like EA). But they are not the only appealing directly to the audience. Brian Fargo, maker of such gems as Wasteland and Torment, has also gone the Kickstarter route.

Why?

That’s why. These initiatives promise to solve two problems above. But how can they? Well, these guys come from the old of video game design. When a lone programmer or a bunch of friends coded on Apple IIs, IBM PCs or early Macs. Back then everything was new and everything was limited. Chiptunes existed because even the most sophisticated machines like the Commodore 64 could go no further.

And by the way, the 64 in C-64 stood for 64k of RAM.

Sixty-four kilobytes of RAM.

Nothing more than that.

So they always coded on a hardware budget. What sold games back then was innovative game play, new features and memorable experiences.  They learn to do the most with the least and continued to do so for years. Sure, the video game crash of ’83 proved that even then, bad games and worst company practices nearly doomed the entire industry. In many ways, the current big publisher atmosphere resembles Hollywood with an emphasis on marketing, flashy graphics and big budgets. But like a Michael Bay movie, the only thing you end up with is a lot of expensive explosions. Simply put the big distributors spend all their cash swallowing development studios, hording game IP and running those same properties into the proverbial toilet. They turned the industry into a series of shiny bandwagons in which the push everybody into, and then run those bandwagons in circles until the wheels break and everybody bails out.

Leaving many games to feel like this:

And let tell you, if companies like Activision and EA could do the above, they would, counting on the fact that many a gamer will simply hand over their credit cards, life savings and firstborns just to play the latest installment of Mass Assassin of Honor. Add to this a bad doze of gaming media/publisher incest and you have a bad atmosphere all around.

That is why people are willing to support stuff like this:

That’s right boys and girls, an isometric CPRG from a 1989 pencil and paper RPG. And yes, people payed good money to develop this. But this is not only front where retro-gaming is making inroads in the modern gaming industry. Many an indie game made for iOS platforms (cellphones and tablets) as well as recent PC, XboxLive and Playstation Network releases such as FTL, the remake of XCOM and Hotline Miami succeed where far more expensive games  fail (I’m looking at you Colonial Marines).

Simply put, the big publishers are heading to an armaggedon of their own making and from the ashes a return to the first truism of video games:

Gameplay is the thing.

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2 comments on “Space for Rent: The Appeal of Retro-Gaming

  1. The current model the gaming industry is following freaks me out. I hope, and maybe it is something not to hope, that the big publishers tumble, and gaming can go back into the hands of creators with a vision beyond stuffing pockets with mad cash. But I guess such all depends on the gaming consumers.

    • Well you do have too many fans of companies and franchises that pour money into them regardless of the drivel they are fed or the lousy business practices by the big developers. But the bigger you are, the harder you fall. THQ learned that the hard way.

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