Saturday, April 1, 2017

What do "old schoolers" really want of modern gaming?

Some people (especially newer generations) see the old school gamer as a group of grouchy old dudes (or dudettes) who live with nostalgia glasses permanently attached to their eyes. Because of this misconception and after studying how some classic games resonate with gamers more than their modern counterparts, I have decided to post my findings on this case. Get prepared to know what an old school gamer really thinks and what we really want in modern gaming.

Chrono Cross
This simple and small Chrono Cross town has more substance that many big "open world" worlds.

1) Complex simplicity:

Take the term "complex simplicity" as the base for all the future items on this list. We know that most people think that classic games (90's until mid 00's) are all about complexity with their sophisticated systems and the lack of visual ques, but it is quite the opposite. The truth is that classic games were a lot simpler where it mattered. While games in previous eras had things that made them look complex, in reality they were really relaxing and could be played with an easy going attitude without feeling that the developers are taking you by the hand or pulling your arm through the whole game.

For example, many classic games were very linear, but somehow they were designed to feel like anything but linear. I have been playing some classics like Chrono Cross, Dark Cloud, Blood Omen, Legacy of Kain, Terranigma among some others and while I know for a fact that they are linear games, they feel as deep as any multi-million open world modern production. This happens because old games presented more content with less levels of stress. So instead of raining dull chores on us, we moved through the story in a relaxed way and we welcomed any change of pace that was interesting enough without implying that we had to completely go out of our way or make some change that would completely take us out of the mood we had until that moment. Of course, this is not the only aspect of simplicity that applies in this situation as there are others like...

Yakuza 0
The Yakuza series is an example where less realism = tons of fun.

2) Less realism, more suspension of disbelief:

I am not stating that the next Call of Duty game needs to have magic on it or anything like that. What I mean with less realism applies to games where suspension of disbelief is more important than making the game similar to the real world in terms of the overall fun factor of the game. For example, weapons that break too quickly, unnecessary hunger and thirst mechanics (unless the game's focus is survival), forcing the player to wait or be idle for no reason other than the developers telling us to and time constraints (not to be mistaken for time limits) are some of the things that really dampens any gaming experience if they are forced fed on us.

Most of the time all we want is to play and enjoy the game world without some heavy chore on our backs. Why? Because that gives us extra time to learn and master other things like the complex systems of old that some people complain about. We prefer to challenge our own minds than have a simple inconvenience for the whole duration of the game. This is more rewarding and fun in many ways and marks the difference between feeling challenged and feeling annoyed.

Solid Snake
A salute for the times where Konami was good.

3) Games that can be serious, but are not serious about it.

Everybody likes a nice storyline that we can take seriously for a while, be it because we are emotionally invested in the game or because the plot itself is just too good. What seems to be a turn off for old schoolers are stories that can be serious and good, but take a game flow approach that is even more serious than the storyline itself, thus becoming too rigid for its own good.

Take for example Metal Gear vs Splinter Cell. There was a time where these two franchises were bitter rivals, but in the end Metal Gear came on top, mostly because of one reason. While Metal Gear kept a game flow that relaxed its serious story and made it even more enjoyable than it already was, Splinter Cell (after Pandora's Tomorrow) went for a serious/serious approach and that basically ruined it. The reason why the first 3 Splinter Cell games were so good, was because the player could do all sorts of fun things with the stealth mechanics and that made the game to be a lot more enjoyable. Sadly, later on they decided to remove all that in favor of some straight forward linearity and that broke the game.

Resident Evil Remake
Repeat with me: Backtracking is good! 

4)  Freedom without sacrificing substance

Any of you who that are 25 years old or older can remember the times where in the first Resident Evil we walked from what was supposed to be the end of the game back through the garden house and into the mansion in order to get the two Mo-Disks we needed and found out that the place was not safe anymore because new monsters were now prowling in it. That little example is enough to explain what freedom without sacrificing substance means. We could move basically through the whole game world without feeling pushed or forced to proceed and the story and focus of the game was kept intact (no generic stuff or excessive recycling of resources). This is why those games felt like 40 hour experiences even if they had 14 hours of gameplay at best.

Tales of Vesperia
Berseria is awesome, but Vesperia was the last handcrafted "Tales of" game.

5) Handcrafted game worlds

Have you ever got the feeling that the world in which you move when playing a game feels a little too structured? Roads go here, walls go there and everything seems sanitized and as organized as a set of Tetris pieces. That is good enough for dungeon crawlers or rogue rpg games where the structure is the game itself, but for games that are trying to make you believe that you are playing in a lush and detailed environment, seen this kind of thing is quite disappointing.

Why is this so disappointing? Because it give us a message that says that the game was made with a cheap approach and that most of what they did was cut corners. This feels bad, especially when the game in question is supposed to be a comeback of a beloved series (Star Ocean I am looking at you) and it kind of insults our intelligence because it implies that we will buy anything as long as it has the name of a franchise we love.

On the other hand when a "detailed" game world feels too structured and generic it really eats away any enthusiasm that we had when we started playing and anybody with a basic knowledge of how videogame logic works will immediately notice when the great big world we were sold on is not that good.


In summary:

All that we old schoolers want can be summarized in these 5 things and they are really not that hard to do. They are feats of game design that have been lost in time and we need to get back. Luckily for us, games like the ones we have been getting on this semester (Jan-May 2017) are getting back to these good practices, so not all hope is lost. Let us thrive for quality and have gaming become what it used to be while in harmony with the latest advances in technology.