The first console I ever played as a kid was the Atari "something or other", and it was not fun..like by alot. I was just a kid, but I knew that couldn't possibly be any fun for anyone. Lucky for me it was not mine, just a neighbor whom I would frequent when bored. But I was a huge fan of those handheld Tiger handhelds and other off brand game systems from the late 80's and early 90's. I played until the highest possible score on those devices, and it was fun, for some weird inexplicable reason. Then soon after the NES finally hit America to wake me up to what video games were suppose to be. I received one to call my very own thanks in part to a generous donation by my grandmother. And life was good. Kids, adults, random neighbors, everyone showed up to see what this machine was all about. The games were iconic for their time. Many are still iconic now. But something happened after a while.
Games were finally getting the respect that they deserved. However, with bigger budgets gaming companies thought it necessary to turn video games into a Hollywood blockbuster films. Expensive voice casts, years and years of development, scripts, choirs, etc etc. And so video games went from being games into being interactive stories worthy of Academy Awards. And that's not a bad thing. But it is a different thing. It was far from the olden days when I would pop in a cartridge and spent 2 hours trying to outrun a flood in Sonic The Hedgehog only to see that countdown hit 0. As someone who's been playing video games since they first hit the market, I've seen a huge paradigm shift in what is defined as a game.
NES(1985), Sega Genesis(1989), SNES(1991)
All that's left of my NES collection
The NES, SNES and Sega Genesis were a huge part of my life growing up. 1990 - 1995 let's call it. Note that I was late in getting all of these consoles. A pattern that would reoccur throughout the rest of my life with games. Many hours spent, and much sun and physical activity missed. Only one way to classify these games. Hard. Which is why you kept playing them, and by the time you were done, the next batch of games were ready to be purchased for the holidays and/or birthday. Back then a game might only contain maybe 5-6 hours of gameplay, but you would probably spend a good month on it trying to beat it. Especially since you couldn't save your progress in those days. I played Bionic Commando for my NES, I would estimate, about 6 months before I beat it, and another 6 months to finally get the super gun. Chalk that one up to my stupidity, as I didn't know you weren't suppose to shoot your weapon in a neutral zone. Games like Punch Out, I've never managed to beat. I never even made it to Mike Tyson. But I played it for years.
I was a Sega guy
Since graphics were limited back in the day there wasn't a huge focus on that from the game companies, which led to higher focus on gameplay. Super Mario 3 has a story, but that story isn't the reason why we picked up the controller to play it. We did it to collect Tanooki Suits and find the 3 warp whistles. And I'm not even sure what story Sonic the Hedgehog was attempting to tell. Something about saving forest dwelling animals I believe, while looking for super awesome power crystals. Yeap. Sounds about right.
I think if you remade any current gen game into a 16 bit version of itself, it would be equally amazing experience. Alot of the times the big wow moment with impressive graphics dies down soon after and you're left with a mediocre experience. And something needs to propel the game after that, which basically just comes down to playability and that "fun" factor that I think many new games coming out are lacking.
Final Fantasy 6 though did take it up a level with it's graphics, but it had gameplay and story to back it up. That title still holds its own today as far as gameplay, story, music and playability. SNES and the Sega Genesis brought with it games that were less frustrating to play, but were still difficult to beat and that is a fantastic combination. Even now I can load up Vectorman and kill a good hour and have a fun time. The only thing lacking here was the replayability and longevity of games. Many games, like Spider-Man here to our right, had to be beaten in one sitting. Which by the way, I also never beat. Shaq Fu was a snap, and all while listening to the awesome Shaq rap CD that accompanied the game. Fun times back then.
Playstation(1995), N64(1996), PS2(2000), GBA(2001) Era
hundreds of hours...
Then came the blocky yet powerful era in gaming. Because you can do alot with 32 bits. I personally love the 32 bit era. Alot of cool games that I purchased, traded and played I still have tucked away in the bowels of my closet corner. All of the Final Fantasy titles that managed to grace the PS1 took a percentage out of my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way. More importantly we finally got to save our game progress, which lead to titles that could easily span hundreds of hours. Graphics still not too important. Pop in any old PS1 title and you can tell that the focus did not go into realistic graphics. The PS2 felt just like the PS1, but with a bump in visuals, and that was still a good thing. It was still about making a fun standalone game back then. There was no competition in video streaming, no achievements to unlock, just you and a game.
Anyone that ever heard of Twisted Metal, heard of Vigilante 8. Vehicular combat at its finest. I've probably played that game several times per year, for the past 10 years. It doesn't need any fancy graphics, or achievements, or streaming channels dedicated to it, it's just fun. My greatest moment in that game was when I taught my youngest sister to play, and after 6 months, someone finally beat me in the game. No lag, no anything, just pure skill. Our longest single battle lasted about 15 minutes. Just 1 v 1. Health bars diminishing, no health wrenches anywhere in site. One shot, from across the entire map, and I kid you not, the trajectory of that shot was one in a million. She wins.
Resident Evil 4 for the PS2 goes down in my top 5 games list. This game was huge. On about a dozen occasions I assumed that the end was in sight, only to be graced by 10 more hours of terrifying gameplay. Great story, creepy as hell atmosphere, Ada Wong, killer dogs and quite possibly the most loved character in video game history, The Merchant.
I remember having crowds of friends and family gathered around the tv with the lights off every weekend when I played this game. I haven't had that in a long while. I tired it, it didn't really work. Overly long introductory sequences, 100MB+ patches and complex control schemes makes it pretty tough to get friends together and pass the control around.
Gameboy Micro pictured, because it is prettier
And let us not forget the portables. Nintendo pretty much ran the market in this time. Gameboy Advance made it's awesome debut in 2001 and cemented its position as my all time favorite console. 32 portable bits of awesome. Check out the "Did You Know Gaming" video down below to learn more about this magical device. The games are what made the console back then. The console had but one task, and that was to play the cartridge/cd, etc. Castlevania, Advance Wars, Pokemon titles, Minish Cap. I can still play those games and have a good time, and I still gladly do I must say. Nintendo is still keeping this strong with it's Virtual Console store in the Nintendo eShop. I've currently got Minish Cap on my plate and Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages.
Nintendo DS(2004), XBOX 360(2005), PSP(2005), PS3(2006)
All I can say about the handhelds, is that they were great. Creative games, good graphics, all on the go. The consoles however, took a slightly different turn.
Achievements were to be unlocked and life like graphics began to rear their heads. I'll say this, there were some fantastic games that came out for these consoles, but gaming started to feel more "serious".
This is the time when video games started to turn into massive productions worthy of film awards. Stories were more intricate, and gameplay was a bit more complex. So complex that during loading screens, you had to be reminded of what the control scheme was just in case you forgot. Having digital friends became a must have feature on most consoles and annoying notifications every 5 minutes in Call of Duty started to happen.
Currently you have your new Metal Gears and your new Call of Duty's, with complex storylines and politics intermixed with 10-15 minutes of relatively slow paced gameplay. You have button mashing sequences where you defeat the boss if you can manage to rotate your analog stick just right, which makes for very pretty scenes but not much else. Not to say that these games are bad, because they're highly reviewed and sell incredibly well. But I tried playing them, and stopped roughly after a few hours. Gaming on new consoles has kind of become a difficult task really. You have to kind of get yourself mentally ready to dive in. There was a point when I had Skyrim, GTA 4, and State of Decay installed on my XBOX 360, and I couldn't decide which to play that month, so I ended up not playing any.
Pokemon Gold vs Grand Theft Auto 4
Bare with me in this story, it's going somewhere. Back in the day if I needed a break I would pop in my Pokemon Gold and spend an hour either leveling up or looking for a legendary creature. Pretty sweet time I must say. Nothing complicated or stressful about it. More recently I found myself bored, so I sat at my gaming chair for 20 minutes scrolling through titles and decided to play GTA4, which I bought and never played. After a relatively long intro it starts up and I'm running around. Things are pretty, people are walking, everything is going gravy. After about an hour, I'm told I need to head to some taxi place. Fair enough. I walk out of the apartment, and start looking for my car. I don't have one. Now I'm the kind of player that likes to his games 100% legitimately, so I decide not to steal a car. Grand Theft Auto game and not stealing a car, yes I know, but I stick to my virtual morals. So there I am, running 20 digital blocks so that I can make the game progress to some point where I can buy a car or even a bicycle really. My character finally makes it to the shop tired and out of breath and then I have to sit through another 5 minute movie. After all that excitement, I loaded up Pokemon Gold and caught a legendary dog. And it was rewarding to do so. I didn't need to post it anywhere, or take a picture of it and share it with half the world.
Nintendo 3DS(2011), PS Vita(2011)
All awesome games
My current favorite console is my 3DS. It sticks to the older traditions of gaming. No streaming to your channel, no overly long and complex storylines. You turn on Super Mario World 3D and you're flying in your Tanooki suit before you know it. Many people think that the games are more kid friendly, but I just think that's because they actually are by definition games. There's no focus on competition and social media, which I think is a good thing. The PS Vita is also in that same subset and still offers many good titles, like the following which I just picked up.
Which I might add, had a 50 minute introductory sequence, in which I almost packed up the game and turned on my 3DS. After that hurdle though, I was finally able to run around to get a feel for it, and look forward to the next week on it.
PS4(2013), XBOX One(2013)
I'm skipping this current generation of consoles and games. I just can't do it anymore. Games have gotten too massive and cult like. Consoles have turned into media centers full of digital content apps that can detect heart rates all while streaming whatever it is that you do to strangers all over the place. Maybe you have to know about the classics in order to know what a good game once was. The current generation of kids probably don't know what Streets of Rage is, or even the original games in The Legend of Zelda series, or Contra. And that's what I'm going back to. I don't usually have much time to play games nowadays, but when I do find some time I'm going to go back and Catch em All.
I guess the conclusion I came too was that games are just too old for me nowadays. I haven't gotten to that level yet where I can dedicate 40-50 straight hours on a fantastically good story while my only goal is adulation from my peers. I miss the old school concept in video games where you didn't get trophies and the only reward you got for beating a game was the bragging rights between you and your friends, or like in God Of War, you got a phone number to call where Kratos would yell at you. Games were tougher back then and for that reason they were a bit more rewarding. Nowadays the focus is on hyper realistic graphics, and huge levels of complexity. Newer games take longer and longer to get started, and even longer to learn the basics of the play mechanics. Lucky for me though, I still have Nintendo making "kid" friendly games for me.
What I'm Looking Forward To
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Walter G. is a software engineer with over 10 years of professional experience. When he isn't blogging or being a CTO he enjoys coding randomly complex things that he hopes many people will get a chance to use one day.