Saturday, February 19, 2011

Converted To Modern Games

Modern games are better and more fun to play than retro games.  That may not sound like a bold proclamation, but for me it represents a complete attitude change.

It’s been about a year since I bought an Xbox 360 and started this blog.  If you remember, I mainly got the Xbox is order to play old school style games.  A good example is Bionic Commando:Rearmed.  At the time, that was exactly the type of game I was looking for (and still the best remake of an 8-bit game ever, in my opinion).

But, if you look over my blog posts over time, I started to be more enthusiastic about modern games.  It started with Batman:Arkham Asylum.  Then it was Transformers: War For Cybertron.  But the final step of my conversion has been Red Dead Redemption.

Early on, I thought that playing the modern games was just a diversion, and that my main interest would still be old school games.  The games I was looking forward to most were Castlevania: Harmony of Despair, Bionic Commando: Rearmed 2, and Hard Corp: Uprising.  Those games are all out now.  They are good games (well, I have problems with Castlevania:HD).  But, I have no plans to buy the full versions.

The reason is, I just find them boring.  The control is too basic.  When I’m used to 3D games with deep, complex controls, I just can’t “switch gears” to enjoy the old school gameplay.  I mentioned this in my assessment of the Limbo demo last year.  At the time I didn’t realize that was I was feeling was not temporary, but a permanent change in my attitude.

Simple mechanics are one of the reasons that many people prefer retro games.  You can pick up and play them without having to learn much or train your hands.  Games with deep controls can have a steep learning curve that can be intimidating.  I can speak to that because that I how I felt a year ago.  But I can now say, the learning curve is worth it.  It seems daunting at first, but you will adapt in time.  And it doesn’t even take that much time.  At a certain point, the controls become second nature and don’t even seem complex.  And when you reach that point, playing the game becomes entertaining and rewarding beyond what’s possible in an old school game.  Here are a couple of examples.

In Batman:Arkham Asylum, you can use Batman’s line launcher to zip-line across a room and knock down a group of henchmen.  Before they get up, you can use a ground takedown move to knock one of them out.  By that time the others will have gotten up and and will most likely be ready to open fire on Batman with machine guns.  At that point you can either retreat by grappling up to gargoyle, stun them using Batman’s cape, use batarangs to knock them down again, or just run at them kicking and punching, hoping to take them out before Batman is critically wounded.  There are so many options – you can let your creativity run wild.  It takes a high level of comfort with the game’s controls to be able to do all that, but the gamer does get to that level, and it happens naturally (in this game, at least).

Another example is from Read Dead Redemption.  You can take something that happens in the game fairly often – a thief steals a horse and a townsperson asks you to get the horse back.  You have a lot of options in RDR, but I like to return the horse and the thief alive.  Here are the steps required for that:
  1. Whistle for horse
  2. Mount horse
  3. Equip lasso
  4. Look where thief is on mini-map and chase after him
  5. Once caught up to thief, ready lasso
  6. Enter dead-eye mode
  7. “Paint” thief in dead-eye mode
  8. Throw lasso
  9. Dismount house
  10. Run to to thief and hogtie him
  11. Pick up thief
  12. Put thief on horse
  13. Mount house
  14. Chase down stolen horse and lasso it
  15. Lead horse back to robbery victim
  16. Dismount horse
  17. Remove thief from horse
  18. Drop thief off ground
That is very complex process, but it’s something that becomes easy to do after a while.  When I started making that list, I included the necessary buttons that need to be pressed for each step, but I couldn’t finish that aspect.  I couldn’t remember some of them, and others I was just unsure about which button.  But when I play the game I can do it easily because of muscle memory.  So, what sounds daunting and complex (and is daunting and complex at first) becomes second nature.

So why is that more satisfying than say, defeating a monster in The Legend of Zelda.  I don’t know.  It’s something that I know experientially.  Maybe I’ll try to think of the specific reasons in a future post.  For now I can only say that I am a convert.