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  • 10/27/14 09:54 PM
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    What Makes Old Games Addictive

    Game Design and Theory

    ElGeeko7
    As a programmer by trade, I rarely want to write code when I get home... but even 10-12 hours of coding won't stop me from hooking up my USB controller, firing up a keyboard mapper script I wrote, and going to Virtual NES.com. Sure I've been playing these games since I was five, but they're still that fun! I kicked... uh, played well... back in the day, and I still rock those games now (and have a great time doin' it)! Now you might be wondering, what's up with that? It can't just be that weird Miguel guy, because sites like Virtual NES are everywhere. Why do they buy - or even make - a custom USB controller for old NES games? Why would anyone spend so much time programming them, right down to the last detail, to be exactly like the originals? The graphics and sound from back then was so cheesy compared to now. I mean okay, sure, for games like Super Mario Bros. and the Legend of Zelda, the nostalgia-factor is pretty intense. But Kung-Fu? RC Pro-Am? 10-Yard Fight? Who even remembers those (other than me, lol)? And why do people still create (and get hooked to) games with similar quality? I mean, today we have 3D (even 3D audio); we've got super-realistic sports games, amazing adventure games, etc. and they keep getting better. So what's up with that? Obviously, it's more than just nostalgia. And although I'm far from an expert, I think I know what the secrets are, and I want to share them with you.

    Why Old Games Still Rock

    1. They're easy to play, but hard to beat!

    You know what got me interested in making my own games? PS2; But not in the way you think. To me, those games were insanely hard... to play. Three directional controls, 12 buttons (not including start & select) and each one of them does different things in different situations? Forget that! I figured it would be easier to learn to create my own games than to learn how to play theirs. But NES, Super NES, Sega Genesis etc. were different: they were easy to figure out, but you had to play them like crazy to be able to beat the game. Gannon was hard to kill because he turned invisible and could shoot at you from any direction - not because I forgot how to use my sword! King Koopa's castle was tough to get through because it was a maze loaded with baddies, dead ends and traps - not because I couldn't figure out how to shoot a fireball! They were most definitely hard, but there wasn't a vertical wall of a learning curve just to play the thing! In other words, the challenge was in the levels (the obstacles, the AI etc.), not the gameplay. This is something that I think we've lost in today's games. We've forgotten how to KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid! :)). If we combined the amazing graphics and sound available today with the simplicity of the OGs, those old games might actually become a thing of the past. But until then, gamers and game addicts everywhere keep on makin'em like they did in the old days - and that's cool with me! :)

    2. They're relatively easy to create

    The first point came from me as a gamer; this point comes from me as a programmer. I say 2D games are "relatively" easy because you do need to know a thing or three about programming to write a game either way. But even if you're still fairly new to programming, you might want to check this part out. Let's take for example collision checking. Just about every game has to have it (the exceptions being stuff like crossword puzzles or Sudoku). In a 2D game, it's as simple as this: if (Rectangle1.Intersects(Rectangle2)){ Lives -= 1; RestartLevel(); } Granted the example above is not actual code, you get the idea. If one rectangle (say Mario) intersects another (say one of those flying fish things), then Mario loses a life and you restart the level. The only thing that'd make this a bit tricky is how to check if one object intersects another (which I've done in JavaScript and hope to never do again). But AFAIK every language with a Rectangle object has a function to check that already (In Java it's "Intersects", and I think in C# it's "Contains") and other objects like Oval and Polygon may have them as well. So it's no big deal, not the end of the world (unless that's what happens in the level :) yeah that was corny). But in a modern game, there are a gajillion other variables to check for. We're no longer talking about simple shapes, but complex 3-dimensional figures and physics and camera angles and other stuff I haven't thought of yet. And on the graphics side you've got stuff like texturing, plotting all the 3D coordinates, and other stuff that to me is just annoying. Hopefully, there's some framework or SDK out there now that abstracts a lot of this away, but in my experience it's just not worth the aggravation. Especially for newbies, but even for more experienced programmers like me, if you're not a math guru this can be such a pain. And creating games should be fun, shouldn't it? And that brings me to my last point:

    3. They're just plain fun!

    Games back in the day weren't trying to tell a story, prove a point, or be as realistic as possible. Back stories were written in the same document as the instructions, which were quickly thrown away (see point #1). So adventure games were simply Good vs. Evil. Heroes explored strange new lands, defeated monsters and rescued princesses. Sports games were about scoring points. And some games were just about getting your initials on a highscore list. So whatever you were doing, it was fun, not work. Maybe I'm just getting old... but to me a lot of the newer games are more work than fun. But my neice, who is growing up with all the latest tech, rocks the new games like I rocked the originals. So "fun" is a subjective term, no doubt about it. So how do we translate this into something more concrete? To answer that, I would suggest you ask yourself, what makes games fun to you? Back on the topic of the classics, here are some of the things I always enjoyed:
    • Secret places that feel like cheating (like the whistles in Mario 3) - why try to find ways to actually cheat when you can just use what's built into the game?
    • Weapons and other tricks that give you new abilities (like the frog suit in Mario 3 or the hook-shot in Zelda/Link to the Past)
    • Random stuff that's just plain funny (like in Link to the Past when you go to the Dark World and turn into a bunny - that was so hilarious! Or in Mario World how Yoshi can eat... well just about anything, and spit it at the enemies! I could go on all night with this one.)
    • Anything you can play with someone else (sports, Mario, Mario Kart, etc. - the more the merrier! This one is especially important because multiplayer online games are so big nowadays)
    • Anything where the object of the game is stupidly obvious (even as a kid playing Zelda, I often bypassed the frustrating puzzle-like parts by using a book or bugging a friend who already beat it; not that adding some brain-teasing "figure it out" stuff to games is bad, but it's not always fun; for me it went from brain-teasing to mind-grinding way too quick)

    Conclusion

    As you can see, there are definitely some features of 80s/90s-style video games that still apply to today's world of hi-tech gaming awesomeness. In fact if I ever find a game system that uses even 2 out of the 3, I'll be first in line to get one. So anyway, take it for what it's worth, use what you can and pass it on. :)


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    I miss old games. First memories I have of playing games was when I was younger (5 or 6) playing Space Combat, Yar's Revenge, River Raid, Smurfs, Donkey Kong, Centipede, Asteroids, and Pac-Man on the Atari 2600. I loved NES and SNES games, too. This article is nice and it makes me miss some of my old favorites. 

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    I agree, i really miss the old games too and i remember playing very old games like aztec challenge, maniac mansion, zak´mc kracken, summer games, etc. - there was so much fun - especially with friends.

    A few days i got nostalgic and played all the games i have played on the game boy like mega man, super mario land, kirbys dreamland, r-type, god this are so damn hard... I got really soft in the past years - especially when i reached the 30 and now have family, children, not really time to code... but nice that i am not alone with that feeling.

     

    Games are the main reason, why i started programming, learned basic on C64 and grow from that. Unfortunatly i never ever have created one finished game and with finished game, i mean games which can be beat, have more than developer graphics and make fun to play. I really struggle to finish stuff - one bad thing i hate about myself :-( I cannot count how many prototypes i created, but failed mostly of motivation-less.

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    Good article,

     

    However when it comes to the topic of adding a third dimension to games; I'd say it may be advantageous to look into a graphical paradigm known as 2.5d

     

    All math remains 2D Even though your rendering takes place in 3D space. It can be as simple as migrating your math framework from utilizing X, and Y as the primary axis vectors, to X and Z as the axis vectors. That way you can take advantage of having depth. While keeping the math 2D and the collision system as simple as Axis-Aligned Bounding Boxes. You would then only concern yourself with the Y-vector when rendering.

     

    -Marcus

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    Interesting point, Marcus.  I hadn't heard of 2.5d, but I checked it out on YouTube and Wikipedia, and it looks pretty cool!  I've messed with some of the stuff that seems to fall into this category (parallax scrolling, the whole "isometric" thing etc.) but it looks like 2.5d might be even more than that.  I don't think my graphic design skills are quite there yet (SNES-like at best, usually not near as good lol) but I think I'll research this topic further.

     

    And please don't get me wrong; I have nothing against 3d in and of itself.  What I don't like is when graphics become more important than gameplay; in those situations, at least to me, it then feels more like work than a game.  But if they ever came out with a game that looked like PS4 and played like Super NES, I'd be first in line to get one.  : )

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    I hate to spam a game my friends and I are making but we are developing a zelda-inspired RPG native to Android and IOS devices -- it features something similar to what ElGeeko7 mentioned about '2.5D'.

    We are trying hard to 'revive' the good old SNES/Gameboy days... our phones are upgraded gameboys in a sense :P

    This is what I mean about the '2.5D' -- we feature a top down view [Free roam movement, camera focused on the player throughout the entire map, instant multi-level loading] -- we have a test file that includes a full dungeon with an intense boss fight that I still enjoy playing after the 100th+ of testing :) (srry images are big!)

     

    10644307_334164003427814_519744778393164

     

    We really have added a whole new meaning of depth to the game -- puzzles will be more complex and world exploration will be incredibly interactive.

     

    10540571_339967662847448_855200196058661

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    "I figured it would be easier to learn to create my own games than to learn how to play theirs."

     

    BEST GD.NET QUOTE EVER!

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    Awesome! I lost that generation unfortunately, but I'm filling this gap now.

    Yes I'm late, but I love retro games!

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    Thumbs up. Very good analysis, Miguel7. Spot on.

     

    I heartily second your comments on the "fun" of a game deriving from getting better rather than guessing better.

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    There are a couple of serious differences between the "games of old we love" and the "modern games we can't stop playing":

     

    (1) Like a good movie,  a good game had a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The goal wasn't to keep you doing the same thing over and over for hours while selling you upgrades or expansions, the goal was to give you a good experience.  Then you buy the next game.  Playing one of these games, especially to get to the end, could become a mild obsession, but rarely an "addiction", which seems to be the goal of many games now.

     

    (2) Immersion and the "game in the mind" (old games) have been replaced by extreme levels of graphic reality and simulated violence (new games).  Most game players are still male and young boys are wired for this biologically.  Age of Empires was not an intense game because of the graphics, blood, or gore...there was none.  It was intense because you were in the middle of building your defenses while the enemy AI came over hills from two directions and pincered you.  Crushing the AI meant you had to plan and execute in real time.  Victory was not about the graphics or the way the sun bounced off the clouds, it was about challenge, skill, pacing, intuition, and a bit of luck.  Just like victory in real life.

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    Excellent article. Yes, fast responsive gameplay based on simple controls and developed skill of reaction, timing, and method - where you are not "cheaped-out" by camera or control difficulties. One thing I'm finding often missing from many game worlds is the lack of mystery. While it is subjective, I know myself and many others remember wondering and anticipating what the next world might be like( a magic upside forest? inside a digestive system? glass castle in a sunset cloud?), what strange new power we would get, what kind of bizarre huge boss we'd see -- and these worlds were very contrasted and saturated where a lot of games today seem to have forgotten about those of us who have color vision. Even the real world has more color and more imagination in it at times(is subjective I suppose). That being said however, it does look like some very promising projects are on the horizon(or even coming out now). Times are changing for the better I think.

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    I don't think that simplicity is the main key to the success of the oldies. 3D is not from the devil, but it really hijacked the evolution of games. With the extreme level of graphic there's no room left for imagination. This leads to futile emotional binding towards the game, at least for time-worn gamers like myself. I feel myself an observer of a new game not as a "part" of the adventure.

    Fortunately, I am as an isometric junkie coding in a parallel dimension where no 3D break-throught happend. :) I found myself developing a 3D browser game with 2D graphic. If you are interested in such a hybrid try it here: http://toborzsokinteractive.blogspot.hu/

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