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Was Videogaming Better Back in the Day? 381

Posted by Zonk
from the these-new-fangled-gears-and-half-lives dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Sean Sands at Gamers With Jobs looks back at the dawn of videogaming, when we were all kids just typing in our games, one line of BASIC at a time. And he finds the present lacking: 'The dreamers became assets instead of leaders, and the rockstar designers became, well, Rockstar ... or Blizzard, or Valve. Publishers with cash-rich money to spend bought the creative process, and the minds of marketing professionals replaced four guys hopped up on sugar doughnuts and generic cola. So, how dare I be surprised that the price of today's gaming blitz is a little piece of last generation's soul?' Do you agree? Was simple gaming better, or are you a story in games fan?"
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Was Videogaming Better Back in the Day?

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  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:06AM (#18750651)
    Why does it have to be either or? Can't both types of gaming be good? We have complex games now, but simpler stuff is available on things like XBox Arcade. Just relax and enjoy.
    • by Bieeanda (961632) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:11AM (#18750719)
      No kidding. "Was simple gaming better, or are you a story in games fan?" What the Hell kind of question is that? Story-wise, something like Unreal Tournament Foo has about as much story as the booklet that came with a Berzerk cartridge, while games like Ultima V (playable on Apple II, CGA-equipped PC and other beyond-elderly hardware) kick the unholy Hell out of cliched fantasy crap like Neverwinter Nights' original campaign.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by king-manic (409855)
        Planescape, Xenogears, Fallout 1&2, FF 4&6&12, Vagrant story, Warcraft III, Starcraft, etc ... all kicked the crap out of what passed for a story back in the day, but these are the gems of their respective eras. Looking back thats all we see. It's easy for nostalgia to cloud our thinking. Ultima underworld was interesting and fun, but it pales to games liek oblivion which basically take the same idea and run with it. There is a lot of crap today, but there was back then too. Except we're compari
        • by Overly Critical Guy (663429) on Monday April 16, 2007 @11:40AM (#18752031)

          It's easy for nostalgia to cloud our thinking. Ultima underworld was interesting and fun, but it pales to games liek oblivion which basically take the same idea and run with it.

          I was with you until this part. Ultima Underworld pales next to Oblivion? Oblivion is one of the most retarded, "streamlined" RPGs ever made. It's an example of the modern-day, marketing-driven tech demos that this article is criticizing. Go play Daggerfall from 10 years ago and remember that it came from the same company!
          • by MagikSlinger (259969) on Monday April 16, 2007 @11:56AM (#18752213) Homepage Journal

            I was with you until this part. Ultima Underworld pales next to Oblivion? Oblivion is one of the most retarded, "streamlined" RPGs ever made. It's an example of the modern-day, marketing-driven tech demos that this article is criticizing. Go play Daggerfall from 10 years ago and remember that it came from the same company!

            I was beginning to think I was the only person on the face of planet Earth who felt that way. As I once quipped on Slashdot: "Oblivion is an RPG for thumb-bashers who want to play an RPG but without all that gay story and s---."

            I mean, come on. You get 30 seconds of dialog then spend 5 hours trying to accomplish the quest, 4 hours of which was spent trying to build up enough cash and/or magic in order to complete the quest. Ultima IV, you had to change the way you played the frakking game to win to stay in synch with the story.

            • by DG (989)
              Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think you're on crack.

              I played Ultima III (first Apple ][, then C=64, then Ultima IV (C=64) Ultima V (Amiga and PC) and Ultima 6 (PC)

              Great games, all of them. Pinnacle of the art at the time.

              Then the torch was passed to Dungeon Master 1 and 2 (Amiga)

              Then a loooooong dry spell.

              Then Neverwinter Nights (Linux) which, while flawed in some ways, more than made up for it in others; particularly some of the community content.

              And then I tried Oblivion... and I'm still hip-de
      • by Retric (704075) on Monday April 16, 2007 @11:26AM (#18751835)
        The problem with comparing old vs. new games is people tend to stretch things.

        Pick the best 5 games of 2006 and compare them to the best 5 games of 1976, 1986, or 1996 but not 1976 though 1996. It's like comparing the music of the 60's (1960 - 1969) with music produced in the last six months.
        • by cayenne8 (626475) on Monday April 16, 2007 @11:40AM (#18752027) Homepage Journal
          "The problem with comparing old vs. new games is people tend to stretch things."

          I dunno. I suppose it is one perspective to be older, in that you've seen firsthand the evolution of video games, but, then again, you are looking at the old ones with more of an adult mind vs the child mindset when you saw the early games.

          Personally...and I'm a bit older, I'm of the opinion that the early game designers had to work more on making gameplay itself FUN since they had so little in the way of tech to work with.

          My personal favorite is the old arcade game Robotron 2084 [wikipedia.org] . A very simple game, but, very intense. Hell, my friends and I still get a bad case of 'tennis elbow' after playing it for too long. I've got a MAME cab. with access to virtually every game made that I'd ever want...and yet, I primarily play that and Tempest (the mame machine is in an old Tempest cab).

          Funny thing is...I've had parties, where friends bring their kids...some of them have been pretty young, but, raised on current PS and Xbox type games. They really freak when they see and play some of the old games. They might not be super interested at first, since the graphics are a bit crude, but, they see us old fellers crowded around playing and see how much fun the game play is...and then they really like playing it.

          Don't get me wrong..I like exciting sound and graphics as much as the next person...I started playing pinball (which is now again on of my favs, currently restoring a 70's Playboy pin)..my first video game system I got was the old Fairchild one..played cousins' Atari 2600..fell in love with Wolfenstein, and Doom and Descent....play a chipped PS 1...etc. So, I've seen games evolve over the years. While many of these games are great, in the past few years, well, my perception is....game designers have seemed to settle on 'safe' gameplay basics, and only seem to generally work on graphics and the like.

          I don't see much innovation on gameplay itself...at least not that much.

          But, what do I know...I'm gettinig to be an old guy. Actually, I just rediscovered Zork and got it to play on my old iBook on an upcoming vacation (great for playing on the plane)...just an old txt game, but, fun.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Rei (128717)
          Greetings, programmer! You are a female human codemonkey.
          Quaff what [abcjf]? j
          You drink a potion of booze. The world spins and you pass out.
          You wake up. You have a severe headache.
          Identify what [abcfnop] ? f
          f - potion of coffee
          Quaff what [abcf]? f
          You drink a potion of coffee. You feel wide awake!
          You fall down the stairs.
          Drive which direction? l
          Welcome to Initech!
          You hear a faint typing sound.
          You hear a boss screaming orders.
          You hear a water cooler gurgling.
          Commit what code [np]? p
          You summon a boss!
          The b
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rob T Firefly (844560)
      Excellent point. New games aren't replacing existing games, they're adding to the body of games out there. Anyone with an old console, a Java-enabled phone or PDA, a service such as XBox Arcade, a "greatest hits" modern console port, or the wherewithal to grab an emulator and some ROMs will find it at least as easy to get hold of an old classic as it is to buy the latest console or PC game.
      • by iocat (572367) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:53AM (#18751333) Homepage Journal
        The other thing that makes this question hard to debate is the age/nostalgia thing. For instance, my favorite sci-fi ever was what I read at 14, vecause it was the FIRST sci-fi I read. So, all the mind-expanding concepts of sci-fi were new to me, and evens what others would have considered as cliched crap seemed brilliant to me, if only becuase I hadn't seen the cliches a thousand times before. So, sure, based on that, the simple games of my youth were brilliant! The story in Ultima was transcendental, the action in Xevious or even Pheonix unparalled.

        So were those old games better? I think it's almost impossible to evaluate through the dewy-eyed nostalgia filter. The closest comparison to old-school (pre-NES) games are probably the "casual games" of today, and certainly Xevious or Galaga compare well with Heavy Weapon or Bejeweled. But comparing Gauntlet or Ultima to KOTOR or Diablo is like comparing a cave painting to a Picasso. They're so different, and so much products of their time, that it's dfficult to say one is better or worse than the other.

  • It all depends... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PyroMosh (287149) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:09AM (#18750673) Homepage
    "Was simple gaming better?"

    Depends. There's games that are compelx and terrible, and there are games that are complex and amazing (Supreme Commander, hopefully Spore)
    there were also simple games that were and are amazing (Tetris) and simple games that were just horrible (Amagon, Super Mario Bros. 1 by today's standards (I'll elaborate if anyone cares))

    "Are you a story in games fan?"

    Yes I am. But it depends on the story, and the game. I just picked up Wing Island last night for the Wii. If I had known about the story, I would probably have thought twice. Gameplay is okay, but it's no Pilotwings (what I was hoping for). On the other hand, I absolutly love Hotel Dusk. Maniac Mansion continues to be one of my all time favorites, and the Half-Life series are great because of not only the story, but how that story is told. Wing Commander showed that cinematic games can be fun, if done right.

    There's lots of examples of good story driven games. Not all of them new. And there's lots of examples of games that are fun without much story (Super Mario Bros. 3 continues to be a favorite of mine) and even some examples of decent games *dammaged* by the inclusion of a story (Super Monkey Ball, Bomberman, Wario Ware, etc, etc.)
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by CastrTroy (595695)
      I would love for you to elaborate on why you think SMB 1 was a terrible game.
  • Indie Games (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jarjarthejedi (996957) <christianpinch@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:09AM (#18750683) Journal
    That's the answer to his complaints right there. You want to see good creative games that didn't cost multi-millions and may have been made by a single person go look at indie game areas. I for one am very glad that gaming has moved past the point where a 12 year old could build games that matched the game industry, if such a day ever existed. Modern games are sometimes uncreative but that doesn't mean the old days were somehow better. The difference is that nowadays more creativity is required to make a creative game as all the genres have pretty much filled up.

    This guy really needs to see my sig. And by the way, I'm one of the people he doesn't believe in anymore. A gamer who wants to make games. Am I discouraged by the big money games? No, because I don't want to make those.
  • by Demon-Xanth (100910) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:09AM (#18750699)
    Pick up an old game, and you'll realize two major facts:

    #1 The game is hard. VERY hard.
    #2 The control sucks.

    Yup, #2 is sad but true. The old school games do have a completely different feel to them, and adding in the physics that came around during the 8 bit era lead to "slippery" feeling games. But #1 was because games weren't MEANT to be beaten by most people. When you beat a game, that was because you were a hard core badass gamer. They were meant to be played over and over and enjoyed. By comparison, most games today are play though once, move on to the next.

    Does that make them better? You can argue both ways. Pick up Ikaruga and you'll be able to appreciate how getting level three is an accomplishment all over again.
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      I guess i'm a hard core badass gamer. Apart from some games like the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for NES, I beat a lot of games. Ok, I may have played a lot back then, but that doesn't really explain why I can pick up the same game, 10 years later, and still beat it, easily. Meanwhile there's a lot of games made now that are next to impossible, although usually not because they are designed to be hard, but because they make them artificially hard by making the computer unbeatable.
      • I guess i'm a hard core badass gamer. Apart from some games like the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for NES, I beat a lot of games.

        I got to near the end of the Technodrome; the message is 'PREPARE FOR THE FIGHT, SHREDDER IS NEAR' and all, but there were just too many laser-toting jetpack guys to get past.

        But the games we're thinking of here are older even than that. Think Bubble Bobble for the kind of thing. These were games that you'd play for a high score, more than for completion, and which yo

    • by dpilot (134227) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:53AM (#18751335) Homepage Journal
      >They were meant to be played over and over and enjoyed. By comparison, most games today are play though once, move on to the next.

      This is the most insightful point of a highly-moderated post.

      Why on Earth would a game company want you to play over and over, and keep enjoying your single purchase? Of course what they really want is "the next purchase," every time and on a continuing basis.

      It's kind of like movie previews. They used to be a teaser, promising more and better, but now they pretty much show the best bits, and promise only more. Movies used to play longer at theaters, and it wasn't unusual to go to a really good movie more than once. Today they hope to get that once, and maybe the DVD, especially with the "extra" crap. But by all means let's get another movie onto that screen, to get that one sale + DVD on that one, too.
      • by Sax Maniac (88550) on Monday April 16, 2007 @11:53AM (#18752163) Homepage Journal

        Why on Earth would a game company want you to play over and over, and keep enjoying your single purchase?
        Because the original games were consoles in an arcade. You didn't own games, you pumped quarters into ones that other people owned. When the first home units came out, the designers followed that trend. It took them many years to figure it out. At the beginning, it very much a technology exercise: how much game can you fit in 2K? You would put up with the deficiencies in the game, because you enjoyed the technology as much as the game itself. You also wouldn't have to spent lots of money continuously feeding it quarters, or asking Mom for a ride to the mall. That was a big factor.
    • by Kelbear (870538)
      I agree with parent, I'd also like to add that part of the difficulty in some of the older games has a very different nature than difficulty in today's games.

      Less rigorous inspection(smaller teams, smaller budget, smaller dev cycles) allowed situations to occur in gameplay that lacked playtesting and feedback. Difficulty in today's games are supposed to be a challenge, but due to player fallibility rather than wrestling with fate. Players hate feeling helpless.

      For example, when gameplay revolves around luck
    • Blame the "casual gamer".

      Back in the 80s, there was no such thing. Who played computer games? It was almost invariably either kids (who do have a ton of spare time) or that handful of adults that were hooked. It was anything but mainstream.

      Of course the market had to cater to its audience: Badass hardcore gamers. Would you have bought a game you could've beaten in less than 2 weeks?

      Today, the market consists mostly of "casual gamers". People who want to "enjoy" a game without having to do too much for it. I
    • by eln (21727)
      You're probably right that they were meant to be played over and over, but I think you are missing an important factor: One of the primary reasons #1 was true of most older games was BECAUSE of #2. Games were very difficult because they involved things like jumping at precisely the right moment with a flaky control scheme where you could do what felt like exactly the same thing at exactly the same time and get different results each time you did it. You mastered a game by playing it enough that the idios
    • by Alzheimers (467217) on Monday April 16, 2007 @12:05PM (#18752355)
      The reason for the advanced degree of difficulty back in the 80's has nothing to do with technical limitations or artistic decisions. As with gaming today, it was primarily a financial decision.

      Remember that back then most games originated in the Arcade, where each time you started a game it cost a quarter. Some games gave you the benefit of a few extra lives, which usually extended your playtime another minute or so. But the whole idea was to get you *off* the game as fast as possible, to let the next poor schlub drop their coin down the chute. People that could play games for minutes at a time without paying were considered Gods by the ordinary arcade dweller, and were rewarded by the games by proudly displaying the names of those high scorers.

      Remember when games had *Scores*? Getting the high score was something worth bragging about. Seeing your initials at the top justified the hundreds of dollars spent in practice and the pursuit of glory. Unless you were one of those punks that entered A-S-S.
  • Don't be silly. (Score:3, Informative)

    by seebs (15766) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:10AM (#18750705) Homepage
    Things change. I don't think games today necessarily have less soul than games before.

    On average, maybe, but that's not because indy developers can't make small and fun games; it's because games that they couldn't make are dominating the visible industry, with huge budgets and little soul. There's still indy developers writing neat stuff, they just don't get as much of a share of the market... But the market's bigger. Fine by me.
  • What? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:10AM (#18750707) Homepage Journal

    Was simple gaming better, or are you a story in games fan?"

    Logical fallacy: False dichotomy. Simple games can have a story, and old games aren't all simple. Unless you plan to go back before, say, the NES. And I don't think anyone can claim that in video game terms/technology lifespans the NES is not old school. Anyone who says it ain't has a date with me with a NES controller cord wrapped around my wrist in a dark alleyway.

    But it looks like he really is talking about the 2600 and prior. And then he says the following on page 2 of TFA: "Were the games actually better? Well, no, of course not."

    Is it a slownewsday already?

    • And I don't think anyone can claim that in video game terms/technology lifespans the NES is not old school. Anyone who says it ain't has a date with me with a NES controller cord wrapped around my wrist in a dark alleyway.

      The NES is the first of the modern machines, post-Crash of 1984. Before that were the Atari and Coleco and such in America, and the Spectrum and BBC Micros in the UK - a very different world.

      And I have no fear of your NES controller cord. Nintendo have seen fit to provide me with a bet

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        And I have no fear of your NES controller cord.

        I think you missed something. If the cord is wrapped around my hand then the controller can be swung through the air. Anyone who played, say, Ninja Gaiden 2 knows that the NES controller is made out of the hardest substance known to man and can survive amazing impacts. I'm betting that it's sturdier than nunchakau(sp?).

        As an offtopic aside, the person who modded my GP comment down as a troll is an idiot. There's no troll there. Maybe flamebait, but only if yo

  • Honestly, these crotchety articles looking at the past with rose-colored glasses are really getting old.
  • by EvilCabbage (589836) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:12AM (#18750725) Homepage
    I know when I was gaming on my C64 I never had to listen to spoiled pre-teens fling insults at one another or had to rely on an ever growing list of ignored players just to try and enjoy the experience I'd forked out for.

    The games might have been garbage, but I recall the experiences with more fondness than anything I've picked up recently.

    I don't even need to go back that far, the 90's had a lot of fantastic games that I still play and have a lot more fun with than running another damn WoW instance, or another round of Countersrike: OMGSNIPERFAGZ!!LAWLZ Edition.
    • You are comparing a single player experience with multiplayer. Your post has nothing to do with new and old as you would get the same difference if you weren't playing online.

      And if you hate WoW instances and morons in CS...why are you playing them?
    • Get some friends to play, and add them to your friends list (if that's ever been fixed -- fscking Valve). Set up your own server, or find one which is typically filled with decent players who don't act like pre-teens, and bookmark that.

      Or play games like Natural Selection, where the OMGSNIPERFAGZ do not stand a chance at actually learning the game, and get a mic (because you really do need a mic to play NS well).
    • Online multiplayer can be a great thing, and not only really fits some gametypes, it also makes a lot of new gametypes possible. But it takes much of the experience out of the hands of the designer, which can be dangerous to the quality of the game. I do find it mildly frustrating that online gaming has sorta become the new "fad" , to the point where it gets applied even to games that don't really need it, and especially when it's substituted for something else. It blows my mind that Motorstorm for the PS3
    • When you were playing on a Commodore 64, you didn't even *have* Internet multiplayer. So it seems to me that the fact that the Internet multiplayer feature exists at all makes the game much better than its C-64 equivalent.

      Additionally, you don't *have* to play online now. You choose to. (Sure, there are some games that require online play, like MMORPGs and some FPS games.)

      I don't even need to go back that far, the 90's had a lot of fantastic games that I still play and have a lot more fun with than running
  • Less shared culture (Score:5, Interesting)

    by metroid composite (710698) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:12AM (#18750739) Homepage Journal
    One thing I will note is that...about 15 years ago a friend of mine polled his classmates about "Super Mario Bros 2 or Super Mario Bros 3" and everyone, everyone in the class (male and female) had an oppinion.

    Nowadays games have become very audience-specialized. For instance, the two top-selling franchises right now are Grand Theft Auto and Pokemon--how many people can you find that play and enjoy both? Off the top of my head I'm actually struggling to think of a single accquaintance who enjoys one and doesn't turn up their nose at the other.
    • I might be a freak but I frequently break out the game boy color and play poke'mon(blue). After relaxing I go back to playing GTA. Maybe thats why my classes aren't going that well this semester.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by MagusSlurpy (592575)
      I, for one, love both franchises. GTA for it's open universe, and, oddly enough, the driving: it beats the hell out of Gran Turismo any day, the only driving games I like better are Burnout and Mario Kart (and Carmageddon, I guess). I greatly enjoy flying through a city, splatting people, crashing into other cars, and eluding police. Plus, you get to shoot people! And Pokémon, because it's an awesome old-school turn-based RPG series (minus Dungeon), like the good old Final Fantasy games were. I ne
    • by LWATCDR (28044)
      I bet if you ask about GBA and DS games you will see that kind of cross over. That is also what the Wii is all about, broad based fun games.
  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:13AM (#18750741)
    Too many games now days are the same from year to like the sport games that are mainly just roster updates.
    There are a few games that do get better over time like Heroes of Might & Magic, RTS games, Sim City games, other sim games, TBS games, a lot driving games now let you drive any where, and 3d shooter have been adding cool things to them but now days many of ones out right are the same. Pc pinball games still can't beat the free visual pinball + vpinmame and when they try they are way off in the rom part as well not giving you all of settings that are in the real games settings / test menu Pro pinball did do a good job with that.

    I did miss the non looping path in need for speed one.

    Side scrollers where fun back in the day but too many of them relied on spike abuse like the mega man games.
  • How bout no? (Score:4, Informative)

    by cowscows (103644) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:13AM (#18750747) Journal
    There's more choices today, tons of games coming out, and a huge backlog of old games to entertain yourself with if you feel so inclined. Big budget publishers allow for the creation of games way bigger and more complex than ever before, and we also get lots of neat things like shiny graphics, more realistic physics, and hopefully some better AI in the future.

    Meanwhile, if you and your buddy want to lock yourselves in a basement for a week and hammer out a crazy game idea that you have, you can certainly do that. And there's this neat little invention called "The Internet", which you can use to distribute and even sell your game, without even needing to get a publisher involved. There are many people who have done very well this way.

    The rise of big gaming companies has not killed the small group or individual game developers. It's just that now they're only a part of a much bigger ocean of games. If anything, new things like the Xbox Live marketplace could make that method of game development even more lucrative, by opening it up to the huge world of living room consoles.

    I guess that maybe back in the atari days, small developer teams were making games for the home consoles, but that was such a small industry back then, the opportunities now are much more interesting.
  • by vertinox (846076) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:14AM (#18750751)
    I hate to say this, but every time I bring out a classic on an emulator or old DOS Box I am sorely disappointed and now I won't even try to keep from ruining the nostalgia of games like Populous, Syndicate, or even Castles II.

    When I played this games, I was amazed and they sucked hours out of my life.

    But now... I realize how clunky game play was back then and that I put up with a lot more to play a game. Maybe the new games (and my DS) have spoiled me. I remember going through boot disks and extensive 100 page manuals just to get by and I liked it.

    Now... The controls seem unintuitive and the game play lacking in a sense that it isn't bad, but it isn't how I remember playing it in high school.

    To be fair, I will pull out a SNES emulator or the old DOS War In Russia (Hex Games are clunky no matter how good of a GUI you put on them) and play them for a bit.

    Again... Maybe I'm getting old, spoiled, or the novelty of old technology is wearing off (I remember when I felt I was like a movie hacker the first time I sent someone a BBS message on a 1200 baud modem), but I won't play old games mostly to keep the nostalgia from being ruined.
    • by Aladrin (926209)
      I have also tried to play some of my old favorites and been disappointed. There's been a few that have stayed fun, though. Off the top of my head:

      Super Mario Bros 3
      F-Zero

      I bought F-Zero for the Wii's VC the other day out of nostalgia. I was amazed to find it was actually still a fun racing game! I was almost sure I'd wasted my money before I tried it.

      But the ratio of classics to crap is about the same these days. I'm going to look back and think: Man, I loved playing Prey and Samurai Warriors, but the
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Maul (83993)
        Most of Nintendo's great first party titles from back in the day are still great. Original Zelda, Super Mario World, Yoshi's Island, Super Metroid... these are still great games.

        Some of the other ones I remember being great... aren't so much anymore. I fired up NBA Jam for the SNES in an emulator and boggled at how I spent hours playing this game with my friends. The slam dunks and cheezy ball on fire effect weren't as impressive as I remember. The announcer I remember being totally awesome was instead
  • by LWATCDR (28044) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:23AM (#18750887) Homepage Journal
    90% of everything is crap. As time passes you remember the good 10%. It is doesn't matter if it is movies, cars, TV, or video games. So yes the old games we remember are better than most of the video games on the market today.
  • 'Better' is to vague to answer.
    It was easier and was easier because technology wasn't that far that a lot of skill was needed to produce something acceptable. Everybody can mess around with a "paint" program and create something that doesn't look half bad. But for 3D modeling applications you need way more skill to even create something remotely usable.
    Quality standards were low back then due toch lack of technology, now with the technology the standards are much higher and skilled people are needed to crea
  • Problem is that I'm not interested in a driving game (GTA or whatever) nor a first-person-shooter (ala Quake). What's left in modern stuff?

    My favorite games are still Master of Magic, Starcraft, and XCom: Terror from the Deep. I like the MMORPGs, but not enough to have played one in the last couple years. They end up being more of a chore than a game, and I'd rather go running.

    I guess the issue is that the market changed, and people now buy games I'm not really interested in. Civ2 was better game-play-w
  • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:28AM (#18750973)
    The answer to almost all nostalgia-motivated questions like this is no, things were not better in the past. The human mind has an amazing capability to remember good things and forget bad things, so while there were many good games in the past, there were also many terrible games in the past and the percentage of good games is a constant.
  • but does that mean games were better back in the age? What about asking the question, who are we today that we were not then?

    Memories are great, just don't try and find out if they are accurate. I remember shows I loved when I was younger and purchased many on DVD only realizing that what I remembered wasn't what was. In other words, I am a little more critical and fail to always see the magic anymore that once caught my eye.

    Plus back then there wasn't much choice so the good games really did stand out.
  • Nostalgia ... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    You're not comparing the games of today with the games of yesterday, you're comparing the you of today with the you of yesterday and, big surprise, you liked being young.

    There were some good games out at the beginning of the epoch, henceforth known as 'the Dawning'. I haven't seen anyone mention Karateka, or the original Prince of Persia. Some good games.

    There are some good games out now, henceforth known as 'the Nowening'. God of War 2, Fight Night Round 3, etc. Some good games.

    But most, and I'd spew out a
    • Re:Nostalgia ... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cluke (30394) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:49AM (#18751277)
      You really nailed it there! I have started playing Oblivion and though it is a great game, I still feel only a fraction of the wonderment I felt when I was a boy playing something like Eye of the Beholder or Legends of Valour on the Amiga. Back then I would have practically shit myself at the thought of a game as open-ended and free as Oblivion, now the cynicism of age has taken the shine off it somewhat. It's easier to get "into" a game when you are young, I think. The suspension of disbelief is that much stronger. Now all I see are 3D engines and scripting back-ends.

      Gigabytes of lovingly crafted art assets just wash over me, whereas back in the 8-bit days I was excited by a level that had a different background colour.

      (As an aside, there is still an outlet for simpler 8-bit style games, on mobile phones. And man, is it one ocean of crap.)
  • Hard to tell... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by misleb (129952) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:36AM (#18751097)
    You might as well ask an old man if music was better when he was younger. :-)

    I'm going to have to fight the nostalgia and say, "hell yea gaming is better now." I spent my fair share of time typing in games in BASIC line by line from a book. And you know what? Those games sucked ass. The ONLY reason I spent any time playing them was because I didn't want to feel like the time I spent typing was wasted.

    I don't really see anything special about games "back in the day." Sure, you can say that programmers were forced to be creative with limited resources, but I am not sure that is necessarily a bonus for the end user. Really, most games 15, 20 years ago were just plain simple. Maybe they had a good idea that could keep people hooked, but really, they were extremely repetitive (I'm looking at you, Atari). They just have nothing on some of the depth you can get in games today. Even overlooking tge fancy graphics (which is a bonus in and of itself, IMO), you can spend a fair amount of time just learning how a modern game works... learning strategy, etc. It is much more than hand-eye coordination these days.

    That said, I don't play many games any more even though I could. The really old game just plain bore the crap out of me within 5 seconds and the modern games just take about a couple hours longer to bore me. But that is just me getting older. I don't think it should reflect on the quality of gaming.

    -matthew
  • Back in the 8-bit days you frequently saw games written by one or two programmers, maybe a third would write sound routines and the music.

    The costs were low, the ideas were much broader and you would very rarely see a sequel.

    Games were often created by youngsters, geeky types, hippy types or just people who loved creating something.

    These days games are developed in huge teams, each game is a large IT project requiring project management, meetings etc. A failed project can finish off a games company.

    Control
    • by soft_guy (534437)
      I have to agree with this. However, I also think that playing on an emulator is just not as good.

      For one thing, you aren't using the same controller.

      Case in point, probably my favorite game of all times is a shareware game made for the Atari 800 computer called Gauntlet (not the arcade gauntlet - this is totally differrent).

      Playing it on my Mac using an iShock controller, I find that the ship is almost impossible to control. It is not as much fun as playing it on the original hardware. Unfortunately while I
  • by Jerf (17166) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:43AM (#18751173) Journal
    What really killed gaming complexity was 3D. We still haven't entirely recovered from the "need" to have everything in 3D.

    Consider the set of verbs you might have in a late-generation 2D game, like Civilization or Starcraft. You might have tens, or hundreds depending on how you count. (Note modern Civs may use 3D hardware, but they are still fundamentally 2D games. The only effect is that I can't play Civ 4 because I have a laptop, whereas I could probably run tens of instances of the engine itself.)

    Now, compare that to the set of verbs you have in Quake. The movement commands, jump, change weapon, and shoot. That's about it. That's about all you can afford in 3D, especially on a console because that set runs you right out of buttons.

    3D made every feature immensely more complicated, both to create the assets and to implement user control, and as a natural result, we usually lost features in the jump to 3D. Result: Simpler games. Even now, the average blockbuster of today may be far prettier than a 1999 top-ten hit, but the 1999 top-ten hit will be much richer.

    I think this is what actually killed the adventure game genre. Is it that nobody's interested in playing another Day of the Tentacle, or that there isn't a company out there that can afford all the requisite 3D animation work?

    As my canonical example of how hard 3D is, imagine Nethack in 3D, with no compromises (except for anything that may be literally impossible due to being a play on words or something). Every monster, every polymorph, every item, every effect, everything in glorious 3D. Not gonna happen anytime soon.

    I'm not saying all games are crap. They aren't. But we jumped to 3D before we were really ready technologically. Except for FPSs, I still don't think we are; it's all too expensive.
    • by soft_guy (534437)
      You are totally right. Also, I find that many 3D games, I cannot play at all. I get nauseated after just a couple of minutes of playing the game or watching someone else play. This isn't the case with all of them, but a lot of them I have this problem.
    • by Krischi (61667)
      Are you aware that Telltale Games is trying to recreate Sam & Max adventure games in 3D, and so far is doing a fine job of it? The latest episode, "Reality 2.0 [telltalegames.com]," is both uproariously funny and fun to play, especially for old-school gamers. The previous epsiode, "Abe Lincoln Must Die!" is also great fun.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:45AM (#18751209)
    Face it, pushing a game out the door is a risk. Because games are invariably very, very expensive pieces of software.

    This isn't what it was in the 80s, where 2 college students come together and hash out a game over the time of a year in their spare time. If it flies, great, if it doesn't, so what. In the 80s, making a game was "easy". Now, hold your horses, of COURSE it is way "easier" today to code a game with DirectX (which pretty much takes the burden of actually placing the graphics onto the screen off your back, with perfect algorithms that you'd need to study 10 years of advanced maths to get close), but back then the computers sucked so badly that even a hint of graphics was already something that inspired awe in your player. Take the average 80s game. "Pole Position" anyone? With some blocks resembling cars and a "pit stop" that consisted mainly of you moving an unanimated sprite across the screen.

    Doesn't need an "animation artist" to make, does it?

    Sound? Yeah, it squeaked. We have sound. And when the gun fires it makes "taktaktak". Perfekt.

    Story? Yeah, someone of the crew wrote a 10-liner for the manual (since in the game there was no room for story anyway. Remember, 64k is a lot and 640k more than anyone would ever need). Here's your story. Go along the lines of "bad guy hijacks something we think is cool, princess or some gem or something, and you gotta go and get it back. Make it about a page".

    Physics? What for? Gravity is "lower sprite a dot every 2 seconds".

    Of course, a few crafty coders can hack that together in a few months.

    The huge advantage of it is simply that you can take risks that way. You can leave the used and tried paths and try something new. If it blows, well, you tried and you didn't break your neck for it.

    This is no longer possible today, with games that cost a few million USD to make possible. Can you imagine sinking about 10 manyears of highly qualified artists into a bomb? 3 bombs like that and EA is a goner.

    For a small studio, one such bomb is already the torpedo it needs. And I think we all know a few studios that sunk because they couldn't get their wonderful game (which would have been wonderful, most likely) done before they ran out of dough.

    So studios stay with the pathes they know. So we get NHL 200x, Command & Conquer Part 18, Doom 200 and the millionth fantasy MMORPG. Because it works. Because it sells. Because it is no risk.
    • by cowscows (103644)
      One person can still make a game today. If it's a good game, that person can sell that game and make decent money. One individual cannot make a huge game like GTA3, but that's not the only type of game that exists.

      The guy who made Snood made a good chunk of change off of that game. It's simple, that graphics have stayed consistently crappy over the years, the sound is weak, and the gameplay is very simple. That gameplay is, however, extremely addictive. And the simple nature of the game made it appeal to a
  • I'd say Nintendo are uniquely placed to answer this. How are Virtual Console sales going, compared to new Wii games? How many are they selling of the NES and SNES Zelda games, compared to Twilight Princess? There's a chance for direct comparison here.

    Then again, there's a selection bias; only good games of old get remembered. Same with most culture; the 95% of crap is forgotten, and we end up thinking of a golden age that never really was.

  • The average game today is an unintuitive, unoriginal, mindless piece of crap. The average game fifteen or twenty years ago was a cryptic, derivative, frustrating, and unplayable product of madness that only a child could figure out how to play.

    The difference is that the best games of yesteryear were simpler and newer than the best games of today. Back then, as a game developer, you were exploring a concept with very few examples to follow. You had to invent the conventions yourself. A great game developer w
  • by Trevin (570491) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:47AM (#18751249) Homepage

    IMHO, the simple BASIC games of the past were better if you were an aspiring computer programmer, because it gave you a fun way to experiment with making the computer do what you want. (Assuming you were paying attention to those lines of code you copied from COMPUTE! or other magazines.)

    The early commercial games for 8-bit computers and 2nd-generation video game consoles [wikipedia.org] were good in their day, and had the advantage of creativity -- limited by CPU and memory capacity, but not by special-purpose hardware, there seemed to be much more variety in game genres. Today by comparison, game consoles provide accelerated 3-D graphics, so most games are 3-D FPV action or adventure games and focus on "realism". They provide much greater detail and depth, but it seems not as much variety. How many simple board games or 2-D puzzles can you find on a modern console? Of course the PC, being a general-purpose machine, still has a decent varienty of games. And the Wii's virtual console gives it the advantage of having both old-style and new-style games.

  • by Maul (83993) on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:53AM (#18751337) Journal
    We tend to remember the classics. There were hundreds of horrible NES games that few peopple remember (or at least care to remember).

    One thing that is disappointing to me is how easy many RPGs are. Back in the NES days and early 16-bit (SNES) days, they were fairly difficult. Nowadays they are nearly so easy that you have to go out of your way to even make them a challenge (either by limiting yourself to not using the most powerful abilities that make the games easy, or doing the ridiculously long side quests that don't matter to the main plot).
    • One thing that is disappointing to me is how easy many RPGs are. Back in the NES days and early 16-bit (SNES) days, they were fairly difficult. Nowadays they are nearly so easy that you have to go out of your way to even make them a challenge (either by limiting yourself to not using the most powerful abilities that make the games easy, or doing the ridiculously long side quests that don't matter to the main plot).

      But why were they so difficult? Was it because of endless repetitive pointless random encoun

  • by morari (1080535)
    I don't think the majority of games put out today seem as fun because the entire activity is FAR more mainstream now. I can list a helluva lot more great games from the 8, 16 and 32bit eras than I can anything past. I think this is largely due to the general shift towards three dimensional games at that time though. While I have nothing against 3D games per say, the idea now that EVERY game has to be in 3D has ruined quite a bit of what gaming used to be and still could be. It's destroyed entire franchises
  • Pfft (Score:3, Funny)

    by hcdejong (561314) <hobbes@xmsnet . n l> on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:55AM (#18751371)
    ...looks back at the dawn of videogaming, when we were all kids just typing in our games, one line of BASIC at a time

    Why, back in my day, we used to have to enter our games as opcodes in binary, using toggle switches, and our 'screen' was a set of Blinkenlights, and we liked it that way. Whippersnappers.
  • by grumbel (592662) <grumbel@gmx.de> on Monday April 16, 2007 @10:58AM (#18751415) Homepage
    No doubt, good games are still around, but what I often miss these days are the experimental games, those that don't really fall into any genre and instead just are what they are, back in the day of the C64 and Amiga there where plenty of them, today on the other side to many games just try way to hard to fit into genre clichés. Games these days are often void of personality and more often then not I end up thinking about games in terms of 'yet-another-FPS', 'yet-another-RTS', etc. instead of thinking about them as uniq games.

    Its kind of the same thing that bothers me with Hollywood movies or TV series, sure technically they might be well done and I am sure a lot of craftsmanship went into them, but often that craftsmanship annoys more then it helps. Shaky cameras can be great for some things, but when every second movies/series does them they start to get annoying very quickly. The effect ends up not helping what the production is trying to do, but the effect stands out on its own, its the trendy thing to do and so everybody does it. In games its basically the same, somebody comes up with a nice new genre (say GTAs open city environment), and a few years later you have ten games that all do the freaking same thing. I wouldn't mind sequels much, but when not only the sequel is repeating past gameplay but half a dozens other games as well, it really becomes annoying and boring. Especially because those new games often don't expand on the gameplay, they simply repeat it. This gets especially scary when games end up looking so much alike that I no longer can tell them apart (Quake4 looks like Doom, Saints Row like GTA, etc.).

    This all wouldn't be so bad if it would be because we already tried everything and are kind of running out of ideas now, but the sad part is that there are still tons of ideas floating around that nobody ever tried or didn't try in quite a lot of years.

    Some might argue that XboxLive and similar services allow experimental games again and to a certain degree they are right, but more often then not those services are abused for rereleasing old classic over and over again instead of actually new games, Nintendos Virtual Console being the worst offender in that direction.
     
  • Its all about nostalgia. Some games we remember being better than they actually were and some games (for example, FF7) we never really let go of. Also, many games left a lot to the imagination. Sometimes what we fill in for ourselves is what makes the game great. Games today are representations of someone's vision. So much is done for us, but we still get great games from it.
  • I have a homemade MAME arcade machine, and an X360 running in 1080i. All I know is when company comes over, the X360 sits idle and the arcade machine doesn't.
  • I'm a HUGE fan of retro gaming. For me, when I think 'retro,' I think of the NES when it comes to consoles and Police Quest, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and Prince of Persia for computers. The big thing about old computer games (namely the *Quest games) was that they were very clever. They required more thought than simply walking around the border of every room hitting the action button (think: resident evil), and although they had reading involved, it wasn't overly complex or distracting.

    The big prob
  • ...just different. With all the money and technology that goes into games now, it allows developers to more closely bring their vision to reality. With more advanced tools brings about "better" graphics, more depth, and more detail.

    Back in the day, they weren't better...just different. Gameplay was number one soley because graphics were unable to be number one. It is my firm belief that had the technology and money of today had been available "back then", the gaming industry would have been exactly what
  • by igotmybfg (525391) <slashdot AT danielthompson DOT net> on Monday April 16, 2007 @11:09AM (#18751581) Homepage
    Sometimes I like to play Doom3/Quake4 with a resolution of 800x600, or 640x480, because it gives that pixelated look that I remember so well from the games of yesteryear, when I first started playing (games like Wolfenstein, Doom, and Descent).
  • The simple answer is yes, or maybe it's no. It really depends on if you choose to wear those rose-colored glasses or not.

    For the yes crowd, we tend to remember great games from our youth. We remember growing up on franchises (before the term franchise meant ingame ad deals and a yearly roster update) that grew with us. We tend to remember the first time we played a video game, whether it was Pong or Tetris or Super Mario Bros. or Street Fighter 2. We look back at those experiences as good and positive.

    F
  • by MrP-(at work) (839979) on Monday April 16, 2007 @11:23AM (#18751799)
    I was a big gamer back in the 80s/early 90s. I loved my NES/SNES/Genesis and would play for hours a day and had tons of games.

    Then I lost interest, from Saturn and on games were boring to me. It seemed all about graphics but not fun. Since I had a 200mhz PC up until 2001 I never played any PC games either.

    But for the hell of it I got a Wii a couple weeks ago, I feel like a kid again. These games are fun. Super Paper Mario is a great example. It's a side-scroller yet it has 3D, it's a perfect mesh of all the previous mario games and it's fun.

    The controller is great too, in fact I think it should become a standard for TVs and not just Wii. It makes more sense to point-and-click through your cable box program guide or your tivo menu. It would also be nice just to program your TV with a Wii style remote rather than using the usual volume +/- to navigate (and accidently click channel +/- and have to start over!)

    Yay for Wii
  • by DaveCBio (659840) on Monday April 16, 2007 @11:31AM (#18751925)
    I am 40 years old. I had a wood-grain pong unit. I have played almost every console out there. Have been PC gaming for years as well. Gaming is better period. We have more options than ever before. I can now play with friends and family remotely. I can download games instead have to go to a B&M store. The quality of games is better now as well. Higher budgets and production values don't automatically mean a better game, but it helps and when a game is well done it's still as much fun to play as any game in the past. The list goes on. I tire of these "things were better when" articles. Even if they were, we live in the present, not the past. Grow up and move on.
  • by BitwizeGHC (145393) on Monday April 16, 2007 @11:44AM (#18752061) Homepage
    http://www.angrynesnerd.com/ [angrynesnerd.com]

    His reviews, while comically over-the-top, put the lie to the notion that the 8-bit era constituted a mythic golden age or edenic period at the dawn of the videogame industry, largely populated by auteur game designers who produced output in line with the bohemian values of truth, beauty, and good gameplay.

    A considerable number of the NES era titles, even those published by major companies like Konami, were utter shite, and would not make it past the comparatively rigorous QA standards of even cynical, moneygrubbing behemoths like Shit-A [penny-arcade.com]. Even titles beloved of kids at the time, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the first NES game, not the arcade game), contained level-design gaffes approaching Daikatana levels of awful, like "that is so stupid, no freakin' way you'd expect a little kid to figure that out".

    So no, the videogames were not better by any meaningful objective standard way back then. There were the standouts like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and later Mario and Zelda, and then there was the long tail of crud. Crud that even managed to earn the Nintendo Seal of Quality by being minimally non-shitty. We just think it's better for the same reason some people think Men Without Hats were better than Nirvana: it's what we grew up with.
  • No. Final answer. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by east coast (590680) on Monday April 16, 2007 @11:48AM (#18752101)
    It seems this comes up every 3 weeks or so but...

    My simple answer is no, games were not better. If they were I'd simply play them with an emulator and leave today's offerings behind.

    A while back I downloaded some Atari 2600 emulator with something like 870 games. I thought this was going to be fantastic. My experience with it was lukewarm at best. While I did get into playing some old classics I loved I came to realize that it was more me being 10 or 12 years old that made the game good. Not that they sucked but it just wasn't as good.

    Now the big thrill was playing all the games I never owned but use to ogle over in the catalogs that came with games. Stuff I begged my parents to get me. After spending a few hours going through some of these "classics" I wanted to go an apologize for ever bothering them about it. Again, if I was 10 again and had just gotten BurgerTime it would have surely kicked ass but as a 30-something it was pretty lame.

    Who knows, maybe I'll feel the same about CounterStrike when I'm 50 or 60.
  • Some commenters have said they like modern high quality graphics. Others have said the old games were hard. We are all different in what we like but how about what we like to watch, and re-watch? Maybe we can be more objective with this kind of question.

    In other words, are high quality graphics enough to enjoy watching someone else play? Not for me they aren't -- unless they make the game harder to play for the average player (e.g. R-Type or Raiden).

    How about game difficulty -- is it more fun to watch someone ace a game that is very hard than one that is easy? You bet it is. Also, if the player playing is many times better than us (e.g. a great player on Gauntlet, or Mr. Do!, versus myself).

    Modern games are like modern action flicks -- ok the first time, but not worth a re-watch. Old classic games like Defender/Stargate, Tetris, Missile Command, Centipede are interesting to watch when a master is at work -- including when you are the master. On one sales trip I drove "up country", passing through several towns along the way. On the way up I played one game of Arkanoid on a game I had not played before. Before playing I bought an ice cream cone and played one while I ate the other. An hour later the game was done and I left. On the way back down I got another cone and popped in another quarter. As I started to play I heard someone behind say "That's the guy!..."

    Modern games reflect modern life, where the schools don't give out grades any more. At least not the ones our three go to -- they get slashes, hyphens and single letters not in the range from A to F. Just participate, doodle and consume -- growing up to become good consumers and good sheeple.

    One of my most memorable moments was getting a serious score on ST:TNG pin -- 10Billion+. No sooner did I finish the game but the techie came along, turned it off and started to clean it, as clean pins are tougher pins. The ST:TNG pin was so tough, yet so cool, that I surfed the 'net in 1994 to learn more about it (and ended up contributing to the FAQ [pinball.org] I found). Today we might look for cheats, or cracks, but just end up like cheaters or crackers when we use them. At that time is was a true mission (to stop the owner from taking this, my very own, quarter until I have played for an hour or two) and success was shared.

    Classic arcade games are meant to be tough coin-suckers. Anyone able to conquer one of them is a hero. Heck, I've even gave one guy a quarter just to see him play a game again after watching him get 9xx,xxx on Centipede.

    Today, thanks to MAME I can watch great replays without leaving the house. And I prefer that to playing any modern console/commercial games. They are not my style and don't interest me. I'd rather throw a football. I should say that some flash games carry on the tradition -- Super Collapse [shockwave.com] comes to mind.

    Classic games were more physical and that was good. They were tougher and that was good also. They weren't all flash and no substance like modern games. They were truly tough nuts to crack and anyone that did was cool. They made us want to improve ourselves. Modern games are addictive, but not in the way that programming is addictive -- more in the way that TV is, putting us into that coma-like state for hours at a time.

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