They Just Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To

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.

7 thoughts on “They Just Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To”

  1. To try and defend some of the recent games, God of War was an absolutely fantastic game. Great play, great soundtrack, just great.

  2. Enjoyed the article but I’d have to totally disagree with you about Grand Theft Auto. I don’t play it for the violence I play it because it is open ended and against your judgement I think it offers a great sense of accomplishing game goals.<br/><br/>If it’s not open ended then I don’t know what would be. With the Sim games they’re a sandbox but there is such a lack of direction that it’s easy to grow tired with them after a short period of time. For me there’s a huge value I place on a balance between linear and non-linear and I think GTA does a great job of managing that. <br/><br/>It’s hard not to be tainted with nostalgia and longing for the good old days. I still have a blast playing my old games but if I were to show up today with no prior knowledge of gaming I think it’s far fetched that I or the majority of people for that matter would choose SNES games.<br/><br/>It may just be that you’re looking in the wrong genres like you suggested. Maybe a dose of Japanese RPGs and simple puzzle games is what you need. Or if you’re still longing for the SNES days why not jump on a GBA or gamecube with GBA player. Essentially most GBA games are like primed SNES games.

  3. I dunno Jim. That’s just my own opinion about GTA. If it works for you and others, great. To me, it feels kind of stale. GTA is almost like Madden now. A new version comes out and it’s basically the same game, just that some graphical updates have been made and there are a few new features.<br/>You have a point about the choice one would make today. Although, ask yourself what the last truly great game you played was. If it’s from this generation, let us know because maybe we missed out.<br/>I got a Gamefly account this week, after canceling my Netflix. Right now I’ve got Doom 3 and Jedi Academy headed towards me. Other notable titles on there right now include Conker, Fable, Jade Empire, Psychonauts, and alot of stuff with “Tom Clancy” in front of it. I also put some Gamecube games on there as I’m considering buying a used one on Ebay. I have much more excitement over playing the new Metroids and Zeldas than I do San Andreas.

  4. I see you chose Doom 3 and Jedi Academy at the top of your list and I’d argue your GTA theory against them.<br/><br/>”A new version comes out and it’s basically the same game, just that some graphical updates have been made and there are a few new features.”<br/><br/>But the point I was trying to make was that it’s all about personal preference. Just because you don’t like a certain style doesn’t necessarily make it an unplayable rehash. I don’t think there’s any gaming utopia or dystopia on the horizon. It sways slightly from the center in both directions depending on your own taste.<br/><br/>Metroid is a great game for the cube. I couldn’t get into Wind Waker when I first tried it but I may have another go at it when I get the Nintendo Revolution. I think it was smart that they’re going with backwards compatibility and offering up games from their old library. Nintendo always seemed to be hurt by the few games they release at launch, and always gets a bad rap for not having enough games. In reality I don’t see why any casual gamer would need more than they offer.<br/><br/>I’ve enjoyed this post, I was thinking it may be worth making a combined gaming/tech blog between the both of us. Sort of like http://thegamechair.com, for reviews and maybe penny arcade type commentary/banter. What do you think?

  5. The Madden Argument (I think that has a nice ring to it) applies to MANY games. It could be a good way to sell a $50 game over and over again (I hate EA for getting exclusive NFL rights…bastards), but I suppose you could also see it as evolution. The changes are gradual and progress doesn’t fully hit us until we look at “The Big Picture!” I appreciate GTA for what it is and I understand that everyone has their own tastes. GTA is fun to play, but it’s also in my opinion the most overrated game ever.<br/><br/>It’s like the videogame equivalent of U2.<br/><br/>And while Doom 3 and Jedi Academy are at the top of my Game Q, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to play them the most. Actually, the ones I want to play the most are Gamecube games. I’ve been eyeing that auction you showed me. I think I might pounce.<br/><br/>I don’t know if I play enough games anymore to really offer much for a brand new site, but I’ll get back to you on that. I like the idea. I haven’t seen sites that combine tech and gaming, which you think would go hand in hand.<br/><br/>Then again, there’s G4TV. Ugh.

  6. Yeah, I was thinking just a low maintenance, possibly even blogspot, site. You’re already sort of doing it with some of your posts, and I see things that I want to share with people around the internet but I don’t really have an outlet on my other blog. <br/><br/>It doesn’t even need to be comprehensive, just sort of a “Hey look at the stuff that interests us” sort of site which is essentially what most blogs are I suppose. <br/><br/>Anyway, just an idea for now, and something I could work on more when I return home. I’ve been pondering getting my own host and developing my own blog so it could be a good excercise in that.

  7. Ok. Finished GTA3, moved onto Vice City.<br/><br/>It is MUCH better.<br/><br/>Still, I haven’t found a Chrono Trigger equivalent yet.

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