Resurrected Entertainment

Are we overemphasizing the importance of old games?

July 28, 2013

I visit the site fairly regularly. I enjoy their articles much more than other sites and I find they have a good perspective on retro-gaming content as well. Sometime last year, they wrote up a Top 100 Games of All Time list, which is nothing new and seems to have been done to death in the game journalism industry. Their angle was a little different, though, since they wrote up a full retrospective review on each game in the list, rather than just a short synopsis on why the game was important. One of the games reviewed was Wolfenstein  3D, of course, since that was a top 100 games of all time list. In the article, they explain that Wolfenstein 3D created all the basic elements of any FPS game made today, such as items being positioned in front of the player character, armour, tiered weaponed systems, and enemies which require different combat strategies to finish them off. I personally love this game and some of the knock-offs too, like Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold; I think a number of the core mechanics present in FPS games were popularized with that game. In the article, however, they imply that FPS games made today owe much to Wolf 3D and that it defined basically everything that an FPS could be:

“id Software set these standards back in 1992, and since then, very few FPSes have veered from these fundamental ideas.”

This assertion, I think, over emphasizes its importance a little too much. Yes, they do have some of the basic elements in common, much like every good cookie has flour and sugar as ingredients, and credit should be given to those who breached the market first as well as the inventiveness of the individuals at the time. However, saying that today’s FPSes have veered very little since then, is like saying action movies continue to have action in them, but are really just boring rip offs of the very first action film, The Great Train Robbery made in 1903. Once a genre is created, by definition, there will be situations and themes in common with other products in that category. But to say that very little has been introduced to expand the FPS genre definition since then is to ignore everything that makes them different.

Since I am a programmer by trade and one who specializes in game science and computer graphics, I know how technically different games made today are from those made in 1992, and for technical reasons alone, they should rarely (if ever) be compared to earlier titles because to do so diminishes the achievement of today’s games. There is so much more technical effort, detail, and expense in making a game like Call of Duty, than Wolfenstein 3D even when you account for shifts in the technology gap. The latter was created by fewer than five people and according to Wikipedia:

“The game’s development began in late 1991… and was released for DOS in May, 1992.”, source.

There’s not a lot of sophistication that can be placed into a game in six months; the folks at id Software were shooting to fill a void in the marketplace, much like Apple did with the iPod. They depended heavily on being the first to market. Sure, there was a certain amount of inventiveness needed for both products to be successful and having a Nazi theme surely helped to popularize the title, but usually the bar tends to be much lower since you are the first to arrive in the market. For these kinds of products, timing is just as important as any other attribute. You don’t need to be the best; in fact, various markets are filled with examples of better products which have been released only a couple of months later that do not survive, simply because they were not first to fill the void.

Whereas, games like Call of Duty or Mass Effect take years of development on teams of 50-150 people, and typically have features like:

  • Complex stories and nuances of game play;
  • Interesting characters and custom look and feel to main protagonists;
  • Large variety of multi-faceted equipment and combat scenarios;
  • Full orchestral music and top of the line sound effects;
  • Physics based environments and realistic interactive environments;
  • Sophisticated level of detail within very large environments;
  • AI driven characters which can act cooperatively or competitively in a variety of environments;
  • Player created and user-driven of influenceable story arcs;
  • Dynamic levels constructions which can be destroyed and collapsed at will;
  • Multi-player scenarios with large groups of people around team based objectives;
  • Facial animation and expression techniques which map to voice samples;

The list can go on from there, but you get the idea. Comparing one of these games to Wolfenstein 3D is like comparing a bicycle to something James Bond would drive and saying they are basically the same because they are both vehicles…

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