I first met Amanda Lange about two years ago – until quite recently, she taught Game Design at the International Academy of Design & Technology in Detroit, Michigan, and I had the honor of being invited to speak with one of her classes. I don’t think Amanda expected me to ramble on for an hour and a half, but then again… she didn’t know me at the time. Now she does and is correspondingly more wary.
A longtime member of the International Game Developers Association and supporter of many local efforts and endeavors, Amanda’s moving to a new state soon on account of getting relocated, so we’ll miss her at the Detroit IGDA meetings. In the interim, though, she kindly offered to put together a Celebrity Guest Editorial on a subject that I think many Tap readers have pondered over the years. Take it away, Amanda!
How I Fell Into the Generation Gap
By Amanda Lange, International Academy of Design & Technology
I’ve spent the last five years, give or take, as a teacher in the field of game development. While development is a field that attracts gamers of all stripes, I would say that the majority of the students were young: fresh out of high school types, which is to say they were members of the “Millennial” generation born between the 1980s and today. I’m on the cusp, but I’ve started to identify myself more strongly as a Generation X member as the differences between the generations became apparent.
The generation gap between Gen X and Gen Y gamers is discussed in our entry level games textbook. The overall argument there is that, since Gen X is made up of “solitary, authority-hating loners,” we prefer games with single heroes, whereas Generation Y, which is all about cooperation, prefers multi-player games. Like everything in an intro to games textbook, that’s an oversimplification, but I think it’s also somewhat missing the mark.
The gap between the gaming generations is also the PC/Console gap. In some sense, it even mirrors the East vs. West gap that’s causing some difficulties for Japanese developers, who don’t seem to understand (or don’t believe they understand) how to appeal to Western consumers.
In the early days of gaming, those who really wanted to play a video game had to work for it a little bit. The truly old-school PC gamer may remember magazines that came in the mail. The first step was to type the game, in BASIC, in to the keyboard, before the step that allowed you to actually play it. Some games felt like illicit things: a strange disk traded on the playground, which you had to boot up from DOS, which turned out to be DOOM, the mysterious game of which Congress did not approve. We also grew up during the times of slow-paced adventure games, where counting out a number system in base five to solve a series of puzzles, or hand-writing the components to a series of magical spells discovered by trial and error, may have been something you actually wanted to do. For an action game of reasonable quality, you’d have to go to the arcade. Even home console games weren’t simply plug-and-play; at the very least, you needed to read a manual before proceeding, and the old-style Nintendo Entertainment System with its spring-loaded cartridges is temperamental by today’s gaming standards.
There’s another gap which I believe fewer people are aware of, which I refer to as the RPG gap. For an entire generation of gamers, their seminal experience with games was not Space Invaders, not Super Mario Brothers, but Final Fantasy VII. And that is SEVEN, specifially: the loud, colorful, musical anime-style spectacle with over-the-top sword sizes, long hair and leather. No matter how you might feel about FFVII, its success changed the way a lot of gamers thought of what it means to play an “RPG.” There are so many young gamers that grew up with Japanese RPGs only, to the point where exploration-heavy RPGs like Morrowind make no sense to them. As a result, they’re less open to exploration-heavy games, but also much more open to a Japanese aesthetic, and don’t mind seeing a serious or even dark story paired with colorful, cartoonish graphics. They’ve also come to expect a linear story, and have patience for even Kojima-length cut-scenes.
I’m not sure what percent of the U. S. audience this is. Maybe it’s not even enough for Japanese companies to make margin in the States. On the other hand, I find the American JRPG fans to be so insatiable for their drug of choice that they are willing to spend a lot to get it, even with a meager level of disposable income. This is likely the same group of gamers that are buying the quirky anime puzzler Catherine in droves. They’re also populating the servers of even the most grind-heavy and punishing Korean-style RPGs, because they like the free-to-play aspect and the too-cute anime graphics. For every gamer that complains about the brighter colors in the new Diablo screenshots, there is a younger gamer who would like to have pink sugar sprayed directly in to his eyeballs.
It wasn’t easy to find translated manga when I was a kid, but now it’s in every book store and possibly your local library. And when I was young, I had to walk uphill both ways to play a video game, you darn kids.
…In all seriousness, my old cantankerousness about the evolution of the gaming hobby has been exaggerated. I know that saying anything about “a generation” is a generalization about a large group, and there are always outliers. And I’m actually excited that games have become more accessible to a wide variety of different audiences, and are available on so many different platforms.
However, coming with that is a sea change in the type of games being offered. Mass market games are easier, and they are more self-explanatory. “Retro” styling in a game, such as in the indie platformer VVVVVV, is a useful signaling that the game is going to be difficult, because it’s going to be like the games that you as a Gen Xer remember (even if it’s informed more by modern design sensibilities). Whereas if the game is new, shiny, and has been bolstered by mass-market hype and advertising, chances are good that just about anyone who picks it up is going to be able to complete it without much trouble. There are a lot of reasons for this, but in part, I can’t help but feel like the simplification of mass-market games is due to a generation which feels more entitled to instant mastery. Or, if it cannot be instant, at least let it be achieved simply: through hours of grinding rather than much thinking.
It wasn’t until I started spending a lot of time around younger people that I started to feel old. Though old games haven’t disappeared and we can still dust them off and play them, it’s easy to feel like “they don’t make them like they used to.” In some cases, where a game’s difficulty was because it was just unfair, or poor translation made it hard to understand, we can look back at this with nostalgia but then admit we don’t really miss it. A layer of polish improves any experience.
But I worry that younger game players are missing out on deeper experiences. When a game does come around that requires multiple playthroughs to understand, exploration of a world, or a lot of problems to puzzle through, instant gratification culture makes it easier to dismiss that experience in favor of a roller coaster ride. As a result, people are worried that Bartle’s “Explorer” playertype, a tentpole of a thesis about “why we play” which is also mentioned in my introductory textbook, is dying out. These players would rather listen to the story that’s told to them, rather than have a story to tell.
In that case, what stories will they be telling the next generation? Are contemplative and exploration-driven game experiences going to be relegated to the older players from here-on out? Or are my feelings about a generation losing its intellectual curiosity the same feelings every older generation has about the younger? Maybe the works of the future will have to speak for themselves. But what are your thoughts?
Being a nice person, Amanda will hang around for a while and participate in what I hope will be a very fizzy discussion!
Thoughtful, evocative article there Amanda. Thank you for writing it.
As an ancient, Gen X, jaded romantic I find that I play games to escape rather than to “commune”. That leads me to a lot of exploration-style play rather than chasing achievements. The younger folk I know tend to play so that they have something to do with or brag about with their friends. Discovery and learning are less “fun” to them than achieving nominal social status based on their peers’ approval. I think this speaks more to the state of American society rather than the state of individual gamers’ abilities to enjoy specific game mechanics.
Our society has become less focused on the journey than it is on the destination. Our games reflect that. It takes a certain kind of self confidence and curiosity to push through exploring a world simply for the sake of the experience. The modern generations of children raised to expect praise whether they earn it or not replace self confidence with entitled pride and swap out curiosity for immediate gratification.
Still, all hope is not lost. Games like Bioshock Infinite and Rage are designed by folks who appreciate and reward exploration. As long as such games exist they will always spawn new initiates. Just like old poetry fuels new poets, old games fuel new game designers. The best part of it all is what you pointed out: the new versions will improve on the jagged edges of the past that “blurry nostalgia glasses” usually smooth out for those who enjoyed the old versions. The best artists and designers have always been those who ignore generational anomalies and focus on their own vision for the future.
Surely in your classes you have seen the glint of the rare student who gets your perspective and focuses it, through a foreign, youthful lens, into something that your old Gen X sensibilities can get on board with. That’s the same magic that turned Twitter from a hipster killer app into that thing everyone’s grandma does. Mediocrity gets locked in time. Genius transcends time.
Interesting. Very interesting.
As, I suppose, a Gen Yer here, I was weaned on the SNES with only token experience of the NES to speak of, or even arcade games beyond the big classics. I played my share of games then, Zelda and Mario and Star Fox and a few other things, though it was a little early for me to get to things like Chrono Trigger (an error I have since remedied).
Final Fantasy VII was, then, a highly transformative experience for me, as a gamer, when I first played it. Never had I experienced a game with such an epic and engaging narrative, to my mind at the time, even though I’d worked through my share of LucasArts point-and-clicks. Maybe it was the fact that there was distinct darkness there, unlike the light-hearted romps of Guybrush Threepwood, which made me appreciate it so much more. And, yes, I’ll admit that my interest in anime (and, soon after, manga) was beginning to bloom as well. The art style never – and still does not – strike me as conflicting with the themes. An art style is what it is, certainly in those times when machines were still pretty limited.
That definitely set me off on a JRPG kick for a number of years, though with the relative stagnation of the genre I’ve largely left them behind, excepting only those I hear are exceptional. It was about finding stories, for me, the sort of thing that the average action game did not offer then at all, basically, and though puzzlers were still a favorite of mine, their lack of epic-ness perhaps did not appeal as well to my teenage sensibilities.
I honestly don’t care much, now, for the Elder Scrolls games, because they feel too unfocused; even with all the effort to create a living world, they feel, somehow, like an attempt and lifelikeness, not success at same. Ultimately, my RPG money most often goes to games like those produced by BioWare and Obsidian, a medium between the two sensibilities at this point: plenty of narrative thrust, but room to explore as well.
But the bigger topic. I’ll admit I don’t like having to grope around in the dark a lot to figure out games. If I have to try a lot, that’s fine, but I will get frustrated, eventually. But as a person of above average intellectual curiosity, even when it does not influence my gaming habits, I understand your concerns. I’d love to see classic adventure gaming return to form. I personally really like the sim genre, as well, which has largely died in favor of more “arcade” styles.
But I’m not sure that this reflects the preference of the players so much as the aspirations of the producers. Once upon a time, the technology simply did not exist to make a game anyone would dare to call “cinematic”; now, though, it’s quite possible, and as graphical fidelity and such has increased, so, too, has the similarity between current games and movies, because the latter brings in money. Sell what you know, I guess.
With the added graphical fidelity, too, comes greatly increased development time in some cases; some of the design decisions behind modern games are based upon this time limitation, I’m certain: “We just don’t have time to model that area and this one.” Which is a question of methodology, perhaps, but right now there’s a premium on flashy. Gamers are lax to pay full price for a game that’s chosen a lower fidelity art style, often, even if the trade-off is greatly expanded content.
But fundamentally, I think your misgivings are grounded in a misunderstanding of the way Gen Y players approach this entire medium. Indeed, I find it exceedingly rare amongst my peers to find people who want to listen to a story told to them, even briefly. They are immensely invested in creating their own stories, but their source material is, I suppose, where you aren’t looking. There are the obvious places: games like Dragon Age that give the player explicit choices to make, in character; but even more there is the realm of accomplishment, of doing crazy stuff to see what happens, of, yes, getting better at the game so you can frag your friends before they frag you. And these generate stories of their own: blowing up that Warthog and the entire enemy team from halfway down Blood Gulch, or that time that your raid just fell apart completely because that one guy charged in early. Increasingly, completing a game and mastering it are not even in the same ballpark.
Perhaps the biggest difference is, with more and more branching narrative and complex physics systems and processing power, asking “What happens if I do this?” more often yields some kind of (possibly pointless) result than it once did.
This article looks pretty with pictures! Thanks for posting it up!
To reply to a question:
Yup, absolutely. I don’t mean to say “kids aren’t bright anymore” because they certainly are. It’s pretty entertaining to see sometimes younger people’s reactions to older games, and some even get in to them or want to learn more about ancient art forms like the “text adventure.”
I hope Bioshock Infinite is as exploration-heavy as it looks in previews! There are a lot of other reasons why games are more linear besides design sensibilities, like technological limitations, art asset limitations, etc…
I should probably mention, just to avoid being disingenuous, that I really actually like JRPGs… or at least, the older ones. They were part of my formative gaming experience, particularly Final Fantasy 3/6 and Chrono Trigger, which are among my all time favorite RPGs or even games. It’s just interesting to see the contrast with people who started gaming with Seven and their expectations. And it’s interesting to see the genre decline because of either running out of ideas or learning the wrong design lessons… probably another article in that somewhere.
Oops, looks like my method of clipping quotes didn’t work as I’d hoped. Still figuring that out. Hopefully it was semi-obvious which parts of the comments I replied to!
I certainly don’t intend to suggest that the sole cause of linearity is the complexity of the art assets; I bring it up only because I’ve heard that mentioned from several industry sources as a thing that, at least for AAA titles, tends to force games toward linearity out of practicality these days.
I do think that the (misguided) perception, at least at a business and marketing level, that somehow video games should aspire to be as much like movies as possible is a more significant cause here. I know that’s a point of some debate amongst everyone, really, whether “cinematic” is really the goal we want, but I definitely feel like it’s the goal that a lot of publishers want to market.
I think a lot of the linear nature of modern games comes from the forms of play they are based on. For example, RPGs are based either directly (as with Dungeons and Dragons) or indirectly (as with Final Fantasy) on military war simulation games that are very linear by nature. The fact that pen and paper RPGs still are basically playable stories with rule books defining sandboxes emphasizes the linear nature of such games. The greatest distance between Japanese and American RPGs is not so much the grind, but the way repetition is presented. The differences hit different, equal, pleasure points.
Early computer games used procedural processing, if they were clever, to create apparently expansive experiences in mere kilobytes. Before them, most games didn’t follow scenarios (linear stories) because they were based on strategic systems. Games like Go, Chess, Mancala (Wari) and Poker had no use for story. The joy of those games is the journey of sharing a play experience with others. Computer games broke the journey paradigm by allowing solo play that could be watched or cooperated with. Such play is empowered by story because the story replaces those pesky, unpredictable people who the 1980s arcade junky was often missing. Plus, stories gave purpose to repetitive actions like climbing a tower with a hammer or shooting all the 8 bit invaders.
The objectives of linear play provide solo players with a sense of achievement that is not possible without the story. A solo chess player can’t feel like she overcame the great challenge of herself. A solo WoW or FF player can feel she earned the bling she’s rewarded for defeating Boss 34A +6. Both activities are equally valid. You just can’t charge 59.99 USD for a chess game. If you add a story to it, call it Archon or Civilization V, then you can charge whatever the market will bear, plus a little extra for DLC.
In the end, personal preferences will determine market success. Afterall, pachinko and pinball are both about bumping a ball into a hole, WoW and FF are both about collecting loot and upgrading characters. The differences between the two are the interfaces their originating societies are comfortable with. WoW and pinball use more “story” than pachinko and FF; but, the general mechanics are identical.
I think you’d agree that the generational gap between players of different games evaporates in the context of players of any single game. Fun really doesn’t have an age limit does it?
There are multiple things going on here, an collision of different, complex issues. So this will be a rambly, multi-directional and cross-dimensional response.
I’ve chained myself, for the last three months, to a writing project that explores the significance of 80s gaming. An unintended side-effect has been the almost total absence of modern gaming; the research has left me no time to fondle anything more current. The veil is lifting now and, in three weeks, the project comes to an end.
I’m all for celebrating history but I don’t want to go back. There is plenty of bad linearity lurking in the 80s as well as brick wall difficulty back there. These were our concrete foundations in which many skeletons are buried and gaming present-day has been built atop them; what worked has been kept, what did not has been thrown away. What works as niche survives as niche: Dwarf Fortress, Interactive Fiction.
No exploration? Too much linearity? The big business of games is like the big business of Hollywood. If you want something with more bite, you have to walk away from the multi-million, the AAA, and look a little farther afield. It’s the most obvious example in the obvious textbook of obvious examples, but Minecraft. Non-linearity? Tick. (Check for Americans.) Exploring? Tick. (Check for Americans.)
That’s not to say the AAA is devoid of beauty and artistry – there’s plenty of great examples over the years. The original Call of Duty I recall fondly doing something different to the shooters of the time, injecting something of the panic and madness of war into what is just an ordinary FPS.
I worry more about the politicisation of players, becoming members of facist genre states where their only purpose is to decry other states as taking all the attention, the money, the brains. Steve Meretzky wants to be Farmville! You can finish this game without touching the controls once! Angry Birds is worse than FOX television for the gamer mind! Singleplayer is anachronistic! Multiplayer is hollow! It’s no better than XBox vs Playstation vs PC.
Minecraft. EVE. VVVVVV. SpaceChem. Neptune’s Pride. The Cat and The Coup. Space Giraffe. Passage. Portal. Left 4 Dead. Kairo. The Curfew. Guild Wars. Leave Home. Deus Ex Human Revolution. Amnesia. Dear Esther. Bulletstorm. AI War. Scoregasm. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Bioshock Infinite.
Now I share that sense of dislocation, Amanda, that feeling that what made you a gamer, what defined your gaming interests, is undervalued and does not belong in the 21st century. But I think it’s just a feeling that we acquire as the years propel us into the future. There is gaming for everyone here and no one should come away from this banquet unsatisfied, which is precisely the topic I’m going to wade into in two weeks time.
However… if young gamers *are* missing out on the deeper experiences then it’s part of a much wider problem that is little to do with the mechanics of gaming. The widespread integration of auto-distraction technology into every part of life. Our right to empty, sedate time has been signed away on silicon. We lose our concentration one tweet, one mail and one ad at a time. No wonder there are so many players attracted to Press X to Complete Game. It’s a symptom and not a cause. Tap repeatedly for the win.
The way people across generations consume games is very interesting, and – like Amanda, like Harbour Master, like many others I suspect – I often feel disoriented by what’s happening with games. What’s popular right now, what’s falling out of favor; it doesn’t jibe exactly with what I want, or at least what I think I want.
Like HM I disapprove of simplicity being built into the system, because I think simplicity begets simplicity. Complex systems can be elegant. And the more complex the systems are, the more we challenge ourselves to enjoy them, thereby improving us in countless ways. If you simply tap repeatedly for the win, you’re denying yourself some of the gift of gaming.
Ironically, many are not as wise as our Harbour Master, and do not get that our site’s name is meant to be ironic. You’d be surprised how many emails I get from people befuddled that a site called “Tap-Repeatedly” spends so little time talking about tappy games.
Anyway, I’ve been thinking about that transformative game moment that we all had as younglings… Amanda points out that for one generation it’s Zelda, for the next it’s FFVII. It’s always interesting to figure out your own. For me, I’m leaning toward Phantasy Star; I’d already been gaming for like 12 years by then, but it was the one that stood out more than almost everything else.
Excellent piece Amanda, crammed with interesting stuff!
I’m not sure where I fit into all this Generation X/Y business. Me and my brother (Lewis B) were born around ’84 and our first system was the Spectrum 128K followed by the Amiga 500, we then went on to console gaming and eventually PC gaming around the time Doom was doing the rounds (we were given it by one of my dad’s friend’s relatives on a strange floppy disk as well). Between me, my brother and mum, we were adventure game enthusiasts so while we were accustomed to arcade action on our consoles (and in some cases our PC) we were always capable of knocking things down a peg and using our heads.
Our first real RPG experience was FFVII (“you take it in turns to hit each other?! WTF?!”) even though I’d brushed shoulders with games like Eye of the Beholder and Dungeons of Avalon years earlier on the Amiga. FFVII was a massive deal to us and (somehow) we managed to get a whole bunch of our friends into it until it became this sort of strange tongue we all spoke in at school (“Yeah I’ve just caught Yuffie near Cosmo Canyon” and “Even Omni Slash and Mimic didn’t take down Ruby Weapon”).
One of the most impressive games I’ve played in recent years is UFO: Enemy Unknown (or X-COM: UFO Defense). I’d never played it before, despite hearing plenty about it over the years (and bizarrely I stumbled across it while sifting through my Amiga ROMs stockpile), but I was amazed at how if still felt fresh and vital (despite the clunky as hell interface). Nostalgia wasn’t rose tinting my vision; here was a game that was way ahead of its time, and in many ways still is. It’s games like X-COM that give weight to people saying “they don’t make them like they used to.” Cannon Fodder is another.
X-COM is very, very much a torchbearer for “they don’t make them like that any more.” Indeed, they’re “rebooting” X-COM right now, and unless I am sorely mistaken, they’re going to fuck it up massively… because they’re not going to make it like they used to!
I never could bully X-COM into running properly on my machine. I really, really wanted it to.
Tastes have certainly changed, though I think the change is in the right direction in moderation. The thing I see is – and maybe I’m more inclined to accept it than some – a greater concern for accessibility in design.
Yes, sometimes that becomes games being too simple or too easy (or both). Which is too bad. But I think that’s poor design, not the intended result.
The best games – and often the ones that garner lasting popularity – make themselves accessible without sacrificing too much depth. That’s good design.
I sort of wonder (and this is more question than accusation) how much of this is the best games of old being compared to a much less selective group of current games.
In any case, I’m still more inclined to expect this is a phase, just as any other medium fluctuates regarding what sort of genres are popular. I mean, used to be every other show on TV was a Western.
Great points Harbour and Matt. 😉
I think Brandon’s hit the nail on the head with the “best old” being compared to the “common contemporary” games idea. Harbour made this point as well. In games, as in all arts, the mass of the work produced is ersatz drivel.
FF 7 may have been life changing for folks; but, let’s not forget it was produced by the same geniuses who brought us FF 14. Those of us who bought Spore know that defining a segment of a genre doesn’t mean everything you touch is gold.
But what’s the ‘best contemporary’?
One of the problems I see is that in years to come when we’re all even crankier and the younger generations are as opinionated as we are, will they be looking back on shit like GTA IV saying “they don’t make them like they used to.”? I bloody well hope not because I’ll be bitterness personified.
I think a lot of what passes today as a ‘classic’ (9/10, 90%, 5 stars, 23042.3 LPM) is usually anything but because of the skewed scoring systems, the emphasis on the scores, the dodgy interpretation of those scores for aggregation as well as the questionable origins of them. I think xtal brought it up somewhere on another post but film scores (and by extension the aggregated scores) are generally far more reliable and representative of a film’s quality than anything gaming could ever currently hope for. I’d like to think that the scores don’t matter but they’re Big Fucking Business these days.
I think the phrase should be “they don’t rate them like they used to.”
Gregg, I’m not even sure that’s true either. A golden age of video game reviews doesn’t exist.
As I’ve been going back through 80s computer culture, a lot of reviewers – which were just other computer enthusiasts – pulled their punches. It was like “A for Effort” all the time, just glad that someone had made something. Well done, that man.
There were grumpy reviewers but they didn’t seem to be the norm.
Looking forward through the 90s, I see things being more critical but review scores commenced their self-destructive ascent towards upper-70-itis. During this period, publishers – not becoming serious money engines – started to exert pressure on magazines regarding coverage and access; so “75” was a decent number and, when our vidgam eyes noticed this was the norm, we readjusted to see that 75 was actually shite.
YMMV – interested to know if anyone disagrees with this analysis. It’s more anecdotal than scientific!
sorry that should be “now becoming serious money engines”
I agree with Harbour Master that critical reception does not a classic make. After all, if we look at other media, many classic films, books, or whatever else were poorly received in their own time. And as we’ve certainly seen over the years, some games age much more gracefully than others.
@HM: Yeah I know that’s not true, I just couldn’t resist the word play.
I think critical reception is a much greater arbiter than popularity though, from enthusiasts to enthusiasts. Sure there are those works that slipped through the net but from my own experience, most films, books, music, and sometimes games, get their moment on release.
Agreed, critical reception is a greater arbiter of quality. “Critics” are presumably trained, or educated, or knowledgeable about what makes great work in their field; games are no different. When assessing quality, I care much less what people buy than what people I respect say.
Games are a tricky thing when it comes to classics, and the generation gap is part of this. Some of the older games that we consider required reading – take Cannon Fodder, for instance; Adventure for the Atari 2600; Legend of Zelda; even X-COM – they do not always age well. Players have to get used to not having splashy graphics and friendly tutorials. A generation that missed a classic is unlikely to return to one because they see it as a step backward.
Great example of this: Planescape Torment. One of, if not the, best CRPGs in the plenum. Absolutely brilliant, and for its time, a pretty solid technical outing: it used a modified version of the Infinity Engine introduced in Baldur’s Gate. Today, though, even with the fan-made patches that up resolution, it certainly doesn’t look or feel as modern. It takes a certain sort of player to be willing to overlook that and experience the game. This is very different from watching a black and white movie, or even a silent movie. Technically they have changed, but the way we consume them has remained largely static.
Compare Torment to a slick modern RPG and there’s an immense difference.
Then there’s games like X-COM which in many cases simply don’t run on today’s machines, or run so fast they’re uncontrollable. Plus, X-COM has no tutorial. Trying to learn that game’s nuances without a manual? Good lord.
Amanda is moving this week, by the way, so she’s probably a little incommunicado. But on her return I think she’ll be excited by the great discussion being had!
I wrote an editorial years ago about how gaming technology was the biggest barrier to games becoming a lasting form for just the reason of them being difficult to revisit even a few years down the line. So agreed on that point.
Still, in my own experience, I think that critical reception is what it is. Nor did I mean to imply, in my earlier comment, that sales somehow determine what is “classic”, or what will be classic. Neither does. I pay attention to what critics say, especially those whose views I respect, but they aren’t necessarily going to convince me of a game’s value in spite of my own opinions.
To return to the earlier case of GTAIV, for instance, I seem to recall great critical reception, and obviously great sales because of the title alone, but almost everyone I know personally who has played it just wasn’t that thrilled. I think GTAIV will be “remembered” as long as the GTA franchise is because of being part of it, but I doubt that a lot of people are going to point at GTAIV down the line and say, “Gee, that was a great game.”
The issue with deciphering the best-in-class of any market is that generally one has to get enough distance on the market to see the entire field and that takes time. Claiming that the movie you just walked out of is the best movie of the year, in the middle of June, is obviously ridiculous. Still, the equivalent is what we often do when we compare a game that has been released in the past 18 months to one that was released 5 or 10 years ago.
What we can latch on to in the games industry is that specific games do tend to be the firsts to successfully implement specific features. An obvious example is Gears of War: before it cover mechanics were not common, after it they were. Of course some of this is a matter of timing and timeliness.
I think that games that manage to define the standard for specific, popular play mechanics are true bests that will be remembered over the years because their contributions are learning test cases for aspiring developers. Those games that don’t contribute standard defining play mechanics may be critical or financial giants of their time; but, they will be forgotten. Sequels often fall into that latter category.
Between generations, which in games is generally 1 console cycle rather than 15-25 years, a lot of flotsam gets lost, with a few stellar gems. What persists are those things that inspire the most people and change their perspectives. Farmville is Adventure. God of War is Elite. Angry Birds is Donkey Kong. In between those dizzy heights we get Duke Nukem Forever and Prey 2 by the truck load while aft-sighted gamers await the Rocky Horror Picture Show MMORPG. Such is life. 😉
“Amanda is moving this week, by the way, so she’s probably a little incommunicado. But on her return I think she’ll be excited by the great discussion being had!”
Yup, and I think I finally finally finished packing. This IS a really awesome discussion. 😀
I think it’s true that we tend to compare “the best there was” to “all there is,” which is why I’m careful to say that a LOT of old games are not really as good as we remember. They were just what we had.
Harbour Master says: “If you want something with more bite, you have to walk away from the multi-million, the AAA, and look a little farther afield.”
Great comments! I’d love to read more about your project. I know I could always use some perspective.
And I agree, it’s definitely all out there, even on consoles, for any type of player that there is. And in a lot of cases the “retro style” games (like VVVVVV as I mentioned) really are better than a “real” retro game. I just wonder who the main audience is for what sorts of titles… who is playing what.
There’s a few games in your list I probably should check out… when I’m not on the road.
Amanda – electrondance.com is what you seek if you seek Harbour Master’s wisdom. And his wisdom is significant.
Amanda, not all of those games I would play myself (I am *so* not a MMO gamer) , but they represent different voices of our Benetton-utopian gaming republic. There are many others! I decided to stop because I was fast becoming a bore.
Oh and Steerpike, marry me already.
@Steerpike: That’s interesting because Cannon Fodder is one of the few old games that I think holds up in all areas (this is on the back of playing it within the last couple of weeks). The pixel art is fantastic, the sound design and music are superb (Amiga version!), the actual gameplay is as slick as I remember it thanks to the simple mouse controls and there’s no clunky interface in sight. There’s also a subtext nestled in there.
I’d also say that Torment has aged really well thanks to the detailed 2D pre-rendered backgrounds and characters. If Torment had been in 3D it would have been a very different story I’m sure. First generation 3D games have (generally) aged terribly, more so than first generation 2D games. Which probably explains why 2D retro titles exist like VVVVVV, Rockboshers and Norrland, but not 3D retro games.
Just look at FFVII; lush pre-rendered backgrounds, crappy 3D models (aside from the 3D combat, which incidentally hasn’t aged too badly because of the gourand shading used instead of low resolution pixelated textures a la FFVIII).
When I think of X-COM it’s the controls that really drag it down these days. They get in the way and frequently cause you to do things you didn’t want to do. They’re functional, sure, but our refined sensibilities get snagged on those rough edges. These aren’t really things I can level at games like Torment and Cannon Fodder. They’re by no stretch of the imagination modern but I wouldn’t say they feature anything more egregious than a few slightly dated elements.
But what you’ve said there Steerpike makes me wonder if it’s not so much a single generational gap, but a few (and this is something Armand and I have spoken about in the past). There was a point where 2D graphics became so refined that they gained a timeless appeal, then everything went 3D and it was like going back to square one; everything was rough and wobbly and didn’t quite match the fidelity of its older 2D sibling (I only need to think of my girlfriend’s reaction to Rayman being turned 3D). Most games that fall into those early 2D and 3D stages haven’t aged so well (unless they were extremely stylish like say, Parappa The Rappa) so I expect people who weren’t around at the time to have real trouble appreciating them if they can’t get past the graphics. If they can then they’ve probably got the aged mechanics to contend with as well!
Good points regarding graphics, Gregg, and I think that applies to a lot of parts of what goes into a game, too. It’s easy to forget how relatively young and still experimental video games are as a medium, and that many of the games that release, certainly during technological transitions like 2D to 3D, are trying to stretch into new areas. Sometimes (especially when such experimentation doesn’t strike gold) that prevents these titles from aging well for one reason or the other.
Gen X is made up of “solitary, authority-hating loners,”
Good lord Amanda, it’s almost as if you’re in my head. Get out of my head! 🙂
I’m on the far side of the Gen X whippersnappers, what journalists refer to as Boomers. (God how I loathe these insipid generational labels…. it encourages all kinds of lazy thinking and basically brings out the worst in everyone. Also everyone blames us for everything now. You bastards.)
So if there really aren’t neat little plateaus with huge canyons separating them what is there? I always think of it as a generational arc, a continuum, a kind of gravity’s rainbow from point A to B to C to D and on and on. At different points on this curve different priorities arise by necessity. Low down on the arc pure brute power is needed. Later, things can get more airy and delicate, more elegant. Put the history of games on this arc and you can see a pattern. From the solitary to the social and now what? Text to 2D to 3D to…??? Like SP, I have no idea what is going on anymore. For a long time I thought it was going to be a leap in story but now I’m not so sure. Joseph Campbell seems to have won out over modernism in narrative media. Or maybe it never was a contest.
This is a bit rambly as I’m late to the discussion, and so much has been said (including some of my points here), but here goes:
I’m not so sure that gaming culture has shifted with the younger generation of gamers as it has just grown drastically to include a much larger and more diverse demographic of gamer.
We still have games that promote exploration. Almost every gamer I know from their late teens to their 30’s and 40’s are more excited about exploring the world of Skyrim than any other game slated for this year. At the same time, Skyrim just isn’t for everyone, and some people prefer more competitive or skill based gameplay. I don’t believe this difference is generational as just a difference of gaming cultures amongst all ages.
I would also point to the early success of Minecraft, especially amongst young people, when the game was almost entirely exploration and building.
And though it’s been said already, and despite being an old school RPG fan, I loved FF7, not for the anime aspects, but because it had a rich, massive, and engaging story, and an equally grand explorable world where all I wanted was to see what lay over the next horizon. I think many of us felt that way about the game.
One thing I find interesting is the games that most come to mind as changing large parts of the gaming landscape, the simple “casual” games like Angry Birds or Farmville are surprisingly popular with an older generation of gamers. People who never played a video game despite being alive for their entire evolution are picking up these games that are in many regards the antithesis of “old school” gaming.
X-COM will always be a gem. It’s an amazing thing and its brilliance is still unsurpassed.
[…] reddish, pointille eye, I literally vocalized my laughter.” Old men.Tap-repeatedly have a guest editorial from Amanda Lange on “the generation gap”. It explodes across a bunch of different issues, but is […]
Ha. If I’d known the one negative point of my entire comment would be pulled for The Sunday Papers I might’ve inserted the “Perhaps” that had been nestling in my head when I typed it.
I was born in 1981.
1983: Ms. Pac-Man, Pitfall, Vanguard, Frogger etc
1986: SMB, Donkey Kong Jr, Kung-Fu, etc etc
1989: Tetris, Dragon Warrior, Legend of Zelda, Phantasy Star, Phantasy Star II, SuperDodgeBall, etc etc
1991: Super Mario World, Link to the Past, Police Quest, SimCity (PC) etc etc
1992: Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy, any gameboy game I could get my hands on.
1993: DOOM, Wolf3d, Final Fantasy IV. etc etc
1995: SimCity 2000, XCOM, etc etc.
1997: Diablo, Dungeon Keeper, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy Tactics, Intelligent Qube, XCOM
1998:Pokemon, Xenogears, XCOM, Brigandine, Tokimeki Memorial, Metal Gear Solid, Guilty Gear, Ocarina Of Time etc etc
1999: Fallout 1 and 2, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, Thousand Arms, DragonForce any and all JRPGS.
I hope you get the point by now. I’ve lots of different games over the years and it has been across all genres. By comparison my 12 year old nephew has spent the last eight years playing FPS and anything 3D. He can not wrap his head around XCOM.
There is a generation gap between us older gamers and the new set. Good article, I don’t have a point, but I just wanted to say that this resonated with me and is something I think when ever me, him, and his dad talk about games together. It worries me to see him blow at SMB but do just fine in an FPS.
Gregg said: “There was a point where 2D graphics became so refined that they gained a timeless appeal, then everything went 3D and it was like going back to square one.”
Yes, this. I wondered for years and years (the early-to-mid 2000s, to be precise) when people would start making gorgeous looking side-scrolling platformers, because with all the graphical advances and energy put into 3D worlds, surely a return to 2D or 2.5D would give us pretty looking games that age well, unlike, as you say, Gregg, those early adopters of 3D worlds.
And finally that trend took off. For me this began with games like Super Paper Mario and Braid, and 2D is only picking up more steam, if anything. LittleBigPlanet, New Super Mario Bros., Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Limbo, ‘Splosion Man, Lost in Shadow, Outland. There are plenty of great– and great looking– titles in just the past three or four years. Even beat-em-ups are back in style and looking good, with pretty successful fare like Castle Crashers. Another example is a lovely looking top-down hack ‘n’ slash I’ve been playing recently, Bastion.
Keep the refinement coming, please!
I’m so picking up Bastion tomorrow. It even got an ultra-rare positive review from Yahtzee!
Adventure games, before they expired from lack of red blood, went through the whole 2D to 3D trauma. God, the bitching and moaning when Monkey Island 3 came out. The hair pulling over Simon the Sorcerer 3D. There was a line drawn in the sand. You either saw the potential of 3D movement through space or you swore undying loyalty to the admittedly ravishing 2D world. I loved them both and never wanted 2D to go away.
haircute: I wonder. There were gamers I knew at school that were never going to get into the strategy sims or the X-Com’s (my life was initialised in the early 70s) and shoot and jump was about all they were interested in. I did get a few multiplayer games of M.U.L.E. but it was difficult to get friends to sign up to that.
Is your nephew really the equivalent of you twenty years ago? And if so, do you think he will go back in time to eliminate you and take your place?
Because that would lead to all sorts of time-travel paradoxes.
Honestly, I think these differences have more to do with games as a business expanding its audience to include different personality types than it does with some sinister ‘instant gratification culture’ making people unwilling to read the manual.
[…] Amanda Lange's guest article gave birth to a bunch of interesting comments over at Tap Repeatedly. In fact, yours truly wrote a whopper, only for RPS to go mine the comment thread and post my single negative point – after a comment full of wholemeal goodness – on The Sunday Papers. Amanda, on her own site, has also taken a violent stab at the whole "vote for the best female Shepherd", which she calls out as a vote for – and I am almost quoting here – fuckability. […]
Good article. For me, it’s always been about the intrigue of the narrative.
Back in the C64 days, it was the cool blurbs on the back of the box that explained the little world you were going to that sold me on most games. If you take one of my C64 favourites, Paradroid, and look at it, there’s not much going on graphics/sound-wise…. just white number-burgers moving around the screen, with some laser blasts. But those numbers represented individual robots, all seemingly with personality and character. It was the narrative of the game that brought it to life. Early Gold Box (TSR) RPGs were like that too. The graphics weren’t great, but there was an awesome story that you were involved in. These games are still playable now, because you want to bring your imagination to the party (boom-tish).
Nowadays, people have come to expect realistic graphics. Also, people seem to have less time to play games (at least in individual sittings). I don’t know how much of Gen Y’s tastes are dictated by what they desire, as opposed to the circumstances they find themselves in. Those of us Gen X’s and older marvel at the achievements in technology. For Gen Y, these same marvels are the norm.
Regardless of these differences, I still think the narrative is the key. A good, intriguing story will hook everyone, but bigger, in-depth games cost a lot more money… which is increasingly problematic for developers, especially when some areas or zones may never be seen by players. Developers want to show off the assets they’ve created, an attitude which lends itself to the more flashy, linear games.