Don't Go Down Memory Lane

A few weeks ago, one of my roommates came home clutching a copy of Conker: Live & Reloaded. He had played the platformer on the Nintendo 64 years ago, and wanted to experience it all over again on my Xbox. "This game was such a blast!" he exclaimed while loading the disc. His enthusiasm was contagious, so I sat down to watch him play.

His excitement lasted all of an hour. He'd spent it plodding from one generic area to the next and struggling with the controls. He'd had it with the same tired enemies blocking his way, he'd long stopped laughing at the poo jokes, and any interest he had in the disaster that passed for a plot had long since moved on.

"I don't get it," he told me, tossing the controller aside. "This game used to be so much fun. Did I really waste my time with this junk?"

Nostalgia is funny like that. Sometimes rose-colored glasses are a lot like beer goggles.

As a society, we're prone to believe that the past is inherently better than the present. Everyone knows someone who goes on and on about how great his or her high school years were. I can't speak for anyone else, but I wouldn't go back to high school at gunpoint. And yet, the concept of "the good old days" continues to linger. Canada's favorite son Bryan Adams waxes nostalgic about the summer of '69 as if those first few awkward attempts to get into a girl's pants were the highlight of his life. Films like Stand By Me glorify a simpler time when all children had to worry about was finding a dead body before crazy greaser hoodlums could hassle them. If you listen to pop culture, the present blows.

The same goes for the world of electronic entertainment. Gamers have bemoaned the death of originality in the industry for almost as long as it's been around, claiming that nothing will beat the old classics. But I wonder if we're not putting too much focus on our memories of these games and less on their actual game play. More often than not, these old games aren't as great as we remember.

Here's an example. Konami's Castlevania had interesting monsters, catchy music, and a great gimmick: a guy with a whip. But if you went back and played it today, chances are you wouldn't bother playing past the second level. Why are the newest games in the series so drastically different from the original? The answer is because gamers demand more from their hobby now, and there's just not a lot of meat on those old bones. But when the fully 3D, story-driven sequel fails, they point at the original on its lofty pedestal and demand an experience that lives up to their memories. It's a double standard that's next to impossible to satisfy.

We spend so much time focusing on how great our history is that we often fail to appreciate current titles. I once spent an entire weekend trying to get a Super Nintendo emulator to work on my Xbox with the sole purpose of playing Super Metroid. I obtained the emulator from shady Internet back alleys, searched for a site that allowed me to download the English ROM file without having to sign up for a year's worth of Viagra, uploaded the software to my modded console, and set to work trying to figure out how to make the emulator display on my TV. That hurdle cleared, I then had to configure the application to search for the ROM somewhere other than the DVD drive. Then I had to remap my control scheme. Then I had to attach the whatchamacallit to the the thingamabob. All the while, Metroid Prime 2 sat on the shelf, lonely and neglected like a kid in a Lifetime Original Movie.

The nostalgia craze has rocketed so high that companies can't resist taking advantage of it. Microsoft doesn't release sales numbers for their Live Arcade service, but unofficial polling shows that games like Gauntlet and Smash TV have each been downloaded from the service by over 75,000 people, with the retro-inspired Geometry Wars at over 180,000 downloads. Even at $5 a pop, that's a lot of revenue. Nintendo hopes to expand on that business model with their Virtual Console service, launching alongside the Wii. The big N hasn't announced what games will be available, but the general consensus is that most of their first party titles from the NES, SNES, and N64 will be available, and at prices rivaling Microsoft's. While the masses applaud these companies for their old-school offerings, they often forget that they're paying good money for games they've already played.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be using these services, and I'm certainly not saying that enjoying classic games is bad. What I am saying is that nostalgia can be a dangerous thing. It's easy to look in the rear-view mirror and conclude that the future of gaming is doomed, but you'll never be able to keep your eyes on the road that way. It's time we put away the Conkers and Contras and Castlevanias of our past and focus on the games we have yet to dream of. It's time we enjoy the good new days.

Comments

Agreed. Yet old games often have one big advantage over new ones: they're simple and accessible.

So much of the experience of those games was what we injected throught imagination and shared experience, that we will never be able to recapture those times.

I don't think I'll be playing X-Com hot seat with some good friends ( taking turns going to each site ), nor will I be trying to get my Dad interested in Summer Games again...

Those were wonderful experiences, and I look forward to sharing ones like them with my kids, but I agree, it's usually a disappointment. You can't plan experiences like that, they just happen.

Good article, btw.

I'm a big proponent of retro gaming. However, sometimes you're right. I think it was Podunk who started talking about loading up the old game Syndicate. That got me interested, so I installed it and ran it in DOSBox. I had such great memories of that game. Sadly, the controls have not aged well. Almost no keyboard shortcuts means over-reliance on the mouse, which exacerbates the minute mouse delay I experience with DOSBox. All-in-all, poor controls hamper what could be good nostalgiac gaming.

Completely agree with the point here. I'm as much a sucker for nostalgia as anyone else. I usually end up buying whatever rehash package comes out for whatever new console I buy. It hardly ever gets any play.

There are exceptions to every rule though. I find the very oldest, simplest games, where it's ALL gameplay because that's all there could be, tend to age well. The original Atari combat cartridge games are still phenomenally good fun against your buddies sitting on the floor. And I long for my old Tempest stand up machine from the dotcom age. That, and Tailgunner, are two games that simply have never been remade well, and probably can't be due to their control inputs.

What's really weird is when you remember really crappy, difficult to play games fondly.

A lot of the cracked games I remember playing on the Commodore 64 were really, really awful. And yet , just getting them to run seemed like an achievement.

Excellent article. I too have donned (and complained about) the rose colored glasses on far too many occasions, like everytime I fall for another "Arcade Classics' compilation disc, or more recently, when Frogger was released for Live Arcade. Of course, there are exceptions. I recently dusted off the NES and played R.C. Pro Am again and am happy to report it was every bit as much fun in 2006 as it was in 1989. But it's definitely the rare exception. But I know there's no way I could go back and play through a Final Fantasy or even the original Metal Gear again. Some things are best left in the memory closet.l

Quintin_Stone wrote:

I'm a big proponent of retro gaming. However, sometimes you're right. I think it was Podunk who started talking about loading up the old game Syndicate. That got me interested, so I installed it and ran it in DOSBox. I had such great memories of that game. Sadly, the controls have not aged well. Almost no keyboard shortcuts means over-reliance on the mouse, which exacerbates the minute mouse delay I experience with DOSBox. All-in-all, poor controls hamper what could be good nostalgiac gaming.

Yeah, the controls are cumbersome, but it obviously didn't hamper my enjoyment of the game.

You know what game has total garbage for controls? Carmageddon 2. I got it running in XP last night and was stunned to remember how insanely crappy the default keyboard layouts are, and they don't let you remap them either. There are these little modern conveniences we've come to accept as standard, but 7-8 years ago those standards were either embryonic or simply didn't exist yet.

Congrats Demi, You been dotted:

http://games.slashdot.org/article.pl...

I admit it, I still have all my old game systems. Usually for one title. It's true. I have my ancient, practically steam powered Sega Genesis, just so once a year, I can play Buck Rogers. I love Buck Rogers. Pixel images, cheesy music, and a flamethrower. What more could a girl want? I have an antiquated DOS box because I just can't get dos games to run well on my Alienware. And I love my old dos games. I even still have my first run Mac SE...in case I have the burning need to play Nord and Bert.

When nostalgia meets gamer meets packrat...ya know, I may be halfway to creating a gamer's museum here...

I can only sit back and nod in agreement, for the most part anyways. There are plenty of older games that are still redeeming, but a lot of them suffer from the lack of polish and depth that we've become accustomed to.

Sometime last year I was hit by a deep urge to play some old NES games. After finding my old console, I carefuly dismantled and cleaned it from top to bottom. I spent a few days hunting down old games I remember playing. I think it was hooked up to the television for a week, tops. Now it once again sits nearby under a pile of miscellaneous debris.

Thanks for the comments. I'm surprised none of you so far disagree with me. I kind of thought my view on the situation was uncommon.

I think a lot depends on the TYPE of game you're talking about. Arcade games tend to age well, mainly because a lot of the attraction is gameplay rather than special effects. Older RTS/FPS/scroller games tend not to age so well, though we still play Doom (Doom Legacy) at LAN parties sometimes because of the quick action.

I still love my Vectrex, though. Minestorm rocks!

I don't agree with what you are saying. I will admit there are certain games that one should leave in memory, but there are many that are just as good today as they were when they first came out. You also have to remember that some genre types can only be played by a trip down memory lane. Take shooters for example. If I want to play a good shooter for a new system, well I pretty much can't. I've recently started to play some old Turbograpx games again. Gate of Thunder is just as good as it was in 1992. Space Harrier no matter how many times I play it, is just as awesome as it was in 1986.

Thanks for the comments. I'm surprised none of you so far disagree with me. I kind of thought my view on the situation was uncommon.

While I agree in principle to what you are saying (the same thing can be said of old beloved cartoon shows), there are plenty of occasions where the game has aged quite nicely. Ms.Pac-Man, Galaga and SMB are every bit as much fun as they were back in the day (as Proot said above). TIE Fighter, while dated graphically, is still a fun "space sim" to play. And I don't care what you say, many of the award winners from the "turn of the century"* are still very fun. But like you said, they are the exception, not the rule.

*SS2, Alpha Centauri, Homeworld, Half-Life, Starcraft, Deus Ex

Demi, you got Slashdot on my GWJ. Or is it GWJ on my Slashdot? I don't know. I may need a team of beautiful but moronic girls in angel costumes to figure it out.

ETA: Blast! Beaten by the rabbit.

I needed this article a week ago when I spent an hour installing Baldur's Gate 2, only to quit playing after 30 minutes due to a dangerous allergic reaction I had with the user interface.

KaterinLHC wrote:

I may need a team of beautiful but moronic girls in angel costumes to figure it out.

What?! I don't get that... Help me out here, Kat.

But if they need any help with the philosophical or physical ramifications of a Goodjer on their Slashdot, then I'm here.

Demiurge wrote:

Thanks for the comments. I'm surprised none of you so far disagree with me. I kind of thought my view on the situation was uncommon.

I don't agree with you completely. For some games though, you're right.

Thanks for the comments. I'm surprised none of you so far disagree with me. I kind of thought my view on the situation was uncommon.

Enraged, I joined up with this more cerebral of gaming communities with the intent of whole-heartedly disagreeing with you. Why! I thought, has this gent not played through System Shock 2 in recent times?! Then I calmed down and had a little think. Your title misleads, serving up the near definite command that one should resist going down the old lane of memory. I can appreciate that, it's punchy, drags the reader in. But if I may sound like a Rockist fighting against the encroaching Poptimism menace I would like to say that in some respects the good old days were just that, free of the menace of big biz and the desire to make money rather than make something for love.

My primary problem in the modern era to get the retro-gaming fix is that of backwards-compatibility, something you yourself bemoan in a way with your attempted emulation of classics upon your xbox. ROMs from the 16 bit era are no problem if you don't mind plodding the murky depths. PC gaming is that much harder with DOS emulation and so on, at least for me. But enough technobabble. What I feel is the primary barrier between me and my most-beloved gaming history is technical rather than rose-tinted. See I only played the best games... Joking! However there is some truth in that. Some things last forever, are the high point for their eras and remain so. Other games are good but not great. For instance Prey is a great game, but it isn't absolutely amazing to me, and won't remain one of my fondest memories.

Consider this favoured analogue: some albums are considered classics and remain timeless, others meant so much to certain individuals at specific times in their lives or as the voice of a generation but when one returns to them they serve only as an embarassing reminder of youthful folly (no matter how old you were). There is a time and a place for all things, and hell sometimes an embarassing game joy of the past serves as a reminder of just how lucky one is today.

Or not. System Shock 2 while having crusty graphics by today's comparison still remains one of the best moments of gaming I still experience, especially in comparison to a lot of today's unimaginative cash-in games. It sometimes depends what you judge as important to you as an individual who plays games. If you find incompatability, interface difficulties and/or dated graphics as a barrier against your enjoyment then that is fine. I still find guilty pleasure in spending hours devoting myself to my most geekish of sides by getting that old Syndicate Wars CD I have up and running the game when the annual urge comes round again. Which isn't to say I don't like modern games. There are some stunning modern games on consoles and PC, just as there are retro delights. Someone above mentions good old games are an exception to the rule, but I'd say this is true of modern games also. There are always going to be few paragons of any art in any era, because developers (or musicians or any kind of artist) can't all be geniuses with all the luck.

So, excuse any seeming arrogance as youthful exuberance in this first post. I say that one should enjoy the past and the present and the future for what they were/are/will be. There are good things to be found in all places at all times. Yes, to some extent we should heed your warning. But is it not better to make the most minimal of mistakes in visiting a game of one's past, find it lacking and learn from the experience for oneself? That way you can realise that maybe the modern game with the modern interface is so much easier to use. That isn't to say it has a better storyline or a new gameplay element though...

(This probably is horribly disorganised and ranting and long as it has all come spewing as you see it, so apologies but I hope I have some kind of position in there.)

Haakon7 wrote:
KaterinLHC wrote:

I may need a team of beautiful but moronic girls in angel costumes to figure it out.

What?! I don't get that... Help me out here, Kat.

Apparently, you don't watch as much awful TV as I do. There's a recent Philadelphia Fruit/Philly Spread campaign featuring this situation of idiotic angel women. You are a better human being for not having seen it.

First of all, welcome, Tazer.

It's funny that you mention System Shock 2 as an example of a classic game that I might be attacking. Some in this community know of my completely rabid love for the game, and in my mind I don't even consider it to be retro.

Which leads to the main thought your comments bring to my mind: The problem is not the classic games. The problem is our investment in them. When we spend all of our time focusing on how great the "classics" are, we often can lose sight of the innovations being made in current titles. I think we're all guilty of it, in one form or another. I know for a fact that I am.

Your mention of great albums of the past shows that this kind of conversation can be conducted about many different forms of media. I can't even keep track of the number of peers in my age range (25-35) who believe that no good music has been released since 1997. Perhaps in their mind, they're right. But I'm willing to bet that they're so focused on the music they grew up on that they haven't given newer acts a chance. My point is that the same thing often happens with video games.

Thanks for your comments, I hope you spend some time exploring our community here.

Thank you for the welcome Demiurge. And for putting up with my word-splurge

It's funny that you mention System Shock 2 as an example of a classic game that I might be attacking. Some in this community know of my completely rabid love for the game, and in my mind I don't even consider it to be retro.

Ah perhaps I wasn't clear enough, I wasn't pointing to System Shock 2 as a target of your attacks, rather that it is for me a clear example of when older games can surpass much of what is available in modern gaming. What with the need for a patch to make it XP compatible and so on I considered it retro from a technical standpoint, however I agree on the notion that it perhaps isn't retro in other respects. Of course the whole idea of what is retro and where it starts and stops is also debatable.

Which leads to the main thought your comments bring to my mind: The problem is not the classic games. The problem is our investment in them. When we spend all of our time focusing on how great the "classics" are, we often can lose sight of the innovations being made in current titles. I think we're all guilty of it, in one form or another. I know for a fact that I am.

No doubt we're all guilty of obsessing over the classics yes, although I try for that existentialist notion of living for the now as much as possible in many aspects of my life. It is only over the last year or so that I've really plunged into retro gaming by digging up all my old discs. For too long I was a magpie drawn by pretty lights and graphical splendour, so in a way I'm coming from the hype awaiting future titles and approaching retro gaming from the opposite direction to yourself. I guess the problem lies in a habit many of us have in attributing greatness to the past or the future too much, rather than realising what is right in front of our faces. I know I've done that at least.

Heh and music wise I'm 21 and from the UK where we seem to be having a retro revival, currently going through the 90s again so the music today sounds like yesterday. Retro-culture is big business in all areas these days, so I guess the retro gaming's current popularity is just a symptom of the general malaise (if I can call it that) of Western culture.

Anyways, yes I fully intended to explore the community more, I've lurked long enough certainly

Oh yeah, and Star Control 2! That's another one that doesn't fail to live up to the rose colored nostalgia test.

Welcome Tazer! You might find that quite a few of us still carry a torch for SS2.

Elliottx wrote:

I needed this article a week ago when I spent an hour installing Baldur's Gate 2, only to quit playing after 30 minutes due to a dangerous allergic reaction I had with the user interface.

This warms my heart, Elliott.

buzzvang wrote:

Oh yeah, and Star Control 2! That's another one that doesn't fail to live up to the rose colored nostalgia test.

LIES!!!!

duckideva wrote:

I even still have my first run Mac SE...in case I have the burning need to play Nord and Bert.

That specifically seems like a strange reason to keep a system, because the Infocom cames ESPECIALLY are about as portable as any game you can get.

You can get interpreters for the Infocom games for virtually every computer (or PDA, etc) ever made, rip the data out of the games you own, and play them.

Check out
http://www.ifarchive.org/
for more info.  There's also a C-like language you can use to write games that compile into the same virtual machine as the Infocom games, so your games would be as portable as the originals.  Many have written games using the language, called Inform.

BTW, I'm actually playing a lot of the classics _for the first time_ on my PS2.  I got the MegaMan and Sonic collections, and I never played either extensively (I probably played Sonic once or twice ever at someone's house long ago).   I'm actually very intrigued by the Wii *because* of the cheap retro games.

Demiurge wrote:

Thanks for the comments. I'm surprised none of you so far disagree with me. I kind of thought my view on the situation was uncommon.

I myself disagree for the most part. I personally play older games almost exclusively lately. I have recently replayed through Vay, Earthbound, Battle for Olympus, Rygar, Super Metroid, Lunar 1, Zelda: OoT and more. So while there are a few games that I admit have not aged well for me (The original Metroid for example), I still enjoy the older style of games just as much today as I did back then.

Newer games are for the most part, the same games that have been around, just with better graphics. Occasionally you get something incredible like Guitar Hero, or Psychonauts but not often. I can say with complete honesty that I have no desire for any of the next gen stuff coming out (and yes, I am well aware of all the games coming out). I do not and will not own a 360, nor will I own a PS3. Maybe sometime down the road I will pick up a Wii solely for the virtual console, but that depends on how well it is implemeneted.

However, that is my personal view and this is a topic I have discussed often elsewhere. From what I discovered, people like myself actually tend to be in the minority and most people prefer the next and current gen =)

My friends and I have learned the harsh pain of going back to the games we played when we were "kids" (at 20 still considered a kid by some). Mortal Kombat really was only intersting because of blood, Killer Instinct held up worse, the Donkey Kong series by Rare? even worse.

I have tried to play Star Control 2, and I just can't handle the control method, it's too bizare, the game is user-unfriendly. There are just so many old classics that do not hold up to modern standards, and I don't mean graphics, I mean usability and such.

I think Microsoft is doing it right with the Arcade, for the most part, as the games tend to be touched up and improved for modern tastes while keeping the same game, although Street Fighter II seems fairly rough.

I think you're right, Demi, but only to a point. I've been playing Planescape: Torment a bit lately, and I loathe its navigation system and clumsy fighting mechanics. Yet beneath the tarnished presentation and interface there still gleams exemplary dialogue and storytelling. There are some games worth rediscovering, even if they can't compete with modern games in most regards.

It just depends on the game. Some old games hold up. Some don't.

Sonic the Hedgehog holds up except for the lack of a save system.

Pitfall on the Atari 2600 actually holds up pretty well.

Nintendo games seem to hold up fairly well too. I think their focus on gameplay and clean & distinctive presentation helps.

A basic game like Pong against a bud holds up. There's a core gameplay mechanic there that just doesn't go away with time. I have a feeling Combat on the Atari 2600 would still hold up too.

The games that don't hold up? The more faddish games. Will GTA3 hold up? I kinda doubt it. I don't think the really involving hard pc games hold up much for me either. I played Wizardry and Ultima 3 back in the day, but they probably are a bit too sado-masochistic for me today.