I Remember When This Was All Just Green Pixels

So, the big three have done their corporate shilling at E3 2010 and, as expected, it was about anything but games. From Microsoft reinventing the Eye Toy to Sony reinventing the Wii Remote and puffing up their chests to pretend that the PS3 is actually selling, the whole thing wasn’t exactly great for those of us who like the feel of a d-pad under our thumbs. Then you had the whole 3D circle jerk which sounds good until you total up the costs of the TV and the corrective eye surgery when too many hours of Killzone 3 leave you with ‘come to bunk-bed’ eyes.

If you want to use your console to get fit or if you have a burning desire to be Tiger Woods you were well-covered but what if you are just a good, old-fashioned gamer – raised in Arcade Town, educated at the School of Ghosts ‘n Goblins? What then? Huh? Like Michael Jackson said, between bouts of bumming bairns, they don’t care about us. E3 left me feeling empty and with a promise on my lips that I won’t be buying a PS3 or any cans of Coke this year.

Back in my day, games were games. They weren’t fucking interactive fucking movies or fitness instructors. They were just games. Sure, a few of the arcade cabinets were fiendishly designed to siphon the ten pence pieces directly out of your trousers but the gaming was honest, elegant and unfussy.

If you’re anything younger than a 16-bit baby, you won’t know the good times. These halcyon days cannot be recreated in XBLA or Virtual Console. So, like an LSD-ravaged hippy talking about Woodstock, I present the case for old-school gaming. Not retro, we’re not taking a nostalgia trip. This isn’t a list of reasons to fire up Bomb Jack on MAME. This is the way things used to be, not how they are now.

Insert coin to start

Loading
Okay, so we didn’t have hard-drive installs, discs, cartridges (well unless you had an Atari) or downloads. We had cassettes and they were well shit. A game would take somewhere from three to ten minutes to load. The whole time it’d be fucking screeching at you. The only distraction would be a loading screen, usually lovingly created as an appetiser to the game, despite it usually being completely non-indicative of the game. If you were unlucky, it’d crash right at the end, just to piss you off. A little tweak of an azimuth screw would sharpen the quality of the screeching though and eventually you’d have your game right there, ready to be played.

Any chance we could... you know... fucking PLAY!?

So how is that better than the current system? Well, firstly, after ten minutes of loading you were damn sure to actually play the thing. It was a whole lot less disposable than it is now.

Also, these days loading is horrible. The average start up time for a game seems to be about a million fucking years now. You put the disc in. ‘Presented by THQ’. ‘Spazzware Middleware’. ‘Dolby 5.Beleven Ultrasound’.. ‘Unreal Engine’.. ‘Hair by Toni and Guy’. Then you’ve got to tell the machine which one of your ONE storage devices it should load from, then you pick New Game. difficulty level. set your gamma so that the dark graphic is dark enough to be light enough or something. five minute opening cutscene. tutorial level.. Press RT to drive your car and punch that man. Cutscene. Unskippable cutscene, you fucks..

It literally never ends. Ever. But it demands your attention, asking you to press things or read shitty tips like ‘hey, we can tell that this is your first time playing the game but have you tried racing the Burnout Special Bus yet?’. A loading Speccy may screech at you for ten minutes but it’s really just saying ‘I’ll take care of this, you go and make a cuppa.’

Lovely Speccy.

Graphics
Okay, so modern gaming clearly has an advantage here what with graphics cards and more memory than you can shake an autistic kid at. But is that everything? No. Where’s the charm? It’s all well and good seeing a soldier’s leg go flying off into an accurately-rendered wall but where’s the ‘wow’ factor? It’s dead. How can it wow you when it’s dead?

Another World... groundbreaking and awesome

I’m told on an hourly basis that Gears of War is beautiful. It’s not. It’s a big grey/brown piece of shit. Like Russia. Likewise Halo, GTAIV and blah blah blah. They are just game worlds. Streets, buildings, big empty areas with fuck all in them. It’s all so fucking boring.

In the old days, standards were lower, sure, but I bet everyone who played R-Type in the ’80s remembers the exact point on the floor where their jaw hit when they saw that Level 3 was infact a big, moving warship. For you, maybe it was the animated artistry of Another World and Flashback, the hand-drawn sprites of Street Fighter 2, the blue skies of Out Run or the screen-filling baddies of Nemesis, R-Type and X-Men: Children of the Atom.

Either way, the difference between a great-looking game and an average-looking one these days is a slightly higher resolution and a bunch of cutscenes ruined by stories apparently written by Hollyoaks cast-members. Oh.

What the... strafe my arse... just go LEFT. FUUUCK!

Controls
Back in the day, a shoot ‘em involved a maximum of six controls. Up, down, left, right, shoot and fiddle about with something (usually a power-up selector). This was universal across all the shooty sub-genres be it a space shooter like Gradius or 1943, a car shooter like Road Blasters or a man vs army shooter like Commando or Green Beret. These days it’s a complete headfuck. Walk, sprint, crouch, crawl, select weapon, shoot, aim, zoom, fire secondary weapon, select secondary weapon, throw secondary weapon, detonate secondary weapon, see map, see objectives, team advance, team defend, change vision mode, cover against wall, call in airstrikes and so on. It’s too much and when you do learn all the controls, there’s no standardisation across the genre. Clicking in your left-stick will make you crouch in one game but will make you run headlong into an immediate and unavoidable death in the next one. Sob!

Sure it allows for a lot more sophistication but in a six hour single-player campaign do you really need all this extraneous fluff? When Sam Fisher can burn through the latest Splinter Cell title in a shorter amount of time than it’d take Ashley Cole to earn the money to buy it, what’s the point of cramming the game full of more gadgets and vision modes than the average Predator?

See also: football games, fighting games and basically everything else.

Celebrities
Celebrities are pricks these days and it seems that the more prickish you are, the more vigorously the media will gobble up your seed. Take for example the tiny-foreheaded cuckold Steven Gerrard or the horror of Kerry ‘I fear my star is waning’ Katona. Even Peter Andre, widely ridiculed failed pop-star previously best known for making horrific cod-reggae shit in the early 90s, managed to regain stardom simply by fucking the Daily Star’s favourite Chlamydia laboratory, Jordan.

Nintendo's "Pout Training" at work for Ms Kidman

Gaming celebrities are just as bad. Whether it’s the dullest sex-fiend of all time, Tiger Woods, or games based on High School Musical, it’s all horrible. Back in my day our games were based on the likes of Bob Monkhouse (Bob Monkhouse!!!) and the two-fifths gay, five-fifths pop genius scouse band Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Even the football endorsements were much better with squeaky Emlyn Hughes and red-nosed alcoholic management phenomenon Brian Clough getting in on the action. Much better than putting fat Fwank or Wayne Rooney on the cover of anything apart from perhaps Fat Fuck Monthly.

I suppose the biggest drawback is that if you put a realistically rendered celeb in your game these days, you open yourself up for a huge court case whereas a representation of Ronald Reagan created in roughly forty square pixels was less of an issue in the 80s. Even if you had him spitting bullets at Mikhail Gorbachev.

Music
A little bit of intro music (usually something beepy) followed by unintrusive spot effects. That’s all you need in a game. When the programming maestros eventually got more memory to play with, you sometimes get a tune playing during the gameplay but these were never horrible. Be it the lovable recreation of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ from Rainbow Islands, the joyful plinky-plonky theme to Pac-Land or the tense and dramatic action soundtrack of Durrell Software’s Saboteur 2.

These days your options are either a radio station packed full of whatever blatantly commercial filth the indie/alternative kids listen to today (I don’t know, fucking Paramore or some gash) or overblown orchestral scores that meander aimlessly until you turn them off. With full digital sound allowing for whatever type of soundtrack you can think of, why is it that none of them are able to top the 8-bit artistry of Tim Follin? Especially when you consider that he had three-channels of sound to work with.

"Hey! Hey! You! You! I could be your girlfriend!" No. Fuck off. And fuck off from the Burnout Paradise soundtrack too.

So there you have it. Several reasons why us retro fans are grumpy pricks sometimes. Those great, innocent days spent in arcades (real arcades not giant halls full of fruit machines, air hockey and Dance Dance Revolution) are sadly missed. It’s the reason why so many people on retro gaming forums are absolute bellends. Still, you whippersnappers have the advantage of time over us and when we’re dead you’ll be doing an arthritic breakdance on our graves. Of course that’ll be before going home to play FIFA 2052, controlled by implants in your brain after your thumbs have devolved down to PSP-style nubbins.




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10 Comments

  1. Lorna says:

    Actually laughed my arse off at this. Utterly entertaining rant wrapped up in the truth…there isn’t much I can disagree on, if anything at all. Everything that you mentioned, I have pretty much ranted about at some point, with the possible exception of music. These days when I open a manual and see the ten million controls I need to learn for the latest game, my heart sinks. I think Mark played GOW for about five minutes before declaring the control system gash and chucking it.

    The days of tape loading on the Speccy, I remember well…and the way I would pour eagerly over the loading screen graphic, thinking ‘this looks AMAZING!’ only to find out that….they lied! It looks like shit, is nothing like the loading screen/cover art and is as boring as watching paint dry on Cilla Black’s cheekbones. However, like you said, at that point, you feel honour bound to actually play the fucking thing since it took forever to load. Then you discover that due to the diamond hardness, you burn through your typical three life allowance in less than a minute. No save slots here. Just pain.

    When those bitter retro gamers snarl at the younger generations from behind their keyboards, it is because they are looking out over grey horizons with flint like eyes, remembering that pain. They suffered that you might have spiffy gameplay and graphics. Wear your black poppy with pride and never forget. *cue screechy tape loading music played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra*

  2. Lee says:

    Guess i’m what you call a 16bit baby and as much love as i have for old games evertime i go back and play them – most recently sonic 3 I can’t for the life of me work out how i used to play them, the speical stages in sonic 3 are painfully hard yet i know me and adam used to be able to walk them.

    am i loosing my mojo?

    is the xbox live port laggy?

    i dunno but either way I’ve found when i go back to an old game i loved I end up hating it.

    good read Richie :D

  3. MarkuzR says:

    See, I never had any of those loading problems really… I didn’t play enough games on the ZX80 and the Oric-1 came with a 7 or 5 pin din socket to connect a cassette recorder (I went with Lloytron) so it was a silent loader and it worked pretty much first time, every time. There were times that it didn’t, but that was generally down to the heads needing cleaned and once that was done it was fine. I later upgraded to 1/8 inch jacks and a different Lloytron and this time had the screeching to deal with, but I plugged a separate jack adapter in to the headphone socket and I had silence once again. You may think me a smart arse, but it was nothing more than intolerance!

    The controls are what really gets me with games now, which is one of the main reasons I can’t play Red Alert 3 on the XBox 360. Haven’t tried it on the PC, admittedly, but having a dozen different assignments for each button just does my head in and I can’t be arsed with it. I rely on muscle memory when gaming, because I literally put NO physical effort whatsoever into my playing… the more I have to concentrate on the physicality of the real world, the more I’m pulled out of that state of gaming immersion… and I hate being pulled out of there. I want to be IN the game, not sitting on a sofa throwing my fingers around like a girl’s first clumsy fondle into her underwear before her parents burst into her room to find out what all the giggling is about. As Lorna said, Gears of War annoyed me. Looked beautiful, but it wanted me to think about button presses. Nope, sorry. No can do.

    Music… let’s not get into music really. As a muso myself, I tend to play games with the amp turned off so I don’t have to subject myself to whatever droning bullshit is thrown in as the “soundtrack”. Had it not been for Burnout Paradise’s ingenious playlist editor, I’d have had to listen to a load of bullshit in between Faith No More, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Jane’s Addiction. Ok, there are likely a few more on the soundtrack that I can just about bear, but seriously… I used to get teased because I’d start swearing uncontrollably every time that disgusting Lavigne track came on. She’s removed now, as are most of the others.

    Great read, funny as ever!

  4. Kat says:

    Ha! This was so funny, great read and I can relate to it all. I 99.9% despise the music in games although when Saints Row 2 plays Pretty In Pink or Don’t You Forget About Me I am a happy bunny.

    With controls I tend to find the key ones and stick to those. I often have little need for brakes too which cuts out another button. Why break when there’s a MarkuzR or MrCuddleswick to ram into?

  5. Victor says:

    :)
    I was thinking the same thing not so long ago, about my gaming life so far and how it has changed so much over the years. What entertains me now and what used to entertain me then. Things have certainly changed a lot and I am grateful for how things are now.

    (Unfortunately, I am glad that things ain’t what they used to be. Arcades? Incredible difficulty spikes? Virtually no save points? Sod the good old days. Thanks for modern times)

  6. M@thew says:

    Caught myself giggling a couple of times reading this.

    Maybe it’s the retro goggles talking, but back in the day with such limited hardware, if felt at least, that developers would get that much more creative in how they used the tech available to them. A lot more was left to our imagination. The experiences we felt were our own and they were special.

    These days, it feels a little too much like we’re being marketed a product and not an adventure. We have (like you said) Avril bloody Lavigne in my goddamn Burnout. I want to ride cars dangerously and have the time of my life. Not have BUY THIS RECORD: AVAILABLE IN ALL GOOD STORES TODAY shoved down my throat. In a few years, it’s going to look and sound incredibly dated.

    In spite of their more impressive visuals, and toe tapping tunes, a lot of the more mainstream titles today are quickly forgotten. Instead of a timeless classic, we’re given filler. Something to do while we wait for the next big thing to come along. In my older years, I suspect a lot of the games I recommend to my grandchildren will stem from around the 16 bit era. A time where games were about fun, not hype.

    All in all, I agree very much with you Mr Rich Rich. x

  7. Edward says:

    I thought it was a brilliant read. Being such a young’un, I only remember the Game Boy and the N64 as my first forays into gaming, and so with the Game Boy I guess I was offered a look into the simplicity of the old games.

    On the one hand, while games get more complex as they go on, it does allow gaming studios to do more and try more different things. Not that many of them are doing that nowadays, sadly.

    It has to be said though, a lot of the old retro delights (such as the NES games) open themselves up to have a slightly more timeless quality than a lot of the more modern games do, and a lot of that is due to their simplicity and their retro trappings. It could just be misty eyed Nostalgia though. Some of the old games were a bit shit…

  8. MrCuddleswick says:

    I started out with a Spectrum Sinclair, or something, not sure on the exact model. It involved waiting for tapes to load. Dan Dare was a particularly memorable hunk of appalling crap from that time.

    There are still plenty of good, simple games being made. Geometry Wars and Plants Vs Zombies, off the top of my head.

    I loved those old games as a kid, but then I also loved hitting small trees with the branches of larger trees too when I was a kid. I’d have loved anything.

    Give me the choice between the current cream and the cream of the late 80s/early 90s, and I’ll laugh and run off with something like Dragon Age under my arm.

    I’m not with you. But I enjoyed reading nonetheless.

  9. Old Tans says:

    Hey Rich!…as if I know you…heh

    I feel this does say allot about me and how games now depress me. I did leave a short-ish view point on two PS titles I played as a teen (all retro 80′s games I could only watch boys play…they never let me have a go). Of course not everyone will like the games I first bought with my little gold coins (not Links Rupees…har see what I did there I linked to a game…Link! har har…stop it….).

    I now in my early 30′s find myself getting a bit old and grey when I look upon games and see a teen say “That was awsome” to a five minute playable cinematic event with child like hero’s with big swords and bigger hair (Guile and Paul Pheonix don’t have anything on those biatches) and a love interest who has not even reached a point where anything has devolped brain included…and actually give a damn about the game but more about the gamer who does not know how good it all was.

    Maybe there should be a new programe on BBC rather then Grumpy old men/women, perhaps Grumpy Old Gamers.

  10. Adam says:

    It’s amazing how docile the rest of us have become and that you’ve managed to maintain your gaming integrity Rich. I read all of this (laughing) and can only think, damn you’re so right.

    I just take it all for granted these days and don’t ask for any more. I’ve never once complimented GTAIV on its graphics and I’ve never complained about them either. If it was out there doing something different, space platforms in the sky then I’d be in total FAWN mode, but for all the technical capibility, imagination has been smushed entirely by marketing.

    If it’s not real, if it’s not full of the latest shit music and celebrity of the moment (Ricky Gervais in GTA? WTF!) then it won’t sell and subsequently never get the green light :(

    Maybe we would be better off in 8 bit. At least if everything had already been done, they’d be looking for new ways to do it rather than just continuing to bring in new toys to distract you from the mundane.

    Always good to end on a convoluted sex metaphor :)

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