Nostalgia … what’s it done for us lately?

I was thinking about nostalgia for computer games today. Adventure games specifically.

It’s not a stretch really because with our first game (Quest for Infamy – in case you missed it!) it was driven largely by that nostalgic feeling for adventure / RPG hybrid games. There’s a million (or maybe less) references in the game to those games of the “golden era”. Heck I wrote a chunk of them myself! I’m pretty sure there’s at least 3 references to a golden ring in a birds nest. And there’s something just great and satisfying about another person getting that reference and laughing at it too.

But where is that line between nods to the past and living in the past? I want to play a new game like Quest for Glory EGA but should it be a DOS game in 16 colours with vector drawing? Is that the extreme of nostalgia? To make new games that won’t even run on a modern system without emulation?

Or should we look at the past and see what was great about it? Should we take those elements that worked, like a great fairy tale story, and use modern tools to tell it? It’s possible to get so focused on making a game that brings back all those longingly remembered feelings from yesteryear that you can forget that computer games, players and the world at large has change one heck of a lot since then. And what worked then may not work now. Would any significant number of players today be satisfied with a command input (parser) style interface in a game? I would suggest the answer is no. Personally I love it, but I don’t think I’d make a game using it. Or what about using the save function to progress in the game? It was standard in classic games but it screams bad design today. Those two things though do invoke memories of playing Space Quest I with my dad and brothers and working our way through the game. Nostalgia.

We live in a time now where it’s possible for a group of people to make games without ever sitting in the same room. Where we have the choice in style and content that simply wasn’t possible at Sierra or LucasArts in the early 90’s. So the trick is to select the good things that worked but not to be limited by those limitations that those designers were limited by. We don’t have to worry about disk space (mostly). We’re not limited to a 256 colour pallet. Or vector based graphics. Or PC speaker beeps and boops.

With Infamous Quests we make a conscious design decision to make games with that “retro” look. God I hate that word “retro”, it’s so wide-ranging it could mean anything. I don’t consider the 2000’s pop culture to be retro but then 5 years ago 90’s pop culture wasn’t retro. It’s a subjective term that in the end means nothing because there’s no common ground for it. Anyway, that’s a different topic! So while we make those games with 2D hand drawn backgrounds, pixel animation and low resolution, that’s our choice – made for a variety of reasons including nostalgia, but also including costs and production time. (3D might be the way everything has gone in the last 2 decades but there’s no middle ground with it, it is either awesome like Pixar, Blizzard, Ubisoft, or it’s bad. Again though, a different topic!)

But our games are modern games. Under the hood is a modern engine fully compatible with Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. The sound isn’t limited to old midi forms, the graphics can be 24-bit in any size resolution. The voice pack can be as big as we want because we’re not limited to space. So while we make games that have that distinctive look made popular in the 80’s and 90’s, they’re not old fashioned in any other way. There’s no difference between that as a choice and a movie producer like Steven Spielburg using black and white to tell Schindler’s List.

So that’s my thoughts on adventure games today. Lets not live in the past, but look back and remember it fondly. It was awesome after all.