Are Modern Games Always Better Than the Classics?

Just a few weeks ago I had a conversation with my mates about the development of modern games and how old games sometimes give me more satisfaction than the new ones.

I was surprised to find out that they also shared the same views as me. One of the guys told me he still often plays on his SEGA and PS1; even if it’s a regression in terms of graphics, he still gets plenty of enjoyment from his old games.

Steve, my other friend, who is more into PC games, also has a soft spot for old computer games like Half-Life. And this got me thinking. Don’t get me wrong; there a lot of amazing games with high-definition graphics, better character design and incredibly deep stories, but sometimes it feels like I have more fun playing the older games that were a lot rougher around the edges.

While we agreed that games have drastically improved over time in terms of visuals, especially the characters that are increasingly becoming realistic, we still felt like somehow these modern games have something missing.

Some might argue it’s nostalgia, and I’ll say, while this is in part true, I’m convinced it is not entirely the reason why. To me, it has a lot to do with game immersion, the excitement of playing a game that is intriguing and challenging.

So, I’ve decided to write a post about this, and see what you guys think. Also, I really needed to unload some of the frustration on a particular game. So guys, brace yourselves, a rant is coming.

Graphics vs. Gameplay

To me, when debating the pros and cons of new games versus old games, it all boils down to two things: the graphics and the gameplay. Now, contrary to what one might think at first glance, having great graphics does not imply that the gameplay is also good.

To explain myself better, while having great graphics can greatly improve the gameplay, it is certainly not the end-all and be-all of a game. Of course, there is so much more to a great game. And by that I mean the game should have fun and challenging mechanics, a simple yet rewarding storyline and above all, should give complete control to the user to explore and discover things on his/her own.

To help you understand better what I mean, let’s use some examples. Let’s take the one of my all-time favourites: Tomb Raider. The original game in the series was first released in 1996, more than 20 years ago, and we can all agree that over time, the graphics of the game have improved drastically. If you had to compare the resolution of games back in 1996 vs. today, it’s pretty shocking – in a good way of course.

Before, it was difficult to understand where exactly it is you’re going, everything looked very pixelated and finding hidden caves was quite a challenge in itself. And Lara Croft, especially, she went from having a distorted, barely recognisable face to a very realistic one with detailed facial features. See for yourself in this video:

Even the controls were a bit difficult to use as they weren’t exactly accurate. Most of the time, you wanted her to go straight ahead, she turned left; you tried to aim and shoot, but you were just firing bullets in the air.

But, on the other hand, the old game was more about puzzle solving and kept you on your feet. A few minutes into the games, and you had your face glued to the screen. You had to look out for potential danger jumping out of nowhere, like wolves and bears. And what about that time where you’re suddenly faced with a massive T-Rex? You had to be constantly on the ball, and you had no guidance as to what you needed to do or where you needed to go next. You had to discover all of it on your own.

Sometimes, I’d spend hours going round in circles, trying to understand where I need to go. You had to look out for secret passages, find out how you’re going to climb up or down high places without plummeting to your death. And the latest Tomb Raider game? It’s nothing but a cinematic shot that goes on for too long.

Again, I admit the visuals are amazing, but where’s the challenge in that? We’re supposed to be taking full control of Lara because we are playing a game, not watching a movie. It’s not exactly what I call an “immersive experience”.

Now I know I’ve only mentioned one game, but I’m sure we can all agree that a lot of games today are vastly different from their earlier counterparts in that a lot of emphasis is put on enhancing the graphics and creating cinematic cutscenes and failing to match up to the player’s expectation of a challenge. They lack danger and risk, and the excitement that comes along as a result. Even online computer games like World of Warcraft have become less of a challenge.

What does this say about today’s players?

Let’s say a good number of the 80s kids agree that games have become a little too simplistic, does that the younger generation is not after the kind of challenging gaming experiences 80s kids so greatly enjoyed? Because although it looks like this is pretty much the case, I don’t think it is. If this were true, why then, is the next big step in the gambling industry seemingly the gamification of slot games?

Many in the casino industry are working on moving away from luck-based games to more skill-based games. There’s already been a lot of changes over the years, with new slot games  having better character development, but the next big step in the industry has yet to come. Up till now, even though improvements have been made in the games in terms of graphics and increased features, the games have still remained entirely based on luck or chance.

Now, it seems the industry has realised that these sort of games do not particularly appeal to today’s generation, and the reason is, that there is no fun in simply pressing a button. Clearly, players want to be challenged. This is why they want to create games that have a narrative, levels, and challenging tasks, like having to defeat a dragon in order to unlock free spins, etc.

Casinos believe gamification is the future because people like a challenge, so why are video game developers neglecting this and choosing to focus on creating cinematic scenes over exciting gameplay?