grumpy old man

As the years roll by (at a frankly alarming pace), everything pretty much gets better. Remember when TVs were huge and brown and required at least two adult men to shift position? Hell, you had to get up from the couch to change the channel (of which there were three).

Now we sit watching a Blu-ray on a 40-inch television thinner than a Romany Cream surrounded by wall-mounted speakers and looking ridiculous in our 3D glasses. Things are awesome now, things are better – it’s a hallmark of our constant innovation and development as a species.

And it’s the same for games, right? Remember when you had to blow the dust out of your cartridges to get them to work properly? You couldn’t save your games – you had to beat them in one sitting or try again later.

Games came spread over seven floppy disks, and were pretty damn difficult to get hold of in the first place. You couldn’t simply log onto Steam or walk into a CNA; it was a network of grubby disks passed between friends before we even knew piracy was something other than peg-legged hobos with swords.

Nowadays games have amazing graphics, enormous development teams and millions and millions of dollars sunk into them. They’re bigger, they’re bolder, they’re prettier and they’re better, right? Well, I’m not sure.

See, I have a niggle in the back of my mind that I just can’t shake – I had more fun playing games ten years ago.

Yes, technologically, games are better. Everything about them in that way is superior to what we had “back then”. But there are a lot of lessons I feel games need to take from their ancestors, things like:

Be harder

One thing I clearly remember about games from my childhood is that they were much, much harder. Holy hell, do you remember the Quest games (Space Quest, King’s Quest, etc.)? Those games were so ridiculously unforgiving. If you didn’t happen to look carefully at the windscreen of your broken spaceship, you wouldn’t have discovered the piece of glass you needed two hours later into the game to reflect a laserbeam so you could get past. In fact, not only would you not be able to get past that point, you wouldn’t even know that you needed a piece of glass since you were never aware of it in the first place.

It also mocked you while you failed.

That level of difficulty is pretty brutal, but I enjoyed the challenge. It was frustrating but exciting, and I spent hours and hours on those games just trying to advance a little bit further – but somehow I had fun doing it. The only game I can think of from “recent” memory that required a similar amount of dedication and trial and error is the Commandos series (as well as the highly underrated spin-off, Desperados).

There’s a reason games like Dark Souls capture the hearts of so many players – the game is so damn difficult it becomes a challenge, and people really like challenges. Developers are afraid to push the envelope on difficulty.

Be longer

This isn’t something all games are guilty of – particularly when you’re talking about RPGs, where the good ones have managed to jam in so much additional content and side quests that you can really get your money’s worth.

But these Call of Duty games that come out every year for R500+ really annoy me with their six-hour campaigns. There is no replay value to these games, you pay a fortune, play through it in one or two sittings and it’s over. I used to spend weeks playing games, now it’s just a couple of days. Multiplayer makes up for that a lot of the time, but that’s an easy way out. These games could be longer if they didn’t pump out a new version every, single, year.  We need to be expecting more from our games.

Granted, this does tie in with difficulty level as well. It doesn’t take long to go through a Call of Duty game when you can just grab an SMG and flail around with your finger on the fire key.

Keep it real, CoD.

Keep it real, CoD.

Be more original

There is a caveat here – a lot of the really “original” games from when I was growing up have since spawned entire genres – remember Wolfenstein 3D was “original” in that no one had done an FPS before.

That being said, as many genres as we have today, it seems like 90% of games are just shoehorned tightly into what that genre is supposed to be – there’s very little in the way of experimentation. Developers have become gun-shy of alienating their target market and we as consumers are guilty too; of rejecting games that go outside of our expectations, our comfort zone.

What now?

This is an oversimplified rant, make no mistake – but the truth of it still remains, and I think it does for many others too. I’ve had more fun playing the original Doom, Duke Nukem 3D and Half-Life than any of the Call of Duty games combined. Hell, the single-player campaign I’ve enjoyed most in the last couple of years is Black Mesa, a remake of the original Half-Life that you should go play right now if you haven’t.

I think a lot of the problems with the games of today is due to the massive expansion of the video game industry. Publishers are now looking at numbers in the billions – it’s hard to take a risk on a game that you sink millions of dollars into. You need things you can count on recouping your expenses. This means reheated crap like every new iteration in the Call of Duty series, or zombies become popular and suddenly we have twelve different zombie apocalypse games.

What can we do about it? Probably nothing, to be honest. This is just the agitated grumblings of an elderly gamer sitting on the porch, yelling at Activision to get the hell off his lawn.

gran torino