Wednesday, 13 November 2013

HD My Nostalgia!

I don't know how this slipped through the cracks...I wrote this months ago for Forces of Geek and have just seen it still in my drafts after all this time! Apologies if some of the references seem out of date now though that does seem rather fitting considering this is all about nostalgia!

If you're desperately searching for the secret to everlasting youth, it might be worth looking into the world of video games. It may be an unlikely place to find an anti-aging remedy but some video game franchises have stood the test of time, so discard your herbal elixirs and throw out your experimental oils and creams. For decades, a select few franchises have matured to the degree that even ten or twenty years on the simple game mechanics hold up against the most cutting edge titles. And fewer still that have evolved while retaining that apex predatory dominance.

Puzzle Bobble!
Developing smartphone technology has afforded designers the ability to implement this to the masses, not just through identical remakes in super shiny HD form but by effectively re-branding successful games. One example of this would be Candy Crush Saga.

For those who are unfamiliar with Candy Crush, login to Facebook. The game is so popular that every time I login to my account there are at least five requests to take part in this maddening "saga". It has 46 million active users and it was only launched during the latter part of 2012. Credit to its makers because..46 MILLION!

I appreciate I would potentially enjoy the game (a popular game no matter how contrived still needed to obtain popularity) but I refuse to play it on the grounds that I worshiped titles like Puzzle Bobble (or Bust-A-Move) and Columns in my youth and Candy Crush is essentially the same game, (ie. match three or sometimes four coloured entities/jewels/squares) re-packaged for mums. 

Striking gold with the 40-50 year old female demographic (among several others) I find it both highly amusing and thoroughly irritating that the same group of women who raised an entire generation of kids on the notion that spending hours playing video games was bad for you, are now incessantly inviting their friends and family to play along with them. Yet when I attempt to introduce them to a level based side scroller (the next evolutionary step up from simple puzzle games) they shriek that they do not play video games. It's not that they're 40 years too late (because no one should be penalised for enjoying gaming), it's the hypocrisy of it.

Nintendo - Targeting families since the 80s
The reason some games have spanned over twenty years is their simplicity. Longevity of anything can be attributed to excellence in design. Take the Mario franchise, if you take a 5-year old and an adult then sit them down with a controller and a copy of Super Mario Bros., I hypothesise that both test subjects will enjoy it. SCIENCE!

Let's ignore the fact that the story and the characters are all non-sensical, at it's heart is a simple 2D platformer with levels that are all slight variations of the same thing and boss fights that can all be won by attacking your opponent three times. This formula is a sure fire way to add longevity to a game and many developers are using this knowledge to create indie titles like Super Meat Boy and Limbo, among many others. 

The word 'simple' can be associated with easy and unchallenging. This is far from what I'm implying. Simply structured games can often be repetitive and often appear as easy when in fact they are quite tricky. This gives the player a false sense of security thus they are happier to retry a level multiple times. Once overcome, the player is rewarded with a feeling of accomplishment, leading to replays in the future.

Abe's Odyssey - Now and Then!

In our house, major upcoming releases such as Grand Theft Auto V have taken a backseat to titles such as Worms Revolution, Ducktales Remastered and Abe's Odyssey New and Tasty. Granted this could be due to nostalgia but I believe in the face of vast sprawling open world environments and galaxies sometimes (in fact, most of the time) rudimentary stories and basic mechanics are ignored, favouring flashy visuals and pointless gimmicks. In fact, if you were to tell me that an HD remake of Final Fantasy VII was actually being released at the same time as Half-Life 3 (which let's face it, is also incredibly unlikely), chances are I wouldn't have even heard you say Half-Life 3.

The real question is how detrimental this is to the gaming industry. Technically speaking publishers and designers know this - just look at the Nintendo back catalogue - and by favouring that which is familiar we neglect that which is new. So admittedly I'm part of the problem.

So let me ask you a favour, in twenty years time when my mum is playing Call of Duty on her phone and I'm trying to get her to sample some beautiful, probably hologramatic future game, kindly redirect me to this article and quietly point out that it's my fault.

Ooh, and the Castle of Illusion remake is coming out in a few weeks! Ooh, ooh and after that Tales of Symphonia!

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