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Won't somebody please think of the pixels?!?
March 23, 2006 4:56 PM   Subscribe

The face of gaming. (via /.) A glance down memory lane to 20 years ago, when games looked and felt completely different. Were those old games really as great as our memories tell us? Other than all of our graphical splendor, can we really say that games have had any real new innovation?
posted by mystyk (56 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
My favorite game of all time is "Berzerk" on the Atari 2600. I still play it every once in a while... though Counterstrike: Source does eat up a lot of my gaming time.
posted by grimcity at 5:04 PM on March 23, 2006


If someone would have presented a XBOX 360 for me and my friends 20 years ago, I’m pretty sure we probably would have fainted.

So true.
posted by skree at 5:04 PM on March 23, 2006


One word: M.U.L.E.
posted by 327.ca at 5:13 PM on March 23, 2006


I think it's idiotic to compare gameplay shots from the older games with cut-scenes from the newer games. Might as well be comparing box art. Unless you really do control your car in Project Gotham by looking back at it.
posted by Space Coyote at 5:16 PM on March 23, 2006


I've seen racing games with that level of detail.

Some of today's games really do like the cutscenes of a couple of systems ago.

But really, Nintendo is pretty advanced. Despite having some fun on it, it doesn't create the nostalgia of the 2600. (or hell, the TI99/4A -- still blows me away when Hunt the Wumpus gets mentioned) Sure, maybe that's an age thing, but we'd just never seen anything like that before. Everything since has been incremental.
posted by dreamsign at 5:20 PM on March 23, 2006


I ride a bike.
posted by buzzman at 5:31 PM on March 23, 2006


"New?" "Innovation?"

I don't get it. Are "nintendogs" and "Sims" supposed to be some example of innovation? They're basically the old Windows toy Dogz, and the C64's Little Computer People. More features, sure, but not inherently innovative.
posted by majick at 5:31 PM on March 23, 2006


Every game is innovative in some way. Like evolution, you don't see any chance in the species if you compare parent to child, but when you stand back and look at the bigger picture over a vast number of generations, the innovation is immense.

Of course, it could happen much faster and better without certain market conditions retarding the business viability of innovation in games, but the innovation has certainly never stopped.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:42 PM on March 23, 2006


Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out is almost 20 years old?!?

Excuse me. I have to go yell at some damn kids to get off my lawn...
posted by Cyrano at 5:51 PM on March 23, 2006


yeah, I hate the praise everyone's heaping on nintendogs as if it were a fresh idea. I also hate the DS, architecturally and functionally.

on the other hand, any system that has enough fun games gets my dollars.
posted by shmegegge at 6:00 PM on March 23, 2006


I started playing games daily at age 3 with the Atari 5200, and I've probably logged an average of four hours a day since. I play between six and ten a day now.

When I think about the most fun gaming experiences I've had, the first few things that come to mind are X-Wing, Quake 1 deathmatches, Master of Orion 2, and early Ultima Online when PKs were rampant. Landstalker and Shadow Run for the Sega Genesis were both from this time as well. The original Street Fighter 2 for the SNES. Final Fantasy 6 (3 for US), Phantasy Star 3 for the Genesis. Myth. Simcity 2000.

From my perspective it feels like there was some golden age in the early and mid 90s that stands out as better than most of what came before or since. There's plenty that came after - Black Isle's RPG triumphs in Planescape and BG2, Medieval Total War, Morrowind, World of Warcraft beta - but nothing like the concentrated goodness that came out during that time period when budgets were large but accessibility was not a primary concern of the developers.
posted by Ryvar at 6:03 PM on March 23, 2006


Well, we used to have tons of fun throwing a brick on rolls of "bang caps." Then, when the caps were all gone, we would just throw the brick until it broke into pieces.

Then we got an X-box.
posted by The Deej at 6:07 PM on March 23, 2006


Whatever happened to kick-the-can?
posted by brundlefly at 6:13 PM on March 23, 2006


Graphics have been a great innovation; however, something should be said for the plot of the games and characters involved. If a game has an engaging plot with interesting characters, whether that is Super Mario or San Andreas, it will be a hit. Having a plot that's lame, such as the new Mortal Kombat games, doesn't help. I enjoyed the original Mortal Kombat because of the characters idiosyncrasy, and not because they were attempting to conquer some ridiculously named realm.
posted by j-urb at 6:17 PM on March 23, 2006


Well, they compressed the fuck out of those JPG screencaps, so it's rather hard to tell.

I mean really, the images look like mud.
posted by delmoi at 6:26 PM on March 23, 2006


They're also comparing screenshots with promotional graphics, mostly from in-game movies.
posted by delmoi at 6:27 PM on March 23, 2006


can we really say that games have had any real new innovation?

On the whole, probably not - the majority of games these days look and feel like movies. Or Disneyland rides. Which are all the same and don't really make for intuitive games. I guess it's due to Hollywood's influence on the industry.

But if you take specific examples, sure there's innovation. Katamari Damacy is an easy example. It was a video game made by an art student who hates video games. Also, Rez for the Playstation integrated music and visuals in a completely new way. But I like to talk about Super Smash Bros. a lot, because it was such a long time coming in the fighting game world. A game, with all the complexity of Tekken, but without the long lists of moves to memorize.

I think another factor is that gameboxes only last about 3 years these days. If you want to give developers enough time to really explore the limits of what a platform can do, you have to give them 5. At least.

Most normal people just don't want to mess with behemoth 20-button controllers and complex menu screens. It's too much of a commitment. The great thing about the classic games is that they're simple to learn but incredibly difficult to play. They're also full of interesting secrets. Jump, fire a gun, move from side to side, that's all you need to have fun with a video game. You don't even need fancy graphics.
posted by Laugh_track at 6:41 PM on March 23, 2006


As others have said that link is worthless because they are comparing gameplay shots with cutscreen or replay shots, (unless other people play sports games with the camera all the way zoomed in on player.) It sucks cause it actually could have bben an interesting link.
posted by afu at 6:45 PM on March 23, 2006 [1 favorite]


Graphics have been a great innovation; however, something should be said for the plot of the games and characters involved. If a game has an engaging plot with interesting characters, whether that is Super Mario or San Andreas, it will be a hit. Having a plot that's lame, such as the new Mortal Kombat games, doesn't help.

j-urb: I'd have to disagree with you, if only because I rarely gave a hoot about the games' plot and characters 20 years ago. You don't really need to know Pac-Man's motivation (or Jumpman's, or whatever) and I rarely though of the vehicles in games like Spy Hunter, Defender, etc., as containing characters at all. And let's not forget games like Qix, Tetris or Breakout that exist purely in the abstract.

That's not to say I never find the story in modern games engaging--GTA: San Andreas and Mafia were both more engaging to me because the characters faced difficult moral choices, even if I rarely had any significant say in the outcome. Ultimately, though, for me a good story can enhance good or even mediocre gameplay, but can't do a thing to save terrible gameplay.

That's what's really dissatisfying about this type of comparison, though--unless I'm missing something, there's no indication of what the respective titles are like to actually play, just how they look.
posted by arto at 6:45 PM on March 23, 2006


Best computer game ever!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:48 PM on March 23, 2006


327.ca, I can feel it. M.U.L.E did RULE. I don't remeber where or when I found it... but I have an MP3 of the M.U.L.E. theme song. Strangely enough, I think it sounded better on the SID.

I <3 my C=64.

Commodore 4 EVAH!
posted by PROD_TPSL at 6:50 PM on March 23, 2006


I remember playing the NES Dragon Warrior games well into the time where better looking RPGs were coming out for the SNES, or even for later consoles like the Playstation and N64. One of the things that I think made me like playing those old RPGs is that the blocky, primitive graphics forced me to use my imagination a little to think about what was going on. Like, the two tone sprites were just placeholders for one's imagination. At least in RPGs.
posted by Mister Cheese at 6:52 PM on March 23, 2006


M.U.L.E did RULE

A.M.E.N

(Have mp3 as well.)
posted by eriko at 6:55 PM on March 23, 2006


Fortunately there are still people who've realised that prettier games aren't necessarily better games.
posted by 6am at 7:51 PM on March 23, 2006


They're also comparing screenshots with promotional graphics, mostly from in-game movies.

I think the point is that the images are all being rendered in real time. The FN3 shot (among others) could very well be in game.

6am, Spore's not exactly ugly.
posted by crumbly at 8:06 PM on March 23, 2006


This was the gist of Frank Lantz's rant at the Game Developers' Conference today.
posted by cloudscratcher at 9:12 PM on March 23, 2006


I don't get it. Are "nintendogs" and "Sims" supposed to be some example of innovation? They're basically the old Windows toy Dogz, and the C64's Little Computer People. More features, sure, but not inherently innovative.

Well.. not to snark, but... I'm sure McDonald's didn't create the hamburger, Subway didn't create the Hero/Hoagie/Submarine sandwich, Lay's didn't think up potato chips, Campbell's didn't invent soup (and the list goes ON and ON), it's what the MARKET thinks of you... so.. in that respect, at least, Nintendogs and The Sims were the only really profitable iterations of those respective game ideas. For whatever reason, these games will represent the collective mindset for "future" games of these types. And that is what people will remember, and after all, is not memory creator of history?
posted by Debaser626 at 9:44 PM on March 23, 2006


OH... and Zaxxon f-ing rocks!!!! (or rocked... I haven't seen it in ages, but I do have such fond thoughts of it...)
posted by Debaser626 at 9:45 PM on March 23, 2006


Perhaps it's just the skewed perception of childhood (I was like 7 when I got NES and shortly after, SEGA Master System) but it seems to me like game releases were a lot bigger deal back then. Like, more time was spent making them awesome and there was just more time between releases, which made the excitement for anything new UN-FUCKING-BEARABLE. I can't quantify this, but I sure don't get excited for "Madden 50 Million With One Stupid New Feature" like I did for Mario 2. Come to think of it, Mario 2 was the first time I tripped on acid...Except I was young and sober.

*Favorite Games- Mario 2, River City Ransom, Chase HQ, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!, Rampage!, and Zelda of course!*
posted by rollbiz at 10:06 PM on March 23, 2006


Fortunately there are still people who've realised that prettier games aren't necessarily better games.

That's true, but I don't think spore is a good example of that at all. Which is not to say I don't think spore will be a good game, but the sticking point is that it is actually quite pretty. The spiderweb software rpgs might be a better example of un-pretty games with fairly deep & engaging gameplay.
posted by juv3nal at 10:49 PM on March 23, 2006


When computational limitations where a bigger hurdle than the limitations of imagination and design, there were seminal games such as X-Com (turn based tactical game w/ monetary&strategic elements -with ALIENS!), Dune 2 (pretty much defined what a RTS game was), and Ultima Underworld (which preceded and was much more involving than Wolfenstein 3D as a FPS).

Other games such as Wing Commander, defined the spring tide of a genre, where X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter marked the high point of the tide.

On the other hand, Bethesda has always tried being ambitious in both technology and gameplay. TES2: Daggerfall coerced me into a 3 year relationship (mostly based on bugs). TES3: Morrowind coerced me into a 3 year relationship (mostly based on community support). Since I went and bought the collector's edition of TES4:Oblivion earlier today, I have no idea why I'm here on Metafilter (other than.. I need an excuse to go to sleep so I can wake up and fulfill my responsabilities tomorrow).

TES4 is high on technology, high on the WOW factor, but yet still puts gameplay into story, challenge, and just sheer "enjoyability" (on different levels; "achieving," exploring, and manipulating - like, trying to interfere with the AI to get interesting results).

I'm not trying to be a shill - but just pointing out a game where eye-candy isn't everything. This is a case where eyecandy makes solid gameplay more enjoyable.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 10:54 PM on March 23, 2006


rollbiz - I'm with you, but I think it's that we were younger and less jaded. I'm pretty sure kids these days are slobbering over some stupid release like Tomb Raider 4000.

shmegegge - would thew 8 year old female version of you who had previous exposure to the tamaguchi virus have been head-over-heels over nintendogs? Would a 39 year old female version of you who grew up thinking that they were supposed to be sugar and spice and thought that electronics where "boy stuff" (not even "man" stuff) - and be exposed to something familiar and endearing (ie. cute) and easily accessible (and where the media is telling everyone that being into technology is "cool")- no wonder it's popular.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:00 PM on March 23, 2006


Shit! TES: Oblivion has been released already? What am I doing still sitting here in front of MeFi?
posted by DaShiv at 11:03 PM on March 23, 2006


I hadn't thought about Spiderweb Software in YEARS until I read this thread. Exile II: Crystal Souls was on of the most fun RPGs I ever played, clunky graphics and all. And since I'm about $600 short of buying an Xbox360 and TES4:Oblivion, I think I'll go there now and snag some demos. Thanks, juv3nal!

Morrowind ate up more than 300 hours of my life, and I enjoyed at least 275 of those hours, which was a pretty good investment. I hated getting three hours into a quest and having the game freeze....hope that's fixed in TES4.

In the same way that Hollywood has remakeitis, formerly known as sequelitis, video games have become formulaic exercises in "well, it worked before, let's do it again and make it shinier". I like open-world, GTA-type games, and I think that that sort of player-driven narrative form is going to make for some great games (The Godfather and Saints Row probably won't be in that number, sadly).

I often wonder why there is so much blogging going on about MMORPGs and relatively little about single-player games. It's like we skipped from carriages to aircraft carriers without bothering to figure out just what automobiles could do...
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:56 PM on March 23, 2006


Some would say that only people out on their own, free of corporate infection, are free enough to make something truly new. This is backwards. Only the people under control of a big corporation (with the corporate resources and paychecks that come with it) have the freedom to make something new. Not being afraid of starvation does wonders for the mind.

And, by the way, as I see it, the most innovative games of the last few years are The Sims, Deer Hunter, and Black & White. I would argue that innovation is overrated.

Indie developers have a real purpose in this world. They make little niche products for markets too small for Activision. They make many new puzzle games for the casual audience. Or, at least, the same old puzzle game again and again. They rewrite Asteroids... because someone has to.

But truly innovative games? The sort you're only going to see a few more times in your lifetime?

Those will come from Electronic Arts.

Please feel free to kill yourself now.

Jeff Vogel, CEO, Spiderweb Software


And this is a guy who makes indie games for a living. Good indie games, as referenced above.

From a recent interview on ign.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:02 AM on March 24, 2006


There is new gameplay innovation. It just doesn't come very often and is coming less and less now that the industry is more mature.

Surely FPSs were an innovation? They had echos in Battlezone, but RtCW was a new style of play for most people. Realtime Strategy really came into life as a genre with Dune and the Command and Conquer. MMORPGS were also 'new' with Ultima Online. All these things were certainly inspired by other things, but they were new enough to be new genres reallly.

It's been a long time between drinks, but that may just be the case now. When was the last 'new' board game invented?

The pictures don't tell us much we didn't know. The problem is that they completely leave out game play. And hell, the gameplay on some of the primitive games may have been better.

The XBOX 360 may look great for FPSs, but the controls still suck compared to a mouse/keyboard combination. I'd prefer to play Quake III with friends against any FPS on a console.

But games continue to get better and easier to make I'd say. Today, a few friends with some talent could grab an engine like Ogre and use Blender or something and produce a nifty looking 3D game that ran on most people's machines. Sure - it won't beat Half Life 2, but it could create a new genre.

It's all good people.
posted by sien at 12:04 AM on March 24, 2006


The FN3 shot (among others) could very well be in game.

I'm pretty certain that the FN3 shot is, in fact, in-game. Even if that particular one is not, that's exactly how the game looks. I believe that all of those images of the latest gen games are real-time rendered with the game engine. You can get them simply by doing a replay of game action and changing the camera angle.

PGR3, for example, is even more gorgeous to look at than that single shot would suggest - and I mean during gameplay.

And yes, DaShiv, Oblivion is out.
posted by evilangela at 12:08 AM on March 24, 2006


Nah, they'll be fine. Games are something we have all always been pretty informed about before picking up (developer we like, friend liked it, reviews from trusted sources, etc) no matter the shift/expansion of the demographic. The only unfortunate thing is that MMORPGs will never be saved, as the "addictive treadmill" model is foremost in revenue. But that is a dead horse, as far as I'm concerned.

Sorry for the summary quotes.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 12:20 AM on March 24, 2006


Wow, big thanks for bringing up Spiderweb Software, I had totally forgotten about them and they made some seriously amazing (shareware!!) RPGs.
posted by mek at 1:48 AM on March 24, 2006


I recently resurrected Exile on my iBook via a BBC Emulator - this game was phenomenal, the graphics were incredibly colourful and evocative (helped by a bundled novella, I admit), and the gameplay was insanely addictive. Now, as much as when I was 14. And this was on a computer with 32k of memory.

I'll repeat that. 32k.
posted by klaatu at 3:23 AM on March 24, 2006


Compu gaming hit its peak here. Everything since is part of the decline into decadence.
posted by jfuller at 4:07 AM on March 24, 2006


When I was younger I had a lot of fun on the Intellivision, particularly with B-17 Bomber, Sea Battle, Sub Hunt, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Cloudy Mountain, Snafu, Triple Action, Astrosmash, Horse Racing, Auto Racing, and Skiing.

Then we got a C64 and I liked Archon, the EPYX Games series, Fort Apocalypse, Bruce Lee, Impossible Mission, Jumpan, Lode Runner, Seven Cities of Gold, Spy vs. Spy, Blue Max, and Beach Head.

From there it was onto the Amiga where I remember the Cinemaware Games, Microprose's F1 game, Silent Service, Shadow of the Beast, Stunt Car Racer, the Populous series, Lemmings, Dune 2, the TV Sports series, and Eye of the Beholder.

Then it was onto a PC and age, work, women, and other interests have greatly reduced gaming. I usually play F1 and other racing simulators a few times a year.

Never got into consoles after the Intellivision.

I'd say there is plenty of innovation and that innovation rarely occurs in a vacumn but is built upon what has come before. The online and multiplayer element comes immediately to mind.
posted by juiceCake at 5:54 AM on March 24, 2006


I've probably logged an average of four hours a day since. I play between six and ten a day now.

My god.
posted by glenwood at 6:07 AM on March 24, 2006


I'm pretty certain that the FN3 shot is, in fact, in-game.

What's it matter? The Double Dribble screencap isn't an in-game shot either. It seems like a terribly small quibble that some of the recent screencaps are from in-game movies.
posted by yerfatma at 6:09 AM on March 24, 2006



Shit! TES: Oblivion has been released already? What am I doing still sitting here in front of MeFi?

If you're like me, you're sitting around wishing you had enough money for either an xbox360 or a computer capable of running it...
posted by juv3nal at 9:02 AM on March 24, 2006


juve3nal - I've got an old Athlon XP1800 and a reasonable 6600GT; it runs great at 1024x768 with much/significant eyecandy on. Mostly missing advanced shadows, the fade-distance for objects (but not terrain and cities) is pretty low, and no bonuses like AA.

The water reflections are pretty, especially at sunsets.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 9:11 AM on March 24, 2006


but it seems to me like game releases were a lot bigger deal back then. Like, more time was spent making them awesome

This rings true because pac-man and the infamous E.T. were such failures on the Atari. That is to say, they would be inconspicuous in today’s largely junk-videogame market, where the good titles drown in bad for any given system. (yes, pac-man was an awesome game -- it was the port that sucked)

Come to think of it, Mario 2 was the first time I tripped on acid...

I’m sure it was a complementary experience. I’ve always thought the creators must have been.

Fortunately there are still people who've realised that prettier games aren't necessarily better games.

Starflight and Starflight 2 instantly spring to mind. Personal, all-time faves, and the poor graphics were directly related to the (incredibly huge) size of the playable universe – all on a floppy, of course!

Morrowind, on the other hand – I’m sorry – was beautiful, and it was probably that beauty that kept me going back despite the bugs and atrocious gameplay (yeah, I think I’ll spend another hour of jumping to get that jump skill up – if Oblivion isn’t a hell of a lot more like Fable than it is Morrowind, I’m not biting).

When was the last 'new' board game invented?

Dude, don’t get people started on the German board games thing. (yes, they rock)
posted by dreamsign at 9:42 AM on March 24, 2006


This might be and AskMefi thing but this reminded me (good post BTW):

Anybody remember one of the very, very, first Arcade games (1979 or so) that was simply a black and white top down view of two spaceships on a star field - both were remarkably similar to simply one-bit line drawings of Startrek ships (one Federation, one Klingon) - and the play was head-to-head play the first person to defeat the other player four times one.

As the game progressed there was a black hole in the center of the screen that would have an increasing draw on the players ships.

The game disappeared. One I think because of the Star Trek resemblance and two because the player could essentially draw the game out forever so maker made little money on it.

Damn I loved that game. I would LOVE to see a Flash re-creation.
posted by tkchrist at 9:52 AM on March 24, 2006


You're not talking about Space Wars, are you, tkchrist? Not exactly what you described, but close.
posted by dreamsign at 9:58 AM on March 24, 2006


Anybody remember one of the very, very, first Arcade games (1979 or so) that was simply a black and white top down view of two spaceships on a star field - both were remarkably similar to simply one-bit line drawings of Startrek ships (one Federation, one Klingon) - and the play was head-to-head play the first person to defeat the other player four times one.

Space Wars

Windows version (sorry, couldn't find a Flash version)
posted by me & my monkey at 10:01 AM on March 24, 2006


dreamsign: Oblivion's gameplay is smoothed out a lot, but yeah you'll still be bunnyhopping your way to 100 Acrobatics skill.

Since this seems to be the active gaming thread, let me derail slightly and mention a small unsupported hack for pushing out the draw distance on the PC version: My Docs/My Games/Oblivion/Oblivion.ini:

Find the following variables and set them to the following values:

uGridsToLoad=9 (give or take 2, this ups the number of landscape grids loaded into memory)

This creates a nasty rendering error in the water, though, so under the [Water] section:

uNumDepthGrids=1 (forces a different, much less noticeable rendering error)

then under [Landscape]:

fLandTextureTilingMult=1.0000 (reduces tiling in distant terrain - setting this any lower will reduce resolution on terrain at your feet.)

Just above this you'll find the grass draw distance settings, which you can up to reduce popins.
posted by Ryvar at 10:05 AM on March 24, 2006


Its amusing that both Avernum 4 and Oblivion came up. I was just thinking how they don't play all that differently. Explore world, kill things, pick up 200 wolf pelts / pretty crystals and run out of inventory space...
posted by teki at 10:24 AM on March 24, 2006


...particularly with B-17 Bomber

(Test Pilot Drawl) "Beeee Seventeeen BAAAAAWM-er"

This was a brilliant game. That game, a certain herb, and the cartoon Starblazers, were the reason I nearly failed highschool French. Let's just say there was a schedule conflict.
posted by tkchrist at 11:27 AM on March 24, 2006


Me&MyMonkey. God Bless you. That's it.
posted by tkchrist at 11:28 AM on March 24, 2006


can we really say that games have had any real new innovation?

online multiplayer competition
persistent online worlds
fps (someone already mentioned)
time shifting (PoP or TimeShift (or even Max Payne))
"real-time" strategy
non-linear gameplay
autonomic AI (probably not the right term - thinking of Facade)
SDKs for third-party add-ons
make-your-own-game tools

those are the major ones I can think of off the top of my head. there have been more simple gameplay innovations (e.g. time-shifting) in the past 10 years than i could possibly list.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:12 PM on March 24, 2006


The Game Innovation Database
posted by euphorb at 11:19 PM on March 24, 2006


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