Despite having a robust gaming PC and a multitude of new titles to choose from, I have recently found myself returning to older games. I even went so far as to track down a SNES emulator recently so I could revisit some classic titles. Retro gaming is a curious phenomenon and a more complex subject than you may expect. Having examined my own motives and feelings I have concluded that it is not driven purely by a rose tinted view of my gaming past. So I thought it would be interesting to list some of the different factors that have encouraged me to look backwards, rather than forwards. I suspect they may strike a chord with other gamers.
The power of nostalgia.
Nostalgia is a very strong emotion that is often perceived to be a false interpretation of past experiences. However it doesn’t have to be so. One can be nostalgic while maintaining a degree of balance and perspective. When I started console gaming in the early nineties I found games to be far simpler and accessible. I often played them for long periods with a circle of friends. Overall this was a good period in my life so I don’t consider my memories of this time to be incorrect or misleading. I had a similar experience with MMOs and as a result enjoyed the genre the most between 2008 and 2010. Although it is impossible to recreate these experiences, simply by revisiting specific titles, I do sometimes get a flashback of how I use to feel and it is often brought about by the most trivial of things.
Many classic titles are still available usually at bargain prices. The advent of gaming bundles is a major contributory factor to the rise in retro gaming. Ten dollars will buy you a fistful of titles, where many modern games and DLC can cost you six or seven times more. Google is your friend when it comes to tracking down older and discontinued titles. There are plenty of forums where vintage titles are exchanged and traded. If you are comfortable with straying off the path of legality and entering the “grey” market, then there are even more options available to you.
It is frequently argued that some older games are superior to their modern equivalents. Although they may be graphically lacking, they often have stronger game mechanics, challenge the player more and require a greater degree of application. However this is not a universal rule. Ultimately this comes down to personal taste, although I do think that the technical limitations of the previous decades did force the game designers to be more innovative. Another thing to consider is “replayablity”. There are console titles from the nineties that I regularly return to and enjoy. I don’t find this to be the case so often with contemporary titles. Perhaps the simplicity factor is the key here.
I have emulators for several old consoles installed on both my phone and my seven inch tablet. The simple nature of many of the SNES and Genesis titles makes eminently suitable for these platforms. Unlike many contemporary Android and iOS games, retro games do not restrict content behind pay walls or mislead you about their gameplay. Emulators can also improve and enhance classic titles to standards beyond their initial incarnation. PC emulators will often add multiplayer and other features that weren't necessarily available on some titles.
Running older games on modern PCs.
Because technology has advanced so rapidly over the last three decades, many older PC games will not run in a modern Windows 64 bit environment. However companies such as Good old Games do optimise classic titles and bridge the compatibility gap. If you are technically minded it can be an interesting challenge to see if you can do this for yourself. I spent several hours recently looking at re-installing the classic horror title Nocturne. Designed to run on Windows 98 and with older graphic cards, the game can be coaxed to run normally with a few tweaks and additional drivers.
I do not view retro gaming as an alternative to contemporary gaming, nor do I consider it preferable. It is simply another facet of gaming per se and something to be enjoyed as equally as playing the latest blockbuster or indie title. Does reading Charles Dickens or Joseph Conrad constitute retro reading? Once again we have a phenomenon that really requires a more sophisticated name, rather than a binary label such as retro or old school.
I do think that as games have evolved over the years, the technicalities and aesthetics have on some occasions over shadowed the gameplay or narrative. Necessity is the mother of invention and some older titles had to rely more on their creativity rather than on their looks. But this is a subjective observation rather than a hard and fast rule. There are just as many old titles that are bad as well as modern releases.
I would encourage younger gamers to checkout some of the classic games titles as it may well prove both fun and illuminating. Having an informed perspective on the past can be very useful when considering the present. Reconnecting with older games can demonstrate how some underlying concepts and mechanics are timeless and why they’re still prevalent today. It’s also amusing to consider that many of the title that we consider cutting edge, will be deemed old school in thirty years’ time and subject to scepticism and amusement by our children and grandchildren.