Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Playing the Nostalgia card...

I really dislike when people tell me when I compare the games of previous generations to games today that I'm "blinded by nostalgia".  It's probably one of the most silliest things to say in a discussion, especially when you're trying to prove your point that current generation games are as good because of what they bring to the table... which is.... what do they bring to the table, currently? Graphics? Movie-like plots, and characters that fall somewhere between overflowing with Machismo or Cool aloof sparkly vampire douchebaggery. Did I say graphics?

For some reason we are to believe that if we enjoyed the games of yesterday, and can point out serious holes in the logic of today's games compared to then, that we're simply looking at our childhoods with 'rose colored glasses'  and that we are in fact totally delusional for believing this. It makes you wonder if there's really any founded truth to this? Well honestly this could have been true say a generation ago when the games were hard to come by, but somehow at the start of this generation something strange happened; Consoles began to offer a means to download and play those old games one-by-one. I don't know if this was just a means of offering something extra for people who might have enjoyed those games, or if this is a  "sleeper cell' meant to unintentionally (or intentionally) be the undoing of industry games .  Once this happened, and all three consoles had the ability to allow you to download and play games from generations past, we immediately began to play those games and realize that perhaps we're not being blinded by nostalgia after all. There is something compelling about those particular games, and there is a notable difference between those games and the big high definition, high graphical output movie based games that we were being force-fed.

So here's my theory about "nostalgia blinding" : Nostalgia can only be called that if there is absolutely no way to return to those 'halcyon days of yore', and all we have are memories to provide as proof. Nostalgia after all is an "idealized yearning for things of the past". Notice the use of the word 'Idealized' which means that the nostalgia is only based on one's particular memories of the past, and how they view those memories. It's like how being away from home for long periods of time triggers moments where you look at memories of 'home' to be better than they actually were, which proves that nostalgia can cause you to not see things for what they really were, but something far better.

Nostalgia cannot possibly be used as a point of argument if the games of the past are readily available to play, today. I could tell you that Rondo of Blood is a fantastic game, and a few years ago, when computers weren't in most homes, and you had to hunt down rare games and consoles, you could have easily got away with stating that I'm just drowning in my nostalgia of the game, but in 2010 you tell me that, and I can just flip on my Wii go to my SD channel, boot up the game, and show you how awesome it is. What matters here is that with things being so available, I have an easier time of making a point that the games of the past are actually just as good as anyone remembers. Sometimes there are games that were good growing up that do turn out to be not as great as we remember, and thats fine, but this can't be said for every game of the past.

And then we have cases of where developers want to use our 'fuzzy feelings' in order to sell us something entirely different from what we're expecting. Below, is the teaser trailer for the new version of Yar's Revenge. An Atari game which was met with great popularity on the Atari 2600, and was re-released for the GBA in 1999. Currently, it's being made with the intention of bringing you impressive visuals and a fully engrossing story using an animation style not unlike a Miyazaki film.  I'll let you decide for yourself on that.

How does this look to you, reader? The brown apocalyptic background, 'Yar' who is now a female encased in a bug-like armor, the Qotiles... well I believe those large things laying waste to the ground below are Qotiles. The whole thing looks to me like a 'paint-by-numbers' version of your standard sci-fi epic. The character design of the girl could possibly pass for Miyazaki style, but I beg to differ. If Miyazaki were helming this project on the artistic side, I'm sure the character design would of been more daring and Yar would be a full on alien female bug with personality and quirks (feminism seems to be a strong point in Miyazaki films, so this wouldn't have changed so much as it would be altered to fit the nature of the series), and not something so uninspired as a human in a bug suit. I believe that's the part that irks me so much - the uninspired nature of how this concept was approached.  It's almost as disappointing as the new design of Dante in the Devil May Cry series, except that Yar's new design doesn't really remind me of Robert Pattinson.

Now I have played the original game, and I have to say that just going from that I seem to have been far more interested in that than this teaser trailer. Then again that was part of the charm of those older games; You had instruction manuals that laid out the game world and ignited your imagination, and if you noticed that seemed to be the draw of those older games. The programmers were willing to meet the consumer half way  providing a means of sparking imagination and bringing you further into the game world to enjoy the experience. With current technology developers have managed to create a means of immersing the player into a full 3D world and now that we have that going for us there really is little need to lay down the means of sparking the player's imagination. So now that developers believe that hurdle was overcome, they're spending more time trying to force horrible narrative, and thin plots on the consumer in a vain effort to appear like they're delivering fire to the unwashed masses. Instead of being met halfway, we're not even being met a quarter of the way there. Perhaps if people basically don't know what good games are they'll be willing to accept scraps and proclaim them as feasts, because they apparently don't know any better, and that could be a mindset that was behind remaking or reviving older properties with current generation sensibilities.

Remember the Turtles in Time remake, and how much that game fails compared to the Arcade and SNES versions? It's because when people tend to rely on the draw of 'nostalgia' they tend to ignore what made those games so great in the first place. It seems kind of the same mindset plaguing games like Splatterhouse, and  Sonic the Hedgehog 4, and yet Capcom managed to get it right with Bionic Commando: ReArmed. Which is confusing considering GRIN worked on both ReArmed and the HD version. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about this.

Developer Grin made it a priority to preserve as much of the original gameplay and visuals as possible. Screenshots were taken as a reference, with designers keeping the same color schemes when creating the 3D worlds in order to preserve visual style and readability of the game.[8] Programmers had to reverse engineer the original gameplay to accurately reproduce it. Developers had to "measure how fast the arm goes out, how fast you swing back and forth, how fast you run across the ground, at what speed you fall down and everything" said Vilkund.[9] The level editor was integrated in the engine, which allowed developers to view creations in real time. Lead Gameplay Programmer Håkan Rasmussen expanded on this concept, stating "Since BCR is built on the same engine as the next-gen BC we can also reuse the editor [which] lowers the time before we can start using levels."[9]
Developers found that adjusting the original gameplay to a 3D engine required dismissal of conventional physics. For example, the player cannot walk past a barrel placed in their way, however they are able to swing through the object. "The swing mechanic [is] based on the original [and so is] totally physically incorrect" noted Gameplay Programmer Bertil Hõrberg.[10]Hõrberg stated that the character always swings at the same speed and releases at the same and releases at the same angle regardless of player input. Weapons were also redesigned, with each weapon being rebalanced. "In the original [you get] the rocket launcher and you use that for the rest of the game" stated Simon Vilkund. All of the weapons were redesigned to be useful in some form, and can now all be taken into combat, whereas previously only one weapons could be selected per area.[10] Boss characters received not only a visual redesign, but the fights received an overhaul as well to make use of Spencer's abilities. "You need to use the arm to beat the boss" stated Creative Director Simon Vilkund.[8]
Challenge rooms were born of a desire to enhance the game's neutral zones. "The neutral zones in the original game weren't that interesting, so I starting thinking we could add an obstacle course in each one", Vilkund said.[9] "The bionic arm is such an unconventional mechanic that we really wanted to explore everything that it could offer" added, Level Designer Victor Vilkund. Victor Vilkund cited inspiration from several Nintendo Entertainment System games, including Solomon's KeyWrecking Crew, and Ice Climber, adding that the concept was "very basic, very short stages."[9] The game's soundtrack consists of remix versions of the original Nintendo tracks, arranged by Simon Vilkund.[9] He described the arrangements as "the same melodies and harmonies but with a more modern sound."[9]
In redesigning the game's protagonist, Nathan Spencer, Grin cited Iceman from the movie Top Gun and Marty McFly from the Back to the Future series as visual influences in the update. For the character Super Joe characters looked to the cowboy of the American Old West, citing actor Sam Elliot as an additional source of inspiration.[8] 3D artists noticed early in development that due to characters being much further away from the camera than modern titles that certain details in textures would not be noticeable. "We had to think 'less detail and more color, [and] bigger shapes'" stated 3D Artists Wendy Young and Peter Stråhle.[9] All of the 2D character art was designed by Shinkiro, an illustrator and conceptual artist, famous for his work with the Art of Fighting and The King of Fighters series.[5]

Well imagine that!! going back to basics really does make for creating a fantastic gaming experience. And no mention of nostalgia anywhere in that blurb. In fact, they're using the same physics and number of frames and colors as the original to establish a similarity to the source material. Something that for some reason the developers of Turtles in time couldn't afford to be bothered with, and decided to shoehorn all new control variations into the remake of the game; a move that worked against them and clearly showed the player that newer doesn't mean better.

This is probably a long winded way of saying that some things definitely don't need to be remade, and that some things can be improved over time with the right mindset and a complete understanding of what made the original compelling to audiences. This is also the same mindset I have towards remakes of movies, as I believe that if a movie got it right the first time it probably shouldn't be remade, because all a director is going to do is just make the same thing over again with current generation technology or something similar, but is not quite there. Nostalgia isn't working against us when we call people on these things. In most cases it's giving us better foresight into understanding what gaming used to be about. This is something developers should really take note when exploring those older games - since it only brings to mind the state of gaming before the great crash of 1983, and reiterates the old addage: "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it"

Game on.

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