Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

The Seven Stages of Retro-Gaming

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 8, 2010

So you’ve decided to take a stab at “retrogaming”… playing one of those old video games from six, eight, ten, maybe even twenty or more years in the past. I have a little bit of an advantage as I remember when most of the games were hot and new. But still, it’s not all smooth sailing when I start playing my newest acquisition from GOG.COM, Steam, XBLA, or the back of the rack at the used game store.

But if you are like me, you may go through most or all of these stages of emotion as you play.

Stage 1: Anticipation

Could this game be as awesome as you remember, or you have heard about? It’s considered a classic by most gaming journalists – a wonder of its era. Better than many games of today, some say.  Why, this antique game may be the best thing you’ve installed on your system this year! You can hardly wait…

Stage 2: Confusion

What’s EMS memory? What Soundblaster IRQ settings to use? How do you get DOSBOX to work with this? Okay, now that it’s installed, how do you freaking play it? Hadn’t they heard of tooltips back than? How do you leave the freaking inn? They commands are all over the keyboard! Argh! This is impossible. How did people play these games back then.

Wait, the manual you have to read to be able to play is HOW BIG?

Stage 3:  Disappointment

Umm… you know, as much as you try to look past the old graphics, they really are… rough. What is that object really supposed to be? It’s either a sword or a person… Oh, it’s a house. The gameplay is a little more simplistic (in spite of its obtuse interface) than you expected, and there are a lot of things they are doing here that really have been done far better by more modern games. And did we mention ugly graphics?

Stage 4: Acceptance

Hmmm – okay, once you have read the manual and spent an hour or two playing,  you kinda get into the rhythm of things. And it’s maybe not that bad. Sure, the graphics are primitive, but after a while you can look past that. But now, at last, you are finally playing, really playing the game. You begin to see the game as they must have seen it back when it was new.  It’s not so much of a chore now, at least.

Stage 5: Enthusiasm

Now you are a few hours into it, and things are humming now. By now, most modern games would be half-over, but you are firing on all cylinders.

And you are having fun.

And you are impressed by small things that they’ve done. Things that maybe haven’t been imitated to death in modern games. They weren’t necessarily features or ideas that hit the ball out over the fences, but they are different. And cool. And fun. You are enjoying the game, warts and all.

Stage 6: Respect

If you get to this stage, everything changes.

You haven’t transcended or anything like that.  But you have managed to take a trip back into time, without the need of a modified DeLorean. You’ve experienced a game of yesteryear much as gamers of an earlier time had. You’ve come to realize that “fun” wasn’t suddenly invented three years ago, and been inspired by what could be done with a game on a system that had little more computing power than your microwave.

Stage 7: Freedom

After going through these stages a few times (and I go through ’em every time, though with some games I never get past the disappointment stage), a peculiar feeling of freedom sets in. You are no longer in the thrall of the current release schedules. You no longer are constrained by what’s “current.” Inexpensive back-catalog offerings, used games, and indie games in the style of the old classics now offer nearly as much excitement (and a heck of a lot more bang-for-the-buck) than the latest releases.

Welcome to retrogaming. It won’t be “cool,” but hey — most of us remember when there was absolutely nothing cool about playing video games, anyway. But it will be fun, and that’s the point, isn’t it?

Filed Under: Retro - Comments: 14 Comments to Read

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    I’m always going back and playing old games, I’ve been a gamer for 20 years so there’s plenty of nostalgia out there.

    Unfortunately as you say, there are certain disappointments. I used to be one of the people that would heap scorn on those who wouldn’t play older games, but encounters with clunky interfaces and 16 colour (or worse) graphics systems have slowly changed my mind as I’ve aged.

    Interface is truly the key, you can go back and play Space Quest IV and have a brilliant time for many reasons if you’ve played it previously. But for someone who’s playing it for the first time, what they will enjoy are the detailed graphics (despite their age, 2D ages well!) and the simple control interface (Hand symbol for get, use etc., Eye symbol to look etc.). This means a newbie can pick it up quickly (and then get stuck on some of the more tricky puzzles).

    The same can’t be said for those older games which require you to memorize the keyboard shortcuts just to play. Try playing Megatraveller without a manual and see how far you get. I played it back in the day and I still find it a pain to go back to.

    That said, a good old game is like a good bit of music, you’ll want to experience it again and again.

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    Forgot to mention this rather amazing blog: http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/

    One man blogging his way through all the cRPGs he can manage from the earliest to the present day.

  • Elwro said,

    :salute: A nice description!

    I recently had almost exactly the same experience with Castles II. Somehow, for me, there have so far been fewer disappointments than happy surprises in the field of retrogaming.

  • Kimari said,

    For me it’s more like this:

    (WARNING. I’m making quite a few generalizations here)

    Anticipation: Oh hey, I’ll get to check what the fuss is all about this game!
    Confusion: Wait, how does this work?
    Rage: Oh, so THAT’s how it works… that’s … well, yeah, it is different, at least I can say that. However, that’s the nicest thing I can say about it. I think this game has the worst interface I’ve ever seen in my life.
    Quitting: I refuse to play something so badly designed. I don’t care if it’s a classic, it huurts mai brane two play.

    Granted, games like Fallout 1 & 2 did have quite a few interface problems but at least they were playable, so they’re an exception to the process I’ve described above.

  • sascha said,

    While I agree mostly I must object to your point Nr. 3. If you think graphics of old games are just ugly I’d say you are too spoiled by modern game visuals! Simplicity isn’t necessarily ugly. Also if there are graphics that you might find ugly, others find them bizarre in a positive way. This is in fact often one of the charming properties of old games. How would it be if old games looked just as realistic as modern games?! In particular we gamers who grew up during the 80s with homecomputers should know better.

  • Rampant Coyote said,


    I didn’t intend that to be overly generalized (nor was a thinking of a specific game where a house looks like a sword). I still look back to some of those games for artistic inspiration – they did wonderful things with their limited palettes and resolution.

    But there really are some games from that era that aren’t that pretty, too.

  • Calibrator said,

    “If you think graphics of old games are just ugly I’d say you are too spoiled by modern game visuals!”

    “Spoiled” is perhaps a too emotional word. “accustomed” may be better. Some people are perhaps less accustomed and others simply don’t need graphics at all (roguelikes, Dwarf Fortress etc.).

    “Simplicity isn’t necessarily ugly. Also if there are graphics that you might find ugly, others find them bizarre in a positive way.”

    True, but there is a difference between simplicity and primitivity – especially in regard to graphics and design in general.
    To simplify things is to reduce things to necessary parts/aspects but a simple design can be very advanced.
    Primitivity on the other hand describes something which is even less: The bare minimum and perhaps not even that.
    Primitivity is also an emotional word in that it is often used to judge something in a negative sense. Simplicity is often more objective/neutral.

    “This is in fact often one of the charming properties of old games. How would it be if old games looked just as realistic as modern games?!”

    I don’t see a problem with that. In fact I see many modern games with pretty graphics but primitive game mechanics and complex games with simple, abstract graphics.

    “In particular we gamers who grew up during the 80s with homecomputers should know better.”

    Yes, we should know that graphics aren’t everything but that they are important as they remain a strong incentive to play a game in the first place.
    That was true back then and it is true right now.
    Anybody who remembers the joy he had when he upgraded (for example) from a Atari 2600 to a C64 or from a C64 to an Amiga knows that the graphics were a big part of it.

  • Felix Pleșoianu said,

    There are Spectrum games (Sentinel, Lords of Midnight) that I used to play on my 486, but I probably wouldn’t have the patience for anymore. And there are old PC games I still play now and then, such as Doom and Warcraft 1/2. There’s no hard-and-fast rule. Besides, I aged too, not just the games. Which reminds me that someone who has never played them back in the day may see them in a completely different light. Then again, Cave Story — a deliberate throwback — is plenty popular with young people, so…

  • Calibrator said,

    “Which reminds me that someone who has never played them back in the day may see them in a completely different light.”

    A games website once had videos of young kids of today (six to twelve years or so) playing VCS games for a change. Their reactions weren’t exactly astonishing but nonetheless funny. And no, they didn’t make me feel old, but different…

  • sascha said,

    You’re all right but I think you get the idea of what my comment was meant to say. Don’t blame games because they have outdated graphics. On GOG I read a comment about Jagged Alliance(1) where the author wrote “the graphics are crap”. Please?? Jagged Alliance has beautiful graphics even for today’s (indie) standards! Sure they are simplified and pixely but calling them crap borders on ignorance. Luckily such comments seem to be the exception. I’m surprised to see that many younger players (born after 19900) are quite tolerant about the old games and graphics.

  • sascha said,

    *1990 I mean 😉

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