Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, December 18, 2013
 
How long are games relevant?

There was a side-discussion in yesterday's thread whether my negative impression of Assassin's Creed 1 was mostly due to the game being "old". With "old" being 6 years in this case. The argument is that computers and their associated technologies change so fast, that after 6 years a game simply isn't relevant any more. I have two objections to that argument, a minor and a major one.

The minor objection is that change in PC games technology has slowed down considerably in the last few years. I used to buy a new PC every two years, but the computer I bought two-and-a-half years ago is still able to play the latest games at the highest resolution of my 22" screen with all settings to maximum quality. Yes, a 2013 game looks nicer than a game from 2007, but the difference isn't as striking as let's say between 2007 and 2001.

My major objection is that when I talked about Assassin's Creed 1, I mostly talked about gameplay issues, not technical issues. And on the gameplay side I have problems seeing much technological development at all. One could for example think that better computers would enable better artificial intelligence. But if you compare let's say Rome: Total War from 2004 with it's Rome 2 sequel of 2013, the AI doesn't seem to have evolved at all. The only recent "solution" to the computer being so bad at playing computer games that involve strategy or tactics was making every game multi-player online these days to avoid the need for an AI. And the only game I played this year with a gameplay I had never seen before was Card Hunter.

I do believe that computer games can remain relevant for much longer than 6 years. For example Elite from 1984 is still very much an inspiration for one of the biggest currently ongoing game development projects, Star Citizen. As is Wing Commander from 1990. In fact, Kickstarter is full of successfully funded projects for remakes of games from the 80's and 90's. There are even remakes that keep the original graphics, like the iOS remake of another 1984 classic, Lords of Midnight. Others modernize graphics and gameplay while staying true to the spirit of the original, like the new XCOM: Enemy Unknown / Enemy Within.

I think the games that are forgotten or dismissed after a few years are those who were developed with a focus on graphics instead of gameplay. The classics that people are trying to remake a quarter of a century later are those where the gameplay stood out from the crowd.

Comments:
I bought Lords of Midnight when it came out in 1984. I bought it because of the screenshots I saw in magazines at the time. It looked amazing. All the reviews I read made heavy reference to how it looked as well as how it played.

When I got to play it I found it dull and pointless. I probably played it for no more than a few hours then put it away and never thought about it again until you mentioned it here, whereupon my immediate reaction was "oh I remember that one - it looked amazing! I ought to get that for my iPod Touch". Until I remembered it was rubbish.

Some gamers value gameplay over graphics; some value graphics over gameplay. For my money it's the same argument as the old "style over substance" one. Style IS substance and substance IS style. If you don't have both, you have neither.
 
"The classics that people are trying to remake a quarter of a century later are those where the gameplay stood out from the crowd."

People are trying to remake games that come with a captive audience of fans. For instance Alpha Centauri would be a reasonable thing to remake even though it was just Civ in space.
 
I mostly agree with you ! For Gameplay games, the years does not change their appeal !

But, some expectation have changed. We expect more quality of life features, and some gameplay approach that was constrained by Computer power are no longer accepted if they do not serve the game. The classic exemple is the lack of saved game that was due to Arcade.

About IA : there was one very interesting interview in a game newspaper, where developer explains that there is no interest in Good/powerfull AI. In most game, you can create an AI that will crash the player and this will not be very interesting. For exemple, you can easily create a perfect Car Driver, a very sharp and synchronised TF2 team, or a very efficient MMO monster that will avoid tank to kill the healer. The difficult part is to create a SMART AI, that have the same weakness than player, but have also the same strength : adaptability, capacity to predict enemy behaviour.

One good part of games is to outsmart the NPC. And as we are not that smart, the AI shall be bad...
 
I find I must disagree. My experience is that games don't simply become less relevant as they age, rather they become less relevant as they are replaced by similar, newer games that offer an improved experience.

For example, Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim are all impressive games with great mechanics and game systems. The newer games do have some improvements to the gameplay, and a huge improvement to the graphics, but I'd still put Morrowind ahead of most games that have come out in the past couple years. But I'll never play it again. Even though it's a great game, if I'm looking for that sort of experience, there's no reason not to go with Oblivion or Skyrim. Similarly I could never go back to EU3 from EU4, or back to GW1 from GW2. The improved experience (graphics AND gameplay) of new alternatives obsoletes the old games, not time.

Sometimes gameplay does suffer, and that's always a shame. I was a huge SimCity4 fan with hundreds of hours played, until the new SimCity came out. The gameplay in the new SC is so shallow I don't want to play it, but the graphics are so improved that playing SC4 just feels painful. So now I don't have any SimCity's to play. It's very sad.

The old games that are still around and worth playing or being remade aren't those that are inherently better in any way, simply that they don't have a more recent replacement. I'll still play old games like Startopia or Shadow of the Colossus, because they don't have more modern replacements that I enjoy as much. I wish they did.
 
I preferred the sequel Doomdark's Revenge, but Lord of Midnight was a good game. It wasn't praised just for the graphics and the size of the world. I completed both games.
 
It is my theory that all media is limited by its technical developments. Quality = Base tech * Ability to maximise potential, where technical development is rapid at first but slows over time.
Gaming developments happen rapidly so now games should be getting better. When a better game is produced, the old one passes from relavence. Returning to play an old-loved classic frequently highlights all the minor issues and leaves players irritated. At the time the game was the best ever made at release but subsequent games have fixed all the minor issues and that you now have to deal with them again leaves an unpleasant taste.
 
"For exemple, you can easily create a perfect Car Driver,"

Can we create an AI robot that can win a Nascar race? No? Then the AI isn't smarter than a human, just faster and operating in a very simple environment, with direct access to the variables in the racing sim.

"a very sharp and synchronised TF2 team,"

Same deal as the driving sim, auto-aiming bot is cheating, not AI.

"or a very efficient MMO monster that will avoid tank to kill the healer. "

Tank aggro is necessary to compensate for the unrealism of being able to run through other character/npc models, and not enough penalty being given to being struck from behind. A monster which always ran straight through the tank and 2 shot the healer wouldn't be smart AI, but a magical unfair ghost-killing-machine-demigod.

Actual AI would be fun to play against, the above examples are not fun to play against; but they are not real AI.
 
I think games that have lost relevance are still fun to go back and play.

A game I played religiously on my Sega Genesis was Shining Force II. I played the first as well, but the sequel just nailed everything for me, and I played it through many time when I was young. Later, when I had a Wii, I bought it on their store, and played through it again, and still had just as much fun. The graphics didn't improve, nor did the gameplay. Final Fantasy Tactics and other games that released since then are technically more "relevant" but I still find Shining Force to be the superior game.

I'm just now starting a playthrough of Planescape: Torment, a game I always wanted to play but never did, and picked up via GOG.com. It's very dated, but I am still finding it fun.

I think this argument forms because of the differences between older gamers who grew up with the originals, and kids who are expecting a wow factor. Because we know what it's like to have played in an Arcade or to have played a Colecovision, we can appreciate games with less-than-stellar graphics, as long as the gameplay is sound. Newer generations have been spoiled, and can't go back to what we considered the norm.
 
Assassin's Creed was only a middling game when it was released. If you want a real gauge of how you'll enjoy the series, you really have to go to Two where they addressed a lot of what was wrong in One.


 
Well I agree with you for the most part. :) But there are some games that will be historic or classics because of their graphics also. I still remember Shadow of the beast (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadow_of_the_Beast) on the Amiga because it had 12(!!!) levels of parallax scrolling. :) But gameplay wise it was pretty mediocre.

Also Crysis and Far Cry are classics largely due to their graphics.
 
Gameplay > Graphics

Thank you
 
The 'poor ageing' of a game isn't necessarily a function of technology, as much as it is in relation to our knowledge - and acceptance - of how things are done.

Shakespearean plays didn't make use of any technology that the Greeks didn't have access to when they were exploring the Dionysian form, but a few centuries refinement of narrative form, plot devices, and methods of acting mean that the Dionysian play doesn't stack up quite as well against the Shakespearean in many respects.

Three-dimensional perspective drawing and vanishing points in art seems obvious to us now, but entire generations of very intelligent men and women didn't have it figured out for millenia.

The same could be said to be true of game development. Even without a quantum leap in technology, the refinement of the process implements standards that - once experienced - we now consider to be mandatory quality-of-life systems, or methods for delivery which evoke more powerfully. Just think of the iterations of World of Warcraft's UI and questing/battleground systems and the industry standards it forced into MMOs ('forced' by being so damn effective and popular) which didn't exist until it came along.

It can definitely be true that a game doesn't age well not as a function of its use of technology, but as a function of how it presents and handles itself. So yeah. Even if people don't necessarily know which aspect of a game they're referring to when they say it hasn't aged well, it still holds true.
 
Let's see.. The only "recent" game I play is Minecraft. Other than that, over the last two years I've played Dota, Warcraft III, Civilization III, Starcraft 1, World of Warcraft, Neverwinter Nights 1, Total Annihilation, and Master of Orion II. I've played a smattering of browser and puzzle games, but the above titles took the majority share of my time.

In fact, with the above rotation, I don't even really bother to buy new games. The only ones I'm considering at the moment are Magicka and the remake of Baldur's Gate. So based on my personal experiences, I'd be willing to argue that not only are some games still worth playing after 6 years, but some games are still worth playing after 10+ years.
 
It isn't just games. In every area of culture we humans have an insatiable demand for novelty. Extremely worthy contributions from a few years back are ignored in favour of the "next big thing".

The issue is muddied somewhat in the field of games because the rapid pace of technology means that older titles are often uglier than modern games. However I do not believe that this is the main reason people do not play older games. Minecraft became a major mass market success in recent times even though it looks like a 1990's game. How many folks are still queuing up at movie theatres to watch Finding Nemo? How long has it been since The Da Vinci Code was in the best seller lists? Technology has not moved on substantially in the fields of movies or book publishing and yet those blockbusters of 2003 have largely been consigned to history.

There will always be a niche market of enthusiasts who learn about and enjoy older works. Gog.com and to a certain extent Steam are catering very well to those markets in PC gaming.

For the mainstream mass market however older works get forgotten except for a small number of stand-outs that have become cultural reference points like the works of Charles Dickens or the movies of Alfred Hitchcock.

I think it is fair to say that some older games have become such cultural reference points and are therefore still relevant. Super Mario springs to mind immediately. In PC gaming Doom probably qualifies even though I believe it is almost unplayable for modern gamers. Call of Duty certainly qualifies because of its enormous legacy even though most of today's players have probably never seen the original.

Please note I am not talking about the "Citizen Kane" of gaming. While "Citizen Kane" is a standout movie that has become a cultural reference point it is most noted for having revolutionised the genre and raising the artistic bar for all future movies. Not every cultural reference point has to do this.

 
AI development has nothing to do with computer power.

I remember chess programs being a challenging opponent to an amateur player like myself in the 90-es.

AIs are dumb on purpose, to allow even the stupidest player to succeed.
 
I am not interested in playing older games.

Partly that is graphics,drivers etc mean that operating systems are not as upwardly compatible as they were in the older days.

A good bit is the sensibilities; I expect the recent innovations.

Part is capacity - a decade old game was designed for a machine with about 1% of my above average current computer.

Gevlon is of course wrong at least as regards to chess programs - the AL playing at top performance has gone from very rudimentary to world champion in the decades I have played them.

OTOH, if I could still play my Empire Deluxe, I would.
 
@Hagu: Good news, you can! Empire Deluxe Mobile Edition
 
What u might underestimate in a series like AC that the tools and team experience grows and can improve the series dramatically.
 
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