Gaming, Then and Now

My brother is currently attending the DigiPen School of Technology working on a degree in video game programming / design. He's an avid gamer but has missed some of (IMO) the best games of all time, specifically, the Half-Life saga. Naturally, I email him recommending these games in the hope of inspiring him or, at the very least, giving him a better understanding of some of the good games he's missed out on and where the industry came from. I even offered to buy the games for him if he didn't want to pay for them himself. Well, he acquired the first Half-Life game and started playing it. This was his response:

Hey Chris, just wanted to let you know that I tried out Half-Life today.  I'm sorry, but that game just sucks in my opinion.  I know a lot of people loved it, but I can't stand it.  There are too many things that kill you instantly (I just died from hitting a doodad that looked like a barrel) or hurt you without letting you know (green laser beams at the beginning for example).  I hated that I had to get really close to an enemy just to hit him, and when I did they would turn to me and hit me.  It was very hard to hit the head crabs as well.  By the way, yes, I know that I had a gun, but I had very limited ammo.  Also, I hated virtually never knowing where to go or what to do.  Some of the buttons that you need to push in that game are very tiny or off to the side where you can't see them.  I know the game is old, but it seems very poorly designed to me.

This got me thinking, most modern games suck. These games are targeted at the general population, not the avid gamer. The AI are dumbed way down, there are big signs or floating arrows everywhere telling you which way to go, and the games are generally too easy. They don't give you a sense of figuring things out on your own anymore and don't give you a sense of accomplishment. Not to mention the story of most of these games are boring and do not engage the player. Now contrast this with the games from our youth. Most of these games were difficult and many didn't give you any clear path to follow. Here's a list of several games I enjoyed playing when I was younger.

  • Any Super Mario Bros. Game pre 1990
  • Battletoads
  • Duck Hunt
  • Metroid
  • Super Metroid
  • Legend of Zelda
  • Zelda: A Link to the Past
  • Zelda: Occarina of Time
  • Super Mario RPG
  • Sim Ant
  • Sim City
  • Doom
  • Heroes of Might and Magic
  • Perfect Dark
  • Command & Conquer: Red Alert
  • Star Craft

I could go on. Compared to modern games almost all of these games were relatively hard, had few if any clear paths to take and some even had things that would kill you instantly (Bowsers fireballs). Also, many other early NES games were nearly impossible to beat without the use of cheats or game altering devices (See the AVGN). Now think about the countless hours you spent playing these games and the pure enjoyment you got from playing them. To this day I've never beaten the original Mario Bros, Battletoads or Metroid, yet I still enjoy playing them from time to time regardless of their difficulty.

In a world where there's several new (shitty) games out every week and many of those titles have a sequel released within a year, I truly appreciate game companies like Valve and Gearbox and the independent developers like Notch and fear for a future where game developers don't enjoy, or at least respect, the games that we/they have grown up with.

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