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LONG BLOG

Nostalgia: So Much Better in Hindsight

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Remember all those good times playing Galaga? First game of Frogger? That first playthrough of Final Fantasy 7? So do game devs, and they're going to get you to spend money on those memories.

Now, the instant reaction for most people when it is laid out like that is anger or frustration, that they're just exploiting a marketplace. Memories are a very strong thing. That's why we get new G.I. Joe movies, or Transformers movies, or hell, 2009 re-releases of every single Beatles LP. Think about it - how many of you have said at one point or another that the music coming out these days isn't nearly as good as it used to be?

This kind of thinking affects every single facet of our lives. It frequently helps contribute to generational gaps between the young and the old. Ever try to discuss television with your grandparents? Ones old enough that remember when Elvis showing his hips on TV was forbidden? (Or how about the frequent cries of "I remember when MTV actually used to air music videos") That's what they grew up with - that's what they expect. After a certain point, you don't want things to change. You enjoy things that you're used to. Hell, just look at what happens every time they change the layout for Facebook.

I don't claim to be a psychologist, but I don't believe this concept to be too difficult to understand. One, when we're far away from something, it's always better than when it was current. Two, childhood is a generally happy time for most people (even if it wasn't perfect, it's still better than having to worry about paying bills, doing your taxes, raising a family, taking care of a house, not having summers off, and all of the other things that can and will happen in adult life. Death and taxes, right?). So, it becomes easy for people who want to make money to profit off that childhood fondness.

With video games, this creates a unique phenomenon. Video games have really only been around since the 1980s (Depending on who you ask, it starts from various points, like "Tennis For Two", the Atari 2600, or the NES), and there has been clear and significant advances in them in that time. From a technology standpoint, sure; that much is obvious. That's not the whole story, though - what about from a design standpoint?

There are some obvious changes in design over the years, save systems being the most obvious. This also ties into advances in technology (remember when you had to press reset while pressing power or you lost your Baseball Stars save? I sure do), but the way they are handled has evolved, as well. Save points are becoming more and more rare, for a more generous "saving is a right, not a privilege" approach (one that I absolutely agree with, but that is a different point).

I could sit here all day and point out all of the differences between current design and "classic" design, but instead, I want to get back to profiting off memories. While these classic games were a lot of fun when you were a kid, video games have done almost as much maturing as you personally have done since the 1980s (If you were born in the 1990s, I'm sorry, and get off my lawn). Now, the game industry has enough history as other entertainment media, and it wants to profit off that fun.

Quite frequently, this is done poorly. When the Xbox 360 first launched, I got suckered into downloading a bunch of "new" versions of old games. Frequently, these lazy ports that didn't enhance the experience at all left me with a feeling of ambivalence at best, frustration at worst. In rare cases, I was left wondering, "Hold on, I liked this game as a kid?"

My #1 example of that is the port of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game. Yeah I've got the same memories as many of you, going to Chuck E. Cheese's (or any other arcade) and playing that as long as possible, and eventually buying it for the NES so I could play it all the time. I downloaded it, and I played through it once with a friend. That was more than enough for me to realize that this game was a relic of old design, and just didn't hold up in the current era.

Around the same time I had bought that, I also bought Castle Crashers. In my opinion, Castle Crashers is the game everyone wanted to play when they downloaded the TMNT arcade game. Castle Crashers is a game I greatly enjoy playing, and while I don't play it as much as I did when I bought it (with all of the releases every year, it's hard to stick with a game for more than a month or two these days), but it's one I pick up every once in awhile, and will gladly play with anyone who wants to.

Then we have examples like the Pac-Man Championship Edition. I won't lie - I didn't want to download this because I downloaded the Pac-Man port available early on in the 360's life cycle, and it was the same lazy port that was par for the course on XBLA at the time. After a few friends of mine started singing its praises, though, I couldn't resist.

This is a game that properly combined nostalgia and current value. Not only were you still playing Pac-Man, the gameplay additions felt fresh and (most importantly) are really, really fun. It took the tried and true formula of Pac-Man and added several game modes that forced you to play the game in a different and entertaining way, while still remaining faithful to the original game. In my opinion, this is how these retro games should always be treated in a re-release situation.

Of course, it doesn't end there. There's also the example of Mega Man 9 (and now, Mega Man 10). I certainly played a lot of Mega Man as a kid, and that continued right up until the heyday of the original Playstation, when Mega Man Legends and Mega Man 8 took the Blue Bomber and defused him. These games just didn't capture the charm of the original Mega Man series, or the Mega Man X series on the SNES. I honestly don't know what happened to the series between then and Mega Man 9, but I can only assume it was disappointing.

So what do they do with Mega Man 9? They return to the old days. Hell, they even revisited the so-bad-it's-good box art from back in the day. While the gameplay was generally what it was back in the day, it was new content, and those games stood the test of time better than a lot of games to begin with. Taking a mechanic that flat out works, and then creating brand new content with that mechanic was a very smart move on Capcom's part. I hear they didn't do so hot with DLC with that game, but that's a completely different essay.

That leaves me at the thing that caused this entry to form in my head in the first place - Game Room. Game Room is loaded up with old content thrown into a very nice presentation. I really like that I can buy these old games and be able to use them on both my PC and my 360 if I really wanted to. Various other portions of the Game Room interface are neat, but it suffers the same problem that the original Live Arcade ports suffered from: they're the exact same games from the 1980s!

These games offer nothing new at all. They are games that you've all played a million times (or in some cases, are rusty, old games that few people cared about in the first place), and, personally, don't hold my interest at all. Not to mention, why on earth would you pay money for something like Asteroids when there are a billion freely available versions of this on the internet? Are leaderboards really that big of a draw? For me, not personally. I'll stick with Geometry Wars, thanks.

Nostalgia isn't necessarily a bad thing to capitalize on for video games, but it requires more than just giving us the exact same package we had in the good old days. There is more than one way to do this right, but you have to at least give us some incentive to separate our money from us other than "remember when you played this as a kid?" I don't care what that incentive is, just as long as there is one.

Judging from my perusal of this here website, the new Sonic game seems to be trying to go the approach that Mega Man 9 went, but for some reason, it doesn't look to be working so far (I just watched a video of some mine cart level...yow. Tilt mechanics were not meant for that). I do not have a soft spot in my heart for Sonic, as I did not have a Genesis as a kid (first and only Sega console I had was a Dreamcast, and yes it is awesome), but for all you classic Sega kids, I hope they do end up getting it right.

Also, I might buy a Wii just to play NBA Jam. Yeeeeeeeeah.

(Don't worry, my fours of readers. More PAX articles are coming, and they'll be less negative than my first one (getting called out for "moaning" by the daily recap is exactly what I figured would happen with that last one. I had a good time! Really!). I just wanted to split them up a bit to reduce the flooding on PAX topics.)
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About Alakaiserone of us since 1:32 PM on 03.15.2010

The name's Tom. I used to work as an industry guy, and am currently on the hunt for my next paying gig. In the meantime, I'm working on a bunch of different projects that don't help me pay my bills. I write a lot. I'm a musician, although certainly not of the professional variety. I like trying new things and meeting new people. I'm still somewhat new around Destructoid, so sorry in advance if I don't know something I probably should.

About my blog:

I update daily (not really, but I like to pretend). Generally, my updates get pretty long-winded, but hopefully not to the point where they're unreadable. I'll wax poetic about whatever's on my mind, like current events in my life, things that are happening in the video games I like, or whatever happens to pop in my head that day. With a few exceptions, I write my entries the same day I publish them, so they're pretty fresh content-wise. It also might help explain the occasional typos. I do my best to avoid any errors, though.

About my work:

I worked at Harmonix Music Systems as a tester on a year's worth of DLC, The Beatles: Rock Band, Lego Rock Band, and Rock Band Network. Feel free to ask me questions about it, but remember: I'm still under NDA. Also, if you know of a job opening, please tell me about it. I'm flexible.

About my contact info:

Want to collaborate with me on something, big or small, related to the site or not? I'd love to. I like working on any project that I'm even remotely capable of working on, and would love to help you in whatever way I can. Feel free to PM me here, or otherwise send me an email at alakaiser(at)gmail(period)com. Even if you don't want to work with me on something, I'd love to just chat. I'm a pretty friendly guy!

What happened to that thing you did? You know, that one thing?:

I wrote an article that ended up getting promoted to the front page of the site, which is pretty damn cool. It removes it from my cblog archive, though, so I'm throwing a link in this here sidebar for the sake of an archive (and in case I lose the link myself).

The Great Escape: One Foot in Reality