Archive: The Retro Revolution – How the Clock’s Turning Back for Gaming

(July 2013)

So, Russia have returned to the old faithful typewriter for their official documents, a strange decision that was supposedly spawned out of the increasing complexities of computer systems making valuable information vulnerable. But this blog doesn’t document the life and times of the Russians, this is a video games blog so why is this useless piece of information here? Well dear cynical reader, it is because this event could act as a weirdly global metaphor for the return to retro that we can see happening in the gaming world.

While we all love our systems from the 90’s, we all also love the crisply vibrant artwork that accompanies modern gaming. So what happens when these two ideals slowly merge into one another, we might just find out in the future of gaming.

New indie game releases are all highly reminiscent of early Nintendo – games like Fez use simpliHotline-Miami-Vitastic ideas and nostalgic controls in a modernised development suggesting that these game designers who are free to develop as they please look to using more simplistic visuals which in turn relate to these older games. These visual similarities between games created decades ago and newer releases are becoming more and more noticeable. Games like Hotline Miami are returning to simplistic visuals perhaps to recreate the importance of player imagination in gameplay. Finally, Wii virtual console sales are still higher than its Wii Ware sales and recently the Wii U virtual console has seen a large increase in sales. These methods of bringing retro gaming into the living rooms of millions of gamers across the world have obviously made Nintendo very happy bunnies, but the importance of the virtual console is much more than that. It has paved the way for this ‘Retro Revolution’ by making older games more accessible and more importantly, more recognisable. It’s developed consumers’ tastes and paved the way for preferences to games that reflect these older titles.

Is this return to retro gaming a positive step for the gaming industry though? Newcomers have the opportunity to enjoy where it all came from and in the same instant appreciate the development of modern gaming. This return to simplicity means that consumers will no longer take the high quality of gaming we have readily available for granted. Other industries hide their outdated models, whereas the gaming industry celebrates its evolution from slow, blocky button punching to linear, jaw dropping entertainment. There are also more controversial pros of the retro revolution – the idea that these older games were just plain better. I don’t necessarily agree with this though – ‘better’ is not the same as ‘different’. However, the gaming industry at the moment would do well to incorporate the high level of uniqueness displayed in these retro video games in their modern developments which are beginning to become fairly samey and bleh. However, while all this is good and well, does doing something first necessarily make it better? Just because the beginnings of Nintendo are displayed through this catalogue of titles doesn’t mean that they are necessarily better than modern titles and this evolution back to retro may ultimately lead to a dead-end in the future of gaming.

So it’s all very fun considering what may happen or yaying about what may happen but who’s to say this will happen, and how could it happen? A major factor in the development of the retro revolution is the people who turn to these games. Returning fans seeking the nostaligia of their childhood, newcomers curious to experience the early franchises and the sudden requirements of fans seeking something different all vote retro. In terms of business, retro is the way to go to cover costs – old style graphics are considerably cheaper to produce, not only leaving room for greater development of storyline or controls but also making the end result cheaper and therefore more accessible to the common user – a move that would greatly benefit the consumers who are having to face prices slowly reaching the £50 mark.

The way i see it, there are 2 possible outcomes for this revolution. A yoyo effect – retro until consumers become bored and inevitably want more and so return to modern gaming, the age of games fluctuating through the decades from one end of the scale to the other. The other outcome being absolutely nothing new. BOOM. Nothing. This momentary return to retro is just the knee-jerk reaction to the importation of retro through the virtual console in every home and just a fad that will fade until the games we are buying brand new now are the classics of the future.

So the question now lies with the future. How far will games replicate those of today or of yesterday? Will they be top of the range graphics with brand new features we haven’t even considered yet or nostalgic Super Mario Bros. spinoffs?

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