I suspect like many retro gamers, I’m getting on a bit now. I’m old enough to remember the launch of the ZX81 and was a teenager through the glory days of the 8 bit computers. In technology terms, this makes me positively ancient (or “retro” as I like to think of myself!)
So what? You might think. Age is just a number, and anyway, what’s this got to do with old games? Just get on with it, you rambling old fool.
So, let me explain a little further. I’ve noticed recently that my *ahem* “retro” status has started to take its toll on my gaming abilities. Not just the obvious stuff (having to sit nearer to the TV/monitor to read on-screen text or having to have the volume turned up louder); it’s also starting to affect my actual prowess as a gamer.
I’ve mentioned before in this blog that I’ve never been the greatest gamer in the world. The number of games (especially older games) that I’ve been able to beat without resorting to cheats is limited and “competent” is perhaps the kindest way to describe my gaming abilities. Recently, though, I’ve noticed my ability to compete even at this mediocre level is decreasing.
This was brought home forcibly to me when I purchased the rather excellent Humble Bundle Star Wars III package. For the miserly sum of something like £11, I got access to about 14 Star Wars titles from the late 90s/early 2000s (yes, I know I could probably have downloaded them for nothing, but as I’ve said before my piracy days are long behind me and I prefer to have legal copies of my games now, than you very much!)
One of the titles was X-Wing Alliance, a game I bought and loved when it came out in 1999. Back then, I was pretty good at it. Like many games, I don’t think I ever fully completed it, but that was more because I got distracted by another game, rather than because I got stuck. One day, I just moved away from it and somehow never got round to completing it. So, when I downloaded the Humble Bundle deal and installed it, I confidently expected to pick up where I left off.
To start with, everything seemed OK. I didn’t initially have access to the keyboard controls (and there are a lot of them), but I found that I could recall most of the main ones and so leapt straight in . The first couple of missions (essentially training missions) went fine and everything seemed to come flooding back.
Then I reached the first proper combat mission and it all started to go horribly wrong. I died. I re-started the mission. I died again. I restarted again. I hit another craft and died once more. I restated once more. After many, many fruitless attempts, I went to the options screen and dialled the difficulty level down to Easy (something I’d never had to do previously) and re-started.
I died. Even on easy level, it seemed, I could no longer cut the mustard as a star fighter pilot. I did eventually get off the level, of course, but if I’m having this much difficulty on such an early level, my prospects for saving the universe from the Empire look pretty bleak.
I suppose it’s possible that I’ve become a little soft. It’s generally acknowledged that games have got easier, with infinite lives/retries now part of most big titles and perhaps that’s had an impact – when the going gets tough, I’m not longer battle hardened enough to deal with it.
It’s also possible that I was more used to playing Star Wars games back then. I’d played pretty much all the Lucas Arts releases and so learned lots of little tricks for getting out of sticky situations. Apart from the Lego titles (don’t mock me – they’re fun), I probably haven’t played a Star Wars game since around 2001. As such, I’ve lost some of that gaming memory muscle that I’d built up around the Star Wars titles.
There’s probably an element of truth in both of those but I don’t think it’s the full story. Sadly, I think my age is starting to catch up with me. My brain still knows what to do, but my reflexes aren’t quite as fast as they were and my hands can’t always react fast enough. As I’ve got a little more used to the game again and played more missions, I have started to die less, but even so, this episode was a sad reminder that whilst I am now a more experienced gamer overall, I also no longer have the reaction s of a 20-something year old.
So, is it just me or do others find that as they get older, gaming (particularly retro games) gets harder?