Occasionally on this blog, I’m going to run a feature called Gaming Gods which will have a look at some of the programmers, musicians and artists who particularly impressed me during the 8 and 16 bit eras.
Growing up, people like Jeff Minter, Andrew Braybrook, Rob Hubbard (to list just a few) were names that really meant something to me. Through their games, graphics or music I felt as though I knew them (even though I’ve never met any of them in my life) and they were a draw in their own right.
As they were essentially one-man bands (literally in the case of musician Hubbard!) you knew what to expect from them. Their name attached to a game was often a seal of quality. Whilst I’m not suggesting that everything they produced was perfect, you identified with their work, appreciated the effort that they had put into them and felt a connection. A bit like with music, you had your favourite programmers, your favourite artists and your favourite musicians. I can’t be the only one who felt this way either, since publishers often used to advertise games as “the latest game from …”
I still love gaming and there’s no doubting that the increased power of modern devices has produced stunning visuals and sounds that 80s programmers can only dream of. At the same time, though, I mourn the loss of that more personal connection (even if it only ever existed in my mind). Development teams on top titles are now so massive that you rarely recognise any of the names in the extensive credits and, even if you do, you have no idea of what they contributed to the game. Games are now the result of a collective effort, rather than a single piece of genius and, as a result, I feel they are less personal. The days when I would buy a game because of who wrote it are long gone. I might occasionally buy it on the strength of the studio or developer that released it (Sumo Digital and Naughty Dog both tend to be pretty reliable), but such instances are very rare.
This is even true on the Indie scene where development teams tend to be much smaller. Yet even here, the credits often reveal that lots of people were involved in the title and it’s not the effort of one or two individuals. There are still a few one-man bands around, but there’s no-one I could equate to an 80s Braybrook, Hubbard or Minter (well, except Minter, who is still turning out great games like TxK!).
You could argue that people like Shigeru Miyamoto or Hideo Kojima fulfil a similar role today and that you might buy a game on the strength of their involvement. I’d be willing to concede that… although I’d also point out that such people cut their teeth during the early years gaming, which maybe just strengthens my argument further.
It’s perhaps inevitable that as gaming has got bigger, more professional and more business-like, that personal touch has got lost. Many of today’s games are fantastic and I fully understand they would be beyond the ability of one person to create, but that sense of being “in touch” with the programmer is another aspect of gaming that I miss.