Hidden Wonders

Gaming·Society·Technology

Just Play Old Games


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Table of Contents

Introduction[#]


There are millions of people who play video games——billions if you count phone games. Concurrent Steam users can be checked out here, the number hovered between twenty and thirty million people logged into Steam the weekend I wrote this article. There are also millions more playing games on consoles, not to mention phones and platforms other than Steam on PC. So yeah, a lot of people play games.

A lot of people are profiting off of games as well. Random statistics link says that the game industry is a 4.34 billion USD business——actually, that’s wrong. That number is just for a single month in the United States only. The real number is 197 billion USD. It’s puzzling that this number is so high when most old games are available for free and a masterpiece like Hollow Knight is only fifteen USD.

This article looks at modern games and shows how (for the most part) they suck compared to their older counterparts.

Current Games[#]


The only modern, AAA titles I play are Cities Skylines, some FromSoftware titles——not recently though, since Elden Ring didn’t impress me much——and the occasional Nintendo exclusive. However, even in these games I enjoy the flaws of modern games are apparent. Lets look at some of the commonalities of modern games to better understand why they’re so awful.

Cities Skylines[#]


First, allow me to talk about Cities Skylines. I love that game, and I have more than a thousand hours in it. However, a quick look at its Steam store page makes the problem clear: its price, including all of its DLC, totals almost three-hundred dollars. This company, Paradox, is infamous for its predatory DLC practices, and its because of exploitive tactics like these that the gaming industry has become so lucrative.

Games like Fortnite have expanded on this, charging obscene amounts for the right to access meaningless digital assets like skins. This is the norm for even games that you have to pay for. Why people are paying money for this stuff is another question entirely, but for now it suffices to say that the presence of all of this paid content is a major reason why modern games are worse than their equivalent older titles.

Elden Ring[#]


Elden Ring took a step in the wrong direction compared to the Dark Souls series. The Dark Souls series——besides its most iconic elements like losing in-game currency upon death and a stamina system——is excellent because of its densely packed level design and interesting enemy designs. What Elden Ring has effectively done is stretched out the tight, refined world of a souls game and spread it out across a far greater physical distance. It was exciting to explore Elden Ring and experience its diverse environments, but wait a second, that boss is the same as the one from before only with different mob enemies thrown in, and that enemy is identical to the one from Dark Souls III. Actually, there are a total of ten Night’s Cavalry mini bosses in the game. Many other mini bosses are reused around four to five times in the game. And, nothing hurts me more when I walk into a boss room and see that I’ve already fought the bosses on a previous occasion, except I have to fight two of the bosses at the same time. Godskin Duo is a perfect example of this. Throwing multiple enemies at the player is generally not fun regardless of the game.

Elden Ring is guilty of rehashed content, content that is reused again and again to pad out a game’s size. Assassin’s Creed games are notorious for this——as are all Ubisoft games——and most AAA titles with the open world tag suffer from the same fate. Even the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild suffers a similar problem with its vast empty spaces filled the same mini bosses and Korok seeds over and over again. What is meant to be an exciting, enjoyable game is dragged out into a long session of walking around and doing nothing most of the time, and——while it can be somewhat fun to explore maps like these when done correctly——it is always more fun to play a more densely packed game with varied gameplay than that same game stretched out for longer with lots of meaningless, empty space. The original Dark Souls is guilty of this as well, but to a much lesser extent; really, only the stray demon and Lost Izalith are rehashed.

A final note on Elden Ring is hardware requirements: AAA games like Elden Ring require expensive hardware to run——my RTX 2060 struggles to run the game at 60fps. AAA games in general are already so expensive because of high upfront costs and frequently predatory DLC practices, and a high hardware cost on top of that is often just not worth it when equally fun games with more simplistic graphics exist.

“Movie Gaming”[#]


There are many games where you feel like you’re just playing a movie, watching endless cutscenes. This is not what a game is supposed to be. I don’t have much to say on them other than that I don’t play them, they’re dumb, and they’re one of the biggest reasons most AAA games are so bad nowadays.

Especially awful are those games with dialogue where the NPC’s lips move out of sync with the character. When you have so much dialogue in your game that you can’t take the effort to make the cutscenes and dialogue sections fully lip-synced, maybe you shouldn’t even have them to begin with.

“Trend Gaming”[#]


There’s this strange segment of supposed “gamers” who follow the Internet bandwagon of playing whatever is most popular. Some trend games of the past few years include Fall Guys, Fortnite, Among Us, and Lost Ark. These are (or at least at some point were) all competent games, but I argue that the primary reason most people play these games are not because people actually enjoy them; rather, people play these games purely because of reasons like “it’s what people are playing right now.”

In the case of Lost Ark it was especially strange. It seems to me there is this large segment of the population that is bored out of their minds and are just looking for “the next thing” to waste away their lives on. Many of my “friends” poured countless hours into this game while I could only wonder in perplexity at why they were investing both their time and money into this new game when, from my perspective, it just looked like rehashed Path of Exiles or Diablo. Or they could have just played old games.

It saddens me that there exists these types of people who just jump to the most popular games in some attempt to fit in with others instead of playing genuinely fun games they would enjoy. The newest thing is not necessarily the best thing.

“Social Gaming”[#]


When I think of social gaming, I think of me and my cousins sitting down in a hot, stuffy room in front of a TV playing Super Smash Bros. Nowadays, tons of people play games online getting pissed at random strangers instead. Largely, these types of games are repetitive, but there are bigger problems with them.

Mainly, these types of games are aggravating in the long run. They consume your life. They force you to compete with others in a competition where few come out on top. Games are to have fun, you shouldn’t be deriving achievement out of them that can be a substitute for doing actually productive hobbies like writing programs or writing articles for your website. To be clear, it’s natural for you to feel proud of beating a difficult game——it’s one of the major draws of older games, in fact——but it becomes problematic when the satisfaction of beating a game enables you to set aside the desire for satisfaction with your own life.

Also, these games are dangerous because they can prevent you from interacting with people in the real world. I used to be very into a certain MOBA, and would find that my little comments I’d make to people during matches could satisfy my social urges. This, of course, is ultimately a lie. Social interactions online should not and cannot act as substituted for real life socializing. This is a danger I became aware of, and I have since tried to distance myself from games that involve social elements. This topic deserves its own article when I can articulate my reasoning for it better.

New Games Overview[#]


So, let’s quickly outline the problems with current games before we move on:

  1. Often less fun and repetitive, stretching the game length for the sake of it.

  2. Too much money for both the games and the hardware needed to run them.

  3. Frequent cutscenes in some games bore those who play them.

  4. People playing games as a form of socialization or fitting in is a major issue because games designed to cater to these players are especially addicting, toxic, and not fun on average.

Now, let’s move on to the alternatives.

Old Games are Better[#]


Old games are better I say, but what is an old game and why is it better?

When I’m considering “old” games, I’m pretty much talking about anything 2007 or earlier. I would consider the approximate cutoff as whenever Steam became the predominant way of purchasing PC games, the only exception being some games for consoles, especially handhelds like the DS and 3DS, which often kept much the charm of older games due to stringent hardware constraints.

Civilization IV[#]


My date for this is very subjective, because 2007 was the year Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword was released, a game I still play regularly today through wine on Linux. Civilization V is a game which completely destroyed IV’s emphasis on larger, overarching strategy decisions. This new title brought in a bunch of clunky, inferior systems and a more in depth yet cumbersome combat system. This type of combat system does not fit into a Civilization title because combat is not the point of the game; rather, combat is simply a means to an ends, another small part of your strategy. Emphasizing it like this ruins the game and breaks the AI.

The UI is also vastly inferior in Civilization V because Civilization IV has the best UI of any video game. The UI is recent enough to not look archaic, yet old enough to still be incredibly information dense. City screens, various statistics screens, and the base UI all perfectly show you the information you need to make correct strategic decisions. The UI itself is very snappy. I’m not sure if it’s just the fact that the game is older so newer hardware runs it faster, but many newer strategy games have slower, clunkier UI.

Civilization V was the first in the Civilization series to adopt this newer, slower, prettier looking UI. Information is not as readily available, and you can’t even move the map by dragging the box in the mini-map! The focus was on visual clarity at the expense of functionality, accessibility for new players at the expense of usability. This was a massive mistake, and for this reason alone I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy another strategy game as much as Civilization IV.

Luckily, I don’t have to play Civilization V, I can just stick with Civilization IV, a game which has stood the test of time while Civilization V has failed.

Privacy and Ownership Benefits[#]


Modern games, even those like Civilization V that were developed much earlier than their more recent counter parts, are vulnerable to being corrupted by spyware at anytime because Steam allows game owners to have no control over the product they’ve purchased.

Here’s a Steam review that outlines how outrageous what occurred to Civilization V is.

This game was in a perfectly fine place after being left alone for years as the developers worked on Civ VI. But as of the November 2018 update, the previously sleek and lightweight, and quick to load launcher has been replaced with a bloated piece of garbage that not only takes minutes to load, but is also riddled with overt, aggressive ads. Such things have no place being added into a game that received its last major expansion pack 5 years ago.

We've paid you money for this well-designed game already; is that not enough for you anymore?

— A Steam Reviewer

This launcher harvests loads of personal data, so now people who bought this games years ago own a copy of spyware instead of the game they originally payed for. It’s not like these people can get a refund years after they bought the game. It sucks, and it’s another reason why old games are better because it is physically possible for these types of problems to exist.

This is a problem that happens to countless games. Cities: Skylines had the same issue with its garbage Paradox Launcher being added to the game years after its launch.

This problem is not possible with Civilization IV. Firaxis cannot push remote updates to my game because it’s on a physical CD. I own that game. People cannot own Civilization V because it is purchased on Steam, and people who own games on Steam are not allowed to own the games they purchase. Instead, these people own a license to access a copy of their game——but this license can be terminated arbitrarily by the developers of the game at anytime for whatever reason they choose.

Old Games are Ethical to Pirate[#]


Twenty-one years ago, the game Heroes of Might and Magic IV was released by New World Computing, a game developer which had for some time been a subsidiary of the publisher 3DO. Shortly afterwards, 3DO went bankrupt, and the Might and Magic intellectual property was acquired by Ubisoft. Ubisoft would go on to make Heroes of Might and Magic V (an alright game) following by two failures in a row (Heroes 6 and 7). Ubisoft has since abandoned making more titles in the franchise after these failures. Since then, I think there might have been a mobile game released.

Now, other than technically being against the law, what ethical argument is there to objecting to pirating Heroes of Might and Magic IV or any of the other previous games? Ubisoft has done nothing but harm this franchise, why should I give them money for this title when most of the people who worked on the games I love are not even working at Ubisoft?

Many old games don’t even have legal ways to purchase them——either due to neglect from their developers or the developers going bankrupt——so, in these instances, the games are essentially free.

Other old games do have legal ways to play them, but the ways in which to acquire them leave a bad taste in one’s mouth. Take Warcraft III, an excellent RTS that recently got a remaster. Only, the remaster was a failure and basically did nothing worthwhile for the game——I think most people who play the game end up switching back to the old graphics. Not to mention Blizzard itself is a shell of its former self and is no longer capable of creating good games, especially RTS titles. Many of the people who built the Warcraft strategy games have moved on to their own game companies. Paying for the game just puts more money into the pockets of rich Blizzard corporate executives.

In the case of Nintendo Switch Online, the monetization method is just plain scummy. I shouldn’t have to pay a subscription fee to access games developed decades ago. Subscription fees for anything in general is something to be avoided, but subscriptions for games——especially old games——should be aggressively boycotted by everyone. It’s bad enough we live in a world where Steam makes it so you don’t actually own your games and instead just own a license to access the game which can be cancelled at any time, now you want to make it so I don’t even own the license? I could write a whole article on subscriptions and how they’re the Devil (I suppose I touched on it a bit here).

Anyway, my abandonware contains over 20,000 old games that can be freely downloaded. Vimm’s Lair has every retro console game you could ever want. Old games are free, there is no reason not to be playing them.

Or, you could always go back to buying skins in Fortnite.

The “Soul” of Old Games[#]


Put simply, old games have a lot of soul. It’s an abstract concept that’s hard to describe, let’s see if I can get my point across.

Recently, I’ve been working my way through the Touhou games. What’s really struck me about the games besides the stunning music, quirky character interactions, and brutal gameplay (I’m really bad at bullet hells) are the main menus (see title screen for Touhou 6: Embodiment of Scarlet Devil). I especially like the 7th game’s title screen but I couldn’t find an image of it. But anyway, these title screens are incredibly good. To me, this is soul.

Touhou games aren’t overly polished. The games aren’t perfect, but what Touhou’s developer Zun does perfectly is pour his passion and soul into the game to make it the best game he can make. It’s not some million-dollar-budget AAA game, it’s a game Zun created out of passion and love for the art of creating games. That is soul.

Soul also comes from the weird design choices early games made when experimenting was still going on a lot more in gaming. I’ve also been playing the original Castlevania for the NES a lot, and that is a game with soul. It’s for this reason I consider games developed for the more recent DS and 3DS platforms “soulful.”

Additionally, the music of all NES era games——especially Castlevania, since the music is especially good——are making due with the limited sound capabilities of the NES hardware. This forced the unique style of music now consider retro game music to emerge——not out of a stylistic choice by the developers of the games, but out of necessity. What emerges when game developers are able to improvise and work around adversities is always greatness, is always soul.

I love those area transition rooms in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. They were a technological necessity for the old PS2 hardware to load the new areas, but they also contribute a lot to the game. You have this sudden break in the action, the intrigue at knowing what the next zone will be when you exit the room, the sudden quiet of the room as the music ceases, ready to transition into whatever atmosphere the next zone will provide: that is soul. What an incredible solution to a technical problem that actually enhances your game! This is in stark contrast to the recent Legend of Zelda games for the Nintendo Switch, which require long, noninteractive loading screens every time you enter even the smallest, most simplistic dungeon.

Similarly, the graphics of old games had to deal with similar technological hurdles. The first 3D games like DOOM were actually just 2D games designed to appear 3D to the player. Pixel art——a style which many indie games today emulate——was, again, a matter of necessity. The 2D Super Mario games for the NES and SNES were incredible games, and many would agree that they were better than their New Super Mario Bros reboots on the DS/Wii. I believe that, in addition to reasons like level design and difficulty, the old games had a better art style. Why do you think Mario Maker was invented? And why does Super Mario Odyssey have 2D platformer segments in the design of the old NES games (as opposed to the newer Wii/Wii U games)? It’s because these older games are better, and these newer games fell back on that previous success because their attempt at newer 2D Mario games——while I personally enjoy New Super Mario Bros Wii a lot——ultimately failed.

It is a lot harder for a massive team of hundreds of developers to create a good game than a small team with a strong vision, because the way that vision manifests itself in the finished product leads to a game which is better in a way I have been calling “soulful.” If you don’t like the term, feel free to choose a different one, but whatever you want to call it I believe there is something special about these smaller projects and older games that allow them to shine above the average AAA title today.

It’s past midnight and I’m exhausted so I hope this subsection made sense.

Old Games Overview[#]


So, older games are better because they:

  1. Are more fun. You’ll get more enjoyment out of the best games of the past forty years than the latest hype games.

  2. Need less time investment to enjoy. Many NES titles can be beat in an hour once you get good.

  3. Can be acquired for free. Emulators work very well for older consoles, abandonware titles are all over the place

  4. Require significantly fewer resources to run. I used to play Sid Meier’s Pirates and Warcraft II on a laptop with an i5-3210M processor from 2010.

Just How Much More Low-Resource?[#]


Older games, especially those that had to work within the restraints of limited console hardware, are amazingly efficient. It is impressive and inspiring the level of optimization and resource efficiency many of these games had to achieve.

One of the coolest things about some older games is that the cartridges oftentimes contained additional hardware to help run the game. For instance, the game Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse contained a specialized audio chip on the cartridge itself to make the music sound better. Star Fox 64 required an additional chip as well to help with graphics.

Games produced for the original Game Boy needed to get by with 8 KB of RAM. Looking at a task manager on a modern Linux system, I am unable to find even a single background task that takes up that little memory. Bash itself uses over 5 MB on my system, although I know Linux takes a “free RAM is unused RAM” policy so it could probably run with less on more minimal systems, but you get the idea.

Game development in the 20th century was unimaginably more difficult compared to now, where games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare can take up 175 GB of HDD space. This whole section of the article is a bit off topic, but I just wanted to touch upon how impressive it is that these old games that are fun even by modern standards were able to run on these low power machines utilizing methods as crazy as including additional computation hardware on the cartridge. It’s worthy of our admiration to this day.

What to play?[#]


List of games I recommend will be posted sometime in the future.

Many old games require emulators to play, maybe I’ll post tutorials for some——I’d currently recommend nestopia for NES and snes9x for SNES. Retroarch is an all-in-one solution but it’s bloat, and I’ve found it to be better to just download one emulator per platform to emulate. Most emulators are self-explanatory, but something like DOSBox requires some configuration, and might be deserving of a quick tutorial.

Indie Games are Acceptable[#]


Obviously older indie games are acceptable, but what about newer releases? Well, much of the indie game movement occurred as a natural reaction to the negative aspects of modern game titles. In general, indie games have lower hardware requirements, lower prices, and lower game length. They are also often in genres that AAA studios have abandoned the development of since they don’t require as much graphical complexity such as 2D platformers or metroidvanias.

When I think of a good indie game, I think of Hollow Knight. The game would run on an office computer from 2011 and it costs only fifteen USD. I have more hours in Hollow Knight than I do in Elden Ring despite it costing forty-five dollars less. It’s 2D, it’s immersive, it has exploration yet never a feeling of repetition. It feels like a more fluid Castlevania game, yet also expands past it with greater combat depth and surprisingly challenging platforming. Also, all DLC for the game was free and easily injects another twenty hours of content into an already long game.

Ultimately though, indie games are not the answers to all of our problems. Many indie games fall into the same traps of modern games where they try to design too big a game with too much content, only for that content to not be especially enjoyable. The game Solar Ash by the studio Heart Machine (which previously developed Hyper Light Drifter, one of my favorite video games) was an unfortunate example of this. First it launched as an Epic Game Store exclusive so I had to pirate it. Then, it was a bizarre type of 3D platformer which, while decently entertaining, wasn’t enough to carry a game with an overly-emphasized yet boring story and non-existent combat. The case in point: there are a lot of good indie games, but take care especially when purchasing more recent ones.

I’m also not much a fan of the rougelike——a predominant indie game genre——which seem to function as nothing more than a time waster to me. They are very passive, repetitive games, which is bad for me since repetition in games is one of the reasons I’ve turned away from sprawling open world games and into niche indies in the first place.

Conclusion[#]


Just play old games.

Games, like so many other things in the world, have fallen victim to the “new good, old bad” mentality. So many are convinced that the newest is always the greatest, but oftentimes that’s not the case. As time goes on and more and more games are left in the past, I am confident in saying that the games we’ve left behind are more than sufficient to entertain any self-professed “gamer” for a lifetime. The trend of remasters and remakes in recent years show that both gamers and game developers know this: the past is filled with great games, and there is little reason to look to the future when your favorite game has likely already been made.


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