Just recently bought a few cheap games on Steam, and even as I clicked to confirm the order, I was asking myself what the hell I was doing. But it's okay, because they were all older games, and didn't cost that much. Well, relatively speaking.
I bought Sonic Adventure 2, which I still maintain is the best Sonic the Hedgehog game overall. But weirdly enough, I was hit by a sudden urge to buy the Doom 2 pack and Commander Keen. So for some reason, I bought myself Doom and freakin' Commander Keen.
I went looking for the Duke Nukem games, but they're not on Steam. That's not a problem though, because with a few emulators or simply by setting up my ancient Pentium (first computer my family bought), I can play the other games I'm nostalgic for.
Speaking of nostalgia, let me just address that before I get to the meat of the journal, which is just going to be a sort of a musing on video gaming as it exists today, and I'd love to see some discussion about whether or not others have noticed these trends too or not.
As I've said before, I don't really get "nostalgia." I'm usually very good at acknowledging the flaws and frustrations of games and movies from my childhood. I often revisit things from my childhood even, and reaffirm an adult perspective on them, so I can be quite harsh on them.
As a side note: I've never played Commander Keen before. It was a reasonably well known game when I was a kid, and some of my friends mentioned it, but I never got to see it. So, 20+ years on... here I am finally trying it out.
In fact, there're some strange things that I only just now properly realize about my childhood "gaming." For one thing: I almost never bought games. My parents weren't rich or prone to spending money; I think the number of games I've personally bought, or my parents have bought for me, is about less than twenty. Ever. Even when games cost almost nothing. I could list all the games I've ever bought, but how about games I bought before I turned 16?
Descent 2. Spyro 3. Die Hard Trilogy games (three-pack for $20 - these were actually very good games, might play them soon). Uhh. Um. Shit. There has to be more than that... See, in those days, adults could buy games for cheap, finish them eventually, then pass them to kids they knew for free. You could also rent, or indeed copy them quite easily. You still can rent games and movies nowadays, but people just seem to do it more rarely.
I also came to the party pretty late. My first gaming systems were: PSX (Playstation original) and a Pentium PC running Windows 95/MS-DOS. Many of my friends, some were even younger than I, had S/NES consoles, 386 PCs with Windows 3.1 or just DOS. The 90s was all roller-blades, street hockey, basketball and baggy clothes to me, until Final Fantasy 7 and Tekken 2 came along. Then people would give me older games. I do, however, have an excellent memory for the games that I played - for instance, I still mostly remember most of the cheat codes for Doom. Which I played for the last time, uh... ten years ago? Fourteen years ago? We're talkin', I didn't have pubic hair yet.
So, it's odd of me to say this, but even though I was late to the gaming scene and I never bought many games for myself, I still experienced a lot of games from the early era of PC gaming, especially first person games like Doom, Wolfenstein and Duke3D, not to mention other great creations from those same developers, and video gaming has certainly gone down a dark path in recent years.
Gaming, so far as I can tell, has gone through several different stages up until now. What many people call the "golden era" of gaming, pretty much the birth of console gaming, was actually pretty terrible for everyone involved: developers were treated like monkeys at a type-writer (somewhat true today in most corporate offices), games were bland, poorly quality tested, and just had annoying overall design philosophy. The few gems that came out of this era, which was admittedly before my time, don't change these facts.
Around the time Doom was released, and in some years subsequent to that, things were good. Western game developers were especially awesome at this time; there was a strong irreverence, an almost hacker-like audacity, and they expressed themselves however they wanted, giving birth to amusing games like Duke Nukem 3D, filled with easter eggs and an unprofessional, light-hearted humor. Not to mention ludicrous blood and goriness. Copyright notices and warnings from 3D Realms and iD Software, on the screen after you end your session, were funny, and often rude. Not convoluted legalese or soulless demands.
As video games have become huge fucking business, this humor has been drained away by corporate bloodsuckers, and games are starting to look less like labors of love (alliteration!) and more like token attempts to milk the market for billions in cash.
Obviously, this isn't 100% true of every developer out there. Valve especially utterly reeks of the old DOS-developer humor and self-awareness, while still trying to push the envelope. There are funny, light-hearted games out there, for kids if nothing else, though even they tend to feel like they're missing something.
Games with a lot of easter-eggs, or "trolling" attempts from the developers to catch out cheaters and stuff like that, or truly self-aware & irreverent humor, have become very rare. The really weird thing, however, is how few games now even have cheats!
"No, you will not deviate from our script!" says Corporate Developer #643. "You can only have fun the way we want you to. We have no cheats. No secrets. Just go down that linear corridor. But, oh, look at the pretty achievements! Go on, look at them! Get that gamerscore up, peasant! Don't forget to buy our $10 DLC, which 8 years ago would've been free on our website."
I have an example too, if you don't believe me, (again, not saying this phenomenon is 100% ubiquitous). In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which was easily the most mature, realistic and best of the MW series, you could unlock cheats by exploration. You'd go around, picking up enemy intelligence in the form of unsecured laptops, and the more you got, the more cheats you had. Brilliant idea, encouraged exploration of CoD4's beautiful environments.
The cheats included awesome shit like cluster grenades. Bleeding tyres instead of blood. Slow-motion, so you could set up your own awesome scenarios. Rag-time mode.
Boom, Modern Warfare 2 and 3 have no cheats. Not even for fun stuff like infinite ammo, let alone crazy-silly stuff like bleeding tyres. Moneymilkers. Soulless. The intelligence gathering thing is still there though - why? More time-wasting, distracting shit for achievements!! Cheats are there to amuse developers and to provide another element of fun to the game for the player. Sometimes it's fun to go around with a BFG 9000 you're not supposed to have yet and shred everything.
Grand Theft Auto games have traditionally been the best examples of screw-around games with excellent cheats, although they seem to have also forgotten themselves lately, in a different way. What happened to beating cops to death with purple dildos you picked up up in their showers, or launching a tank across a canal? Why am I taking some dipshit out to dinner?
One thing I want to address though is the assertion that video games today are "easy." In an attempt to sucker players in. This is one of those cases where I have to conclude that some people truly do get blinded by nostalgia, because the really old games - which some tools try to claim are from the "golden age of gaming" - were really just poorly designed, poorly QCd and unfairly hard. Games that forced children (and many adults) into temper tantrums because they were full of shit don't get any credit for being "challenging." It was a cheap gameplay lengthening tactic.
However, I did take the time to play some truly great old games from what I consider to be the golden age of gaming, the early-to-late 90s, and that is where this shines through, particularly with games for adults, which we all played as kids anyway. Recently playing Doom 2, as I said, and I was surprised at how balls-to-the-wall hard it could be at times.
Difficulty settings in general, though, are treated differently by different people. As a child, many games I played never left Easy or Normal (or whatever they were called), and even then I would cheat horribly and just run around blowing shit up. Games I couldn't cheat in or change the difficulty, it didn't really matter. I play either game equally, it was all fun.
It's only now, though, that I've started pushing myself in video games. So now I can directly compare Doom 2 and Bioshock, for instance. This "getting easier" trend is actually not true, guys. Not overall.
There were many piss-easy games back in the day, and while it gets very annoying for current games to hold your hand, there are a lot of tough games out today. Bioshock on Hard with no revives? Try to take on those Big Daddies, holy shit. Modern Warfare 3, for all its flaws, is actually more akin to a rail-shooter than something like Battlefield or ArmA, and it can be brutally hard on Veteran. In the multiplayer world, PayDay, Left 4 Dead 2 and even World of Warcraft are evil at their hardest. Pure evil!
Perhaps it's because of the popularity of video games today. In fact, it may be more because people are adults now, and they have the income to buy many games, but not the time to play them. So they're playing games with Easy modes designed for people who have never played the genre before and are only playing casually, then they're too busy and don't finish it anyway, let alone push on to the higher difficulties.
Higher difficulty settings have traditionally been where new content is unveiled. Where you're meant to end up after getting better at the game. Truth be told, most games are meant to be played on their highest difficulty settings and that's what they should be judged on. It's often where the games are most realistic, most threatening and most interesting. It would be remiss of developers to not include anything like that, and 99% of them do, and they succeed in making things very tough.
Games nowadays are not exactly easy. They're easy to finish, to experience the game and see the ending, and this is good. But when you climb all the way to the top difficulty settings or challenges, they're just as hard as the Golden Oldies. Which weren't all THAT hard, mostly.
I have all my old games right here. I can put them on and compare them directly. They're just as hard. The thing is, though - and I don't do the nostalgia thing, remember - many of these older games are still fun. I mean, fuckin' Pong is still fun, so is Kirby's Dreamland 2. Many of them fall flat on their face; again, I don't experience this nostalgia thing. For instance, Pokemon was a shitty TV show that made me cringe every time I forced myself to watch it to keep up with the playground talk, and Doom's level design was very annoying.
However, for all the talk of the olden days, the fact is that many formerly successful game developing companies have died away, and what we're left with now is all we have left. We have some of the old guard still around, but less than is fair. They deserved to be successful giants, raking in the money with their genius and hard work.
To my shock, I just discovered that 3D Realms/Apogee is still around. Only, not really, as naturally most of the old staff has left. The thing is, many people would cock an eyebrow and ask who the hell Apogee was. Which is sad.
Regardless, to wrap this ramble up (that I've been working on piecemeal over the last hour or two), I just wonder if I'm the only one to feel this way. It's not that modern games are necessarily bad, easy/dumbed down, or that I don't like them. They, especially big titles, just seem to be lacking in the same fun-loving, audacious spirit as western games from the late 80s-90s.
I suppose it's what to expect when you go from this to being a faceless, gigantic mega-conglomerate with hundreds of thousands of employees working in cubicle farms instead of all together around a big desk with comic books, nachos and Mountain Dew.
I dunno, I just assume that's how they used to do this "software development" thing. I hope it was.
Edit - Note that this is just some fun I decided to have in the background. Don't take this journal too seriously. Also, the new Apogee Software, LLC and Interceptor Entertainment are working on a remake/revamp/rewhatever of Rise of the Triad. This is going to be interesting, folks. Are they going to stay true to the original spirit of RoT or will they "modernize" it like they tried to do with Duke Nukem Forever, thereby fucking it up? Hrm. This is the second and final test, it seems. If they do this right, get ready. RoT was an excellent game back in the day, and if they keep true to it, a remake might actually be a true breath of fresh air for FPS fans.