Retro gaming is officially A Big Thing™. There are websites dedicated to dissecting the games of yesteryear and dozens of ways for players to experience old titles. Yet most retro-gamers tend to view the objects of their digital desire through nostalgia-tinted spectacles.
Sure, there are a few gems that are worth replaying. But as someone who gamed their way through the 8 and 16 bit eras, there’s no way I’d trade in my PlayStation 4 for a NES Classic. Even if they are rarer than a Tomb Raider game without animal murder.
Why? Because the early days of gaming weren’t as glorious as they’re reputed to have been. Come with me as I take you on a tour of ten things that made this age such a minefield.
1. Long loading times
Loading times today tend to be counted in minutes or even seconds. There are even those who will happily purchase an expensive Solid State Drive (SSD) just to shave a few seconds off this inconvenience. In the days of the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and their ilk, games had to be loaded from tape. This could take up to ten minutes, during which time the computer would emit a hellish shriek as it crammed the respective 1s and 0s into its miniscule memory.
Assuming it loaded, that is. Many cassette recorders – which often had to be purchased separately from the computer – were insanely temperamental. The tapes the games came on were also less than reliable. Consequently, if a fly coughed seven streets away your game would refuse to load, at which point you’d have to begin the whole onerous procedure again.
2. Broken games
While some, myself included, may grumble about the pervasiveness of day one patches, the alternative used to be less pleasant. Before patching became possible and permissable, there were games released that could not be completed. So you could spend hours working towards finishing a game, only to be cruelly foiled.
The amusingly named Jet Set Willy had you roaming a mansion collecting discarded objects. But due to a number of bugs, it could not ever be completed: several other games were similarly crippled. Some included missing platforms or gaps that were too large to jump. In a few cases there was evidence that the developers had simply not finished the game and published it as is. Which, of course, would never, ever happen No Man’s Sky – I mean, today.
3. Awful arcade ports
Eyebrows were raised when it was announced that Techland would not be releasing Dying Light on the PS3 or Xbox 360 due to the game’s hardware demands. But back in the day, companies had no qualms about porting arcade titles to different platforms, regardless of how underpowered the target computer or console might be.
So gamers had to deal with dross like the Spectrum version of Street Fighter 2. While the sprites were recognisable as their arcade counterparts, the game moved with all the fluidity of a spoonful of treacle. The ports of Final Fight and Mortal Kombat were equally awful. There were those who picked up the games on the strength of the name alone, only to uncover the digital monstrosity they had purchased.