Every now and then I get a total stranger who has something approaching a command of the English language and knows that Pac Man is not a smoker’s patch to proofread the stuff you are combing through with your eyes at this very moment. The recurring question I get every now and again from my unofficial editors is: “Why don’t you review something new for a change?” Normally a question like this is not even enough to make me look up from reading The Girl Who Played With Fire for the umpteenth time, so I lazily wave my hand towards the bottom right corner of the home screen at my blog role. “Those people are already doing it,” is the usual response that I mumble as try to mask my annoyance for having my reading time interrupted. “But some of these new games look amazing. Don’t you want to try and give them a review at least?” comes the next question accompanied by a quizzical look. At this point I slam Stieg Larsson shut with frustration, look at my proof-reader dead in the eye, and, without breaking my death stare, I reach out, open Dance With Dragons and start reading again. So hard to get peace and quiet these days, I think irritably.
I actually just wanted to read. I guess I was also cowering behind the book because I was trying to avoid the question. Come to think of it, why not badger some publishing studio with pretences of dread diseases or death threats to get my hands on some review code so as to write something on some modern games for a change? The answer is long-winded and difficult to explain for me in one post, but I can try. So why don’t we first approach the question from the other angle? You know, like politicians do so well when they get questions they avoid? Let’s have a look at my personal, top five reasons why I think dated gaming is just plain awesome. (Pay attention here as I am specifically using the word dated instead of retro or old. Dated gaming is to me the period from mid-nineties up until before 2010.)
- These games are often free from DRM headaches: I honestly loathe DRM with a hatred I simply cannot articulate in writing because after all these years, it remains a flawed system. It is absolutely one of the worst ideas EVER in gaming history, and there is simply nothing to argue in contradiction. The only ones who DRM actually made an impact on were the law-abiding buyers themselves, and this was NOT in a good way. People who loyally fork out their hard earned cash far too often find themselves staring in incredulity at a stupid little warning box boldly touting the fact they couldn’t actually play further (or at all). And this is usually because of some insubstantial, nonsensical issue. All the while, pirates are openly mocking buyers in support forums with how they thwarted the publishers yet again, and have been enjoying their stolen game for hours. Those with morals sit watching miserably from the benches. I will never forget the agony of getting my first Steam game to work on a 56K modem line. Took me a whole weekend so by the time Monday came, I did not have the opportunity to play anyway and to top it off, I had to explain the huge phone bill to my parents. Steam and I have kissed and made up since then as she said that she would give me a monstrous selection of games that I can download anytime, anywhere as long as I get a credit card, Wi-Fi and give her my soul. With many dated games, a lot of unnecessary DRM-related pains are non-existent. Besides, I must say that I think it is okay to download a crack/CD fix to remove the fuss of juggling CD ROMs. If you have a legally, boxed game, install and enjoy! Simple.
- These games have more stability: I honestly do not know how developers cannot have their own rooms permanently reserved in mental asylums since I am sure they must be frequent patrons these days. (Maybe the asylums are filling up too fast with the people who try to justify Keeping Up with The Kardashians on the air.) Can you imagine having a vague idea of a game you want to make and then the stress of being given a budget around fifty million dollars/pounds/blue jellybeans, some inadequate studio resources and an impossible deadline for producing your game? O, and don’t forget to get all the legal crap in order while selectively including and excluding what each and every fan whines about on the internet before D-day. I would die. So the inevitable result is that we come to expect broken and poorly optimised games as the norm upon their release (often after multiple-delays), and developers almost unapologetically release day 1 patches in parallel with their product. With games that have a few grey hairs, the patches, updates and fixes have already been brought out or have been worked into the code itself. You get something much more structurally intact to play with for your coinage, and not the jittery, low FPS experience you get on consoles these days because developers cut corners in the optimisation department.
- These games have come with you through the years: We are all secretly hoarders. We keep the most utterly useless junk on shelves, under our beds and in the back of the closet (next to the condoms and our secret stash of Twixx bars) because these things carry the memories of the circumstances under which we got them. Their texture, smell and even taste can remind us of what we were doing or going through at that time of our lives. Hitman: Contracts always makes me re-experience classroom drowsiness ‘cause I used to sneak into the office at 2 in the morning to play a few missions on school nights. Unreal Tournament III reminds me of when my sister started playing guitar as the family PC needed to occupy the same living area of the house for a while where she used to practice (I still expect “Turn that crap down!” every time I hear “M-M-M-M-M-MONSTER KILL!!”). God of War always comes with the smell of a very specific kind of coffee that was usually made by my friend on our Friday night sessions where we played the game until the sun came up. My point is that these games can make you relive a very unique kind of sentimentality that in actual fact you would usually expect only from physical objects. To go backwards into your game collection is to go backwards into your life.
- The games often carry the creative genius of just one or two people: Cultural analysts recall that the famous crash of the industry in the eighties took place because publishers basically became too greedy. Game after game was booted out the shed that prioritised references to popular culture and graphics above all else and, as you can expect, the arcades one by one starting putting out their torches. Now, a mere three decades later, the industry is very much up and running and generating gross global profits that are measured in tens of billions. Yet why are so many development studios rumoured to be on the brink of bankruptcy again? Simple: The modern is industry is, yet again, run too much like a business. The industry was saved in the late eighties by a handful of games that prioritised creativity above all else, with games like Super Mario Brothers and Sonic The Hedgehog leading the pack. These titles and the ones that emerged during the nineties gave the next generation a solid foundation to build on with brand new gameplay mechanics. The games that were developed in the 2000’s were thus given the groundwork from which to crank up the graphics dial a bit. It is here that the large majority of some of my favourite games took shape. And in most cases, it was usually just one person, with one leading vision, and their presence can be felt throughout the entire game. I mean look at Half-Life 2. From the jaw dropping physics to the carefully conceived sequence of events that unfold to tell you a brilliant story, it is plain to see that the game simply oozes with Gabe Newell’s vision. These games therefore carry a timeless… style that was bestowed upon them by their creators and playing them is a little like watching history happening before your very eyes. Here there was no interference by rabid fanboys and bickering lawyers; only raw creative talent had the main reigns.
- Dated games are technological economy: This, to me, makes the best case for why everyone should be scrumming around the sale bin. Consider the following: when Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow came out in March of 2004, it was so beautiful that it really stoked the fires underneath lukewarm warfare that had been brewing for quite some time between Splinter Cell and Metal Gear Solid fanboys. Not only was it a testament to how one does a proper port from the first Xbox (… I almost wrote Xbox 1…), this game could easily have stood as a tech demo for the Unreal Engine 2.0 based on how it boasted complex (albeit linear) levels with set pieces covered in dynamic shadows and high quality particle effects. And what is the tech required to run this little bit of award-winning espionage heaven? Well, this game asks for XP with a Pentium 3, and at least half a gig of RAM. Combine that with a GeForce 3 or higher and you are good to go after the entire game commandeers a whole 3 gigs of your precious multi-terabyte drive. Or to put that in perspective, the game can run on the equivalent of an average iPhone 4 and you can pick it up today for the price of a cappuccino. So when firing up other titles that come from this generation of games, you can hook up your PC that you normally only use for email to your 55 inch LED screen, run it at 1080p/i, and with a little help from some .ini tweaking just to smooth out some rough edges, you can play some true classics at maximum settings in glorious 60fps (and that is before you take off the frame rate cap). I am all for playing games that hide their poor software optimisation under the cover of ‘future proof,’ but if the available hardware just isn’t up to the job or your last name is not Trump, then I will sit this one out. It simply doesn’t make sense to me to empty your pension fund on a graphics card that will be considered outmoded in two years just to break through the 30 FPS threshold when all the eye candy is activated. Rather pass the time with some classics while the hardware catches up. And another thing, check out any website that sells people’s unwanted stuff. Some guys desperately need to get rid of old PS3’s or Xbox 360’s for peanuts and will quite often include their entire game collection to sweeten the deal. On the other hand, they might try to have sex with you during the exchange process so make sure to do the transaction in a public place okay?
Please read this post again. I’ll wait. O you’re done? Did I at any point say modern games should go the way of the dodo? No, I didn’t (even if some of them do). There are some breath-taking titles on display these days (Just Cause 3 is a recent example here) and I would love to play them all, but I just cannot neglect my oldies (also, my PC is so ancient it keeps warning me Microsoft DOS needs an update). I just have a weird connection with dated titles that I can’t quite put my finger on. You can play them until the cows come home and still find a new way of having fun with them in every single play-through. It is the fact that the modern industry is money-driven that truly makes me reluctant to partake something new these days. We haven’t even realised the true potential of DirectX 9, and yet, 12 is already on the horizon just so we can be milked for that extra 100 quid. I hate the game, and not the games, so to speak. So what titles are gathering dust or have a fifth generation mouse family nesting in the box (secretly plotting a cat genocide) in your collection? Go on and install it. You might enjoy it way more than you could possibly imagine.