We kicked off the week with a rare one-writer Inventory from Anthony John Agnello that focused on modern games for dead consoles. Some of the works in question were only available as newly pressed discs or cartridges that run exclusively on the old systems. Carlton_Hungus wondered why artists would take this tack, ultimately limiting their project’s potential audience:
Not to knock the people who clearly do this as a hobby/labor of love, but actually putting these games out on the original systems seems rather silly.
Is the experience really that different if you create them to run on an emulator or modify old Dreamcast controllers to work with your PC? The explosion of indie games onto mainstream gaming providers (Steam, and to a lesser extent PSN and Xbox Online) has led to a plethora of retro style games from all eras. Limiting the availability of these games to original systems seems less like a fun quirk and more like a plain annoyance. Releasing the greatest album in the world only on a phonograph cylinder isn’t really going to benefit the world.
Hungus’ comment spawned a fantastic thread with insightful responses from many commenters. The whole thing, starting from here, is worth a read. NakedSnake attributed the phenomenon to a deep passion for the piece of hardware in question:
I can only imagine that ultimately there’s something magical about being able to release a game for a system you loved, and then play it on that system. It’s one thing to release a “Super NES Style” game, and another thing entirely to actually play a game you produced for the system. If the Super NES was the pinnacle of gaming for you, then I imagine that it would feel quite valuable to be able to pretend that you were a developer during that period and that your game is part of the Super NES canon. The dedication and focus required to even begin this exercise in the first place (much less complete it) implies a level of passion that would almost exclude practical considerations like how many people might play the game. These crazy developers have created their own shrines, far above our poor power to add or detract them.
And Girard recontextualized the conversation by comparing these games to painting:
Each medium has its own limitations, which can shape and spur creativity in particular ways. Paint is technically an “obsolete” medium, but artists haven’t stopped painting.
However, painters in the age of post-photography have had to address that fact, and they’ve explored the formal properties essential to paint as a medium beyond its potential for slavish imitation of life—developing some wonderful new forms of representation and articulating more minutely the singular qualities of paint as a medium. An awful lot of these kinds of games don’t seem to engage with their system/medium at that level and seem content to be simple nostalgia projects aping bygone genres, rather than pulling new things out of these old systems, or capitalizing noticeably on their idiosyncrasies and limitations.
Feel The Magic
Yesterday, we brought the news of an astounding online sale: Someone out there paid more than $27,000 for a rare Magic: The Gathering card. We asked Gameological’s biggest Magic fan, Steve Heisler, some questions about it. Noting that the card in question is banned in most tournaments, Steve cheekily asserted that it can only be used in competitions between the wealthiest of players. But according to The Ultimate Warrior, those “Vintage” tournament rules actually make for a cheaper Magic career in the long run:
Vintage is the format that costs the least to play over a longer period of time because the initial cost of putting together a competitive deck is basically a one-off investment. In the “cheaper” formats, you’ll need to invest heavily every few months to pick up the new cards that have replaced what you were using. A Vintage deck will cost more than any one Standard (the most up-to-date format) deck, but you’ll need a new Standard deck every year. In the same period of time, you might only need to add one or two new cards to that Vintage deck.
John Teti spent some time talking about the aesthatics of the PlayStation 4 during his review of the new system. He mentioned that the power and eject buttons blend into the system so well, they’re almost invisible. The_Misanthrope wasn’t happy about that:
I don’t mind a little tasteful aesthetic design, but I am always bothered by the whole “seamlessly melded into the product” invisible button trend. I don’t want to have to grope around to find the power button; I want it to be obvious just by looking at it. Modern tablet design does this, though it makes more sense there because you want it to be difficult to accidentally turn it off while handling. The PS2 suffered from this problem with power and eject buttons that were tiny and nearly camouflaged from a distance.
I feel like this is some modern aesthetic design philosophy that assumes that high-end products should look like inert monoliths and less like whatever they are supposed to be. It’s similar to the notion that fancier watches usually have less numbers on their face. It is somehow gauche to have any watch-like signifiers on your product.
Look at the the Xbox 360’s design. One might consider its big power button that lights up like an eye dumb-looking, but it is very functional. It can be easily found, and the eye-thing acts as a simple indicator of how many controllers are connected to the system.
Some commenters were ruffled by John’s quick dismissal of the old Crash Bandicoot games. Nudeviking, though, provided us with an amusing Crash-related anecdote:
The only thing I remember about those games was the time a friend’s mother was complaining about some reckless driver she had encountered and described them as, “going all over the road like some kind of Crash VanDerCoot.”
Joe Keiser went and got everyone all nostalgic with his review of Nintendo’s latest Zelda game. Pumpkinjokes.pdf kicked off a great discussion about what makes the Zelda series the ultimate fulfillment of childhood adventure fantasies:
It’s just adventure. It’s every single thing I wanted to be when I was a kid, and what I secretly want to be right now—the lone hero facing every threat in the world and destroying the evil dragon. There’s a purity to every bit of Zelda that justifies the entire medium of video games as far as I’m concerned.
stepped_pyramids explained how this is exactly the kind of childhood experience that inspired the series’ creator:
Shigeru Miyamoto has said that his inspiration for the Zelda series was his memories of exploring the countryside as a child and finding things like ponds and caves that he didn’t know were there. That’s why the series has such a focus on open-ended exploration of environments like caverns, ruins, etc. and such a varied geography.
There was nothing quite like The Legend Of Zelda when it came out, in terms of rewarding exploration in a large hand-made environment—especially not on a personal game console.
What’s interesting to me is that the way you progress through the game, the dungeons, is the least interesting part. The dungeons themselves are pretty repetitive and not unlike other games you’d see at the time, but the distinctive and sometimes tricky ways you entered each dungeon are still pretty amazing. By Link To The Past, they had the time and technical capacity to make each of the dungeons as distinctive on the inside as they were on the outside.
Elsewhere, printthelegends asked what everyone’s favorite Zelda game is. Needlehacksaw provided a personal response:
Zelda II will always have a special place in my heart. It came to me at the right time. I was one of a bunch of kids living in a village that made Kakariko look like a metropolis, and for a reason I still can’t fathom, three of us, unbeknownst to each other, bought the game in a photo shop in the town nearby. (Usually, we made sure that no game was bought twice because we would play them together and/or share them.) It was a time before the Internet and where getting onto the Nintendo helpline meant lying to your parents. None of us spoke a word of English. (I have often said that I learned English from Japanese video games. That’s no joke.) So the moment I figured out, dictionary in hand, how to find the sixth palace still ranks as my proudest gaming achievement.
One of us bought the original Zelda a few months later, and we loved it just as much. We later loved A Link To The Past, and I have equally fond memories of playing Ocarina Of Time when it came out, too. The latter two are superior to Zelda II, I have to admit. But it’s Zelda II that, to this day, represents the quintessential Zelda experience.
The Nitty Gritty
John Teti shared a series of shorts that give the Mario games the dark-and-gritty reimagining they desperately needed. dantebk thought a serious Mario interpretation would work better as something a little less grim:
I think you could do a decent “take it seriously” storyline for Super Mario Bros., but not by going dark and gritty. I’d like to see a story where Mario finds his way back to the normal world and has to deal with life as a plumber again after years of being a hero and dating a princess. That sort of story has been told before—where a character returns to the real world after many years in a fairy tale kingdom—but I think it’d be interesting through a Super Mario lens.
MrZ had something different in mind:
If anything, it’s the story of a guy on shrooms who’s trying to find his girlfriend who wandered off with his pet turtle.
And so the first week of Gameological “Level 2” comes to a close. To all the folks who are reading and commenting on our stuff for the first time, welcome! I hope you enjoyed it and come back next week. For the old Gameological commenting crew, I have a few hackneyed but nonetheless appropriate words: Keep calm and comment on.
Thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. We’ll see you next week.