Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Sugar was sweeter
"In my days, sugar was sweeter and the sun did shine brighter.", is an old sentiment jokingly ascribed to old people. Well, I actually did know an old lady claiming the part about the sugar was true. But looking at it realistically it is more likely that here taste buds had deteriorated with age, and modern sugar tasted less sweet to her now. It was her who had changed, not the sugar.
Reading around for information and comments on games beyond WoW, I am astonished how many "sugar was sweeter" people there are around among gamers. They claim that the old games were the best, new games are void of innovation and creativity, and that the whole gaming industry is going to hell in a hand-basket, due to their hit-based business model. But in reality it is their minds playing tricks on them, it is well known that the brain modifies memories, making you able to "remember" things that never happened, or editing out the less pleasant bits. The fun you remember having had with a game 20 years ago is impossible to compare with the fun you have with a game now, because you changed so much in those 20 years.
Retro gaming, people playing very old games on original machines or emulators, exists, but it is just a small niche of the gaming world. If you find the old floppy disks of your favorite game from long ago back, and actually manage to get them working somehow on a modern PC, you will quickly be turned off by the bad graphics and technical shortcomings of the old games. In most cases you are better off with the modern remake of the old classic games, playing Civilization IV instead of I. "Innovation" is not really a value that games should be judged by, because it depends on what games the reviewer played before. If World of Warcraft is your first MMORPG ever, and subscription numbers suggest that this is the case for several million players, it is innovative *for you*. That somebody else considers it an Everquest-clone doesn't change that, and having been there first doesn't make EQ a better game than WoW, as much as it deserves credit for kick-starting the genre.
The new games aren't so bad as old gamers give them credit for. There is a lot of innovation still going on. It is just sometimes hard to find among the 20 different first-person-shooters or real-time-strategy games on the retailers shelf. Someone has a good idea, then maybe somebody else takes that idea and improves it, but given the huge size of the video game market nowadays, there are always also a number of clones with just minor variations. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it might be just one of those variations which makes the clone more attractive to you than the original. Even sequels which don't change much from the original can be a good thing. If you liked a game, but played all of it already three times, the sequel with identical gameplay and a few minor improvements at least offers you more content of the same type that you liked. Obviously some companies overdo it, especially EA is often trying to sell you the same trash several times, but just because a game has a sequel number in its title, it isn't automatically bad.
Another 20 years on, some people will write about the great old games of the first decade of this millenium as a shining example, compared to the garbage games of 2025. That is just part of human nature's response to all sort of evolution. But I'm more optimistic than that, games will continue to improve technically, and innovate in gameplay. And if one day I'm not having fun with games any more, I'll have a good hard look at myself, and maybe I just got old, and it isn't the new games' fault.