Retro Looking Forward

Retro Looking Forward

Indie developers take cues from retro games to push the envelope.

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Allow me to derail everything by mentioning The Binding of Isaac.

Wow... On a completely unrelated topic, No more heroes reminds me of one of these kinds of projects, which I guess isn't a huge surprise.

Suda 51 may not be an indy developer, but his games can get pretty weird. No more heroes is actually pretty conventional by comparison to his previous game.

But anyway, what reminded me of it was that No More Heroes contains a segment where for no understandable reason whatsoever you suddenly have to play through a level or two of a retro-style shooter.

(Of course, the sequel turns all the job mini-games into retro style games as well. But that's easier to see coming than this was...)

Taylor Cocke:
Retro Looking Forward

Indie developers take cues from retro games to push the envelope.

Read Full Article

Great stuff!

We're beginning to rediscover that creativity isn't borne of freedom. Creativity comes out of limitations... and now that we have fewer technological limitations, and can easily do nearly anything we want, we have less impetus to truly be creative anymore. Self-imposing those limitations forces us to use those parts of our brains again, to the betterment of all.

And as for liking a bit of vagueness -- yes! Too many stories shy away from vagueness or subtlety or uncertainty or "loose ends" or anything that might require the reader/viewer/player to draw their own conclusions. Each thing is explained in full by the end, no stone is left unturned... and as a result, there are fewer stones, and you know each of them, and the world is that much smaller feeling. If there are no unexplored paths, what is there for me to wonder about when I'm away -- and more importantly, why would I ever want to come back to your world?

"Restrictions breed creativity." -Mark Rosewater, Head Designer of Magic: The Gathering.

This. This is a great article, putting that mantra into the context of videogames and setting out what makes it great. I'm a retrogamer because I adore seeing what has been done with the extreme limitations of older technology, whether it was cramming huge games into 8k or finding ways to sneak around Nintendo's censorship policies.

I refuse to be drawn on simple comparisons of whether modern games are "better" or "worse", because they're just different. They have different restrictions - it's less likely to be the technology now, and more about external restrictions like development time, etc. Better technology doesn't make things "better" right out of the box, else geekdom would forever be fantasising about the Sega Master System and the 3DO. It presents different challenges, and how those challenges are addressed makes a game (or anything else, for that matter) successful or not.

For my part, I find the technological limitations of older games better at firing creativity, as well as more forgiving, because it's easier to see what the developers had to work with. When your budget is tiny, your system is cranky, and you're faced with strict content guidelines, it's easier to see, and appreciate, what the designers envisioned, often distinct from what they delivered. Perhaps it's being an apologist, but that sometimes-wide gulf seems to me to be a lot more easily understood when you can see the restrictions they were dealing with every moment of play, especially nowadays when you can go back and play them with an eye to the context of the time they were developed. (It's the same argument I use when defending classic Doctor Who versus the modern series - I feel a lot more could be forgiven with the shoestring budget they had to work with.)

Of course, my opinions are just my own, and I'm a strange twisted person - perhaps the only one on this site who read "Pac-Man meets Hitman" and envisioned Pac-Man playing a listening comprehension game with Peter Tomarken.

Allow me to present a possible counter opinion to the argument that creativity is born from limitations. The overall idea is that complacency and ineffectual pruning of superfluous elements have lead to the uninspired, yet, cluttered, designs of many modern games. Imposing limitations forces away complacency and necessitates reduction. However, the resultant creativity is not caused so much by the limitations as the increased discipline of the creator to focus more on the quintessential nature of the game.

It is not strictly the limitations that breed creativity; rather, it is the self-imposed discipline to remove the superficial distractions that prevent us from perceiving, understanding, and exploring the quintessential nature of game-design that breeds creativity. In some sense, the advances of technology have imposed more restrictions because of gospel-like design requirements(multi-player, particular special effects, "like GTA but...", etc.) that are imposed on projects that may or may not properly fit the context or flow or the original game vision. As a result, the true vision and inspiration of the game becomes clouded and distorted by these imposed requirements. Some of these requirements are removed as an artifact of limiting oneself to retro-games and, thus, removing the clutter that obscures the creative vision of the game.

By imposing some limitations, we remove complacency. By having a number of formulaic tools and features that have known success, it is easy to become complacent in the use of these elements without understanding how and why they worked in the various contexts under which they were developed. This complacency leads to a sort of blind drag-n-drop mentality in the construction of modern games. As a result, despite actually having more freedom, because that freedom is taken for granted, there is less creativity in modern game design because there is less effort placed on understanding the principles and mechanisms that allow a game to function in a given context. By imposing limitations on the available tool-set, we force the creators of games to put more effort and thought into the fundamentals of game design and presentation.

It is entirely possible to have a very creatively derived game using the modern tool-sets, features, and technologies available. However, doing so requires discipline to not be distracted by the superficial results of those tools and focus on the essential vision of the game and how to realize that vision through the tools available.

Additionally, there is also the discipline of realizing when the work is becoming too cluttered by the inclusion of too many elements that don't fit together and throwing out the superfluous elements. One of the biggest problems of many artistic and creative types is falling in love with every possible idea and concept that can be crammed into a work and being extremely recalcitrant to throw away elements that just simply do not work with the rest of the work or are incongruous to the original vision. The eraser is perhaps the single most important artist's tool, and the artist should never be afraid to use it.

Personally, I've found that with creativity, one thinks of everything all at once, to start. Then one goes back over the work to start throwing stuff out that doesn't work or clutters things up. However, the advances in technology and efficient techniques have lead us to feel less compelled to throw things out. By imposing the retro-gaming style, the developer is forced to throw things out, resulting in a more essential creative work. However, the same effect can occur with some simple discipline.

Limitations do force the need for adaptations, which is a driving force for creativity. However, the motivation to evolve and adapt can by self-inflicted by choice rather than imposed by limitations. This is, again, a matter of self-discipline to avoid complacency with current accomplishments and continue to push at the boundaries. But in so doing, to realize that it is not a matter of including more elements into a work; rather, it is a matter of trying to coming closer to an understanding and perception of the quintessential nature of the work through exploration of self-consistent possibilities.

Limitations force the issue of needing to adapt and reduce superfluous or incongruous elements from the work. However, limitations are not a necessity to achieving this end. The discipline to focus more on the quintessential nature of the work is a more essential factor to achieving this end. Granted, limitations can force the awareness of need for such discipline, however, this discipline can also be chosen rather than requiring external imposition. In this manner, limitations breeding creativity is more an artifact than the true rule.

ADDENDUM TO MY ABOVE POST: There is so much technology and so many tools and techniques available that it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to use it all simply because it's there. This is when the work becomes too cluttered, and one loses sight of the original vision and inspiration. At such times, it's even more crucial to be critical of the work and be willing to apply the eraser to it to remove elements that are being inserted just because they are "so cool" that we just have to use them somewhere. They may not work and, so, should be removed. It takes much discipline to do that, because it's too easy to fall in love with the work and not want to hurt it. Imposing limitations is simply a means to accomplish this but not an essential necessity.

To be honest, I'm a bit perturbed by the current trend toward retro-gaming. In some sense, it is being used as a panacea, which is the exact same mistake as occurs in the copy-paste design of many modern games, using a single style, aesthetic, game mechanic, gameplay element, graphical technique, etc. as a singular, universal definition of a good game and including it regardless of its suitability or other considerations. The advancements that have been made in game technology and game design were made for very deliberate reasons. Discarding those reasons for blind fashion will do nothing except return us to a glut of crappy games; the only difference is that it will be a glut of crappy retro-games rather than modern games.

I very much agree with geizr's post. Limitations isn't necessary for creativity, but I am sure it can help creative minds. In practice it may be possible to gain the best of both scenarios by starting a design process artificially limited and then adding more tools and options step by step. Of course there is still the risk of too much clutter with this kind of approach.

geizr:

To be honest, I'm a bit perturbed by the current trend toward retro-gaming. In some sense, it is being used as a panacea, which is the exact same mistake as occurs in the copy-paste design of many modern games, using a single style, aesthetic, game mechanic, gameplay element, graphical technique, etc. as a singular, universal definition of a good game and including it regardless of its suitability or other considerations. The advancements that have been made in game technology and game design were made for very deliberate reasons. Discarding those reasons for blind fashion will do nothing except return us to a glut of crappy games; the only difference is that it will be a glut of crappy retro-games rather than modern games.

I see it more as an attempt to explore the possibilities of a single aspect. The same way a painter may spend a few years only drawing forks because he is fascinated with what can be done with that single motive. Other artists may sometimes be able to be inspired by those advances.
Modern AAA game developers often abandon advances in design as well in favor of the purely technical aspects. Indy developers with limited tools available are often able to create polished core gameplay to a much higher standard than AAA titles do.

weirdguy:
Allow me to derail everything by mentioning The Binding of Isaac.

Well done. Whenever I hear retro I think of Binding, because it's not a game most people would think of as retro, since it doesn't have pixellated graphics or beep beep chiptune soundtrack, but it's retro as fuck. It's retro deep down at the core of its game design, and that shows wonderfully.

...but that doesn't have much to do with the article. Sorry.

 

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