I gave in and bought a license for Delicious Library. Having cataloged all my movies, music, and books, I proceeded with all my games.
I mean – ALL – of my games.
When I was a kid my grandfather owned a general store. His store was one of the only stores in the area that rented out Nintendo games. When a game came in I got to play it. Our house always had new games flowing through, and if you ask my father he’ll tell you that that’s how he got me to learn how to read.
When my grandfather sold his store my family got to keep all the excess games. The library of NES games just about tripled that day.
I keep all the old games in cardboard boxes. I’ve tried to pair them up as best as I can with their original boxes and manuals, which may seem kind of weird considering that most people just toss them in a plastic box and never really take care of them. They hook up their old Nintendo consoles and end up blowing in cartridges for 30 minutes to play a game for 10. I just turn it on and it works. I take pretty good care of them. I’m awesome like that.
While typing in all the barcodes it occurred to me that I’ve got some really great games that I never play anymore. I fixed that today. I pulled out some old games and just started playing them: Pilotwings, Super Metroid, Flashback (I love that one), just to name a few. It got me wondering why I enjoyed those games so much more than I do the current generation of games.
Take the Grand Theft Auto franchise. It’s easily the most popular and controversial title ever, but to me it’s nothing unique. It has typical race against the clock missions, insanely hard assassin missions, pick up this item and bring it here only to get ambushed missions, etc. There’s really NOTHING new about it besides its shock value. Had it not been for the extreme violence and other adult themes the game probably wouldn’t have gone anywhere. Does the fact that it gets by on so few new ideas make it brilliant or is it really just another game that tries to coattail on its own controversy?
I really liked GTA for the first few hours I played it, but there’s one thing that it and other games of the current generation attempt to do that end up hurting it more than helping it. It’s the facade of “open-ended gameplay.” The idea of “hey, it’s your game, do whatever YOU want to do!” sounds nice, but really doesn’t serve us well (or, at least me well). Back in the late 90s everyone thought this was going to be the big new thing.
They were wrong. Shenmue taught us that, Fable taught us that, and GTA taught us that. The only games that have gotten this right are the ones with the letters S, I and M in the titles, and I don’t mean to refer to the ones that teach you how to fly a plane. The Sim franchise also does us the service of not having a plot, so it never pretends to be a game of the traditional sense anyway.
Lately, developers seem to be focusing on how to create games instead of what to create. Too much energy goes into making games open-ended, Dolby 5.1 surround sound, 720P HDTV graphics “masterpieces” and not enough energy goes into actually making them fun and enjoyable to play. Call me nostalgic, but I’d rather play Tetris for half an hour than do the same missions over and over again in GTA3.
Game design right now is kind of like going into a restaurant that you hear has great food, but you sit down only to be handed a menu that’s 200 pages long. You spend too much time looking through the menu trying to decide what you want to eat instead of actually satisfying your hunger. It’s overwhelming. Think of the age-old analogy of the dog that has to pick between two bones that are exactly the same and both are equally distant from it. It never makes a choice. The dog dies.
What I suppose I look for in a game hasn’t changed from when I would save money during summers to buy them. I want something new, something fun, and something that I’m actually going to feel like I’m making a dent in. That means having some linear gameplay. Saying that seems blasphemous. While GTA does have linear gameplay (if you follow the plots) it takes so long to finish and it does so little to actually let the player know that they’re making progress.
If I had to really think about it, I’d have to say that the last really great game I played was Chrono Trigger. It has a heavily engrossing plot, a great soundtrack, and it never brings you into a situation in which you’re forced to level up for 3 hours before you’re strong enough to continue the storyline like some games do. It doesn’t take 3 years to finish, and if the relatively shorter length bothers you (average time to finish maybe 25 hours compared to 40-60 on FFVI) there are multiple endings, and they’re more for fun instead of for trying to understand the plot more. And while I usually hate multiple endings (they are cheap attempts to create replay value), Chrono Trigger does it right by giving you the option of playing a new game with all your characters leveled up from the one you just finished.
Chrono Trigger will be 10 years old in August. Have I really played nothing as fascinating since 1995?
When I migrated from console to PC gaming the most notable thing besides the genre changes was the addition of online multiplayer. I played a ton of Quake/Quakeworld and Quake II, and playing Starcraft for me was like a daily routine. But keeping up with PC upgrades was too costly, so with the promise of services like Xbox Live I moved back to a console (not realizing that developers would see online multiplay as a way to enhance a title with a lacking single player mode). Wouldn’t it be fun to be able to talk and plan attack strategies with people across the globe?
Giving gamers a microphone was probably the worst thing done for multiplayer experiences. Xbox Live has taught me that people are immature, that there are too many children in the world (your kid, AKA “BlueGunner 49”, likes to sing stupid songs when playing online), everyone thinks that they have something to prove (he also calls people his bitch when he does something cheap. Where were you, parent?), and that it’s nearly impossible to find good people to play with. It’s like rummaging through trash. Sure, you can mute people, but it’s not as easy as ignoring text on your screen that appears for 5 seconds. It seems that the only way to have a good time on Live is if you’re playing with people you know in real life, but if that’s the case why not just buy more controllers and invite them over (of course, unless they actually live 500 miles away? Between me and my friends, I’m the only one who got an Xbox.
I don’t think I’ll be renewing Live.
Maybe I’ve just been playing the wrong games. I think I’m going to try out Gamefly to remedy this, but I also wonder if Shigeru Miyamota was right. Online multiplayer is a sham and makes it easier for developers to get away with diluting their games’ single player modes. I probably should’ve bought a Gamecube.
Then again, this is the same company that managed to get ONLY ME to buy a Virtual Boy at launch. Thanks, Nintendo Power.
With all my old games out of the boxes and next to the TV, maybe I’ll play through some of them again. More people should. Maybe instead of getting a new console next year I’ll just search out all the good games I missed. I think the good years of gaming have passed, at least for now. I don’t see anything coming up that gets me excited about next year, besides Nintendo’s new console apparently having the ability to download and play old games. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, for them.