Mar 11, 2014

Lessons from the arcade

Babbling at the Counter #32 – Video Games

Lessons from the arcade

Arcade games had three very important things that I feel got lost along the way. Modern games like Endless Forms Most Beautiful are bringing this stuff back:

They where easy to learn:

Simple controls that don't change through the game.
I see the appeal in mastering a complicated set of combinations to get the best results and perform awesome maneuvers, but sometimes I just want to sit down and play a game without having to look for information online or having to practice the aforementioned combos before I'm ready to actually enjoy my game.

Arcades were simple because they needed you to get hooked up easily. Watching someone else play or the helpful hints displayed during the “insert coin” screen had to be enough to get you started.

Just because we can make extremely more complex games today, it doesn't mean we should ignore how nice it is to just start a game and be able to play it. No online study, no long tutorials. Just a game.

They exploited every Detail:

This is more of a wake up call to prospective game designers than anything else.
Some games change your character as you progress. So, new obstacles are avoided with new powers. That doesn't make the game actually hard, mind you. It just means the player has to learn a few more tricks, and the designers can use new basic traps instead of improving the old ones.

And that's my point. Take EFMB. As the best way to move around is using the teleporting platforms, most of the traps are built around them. Putting spikes on them, having a floor completely devoid of them, giving enemies the ability to use them too, etc.

If halfway through the game you got, say, the ability to push blocks, then gameplay changes completely. From that point on, you start finding easy block puzzles so you can get used to them, instead of finding new (and tougher) platform puzzles.

This kind of stuff makes the game longer, but not in a way I find nice. You shouldn't be saying “I died because I forgot how gliding works”. The character is your avatar, controlling it should be intuitive after only a few rounds.

They had replay value in mind:

This is the aspect of replay value I want to talk about today: Coffebreak Games.
You can sit down, play something between fifteen minutes or half an hour and then get back to other things. Here's more information about the coffebreak concept. Arcades have that.

But to be a good coffebreak game, it has to have both simple controls and be short enough to be beaten in less than an hour.

Closing Up:

I know there are a few negative aspects to this old games that we don't want to see anymore. Inflated difficulty to keep you hooked, and having to play until you memorized the level in order to survive it are not features I remember fondly. Those are not what I'm talking about.

I'm not talking about pure nostalgia, either. It's not about making old games, it's making games the old way. Why make a fifty-hour long game if it's chock full of filler? Why not use fewer different abilities in the same game and use them to make other games?

I know the answer, money. Big companies won't get much from this ideas. Good luck we don't work there, then. I guess our projects can actually do some things those big names can't.

- The Storeman

I realize this post has a lot in common with Locomalito's philosophy.
“Lessons from the arcade” was already written when I found that on his site, so I decided to keep mine and just link to him.

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