Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Something Old, Something New… And Everything Else!

Posted by Rampant Coyote on October 24, 2012

I recently confessed that I really don’t know what “old-school RPG” really means, mainly because it’s something that represents different things to different people. In the latest issue of Knights of the Dinner Table, comic creator Jolly Blackburn confessed the same kind of quandary in an editorial about the “old-school” mentality of dice-and-paper gamers.

He notes that a lot of the people of the “old-school” are resistant to new ideas… if it was published after 1990 (or 1977, or 1986, or whatever), they aren’t interested. Plastic miniatures, digital game aids, or PDF game manuals all come under fire from these folks. He says:

“I guess my idea of old school IS different from some of my fellow gamers. As memory serves, back in the day WE were the ones who were embracing new ideas. The guys who piled in my AMC Gremlin one weekend to seek out these new-fangled things called ‘polyhedrons,’ (had to go to a teacher supply store to find them). The cash-strapped college students who chipped in to buy the AD&D GMG after only dabling with Basic for a few weeks. The guys who scrambled to pick up Traveller, Call of Cthulhu and a plethora of new game innovations in the following years.

“It was an exciting era – rife with new ideas and gamers exchanging ideas and exploring the possibilities of these new things called role-playing games. For me that era has never really ended. Gaming still excited me and one of the things that fuels my passion for role-playing is the fact that I’m constantly learning and experiencing new things.

“My idea of ‘Old-School’ is taking what works from the past and bringing it with me as I move into the future – not stubbornly clinging to the past and shooing away anything that smacks of innovation or change.”

If you’ve read my past comments on the subject, you’ll know this resonates with me.

Judging on the reactions of players of XCom: Enemy Unknown who are actually veterans of the original game, it seems this probably resonates pretty well with most old-school gamers, as well.  There are of course many reviews that proudly proclaim the new game to be absolutely superior to the original in every way, damn-aint-modern-gaming-so-much-better, and there are a handful of opinions that express disappointment in the new game being a dumbing-down of the awesomeness of the original. It seems that by far the majority of opinions (at least that I’m seeing) from veteran gamers is that the the new XCom is great modern game, and does a fantastic job of borrowing from past and capturing the flavor of the original. But it is a different game and a different experience from the original. There is no clear winner between the two for many of us. Maybe what I’m seeing represents a selection bias on my part. To me, XCom is like a fun, fast-paced card game based on a much more in-depth but equally fun board game. They feel a lot a like, sometimes play kind of alike, use similar strategies and contexts but approach them differently.

While part of me just wants to whoop and holler and fist-pump at the success of XCom: Enemy Unknown because its success demonstrates to a world of thick-headed journalists that TURN-BASED GAMING IS STILL RELEVANT AND FUN IN 2012 (and beyond!), it’s still not everything I want in a tactical strategy game. But then, no game ever was or will be. That’s the beauty of it. We’re never “done.” There’s still room for games like Xenonauts, guys! And a hell of a lot more. And if I really feel nostalgic, a trip to the original X-Com games is only a DOSBOX launch away. Life is good.

What really bugs me is the attitude that old-school ‘style’ and genres are primitive and no longer relevant in modern gaming. Ridiculous! I hope the success of games like XCom: Enemy Unknown, Legend of Grimrock, and lots of high-profile Kickstarter projects start curing this. I’m definitely seeing the glimmers of understanding from more mainstream gaming websites that, hey, maybe these games that glued a legion of gamers to the screen for hours at a time back when half our staff was still in training pants were actually really fun, and weren’t just fascinating for their novelty like flame to neanderthals. Through much of the last decade, it seemed like there was a time horizon oddly matching most journalist’s coming-of-age-in-gaming before which any game – with certain exceptions carved out only for legendary figures like Miyamoto, Suzuki, Meier, etc. – could be summarily rejected in its entirety as being unworthy of the modern gamer.

But as Jolly notes, the opposite mentality – putting the ‘classics’ on such a pedestal that anything new is instantly rejected – doesn’t make much sense either.  Guys, I was there, too. I remember hearing you complain about the same things, too. These games weren’t perfect.  Journalists griped about the same kinds of things.  There was lots of room for improvement.  And we, the gamers, were quick to jump onto whatever was new and shiny back then.

There’s a much bigger world out there beyond the limited borders of both Old Schoolburg and New Hotnessville.

Filed Under: Design, Mainstream Games, Retro - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • Dual citizen said,

    Another great post my friend!

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    Great article.

    I pre-ordered XCOM after much deliberation, and found myself really enjoying it. There are various flaws to it, but it is a great modern game.

    However, I also decided to play-through X-COM again, to fully appreciate those differences. I like the fact that I can do that, and I appreciate that they are both good and different games. (I think I’ll always prefer the classic though, if only for nostalgic reasons).

    I’m also a backer of Xenonauts, and have high hopes for their alternative take.

    It’ll be interesting to look back in a year or two and see how those two new takes on a classic have done, and how they have influenced games to come. Thanks to the hard work of indie developers and much more recently kickstarter, there’s a much wider variety of new games available. It’s a great time to be a PC gamer, that’s for sure.

  • jwmeep said,

    >What really bugs me is the attitude that old-school ‘style’ and genres are primitive and no longer relevant in modern gaming. Ridiculous! I hope the success of games like XCom: Enemy Unknown, Legend of Grimrock, and lots of high-profile Kickstarter projects start curing this.

    Agreed so much.

  • Robyrt said,

    Amen. One underappreciated aspect of the new XCOM is that it’s multiplatform. It wasn’t long ago that people said you could never have a good strategy game on consoles because of input limitations, but they definitely made it work. As a side benefit, the interface is readable and easy to navigate without needless proliferation of key bindings, because it has to be compatible with the 10-button Xbox 360 controller.

  • Void said,

    The new XCOM is very good, I even like that I don’t have to seek the last alien for half an hour in some closet.
    * the graphics is great (especially sparks flying around from the burned wood in dark night)
    * the mission maps are a step back, as they are premade, not generated
    * the controls are inconvenient, as this time this game was released as well on consoles, what always hurt games
    * the game pace is incredibly great and well weighted
    * there are few simplifications of he strategy layer, but non of them critical

    Really a good game to play, and addicting to the one-more-turn itch.