Thursday, 12 January 2012

Old-school style: tribute or exploitation?

As may be obvious to you readers, I've been playing a lot of indie games this month. As a general rule, indie games tend to be smaller, less cutting-edge affairs than the big developers and publishers put out, for the simple reason that independent developers simply don't have the time and budget to develop a game like Skyrim or Call of Duty. A lot of these games use a style that calls to mind older games from the 80's and 90's: simplistic or pixelated graphics along with a two-dimensional world.

This often begs the question: is an old-school style a tribute to classic games, or exploitation of nostalgia?

As an example, let's look at Bit.Trip Runner (which I've reviewed here). This is a game whose aesthetic and difficulty (and sound design in particular) owe a great deal to classic 8-bit games, but whose mechanics are more modern: it's essentially a rhythm game, a genre which practically didn't even exist in the eyes of the masses until Guitar Hero in 2005.

What do you think? Is an 8-bit style business or tribute -- or both? I'd love to hear some examples to support your arguments.

EDIT: turns out I didn't give enough consideration to the idea that it's just easier for a small group to do simpler graphics. I did mention it, sort of, in the first paragraph, but  it really deserves more weight than that.

1 comment:

  1. I think the evaluation of a game, and whether its use of 8-bit style is a tribute and success is obviously dependent on how it is done. It is a fine line between nostalgia and replication.

    Nostalgia is used quite often in video gaming. Whether to pander to loyal fans, bring those who've been "out of the game" for a long time back in, to draw a comparison, or to make a game more familiar as it has previous iterations and connections, nostalgia is so commonly used in games, that it should be included as a specific category and characteristic of assessment in video games.

    Let's look at Bit. Trip Runner. I've never played it, but I've read your review and some others online. Let's look at how the nostalgia is done.

    The main character, Commander Video, and many aspects of his world are in the 8-bit style. The game-play/mechanics seem to be very similar to the side-scrolling "jump or die" games I have seen time and time again. But, as you mentioned, the world is in 3D, the colours and graphics are simple and refreshing, and the game's music flows very well and responds to the actions and success of the character. That last one is of particular importance because it differs from what I remember and think of 8-bit, older games.

    Now, I am by no means an expert, I just like to talk sometimes. So, I may be completely wrong, but the short point I am trying to make is that if you make a game and provide nostalgic parts, such as characters, gameplay, level design, then you should be doing so while at the same time providing something new, or some interesting, experimental, different combination which attempts to make a comparison and juxtapose the familiar with that which is not. If not, you're just regurgitating, in my opinion.