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Why aren’t old games fun?

My nephew Joel Weinberger wonders why computer games we loved when they were new, ten or so years later aren’t as much fun to play. If Doom was a great game in 1993, why isn’t it still a great game? (To refresh your memory, you can play the first level of Doom online here.)

It seems to me that it’s particularly games that simulate the spatial world that suffer from this sort of aging. I find it remarkable and a little embarrassing that Doom had me crouching in my chair in fear, and got startle reactions out of me. Now my body hardly responds to it at all, although it’s still pretty much fun to play through. It seems that when Doom came out, it was so much better than the preceding run-and-gun games that my body treated it as if it were one step away from real. Contemporary games (say, the latest F.E.A.R., or Bioshock, or Dead Space) are orders of magnitude more photorealistic, but they don’t get me crouching any lower or startling any higher. It’s as if the brain has a Constant of Realism that invests the current highest-end simulation with the same maximal amount of attachment.

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13 Responses to “Why aren’t old games fun?”

  1. […] more here: Why aren’t old games fun? Social […]

  2. It seems to me that it’s particularly games that simulate the spatial world that suffer from this sort of aging.

    Indeed. I’ve been playing through Fallout 2 recently, for example (thanks to the excellent GOG.com, who sell it as a DRM-free download for $6), and I’m actually enjoying it more than I did when I played it on first release.

    The key to designing a game that ages well is probably to have the game not be primarily about the graphics. Fallout 2, for instance, didn’t look cutting edge even when it first came out; its appeal was primarily in its story. Doom, on the other hand, was all about the graphics, and graphics go from bleeding-edge to yesterday’s news shockingly fast.

  3. I’m with Jason. In games, aesthetics aren’t so important as in other games. Games are primarily built out of mechanics. If those are good, the game is likely to survive for ages. Obviously aesthetics take a part into this. But well conceived games are still fun to play. Take Joust, for example.

    The crouching-in your-chair effect in Doom was brought up by aesthetics alone. But, with the natural evolution, these are no more so compelling. If the fear effect was conveyed by the mechanics, instead, you will still have a fun game to play.

  4. this reminds me of that old story about the first to attend a lumier brothers ‘movie’
    they ran away in shock when a train on the screen was approaching the camera

    I find it funny that we went from thing approaching fast
    to exploration and shooting
    from fear to killing rage : )

    ciao david

  5. Jason’s right; games that aren’t graphics dependent continue to be fun years after they’re released. Tetris, for example, still delights. Bejeweled hasn’t lost its appeal one bit over the years.

  6. i suspect you are right (i.e., “[i]t’s particularly games that simulate the spatial world that suffer from this sort of aging.”) I work with a bunch of hardcore starcraft players. As you know, that game has been around for 10 years–today the graphics look distinctly primitive, yet it’s more popular than ever and the most avid players don’t really want the graphics improved.

  7. I found Castle Wolfenstein 3D quite enjoyable now that it’s on the iphone:
    http://www.destructoid.com/wolfenstein-3d-classic-comes-to-the-iphone-126292.phtml

    But then I’m not much of a gamer these days so maybe I just lack strong comparators

  8. Any media which attempts to mimic the real world will at best maintain a niche interest because of the art or nostalgic memories of the piece.

    For example, old movies who had early special effects were astounding at the time, and are laughable now. They’re only interesting for the nostalgia of old people who saw it when they were growing up, or to historians of film or effects.

    The same is true for games. Any game which tries too hard will end up falling down flat later in time, when their early art form is totally obsoleted.

    However, games which do not attempt to be cutting-edge and realistic have amazing staying power. Think nethack, online MUDs, most early Sierra games and any other game which has a focus on comedy and thinking.

    This same thinking somehow doesn’t seem to apply to old world art forms for all people. There is some sort of attachment to painting and other art forms where they hold their own even in comparison to photography. It seems that the act and the material is more important to people than the actual image. I think it’s just a cultural thing for us to respect painting, but beside that a lot of painting doesn’t attempt for realism in the first place.

    But regarding games.. there are a number of very active projects devoted to re-creating old games or emulating the original on other platforms. Arcade games, early computer games (Atari, c64, Amiga, etc), old x86 DOS games, and more.

    There are now a couple of projects which will work on directly supporting much more of those old games at the operating system level, both based on Unity Linux – http://unity-linux.org

    For my part, I’ll be working on Oldschool Linux, which is more focused on the oldschool demo, music and art scenes.

    The other person’s project will be more directly focused on games and emulation. I went looking for its name and the author, but I wasn’t able to find it. It’ll resurface once the project launches.

  9. Hi all…
    I am playing games on pc and i like to more about gaming…
    I like this article because it’s about gaming…

  10. Actually, “r4 nintendo ds” likes this article because that spam got through.

  11. […] old games fun? [PROTIP: They are] So as to keep my comment around.. spiralofhope, on August 25th, 2009 at 10:45 am Said: Any media which attempts to mimic the real world will at best maintain a niche interest […]

  12. How can you say that old games aren’t fun. Have you played a whacky wheels? Have you showed your nephew Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade?

    Show him Transport tycoon if he likes management games. Or ask him to win all races in Death rally….

  13. […] old games fun? [PROTIP: They are] 2009-08-25So as to keep my comment around..spiralofhope, on August 25th, 2009 at 10:45 am Said: Any media which attempts to mimic the real world will at best maintain a niche interest […]


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