I found a bunch of old posts that I had begun prepping to put up on this here blog (last edit dating back to June '11), so I've chosen my favorite one to put up here because I still think it's relevant.
Maybe I'll start blogging again, but for now, enjoy:
I wish it were 1997
One of the lasting Internet arguments I’ve seen is on the subject of old games; are old games REALLY better, or are we just all sick with nestalgia and unable to judge a game based on how much time we obsessively spent with it? I generally tend to agree with Jim Sterling on most of his points on the subject, but that’s not exactly what I’m here to talk about. The mid/late 90s weren't just years that housed some of my favorite games of all time, but a fantasy of what I imagined making games was like- where the commercialism had its own avenue, and the guys making fun games had theirs.
Jim Sterling is right, commercialism has ALWAYS been around in games (it’s a business after all). Some of the games that we all hold dear were movie licenses, and some of the most hated games in existence (Superman 64, ET) are all the product of trying to cash in on a product. That accurately describes the 4th generation, back when studios like Acclaim had creating tie-ins down to a science (or art depending on which you think is more important), this was the dawn of a new era of entertainment- a turning point where 3D was finally leaps and bounds above anything seen in the past; this was a time to experiment and create, where all the franchises and cashcows had to get a reboot, and it dammed well better be fun or else people will go off and buy the next game. This meant re-imaginings for all kinds of franchises (mostly Nintendo) like Zelda, Starfox, Mario- as well as the creation of new classics like Banjo, Diablo, HalfLife, and Crash (‘96 but I’ll let it slide). Dare I say it was the Renaissance of game development.
It’s absolutely astonishing what people were doing with pixels back then. These systems were powerful enough for some complex 3D, but at the same time required talent and precision to display exactly what you wanted and get away with keeping the FPS up. Take a second to stop reading this (who am I kidding, nobody's gotten this far) and read all ten parts of the making of Crash Bandicoot if you haven’t already. Seriously amazing stuff.
Now I’m not trying to say that new consoles don’t have low cielings that sometimes get in the way, I’m fully aware at the limitations of hardware available and many of the nifty tricks developers get away with, but I still think a lot of modern developers take for granted and don’t squeeze as much as they can. I will conceed however that they’re justified in doing so- development time for games has taken a huge hike towards the “OUT THE DOOR NAO” side of things, and teams are vastly larger now than they were then, but is that really for the best?
As I was growing up, I saw the game development world as a place where talent goes to get better- where teams constantly push boundries of hardware and try out things that could be fun. Making games was a means to the end of entertainment, but now it seems that making games has just become the end. Everyone is so tied up in shipping x number of games in a year, picking “the next big technology”, and hopping on a bandwagon (F2P, Social, Mobile); that not too many studios are out there focusing on making the best games they can. Back then, it appeared as if the people making games were trying to make the most fun come out of whatever hardware they had to work with. Now it just seems like people are picking a hardware that they can make something just fun enough on and get away with ridiculous profits. The way I saw competition in ‘97 was “make a better game than your competitor and gain reputation for your company so that more people will play your future games”, but now it just seems like “make a lot of alright games quickly and put them in the right place to make your company seem more cutting edge so that you can sell it and move on with your life”.
To me, game development seems to be losing it’s soul by turning into a series of “get rich quick” schemes instead of the hard work of the good ‘ol days- and I think we the customers are paying for that. The fun is fading, and I don’t think I’m alone.
note- I didn't talk about kickstarter or Indie games because back in july of 2011 that was all new and foreign to me. I'm glad some games/companies have a means to answer to their audience, but I don't think it's enough.