6 Retro Features Modern Video Games Need
The march of progress has trampled some flowers of fine living into the dirt of history. After the Stone Age, we forgot how to not need pants. After Ancient Greece, we forgot how to worship drink as divine. After we invented the Internet, we forgot how to not be distracted by bullshit for five goddamn minutes. But just as technology has taken those joys away, it can bring them back. For example: I'm writing this online while observing the sacraments of whiskey and total pantslessness.
The Internet has also improved what that might look like. You're welcome.
But the most urgently luxurious losses are taking place in video gaming. Major modern games are forgetting all the most fun things from their youth, they take ages to get started, sometimes they need to just sit there for half an hour before they're ready to play, and they frequently spew bullshit all over the place. After only 60 years, the field is suffering from advanced old age.
Luckily, technology can bring back all the best bits of the old days. RETRO magazine has resurrected the glossy gaming magazine, full of all your favorite writers (including Seanbaby), and if you want journalistic ethics? All of our games are decades old! Many of their developers are dead! We can be as impartial as we like! RETRO magazine is returning for a second year, and you can subscribe at Kickstarter.
We've already started the kicking. We're pretty excited.
(UPDATE: We're awesomely and fully funded, so you WILL get a magazine. Support now and we'll all get a BIGGER magazine!)
Last year we looked at the worst features of retro video games. Now it's time to bring back the best ones.
You sit down, turn on your console, start playing, and really shouldn't be wasting your time machine on that, Doctor. Either you traveled back to when "PRESS START TO PLAY" wasn't false advertising (with a helpful online store option), or you traveled forward through the five minutes of loading screens, updates, and advertising for the companies behind the game you already bought. Except that wouldn't work. Because even if you fast-forward to the end of the solar system, landing in for a quick round of Assassin's Cutscene just before the sun explodes, you'll press X and the console will go, "Aha! You're here! Only NOW shall I start checking for updates."
"Now downloading update 1 of STACK OVERFLOW."
This isn't an effect of modern technology. This isn't because games are so large they have to load. If that were the case you could just turn them on, get a cup of tea, and be ready to play. Especially since 99.999 percent of the times you play you're doing the exact same thing: in single-player games you're loading your most recent save, in multiplayer you're heading for the lobby, and every option between "power on" and that is consumer obedience training. The machine makes you sit through several dashboards and menus, all with store options. It's the asshole who opens a laptop at a party and says, "You have to watch my five favorite videos," and they're all corporate ads. The only possible good thing is that maybe they're trying to prevent your bladder from interrupting your play, because by the 10 trillionth time they explain autosave, they're definitely taking the piss.
In the old days there was literally nothing to it.
I don't want to woo my games, pretending to be interested by answering their questions, or being careful to touch them in just the right places. I want to play, not play hard to get. There should be an option to automatically start in your latest save/multiplayer lobby, where you can hold X as it boots up to cancel out into the main menu. Everything between "power on" and "continue from last save" is proof that you're a consumer instead of a player.
We understand that online games need to be kept up to date for fairness. But if your console ever prevents you from playing single-player, your console is broken. And should be treated as such.
When we finally build the starship Enterprise, leaving behind our petty politics to aim a warp drive at the stars, someone is still going to enter the Konami code on the navigation console. And it will load an NES emulator. Delaying our cosmic ascension by at least a week.
"Hey, maybe we should send THESE guys to deal with the Klingons."
The only problem with cheats is the total misnomer. "Cheat" implies that you're somehow breaking the rules or doing something wrong. But if you're playing a game about laser mutant aliens, entering a programmed code that mutates more lasers isn't cheating. That's working as intended, which is also "the exact opposite of cheating" and "awesome!"
Exhibits A through M1, all invading your laser.
Infinite ammo, invincibility, low gravity, giant heads: those aren't cheats, they're superpowers.
Or at least mutations.
Every game should have an entire options screen of them. Toggling a few variables in the game's code takes moments to program and adds months to the game's life. Some options might make the game engine stagger a little, but just stick in a disclaimer and remember that gaming glitches can be incredibly entertaining.
Of course, they've just forgotten these fun options. It's not like they're deliberately removing the easiest fun they could ever provide as part of some evil scheme to extract more money from you. Except that's exactly what they're doing when they sell official strategy guides and not-even-infinite ammunition codes as paid extras.
Toggle God Mode
In the olden days there was a magical "god" that could solve everything, an invincible being that could breeze through the most ridiculous fantasy settings, utterly immune to harm, and it still seemed to solve most of its problems by brutally murdering creatures for its own amusement.
The zeroth commandment was "Thou shalt step backwards at the start to get a sweet chainsaw."
We need God Mode back. It would only improve video games. Every argument against it -- "You have to do it this way, you have to have challenge, you have to do what we say" -- confuses games with homework. Especially in storyline games where players might not want 70 hours of "Menu>Fight>Attack" repetitive strain injury for four hours of story. Or games where you just want to sit around and kill stuff after a long day at work, and you just want to start with all the cool weapons. Stick in an achievement you get only for finishing levels without it, and BOOM! Even the hardos are happy.
God Mode isn't just fun, it's an interactive review of the game. Specifically, a review of which sections are total bullshit. Ignore the people who use it for the entire game -- and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that; they bought the game and should enjoy it any way they want -- and it'll highlight the sections where people pressed the divinity button to damn a stupid section to hell. With this tool we could end mandatory stealth sections in a year.
Related: I'm going to find everyone who included a mandatory stealth section in an action game, sneak into their home, replace their bathroom door with a Rubik's Cube lock, and then take them out for 10 pints.
They'll be bent over twisting their bladder the same way.
Even great games need this. For example: Half-Life is one of the greatest games ever made, and one of the most important, but it is utterly unplayable in some of those later levels. If you haven't played it, imagine 20 levels of tightly designed first-person shooter dumping you onto a low-gravity trampoline covered in bullshit and flying enemies with infinite ammunition. I godded through that section harder than the Old Testament.
Skip This Bullshit
Games are built around visions. Those visions should be of me carving new swear-words into people with a plasma-saw, or my civilization's incredible science research output, or my princess defeating an assassination plot through her advanced knowledge of trading economics. It shouldn't be a creative director imagining they made it as a movie director.
"How dare you skip my cutscenes to play your stupid game!"
If somebody wants to make a film, great: go do that. And take all your film shit out of the building where they make video games, because those are very different things, and I don't want your misdiagnosis of entertainment poisoning my fun. Otherwise, who knows, we might end up being locked onto single-path corridors where our only job is to manually walk the film forward like we're trapped in a hamster-wheel connected to the cinema projector reel.
Oh hello, Modern Warfare 3, I didn't see you there. I was too busy looking at the featureless gray dot that is the entire gameplay right now.
We already have movies, and most of them suck. The idea of an unskippable cutscene should be comical. No, it should be insane, like unskippable masturbation or mandatory raspberry lollipops. And some games still won't let you skip the movies. Even when we're watching movies we've got buttons that let us skip parts, and movies aren't meant to be interactive.
Especially when it's a really stupid movie about a bounty hunter whose hand is her gun forgetting how to fire her gun.
We need to make something clear: every modern console is stupider than the NES.
God bless you, breezeblock of my youth.
The NES had eight controller buttons and a whole one of them was guaranteed to stop the game. That's all it did! Modern controllers have over 16 inputs, and not one of them can be trusted to pause. You press the home button: will it pause? Will it open a radio? Will it cause your character to start searching through your friends list to invite them to your imminent funeral? Who knows? All the game knows is that there's no reason you would ever want to stop playing.
Some consoles have a "SHARE" button instead, which lets the game reach out to affect more of the real world. That's the exact opposite of a pause button. But everyone plays games now. Many of those people have jobs, friends, significant others, and almost all of them have bladders. When real life interrupts, the game should stop. Hammertime. Goddammit, I didn't mean to type that, but thinking of the NES has projected my brain back a few decades.
Being honest, most old games are glorious garbage. And that is wonderful. They weren't so much designed as they were free-associated and kicked out the door faster than a skunk that had somehow gotten into the basement they were being programmed in. Because everyone cares whether a skunk stinks or not, and some game companies don't have the same attitude about their product.
Though this is quite a good message for many video game fans.
Games are big business now, which is wonderful. We're getting more games than ever before. But a big part of big business is big guaranteed return on investment. Which is why so many game sequels are now functionally identical to their predecessor, with one extra feature to distinguish them from the earlier incarnation. Pirates! A different man shouting! And, most ridiculous of all, Call of Duty: Kevin Spacey Edition.
Apparently, they can digitize near-lethal levels of Botox.
I don't need Spacey in games. We have a Spacey in the real world! We're meant to get excited that games are more like the real world? That is the exact opposite of their point. Merging games with movies is like merging the space shuttle with toll booths. We don't need to add bullshit designed to make extra money. We need to remember how to use the tech to travel to whole new worlds!
Luckily, there are ways to recapture the spirit of the small teams working to an insane vision. First, all those old retro games still exist. Just as Terminator 3 couldn't undo Terminator 2 (despite its entire plot being "more advanced technology going back in time to destroy something awesome") modern games haven't erased all the old games. Second, we have more small studios developing awesome and original games than ever before. Third, some huge developers are remembering, "Oh yeah, these things don't have to cost 10 zillion dollars. And can sometimes be new."
Because we live in the most glorious era of entertainment there has ever been. We have all the old things AND all the new things, and the Internet lets fans of both make more wonderful things for the like-minded. It also lets us subtly link the hell out of them.
I am living one of my childhood dream careers, and I love it.
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