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The case for old games, the indie scene and mainstream triple A games

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We've all heard the talk before. "Oh back then games were better". Then you've got the exact opposite side going "wtf dude ur just a boomer, games sucked back then, that's just nostalgia".

It's something that has been rumbling around in my mind for a while, but after a while of playing current games, as well as indie games and consistently going back to older games, even ones older than me… I can't say I agree with either side. One side romanticizes old games way too much, or expresses what it truly means poorly, while the other side seems rather… close-minded in a manner of speaking. What I concluded, after experiencing this and speaking with other people and even reading others' opinions on the matter is, to sum it up quite quickly: old and indie games have the creativity, new/current gen games have the user experience.

It makes quite a bit of sense if you think about it, and if you keep following the line you'll notice it happening on several mediums that attract a large audience, namely cinema. Back then, in the dark ages of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, videogames were something completely new: the nerdy engineers who messed with electronics and computers would usually set up sessions of roleplaying games… analogically. Which means a person narrating the game was necessary. Assets would need to be built. Given that the outcome of battles and explorations couldn't really happen in real time because of the human mind's limitations, these games would play in a turn-based manner, which is… well, clunky and slow if you compare to an actual depiction of what happens in real life. Yet there is strategy to it, hence why it's still a viable form of gameplay.

Fast forward a little bit and the arcades come out, the first consoles come out and whatnot. Keep in mind, this is still the birth of videogames as a whole: genres aren't established yet. Ergonomics and measuring difficulty and user experience aren't really a thing. This meant an explosion in creativity: nobody knew what worked, so ideas were wild, slowly consolidating into genres eventually. But still, the ideas were alive.

And then we enter a more modern area. Videogame graphics are now HD enough to compete with cinema. We start seeing games becoming more and more cinematic, some becoming fully fledged interactive movies, like Heavy Rain. A more casual audience is now in sight, the money is coming in and these new fans want technical quality. However, to increase that, the budget must also increase. Finance plans come in and… well, you gotta see a return after the investment. These are no longer passion projects.

Ãnd thus we arrive at today's gaming landscape: where triple A studios (mostly) deliver streamlined experiences: enough time has passed, we already know what works and what doesn't, what sells and what doesn't sell. Games now FEEL good to play, look good when being played and sound AMAZING. In terms of presentation and technical issues, we have never seen such quality games before. But… something else was lost in translation: to secure huge profits, now companies play it much more safely. For a casual audience, videogames have never been this good. But for gaming enthusiasts… the spark may very well be gone. Not for all games obviously, but it's hard, if not downright impossible for another Team Silent (for example) to appear again.

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The answer came in the form of the indie gaming scene. As game making tools became more easily available, the time was now ripe for hobbyists or even smaller groups or companies to attempt game design. True, there's a fair bit of "games" that leave a lot to be desired (ANIME World War 2 being a prime example), but others have seen great success: the first Amnesia game, Bastion, Super Meat Boy, Celeste, Hollow Knight, Ori and the Blind Forest… the list goes on and on. As artstyles and development methods became independent from "the machine" and saw themselves in the same boots of the first videogame developers, many turned to this scene for games with the long lost spirit of gaming creativity, without the huge clunkiness from games past.

Where do I intend to go with this? I by no means am saying that indie games are the future or anything. What I mean to say is this: there are a lot of shitty games everywhere. Both in the past and today, indie or not. But the joy of playing old or indie games is exactly this: new ideas. Interesting takes on both gameplay and themes. For that alone the clunkiness is worth suffering through. It doesn't mean that ALL old games were better, you simply had more freedom: meaning there is much more good stuff in the old days, but also MUCH WORSE CRAP as well. The modern AAA studio ends up consolidating this and making it less "hot and cold" in a manner of speaking. Usually the streamlined games don't really shine, but they don't exactly hit rock bottom either (most of the time). But if the gameplay experience falls, there's nothing else to redeem it. Likewise, if the game is at least clean enough, it can pass as an average game.

Every time period has its own share of strengths and weaknesses. Absolute classics as well as absolute trash. The difference is that when you're young, you're willing to go through more trash as you figure your own tastes in gaming. But as you develop your taste more and more, you'll see things in a different way. You may even find yourself surprised at how displeased you are with games you previously loved.

This is, finally my ultimate point: it's not just nostalgia. What is required, however, when playing older games or even indies, is to recognize the limitations at the time, the lack of game design knowledge and whatnot. Old classics are still old classics worth playing and there are still new classics being born. Your radar is simply more tuned to it, resulting sometimes into some arguments such as "old games were better". No Jimbo: you're just better at distinguishing the bad from the good. The original Alone in the Dark game is one of the clunkiest experiences you'll ever have if you play it today, but back then it was cutting edge. And it is super interesting to see how this game marked a departure of traditional adventure games and created the definitive building blocks for the genre that eventually would become known as "survival horror". This would prompt Capcom to produce the first Alone in the Dark clone, mostly know as Resident Evil. Which in turn would prompt its own clones, from which Silent Hill would be born. But they all owe it to Alone in the Dark, which in turn owns it to the adventure games that came before it.

Don't delude yourself into thinking older games were better. Don't delude yourself into thinking games today are much better than before. They excelled at different things, at different times. The question is… can videogames avoid what happened to cinema? Can videogames manage to consolidate the casual and superficial into something genuinely interesting and worth of being recalled? Or is the industry doomed to see a division between indie and popular, just like it already happens in cinema?

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