I realise that this blog might make me sound like a bit of an old fuddy duddy at times; the kind of dull relative who bores you at family get togethers with endless tales of how much better things were in my day.
I promise that’s not my intention and I’m not totally unrealistic. I fully accept that time has lent the 80s and 90s a certain rosy glow. These days we tend to look back fondly on the classic games that have stood the test of time, forgetting that there was an awful lot of dross released too (film and TV licences, I’m looking at you!) Equally, I fully accept that today’s games with their incredible graphics and soundtracks are way beyond anything we imagined back then, when the animation of the main sprite in Impossible Mission or the pseudo 3D graphics of The Last Ninja were talking points in their own right.
At the same time, though, there was a magic to gaming back then; a certain mystique which is missing today. Back then, everything felt new and fresh. Technical limitations meant that games couldn’t rely on impressive graphics, so focussed on gameplay instead. Particularly in the early 80s it felt that every new game established a new genre, whilst later in the decade – as developers learned how to get the most from the hardware – titles really started to push the humble machines to their limits. It was a time of imagination and innovation, a time when programmers dared to try something different and produce games that were like nothing we’d ever seen before. That’s how games like Paperboy or Wizball came about – because people dared to try something new.
These days that imagination has gone out of the industry. Just go along to the shelves of your local games shop (if you can still find one) and try and buy a game that doesn’t have a number in the title or isn’t just the latest update to a sporting franchise. Almost impossible, isn’t it? Even if you do find something that’s not a sequel, the chances are that it will just be another addition to an already overcrowded genre: another FPS or sports sim. Massive development budgets and spiralling costs means that developers are now totally risk averse and rarely release anything that dares to be different or does not have a ready made market built in.
And you know who’s to blame for this? Us. The gamers. Every time we shell out another £40 for the latest FIFA update or Call of Duty game, we say to the industry that we don’t care about imagination or innovation; that we are happy to keep paying more to play essentially the same game with only minimal changes its predecessor. Sure, the advent of digital downloads and indie developers has improved the situation a little, but these titles still only sell a fraction of the the AAA games and their releases certainly don’t attract the attention of the mainstream media in the same way that (say) the release of FIFA 15 does.
And that’s a real shame because it’s innovation and imagination that made the industry what it is today. That’s why retro gaming is important and more than just the ramblings of people who think everything was better in the olden days: it helps to keep the past alive and remind us all of where we came from.