Monday, August 29, 2011

What's old is new again

Moore's law posits that computing power effectively doubles every two years. This has had a notable effect on the video game industry which, more than probably any other entertainment medium, relies on the power of computers to work.

What this seems to have done for the game industry is provide a scenario where games change rapidly in nature due to technology. This is interesting, because we get to see a contracted version of the evolution of trends in media - in video games, design trends seem to come and go with more speed than other media industries.

This all leads me to the thought process that went through my head as I read this article earlier this week. It was a highlight of a new game done in an old style - a visually pretty "point-and-click" dungeon crawler. Originally, this type of game was the product of software limitations - it was easier to produce a large world to explore if the world only had to be rendered in a series of 2-D images. Now, the type of game seems a callback at best and antiquated at worst - not that the nature of the game should necessarily be tied to the quality of it.

It seems only natural that older genre subtypes - at least those borne of technical limitation - should fade away. But what about their persistence (or even reintroduction), as in this case? One might think that these are simply pieces of nostalgia, relevant to a few but not really marketable (and consequently not really relevant to the industry at large).

However, games like New Super Mario Bros. Wii give the lie to this assertion.

The 2-D platformer was a product of a time where adventure games (and all games, really) were limited to side-to-side and up-and-down movement instead of movement in a 3-D space, and it's a product that has fallen out of vogue in recent years. It would seem, though, that either nostalgia has a much stronger effect on the purchasing population or that an enjoyable experience is an enjoyable experience, even when technology has passed up the very nature of the game.

It could be argued, of course, that the strength of the Mario IP (or other Nintendo IPs) could be responsible for the performance of these resurgent 2-D platformers. However, there's a strong counterargument against that: contemporary 3-D Mario games (Super Mario Galaxy-ies 1 and 2) - games which hold very high critical acclaim - still sell less than the NSMBW title. And not by a small margin - they have sold less by three or four times.

Now, I wouldn't advocate for a complete return to all earlier subgenres of video games, but perhaps it's possible that the things that made some early genres of games so good - ease of use, simplicity - the things that make games accessible - these may be easily and profitably translated to a modern gaming audience that craves easy access. I think the proof is already in the pudding.

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