Video games have been gradually evolving since their inception some 40-odd years ago. But has that evolution been for the “better” across the board? There are facets of gaming that are currently considered dated, old fashioned, or whatever other similarly dismissive term you want to use that some of us look at as things that we actually miss. Here are five such things for me, elements of gaming that are either gone completely and considered best left that way or that are seemingly in the process of being pushed out that I either want back or don’t want gone.
5 – Turn-based RPG battles
I blame Bioware and Bethesda for this one, taking what used to be just a sub-genre of RPGs – games with partial or entirely real-time battle systems – and popularizing them to the point that gamers began to prefer that over the good old fashioned turn-based battles of JRPGs past. It got to the point that even old guards like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest began experimenting with doing away with turn-based battle systems, the former basically abandoning them completely. To be fair, I love a good action/RPG, but I also liked it better when that was its own separate thing. Every single game that I play doesn’t need to test my twitch skills and have lighting-fast, in-my-face action at every turn, and I miss the days when RPGs were a genre I could turn to when I wanted my action to be slow and methodical and where just selecting a menu command would allow me to sit back and watch a 45-second cutscene of my character unleashing awesome havoc.
4 – Limiting your retries in some way/actual punishment for death
No, I don’t want to go back to the days of having to start a game completely from the beginning after a game over screen. But there has to be a middle ground between that and having infinite lives, infinite continues, infinite saves, being able to save every three inches, and so on. I know it’s a cliched complaint at this point to say that most modern games are too easy, but there just doesn’t seem to be as much risk anymore. As long as you have unlimited retries and you can save your game right before you do anything risky or dangerous, where’s the thrill or sense of danger? I for one don’t think it’s the worst thing when a game has predetermined checkpoints that take me back a bit when I die, because that actually gives me the incentive to try not to die. Dying in a game is supposed to be a punishment; it’s supposed to make you lose progress and make you feel bad for messing up. As it stands, the only way to feel any kind of sting for dying in most games is if you just forgot to save for awhile, and you didn’t happen to go through a door or whatever other thing makes a game autosave every 7 seconds. Oh no, I may actually have to redo a level or section of a game because I failed! Ain’t nobody got time for that!
3 – Short games
There was a time when the only games that took you more than 8-12 hours to beat were RPGs and Grand Theft Auto. Now, every single game that can be finished in under 20 hours is scorned for being too short. This might not be such a bad thing if most long games weren’t stuffed with filler to extend their length but not actually add anything meaningful to the experience. I truly can’t think of too many games that I’ve played in the current or previous console generation that couldn’t have easily been condensed down to a better-paced, tighter-scripted, overall more exciting and meaningful 10 hour adventure. There was a time when the story of most games could be knocked out in a dozen hours, but you had the option of doing sidequests and finding all of the hidden whats-its and making that game last long if you so chose. Now, all of that stuff is woven into the core game itself with little to no way to play around it. The reason that the 6th (PS1/Saturn/N64) and 7th (DC/PS2/XBX/GC) generations are my favorite is because most of the non-RPGs of those eras only lasted between 6 and 15 or so hours, and I never found myself feeling like they ended too soon. If we wanted more, we just played them again! I for one would rather play a well-paced 10 hour game three times than a single 30 hour game with 15-20 hours of filler. Fine, so maybe 10 hour games shouldn’t cost $60. Well that’s a whole different discussion as I think game pricing should be flexible. All I know is that the answer to that problem isn’t stretching every single game out to last 50 hours just to make them “worth” 60 bucks.
2 – Linear games
I mentioned tighter-scripted games in my rant in favor of short games, and I’m coming back to it as I feel that nothing can beat a well-scripted game. I appreciate open world games too, but every game doesn’t have to be an open world game. At some point, calling a game “linear” became a dirty word, with even the better ones in recent memory – Uncharted comes to mind – usually being dinged for being too linear. I for one don’t need every game I play to be some sprawling sandbox where I can go where I want, do what I want, and explore every inch of the world. There are games that do that and do that well, but let them be their own thing. I still want there to be games that basically take me on a ride. No, I don’t necessarily mean just games that are a sequence of set pieces like the story modes in Call of Duty – though if you claim to have a problem with that type of thing, you couldn’t have possibly enjoyed Half-Life 2 now could you? – but there is something to be said for games that have writers and directors that have spent the time to craft a directed adventure for us to experience and trusting them to deliver that without complaining that we can’t go in every door or wander off three miles in every direction to see what random inane stuff there is to find or kill. It’s funny that we seem to want more freedom in our games and complain about how linear modern games are, and we protest that by returning to the games where we mostly just walked from left to right on a 2D plane, one clearly defined level at a time.
1 – Pre-rendered backgrounds
There was a time when it was assumed that games had pre-rendered backgrounds because the technology wasn’t quite there yet to have equally beautiful and detailed environments in real time. Once we got to the point where we could, we were all too eager to leave pre-rendered backgrounds behind, dismissing them as a product of a time when we couldn’t do any better. The problem is, most 3D environments lack the artistry, detail, and personality that pre-rendered backgrounds used to have. Where artists used to pack a pre-rendered environment with loving detail, they now just fill it with copied and pasted – and lifeless – boxes, tables and chairs. Oh, but now I can “interact” with those lifeless, generic items? Who cares. Not every game requires that anyway. I’ll take an environment that is a static backdrop but is bursting with life and personality versus an interactive one that looks like every other Unreal-powered game of the last 10 years. The games that had pre-rendered backgrounds and did them well – Final Fantasy VII-IX, Parasite Eve 1-2, Resident Evil 1-3, Fear Effect 1-2, Onimusha 1-3, the list goes on and on – still impress and have aged far better than fully-3D games made even years later. Still aren’t convinced? Wait until the Final Fantasy VII remake comes out – I guarantee you that no matter how technically impressive its fully-3D environments look, they won’t have half of the personality and heart of the pre-rendered originals.