Sometimes it seems like nothing or very, very little in popular culture is ever invented any more. Updates to products, trends and style are just that – updates rather than brand new offerings. Past hits are dusted off, given a new metaphorical lick of paint, repackaged and marketed as the new all singing, all-dancing must have item of the day. But is that such a bad thing? Old games in particular have been proven to possess a timeless quality, confirmed entertainment value and unsurpassed gameplay.
Cast an eye over this year’s major game releases, and despite it being one of the most exciting years for a while, there are still very few titles that are 100% new. This isn’t just a case of more offerings from the Resident Evil, Fallout or Final Fantasy franchises, but the actual mechanics of the games. If you were to go back in time – or perhaps take the easier route and simply use the internet – and take a look at the games that were making waves in the ’80s, then the basic principles in those titles are still very much in evidence in today’s blockbusters – or much, much more. Go back even further, and as technology becomes simpler and the games more basic, the parallels are even easier to see. The gameplay, as in the way in which players interact with the game, the goals and the ways to achieve them are fundamentally the same in a surprising number of cases. It is the bells and whistles that accompany it that have changed, as we demand more and more immersive and complicated game play – and the science bods are able to provide it, in spades.
This isn’t a bad thing, far from it. Despite what we might think, us human beings are wary of change and there is a comfort – albeit at a subconscious level – of being in familiar territory, even when we think we are being groundbreaking.
A Whole New Classic game
One of the easiest ways to make a compelling hit game today is to take a traditional game, one that has thrilled countless generations, and put it into a digital format, perhaps giving it a tweak or two. Probably the most famous board game of them all is Monopoly. As you’d expect, the writers have gone to town on this concept and have created myriads of versions of the classic, from basic re-skins such as the Mexico regional edition to gameplay tweaks such as Monopoly: Ultimate Banking.
The king of mind sports, Chess dates back to the 15th century and is one of the most played games in history. It has been revamped for every format, including the Xbox since people started playing on computers instead of with wood or stone pieces. Instead of simply removing their opponent’s pieces from the board, in some games players are able to see them run through with a sword – so much more satisfying. There’s also virtual and real-life 3 player chess and dozens of other variations.
Casino games also translate very well, with online versions of the games often becoming the most played ones. Sometimes these are straight representations of the traditional games played in bricks and mortar establishments.. Other times they are brought out with a completely new spin such as online poker room Poker Stars‘ new take on Texas Hold’em – Knockout Poker. This tournament format is based on the knockout principle and sees players eliminate each other in knockout games, earning the bounty “placed” on each one of their competitors by the system. Again, a classic premise with a whole new spin.
Newtoy and Zynga’s Words With Friends is Scrabble for the 21st century, with a more descriptive name, using the Scrabble mechanic but adding on to it bonuses and challenges. Since its release in 2009 it has been downloaded more than 10 million times on Google Play alone, and it’s also available for iOS, Windows phones and on Facebook.
Retro Video Games Reimagined
The amount of hours my generation spent playing Tetris is frightening, and now we can go through it all again, with Kittehface Software’s new release – Anode. There may be a new backdrop, it may have the ubiquitous multiplayer option etc etc, but it is basically Tetris in a shiny new coat. Sometimes the game makers don’t even bother to change the name, but bring an old classic onto the screens and into the bedrooms and living rooms of today’s generations. For an XBOX example, considered by many to be one of if not the best adventure-action game ever created, Flashback is back, two decades after it first wowed gamers.
The advent of smartphones has had a huge influence on the gaming industry. The smaller screens, compared to a television or computer monitor means that simplicity is key, and the old style games are perfectly suited to just such a format. Crossy Road – its name straight from the “does what it says on the tin” school of thinking – is basically an endless stage of Frogger, with new characters, including Mickey Mouse and friends. Likewise, Pac-Man – possibly the best and certainly the one of the best loved games ever, has had a new lease of life, with Endless Pac-Man versions released specifically for smartphones. While it maintains the aesthetic of the old game, it provides players with new challenges.
Up, app and Away
It is every business’ aim to get their product – no matter what it is – in as many formats as possible, to buy into the loyalty of their fans and users. A perfect example of this is the transition of traditional console games into mobile ones. These aren’t designed to replace the originals, but to complement them. The phenomenal Fallout Series recently launched the companion Pip Boy App, to go with Fallout 4. The makers of Tomb Raider have done a similar thing with their Tomb Raider Go app, and it will be no surprise if this is the direction followed by the vast majority of other manufacturers.
It is somehow reassuring that writers and producers constantly go back to the past to create the future. Occasionally it is through laziness or down to the lack of new creative ideas, but more often than not – and the gaming industry proudly leads the way in this – it is because a good idea will always be just that. As technology continues to advance at breakneck speed, it would be an opportunity missed if we weren’t given back those ideas in a format and style befitting of the age.