Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

No Time for Retro-Gaming?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 25, 2012

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about how I recently re-played Ultima III to completion.  I explained to him that it started out mainly as a research-thing, but after about an hour (all I was really planning on putting into it, to get the feel for it again), I was really in the rhythm and enjoying myself.

Was it crude by today’s standards? Big-time. Was it as wonderful as I remembered? Well, no, not really. Still fun, I discovered, but definitely not the mind-blowing experience I remembered. I guess nostalgia and the fact that it was so state-of-the-art at the time figured heavily into it. A lot of it probably had to do with my state of mind as a kid, too. Those random combats in the dungeon were all part of a story I’d invested into it as a kid, which I didn’t have so much of as an adult.

I had no problem with looking up hints and maps online this time around to shorten the game. And shorten it I did – I remember it taking me weeks to play through it the first time, many decades ago. I think I beat it in less than eight hours this time around. It was a good several hours – little of the drudgery or “getting lost,” and lots of challenging fights and good ol’ hunting down “marks,” clues, and exotics throughout the world.

I told my friend about my fun experience re-playing the game in spite of its antiquity. He was an old Ultima fan from way back as well.  But then he told me he’d never do anything like that, because he had no time to play old games.

I guess I kinda don’t either, but that hadn’t stopped me. But his comment made me think.

I retro-game a lot. I do it a lot for “research,” but, as in Ultima III, I frequently find that once I get past the crude graphics and opaque, antique UI, I find an enjoyable game behind it. Oh, not always – most old games, like most new games, aren’t that great, and the passage of time has done them no favors.  But older graphics can still be quite pretty, and interfaces for certain kinds of games – especially older console and arcade games – can be even simpler and (IMO) better than today’s counterparts.  I find that playing these older games provides me with a lot of benefits as a gamer, a designer, and as a whatever-it-is-I-do-writing-about-games:

#1 – It helps me remove the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia when talking about the old classics. No game is perfect, and the ones we remember as classics often succeeded in spite of (or perhaps even because of) their flaws. It’s good to confront the reality of the game rather than just emotional memories.

#2 – It gives me a better perspective on new games. I love new games, too, but comparing them to their spiritual ancestors helps provide me with a foundation. What some journalists with a perspective dating back no more than five years in the hobby might see as new and innovative, I may see as simply an evolution (or even recycling) of common, older ideas. And when we gripe about newer games are simply ‘dumbed down’ rehashings of old concepts, I may have enough of a perspective to admit that there really are some things that are being done today that are an improvement (besides prettier graphics and better UIs) over their predecessors, and feel comfortable enough to characterize those differences.

#3 – As a designer, these older games are often a wellspring of inspiration. Whether its ideas that were fresh at the time which have since been forgotten or mutated into a different species, or its simply an emotional reaction to revisiting old friends or a time when gaming was a little more hobby-oriented, or simply seeing how a game seems filled with unfulfilled promise and potential and envisioning how modern technology could now make that possible, playing these older games often work wonders for me to recharge my creativity and motivation.

#4 – What was fun twenty years ago is frequently still a lot of fun today. Yeah, we may be a lot more jaded and used to being spoon-fed our entertainment more than we were then (yes, even me — I have a tough time reading the manuals anymore, and that was always a big deal and part of the entertainment value for me).  It takes a conscious effort to overlook the chunky, pixellated graphics and the counter-intuitive UIs, or to accept the other limitations of the era. But after paying that ‘price’ few are willing to pay today, I find myself getting sucked back into these worlds just as much as I was when they were new.  And that’s what it’s all about, really… having fun.

I guess I kinda understand my friends’ perspective. There are so many great games coming out now – especially if you follow indie games – that there’s no time to play them all, let alone go back and revisit past classics.  And it takes a certain amount of discipline to immerse yourself in these older titles – particularly when it’s not always worth the trip. But for me, I have no problem enjoying these games side-by-side with their more contemporary brethren.


Filed Under: General - Comments: 11 Comments to Read

  • Noumenon said,

    Most of my retro-gaming urge is fulfilled by watching YouTube replays, but Ultima is the kind of game that just wouldn’t work for.

  • Jake said,

    I’m playing through Ultima 5 right now – the first great game I played as a kid (moving from NES to PC 8088). I had a similar experience, not as great as I remember, but still something pretty awesome about it, once I got past the graphics. Also, much easier as an adult than a 11 year old.

    I miss the interactive chat experiences. It seems like RPGs have moved away from that model. It feels deeper than it really is. It makes you think you could ask anything and potentially get a response.

    Are there any modern RPGs that make you type in chat responses? I think U5 is the only game I ever played that had this kind of interaction and I really liked it.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Wizardry 8 (2002) is the last mainstream (ish) RPG that I recall that allowed text-based keywords for dialog. And with that one, I don’t think that any of the plot-critical dialogs required you to use that instead of canned keywords you could click on. You did need to type text for the answer to a riddle or two IIRC.

  • Albert1 said,

    I play a couple levels of Doom 2/Quake 1 each evening. I’ve been playing those games for so many years it amazes me how much I continue to enjoy them. I still have to find a modern FPS that engages me as much as the aforementioned titles do!

  • Jackson said,

    Jake, I think you might enjoy this: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/06/15/the-real-texas-mashes-up-ultima-zelda-and-er-texas/

  • samsinx said,

    @ Jake
    Ditto on Ultima 5. It’s a game that’s often either ignored or downplayed in its significance in CRPG history, and especially when compared to Ultima 4. The graphics were rather good for its time (especially in the dungeons.)

    It was the first Origin Systems game that really lived up to its motto of ‘creating worlds’ that Ultima 6 and 7 later built upon – NPC schedules, complex conversations, the ability to move objects on the map, and a real story (which Ultima 4 frankly didn’t have.) And I originally played that game on a 64K Apple //e!

  • Albert1 said,

    Another game I think is still fresh is Stonekeep.

  • Bad Sector said,

    I play a lot of retro games myself too. Quake 1 is my favorite FPS game and i play it very frequently (single player custom maps mostly). But generally i play lots of different older games.

    I feel that this “habit” has made me somewhat immune to aging graphics. I just started playing again Tomb Raider 3 (i only went as far as the first couple of levels a couple of years ago) which i got from the cover of a local magazine some years ago. I never played the game on its hayday nor was much of a fan of the series, however i actually enjoy the game and i have no traces of “rose-tinted glass shards” or anything like that :-P. In fact i actually like the grid-based platforming the game has and find it weird that no other games tried something similar).

    I had played the DOS Tomb Raider demo at the past. I might get the series on GOG just to have them in the digital plane where plastic discs do not need to be carried around.

    Sometimes i also play Commander Keen, although lately i mostly do that on my Dingoo handheld which has a port of the open source remake.

  • Albert1 said,

    @Bad Sector: I played TR3 recently too, and I agree with you about grid… you know, it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately: I concluded that the fact I really prefer lot of the early 3D games (Quake 1 rulez!) is because of the recurring patterns they contain – grid-based levels, “obscenely” tiled textures, etc. Maybe it has to do with human nature – after all, patterns/ratios/proportions are quite frequent in everything we do.
    BTW: I think that Dissolution of Eternity is better than plain Quake 1.

  • Andy said,

    I think I probably do more retrogaming now than ever, but that might have to do with this being the least satisfying gaming period for me in a while. I own fewer Xbox 360 games than I have for any system since the Atari Jaguar. The PC is still doing fine, thanks to the indies, but most of the high-profile stuff gets passed over by me (no, I won’t be getting Diablo 3. Ever).

    Having also replayed a big chunk of the Ultima series not too long ago – I went through 1-5 fairly quickly, and I’ll finish up the rest when I get in the mood for RPGs again – I found that the text parser really is wonderful for bonding you to the game. It’s simple but the fact that you have to pay attention to what people are saying and figure out for yourself the right words to type in makes the gameplay feel so much more rewarding than if you just clicked on keywords given to you straight out.

  • John said,

    I read about old games (in Retro Gamer magazine) and watch old games on youtube much more than play them. GOG speeds up the process which helps me play some to, as I don’t have the time to mess around with emulators, etc.

    Some old games are still fantastic, but lots aren’t and unfortunately are better left as a good memory.