When we’re not thinking big serious thoughts about games and law, there’s nothing we enjoy more here at Gamer/Law than taking things a bit retro. From the load up sound effects on our first Spectrum to the utter uselessness of R.O.B., we’re always happy to get misty eyed over the golden age of gaming and here we present ten things that we’ve noticed you just don’t see in gaming these days. Some we miss, others we’re happy to see the back of, but all of them were features of our lives back in the day.
So, Dan of Gamer/Law (with some dubious additions from Jas and Mike) lets the nostalgia commence…
1) Unbelievably Aggressive Difficulty Curves
Maybe it’s because gamers aren’t the hardened, battle-gnarled bunch they used to be. Maybe it’s because we all have less free time and give new games less of a chance. Maybe it’s because game developers stopped employing card-carrying sadists in the early 90s. Whatever the reason, games these days are nowhere near as difficult as they used to be.
Think that Modern Warfare 2 on veteran is tough? Psssht. You don’t know you’re born marine. Rainbow Islands – now THERE was a challenge. Don’t be fooled by the sugary visuals, the jaunty theme tune and the name, there’s nothing cute about ten levels of raw frustration, limited extra lives and rising water levels that drown you if you dawdle.
Games from the old school showed no mercy. You rarely saw the end of them (in fact, in many cases you rarely saw beyond the first level) and some of them were clearly designed to break the human spirit entirely. To this day, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are forced to spend 10 hours a day playing Contra. And if they somehow complete that, they’re moved onto Gauntlet (a game so eye-bleedingly tough that rumours circulated it didn’t have an ending).
(Mike: and another thing, what about games that literally took months to master? Anyone remember Sensible Soccer? Spent A LOT of time on that ball bending masterpiece when I were a lad.)
2) Screen-filling Bosses
Okay, there are a few modern exceptions to this one (the recent Demon’s Souls in particular boasts some gigantic bosses), but let’s be clear, nothing – and by that we mean nothing – in modern gaming measures up to the shock and awe of being confronted by the great behemoths of yesteryear.
We’re talking R-Type. We’re talking Super Ghouls and Ghosts. We’re talking 2D, side-scrolling games with screen-height enemies. Boss fights with opponents who literally take up 30 or 40% of the available playing area, and are ugly as sin to boot.
(Jas: We want games developers to be more ambitious with the technology now available: why not bosses who are 500% your screen size? Of course, that would mean you could only attack his/her/its knee, but so what?)
Facing these beasts down was never a fun time, but there was something awesome about the feeling that the game was throwing everything at you that it could possibly muster.
3) No Saving
Closely related to point one, modern games seem to insist on giving you chance after chance to atone for your errors.
Back in the day, this kind of thing was simply unthinkable. Instead, you’d spend 5 or 6 hours carefully navigating your way through a tricky game only to reach the final level with one life remaining. You’d then either fail to make a pixel-perfect jump or be so shocked by the sudden appearance of a screen-filling boss (see point 2) that you’d lose that life and sit in silence, reflecting on what could only be viewed as a day wasted entirely.
There was no option to simply return to the last checkpoint. No chance to redeem yourself. Instead, you’d put down the joypad, take some time to deal with your emotions, and then try again, all the while cursing your own ineptitude and vowing revenge. (Jas: remember the old MegaMan games on the NES? Fiendish.)
This is what real gaming is about – a harrowing and confidence-sapping voyage of self discovery with zero margin for error and no respect for human weakness.
Dead Rising had a stab at bringing this one back into fashion a couple of years ago by cruelly spacing out its save points and forcing you to replay the game if you’d missed certain events. It’s not the same though.
4) Nerdy Lead Characters
Guybrush Threepwood, Roger Wilco, Larry Laffer. Time was, the lead characters in games were heroic losers, rather than the barrel-chested, cigar-chomping death machines popular today.
It’s to the detriment of modern titles that this nerd factor seems to have slipped from fashion. We’re not saying that Gears of War would be a better game if Guybrush were the lead, but let’s just consider it for a moment. He could trade insults with a brumak. He can spit further than Marcus Fenix. And he doesn’t wear a bandana (as much). We rest our case.
Now, we know what you’re thinking here: what about Gordon Freeman? Let’s get one thing straight – anyone who beats aliens to death with a crowbar and slices zombies in half with buzz saw blades is not a nerd. He may have glasses. He may have a science background. But don’t be fooled – he’s not a nerd. He doesn’t even speak.
(Jas: And that’s another thing about Gordon Freeman: how comes he manages to lead a rebellion against the Combine/save the world/make friends for life/get jiggy with Alyx (nearly), right, when he doesn’t even speak?)
5) Loading Stress
Incredible as it may now seem, gamers did not always demand, let alone receive, the instant thrills which accompany modern titles. In an era before the CD and cartridge became commonplace, we found ourselves struggling to force games to load at all, and nowhere was this a greater risk than when faced with that most unpredictable and malevolent nemesis: the tape.
Few things in life teach a young man patience like sitting staring at a computer screen as colours flash and dance, all the while praying to whichever is his chosen god that the damn thing is going to work. Along for the ride would invariably be the synapse-shredding squawks and squeals which were the critical feature of tape loading, and which served as the true acid test: how much do you really want to play this game?
About 40% of the time, a moment would arrive when it became clear that something had gone wrong. The noises would stop, or the screen would freeze. It would usually take some time to admit to yourself that it wasn’t going to happen. And then it would be time to repeat the process again. In many ways, it was a lot like love. And no less painful when it all went wrong.
Still, things aren’t that different now that we have our friend Mr BSOD to help out. Thank goodness for him.
6) The Complete Product
No patches, no updates. The games of yester-year were, as a rule, delivered to the consumer in their complete form.
On the upside, this meant that you were spared the experience of excitedly booting up a new title only to find it ruined by a game-breaking glitch which the developers figured they could fix at some point in the week following release.
On the downside, this meant that your copy of Superman 64 was never going to get any better than it was on day one.
7) Button Bashers
Okay, so this term lives on in relation to beat-em ups, but we’re not talking about your mate who can’t dragon punch here. Oh no – we’re talking Track and Field.
Somewhere back in the mists of time a developer asked themselves the question – how can we most closely recreate the sense of competing in sports at the highest level? And the answer they came up with was button bashing.
The premise was simple: whatever sport you’re competing in, whatever Olympic event, the control method is the same. There are two buttons, and you must batter them. Not in any sequence, not with any finesse. Just batter them. For several minutes. Until you or they break.
And you know what? For the first 10 seconds it’s great fun – your sprite comes racing out of the blocks in the 400 metres and takes what looks like an unassailable lead. It’s only at about the 20th second of continuous button bashing, shortly after carpal tunnel syndrome sets in and with at least another minute of similar agony to go, that you realise what you’ve let yourself in for. And by then it’s too late.
There are echoes of this unique experience in certain modern games – Through The Fire and Flames on expert on Guitar Hero, the swimming relay on Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games, but these are just pale imitations of the real thing. If you want to know what running a marathon feels like, you need to play Track and Field. With your mates. And pride at stake.
(Jas: once long ago my best friend and me were playing 1v1 Counterstrike and he kept on using a wallhack to kill me even though I told him to stop being such a noob, but he didn’t stop, which got me so irate that I rage-quit, took my keyboard over to his house, and hit him with it. Does that count as ‘button bashing’? Maybe not)
8) The Gaming Press
Not that we don’t love Edge, Games TM, Penny Arcade and the myriad websites and blogs we spend our lives perusing, but the golden age of gaming was accompanied by a golden age of games journalism.
Your Sinclair, Ace, Zero…. these weren’t just magazines. They were a window into an alternative way of life, populated by strange men with ridiculous barnets and an epic willingness to spend every waking hour playing the games they loved (and many they didn’t).
With no PR machine and comparatively little hype surrounding the games releases of the day, these heroes were free to do as they pleased, dispensing their views pure and untainted to anyone who would listen in an environment which called to mind the classroom left unattended.
Younger readers, meanwhile, were left to wonder at it all. Were these guys really getting paid actual money to write about games?
9) Side-scrolling beat ’em ups
Many happy hours used to be spent with mates battling through gangs of street thugs on games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Streets of Rage (what a great name for a game: “Streets of Rage”).
The premise was simple – you started at one end of a long stretch of road/lab corridor and you strolled forward cracking skulls until you reached the other end, usually with a second player along for the ride. Gaming in its purest form.
Who can forget the shock and horror of being forced to face down your own brother at the end of Double Dragon? Or the incredulity we all felt at being told that Final Fight’s Haggar really was the elected mayor of Metro City? (Jas: you know way too much about side-scrolling beat ’em ups, Dan).
Not Gamer/Law, that’s for sure. And yet, astonishingly, these games are now deeply, deeply unfashionable.
Was it 3D graphics that put paid to the side-scrolling beat ’em up? Or maybe the arrival of Street Fighter II? We’ll never know for sure, but what we can say with absolute certainty is that we miss them.
10) Code Meddling
Back in the day, before developers decided to just offer you up the whole candy store from day dot, gamers would often invent sneaky backdoor tricks to enable themselves to get beyond the first level.
The attractions on offer were vast: infinite lives, infinite health, infinite time. The mind boggled. And it boggled even further when you discovered what you would need to do to get the cheat to work.
We Gamer/Law folks cannot be the only people who recall the heady days of cheats for the ZX Spectrum – 2 or 3 pages of computer code which had to be laboriously inputted so that Robocop would have infinite ammo. Space shuttles have been launched with less prep time (and certainly with less tears of rage). Things improved somewhat in the 90s with the arrival of stalwarts like Game Shark and Action Replay. Cheating was still not a simple affair – it now involved the purchase of additional kit and still required code
inputs – but the range of available options was far broader. Suddenly we were walking through walls,
jumping tall buildings in a single stride and accessing hidden levels.
These were real, honest to goodness cheats. Gamers messing with the game’s very coding to get what they wanted. It went up about as far as Quake, which had at least one secret comedy-themed room you could only access via a no-clip cheat, but since then it seems to have died out. You might see something a bit similar nowadays, maybe a Team Fortress 2 server or two with the gravity turned off, but it doesn’t have quite the same air of renegade cool.
Even if it’s something as simple as accessing the code on your mate’s copy of Champ Manager and rewriting the match commentary to deliver frank home truths about his personal hygiene, we miss the good old days when you could get under the hood and mess about. These days it’s all hardware based, with some gamers messing around with modchips (which are very illegal of course)
Gamer/Law’s detailed, reasoned conclusion:
It’s just not the same anymore, innit?
Follow us at www.twitter.com/gamerlaw!