Videogames have come a long way, now with millions of polygons displayed on screen at all times, hundreds of shader effects and the possiblity of displaying over sixteen million colors.
The majority of modern games look forward to spending those million polygons detailing a rock trough tessellation, have a color spectrum of a million shades of brown and use post process effects to desaturate the picture and add dark corners.
Games these days do look stunning and sometimes even cinematic, but my passion for videogames sparked with much more simple experiences, the first with a pallete of just 32 colors and not a single polygon.
I was around the age of 5 when I first had contact with Sonic CD, a fascinating platformer about time travel, exploration and speed, my first videogame.
Understanding the simple gameplay was easy even for a little kid, but this was the kind of game that was "easy to play, hard to master" I had to react quickly to maintain speed and dodge the enemies. And so I accidentally discovered that if I ran fast enough for the right amount of time, I could travel in time and go to a different era in the level. Now try to imagine how a five year old you would have reacted if one day you were playing your favorite game and out of nowhere you find out that you can visit every stage as it was in the past, present and future. As a kid, all this blew my mind.
Though I couldn't grasp the concept of "choices you make in the past affect the future" ( I was supposed to find the hidden machines of Eggman in the past to save the future) I still enjoyed travelling back and forth in time trough the levels.
And so I got to "Act three". The world was contaminated, the hills filled with enemies, suddenly a strange and creepy music started playing and Eggman's giant robot appeared on screen, letting an evil laugh out as he slammed sonic again and again. The robot was at least five times taller than sonic and had these loud mechanical sounds as it moved. This was one of the few times I was scared playing a game. I still managed to beat the level, then breaking a capsule that planted flower seeds in the dystopia which seemed like a symbol of what I had achieved.
Years later, I finally got a Nintendo 64. The game that had most impact on me was The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time. The music was dynamic and with an epic tone, the graphics were smooth and expressive, and the 3D stick gave a great range of movement.
Despite the hardware limitations, both Sonic CD and Zelda OoT looked stunning. The backgrounds had volume, you could see how the shadows represented cliffs and holes. The scenery had depth, with lakes, forests and huge mountains slowly scrolling far away. You could climb to great heights and reach the clouds. You could find hidden routes inside the mountains or below the ground. In both games the music inspired me in a number of ways. And both had air-tight controls.
Not many 16bit games had this kind of quality, and not many 3D games had the scale of Ocarina of Time.
I remember that one moment after leaving the woods for the first time, I reached the top of the first hill in front of me, and with the orchestra reaching a crescendo, I saw a huge, massive field, huge mountain, a farm, and a castle. The whole experience blends with the music to create one of my favorite videogame moment of all time. I realised how small I was compared to the huge adventure I was in.
In these games I could explore caves, run trough the seemingly infinite hills, travel trough time, fight giant enemies, defeat great evils, save the world.
The people who made these games are passionate developers who pour their soul into their games.
Games where you can feel the effort and craftsmanship that was applied to them, in the dramatic animations, in the thought out art direction/style, in the melodic music, in the deep game mechanics.
I still look for these kind of things in the games I play, Bastion with it's narrative and music, Total War with it's scale, detail and complexity, or Vanquish and it's outstanding animation work.
Those kind of games are the ones that leave a mark on me and I love to play.