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.
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.
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.’
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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