Games you missed your window on


#1

I was listening to the Waypoint 101 on Metro 2033 and it got me thinking about something that’s been on my mind intermittently for the last year or so.

I love Morrowind. I think it’s one of the best games ever made. It is also impossible to recommend. I cannot go to my friends and say “you should try Morrowind for the first time in 2018”. There is so much to love in Morrowind, but games are so different now, that approaching it with a modern eye is too high a mountain to climb. Any time I talk about Morrowind, people say “I just didn’t play it back in the day, so I don’t think I will ever get into it,” which is a totally understandable take I think.

I was thinking about this while they talked about Metro because of the way Rob and Austin talk about STALKER (the game, not the film). It is a series that Rob has a deep affection for, and Austin says something to the effect that he wish he had played it back then. If he wanted to get into it now, he’d have to invest a lot of time modding it to make it more playable and approachable, and then a further time investment to actually get into this really deep, arcane systems-based game from a decade ago. This reflects a lot of my own experience with Shadow of Chernobyl, which I purchased in 2015ish. I have booted it up several times and within an hour or two of playing it, I have seen that I just don’t have the time and energy to put into this game to get it. I think if I had played it when it came out, I would have really loved it, but it’s hard to come back to now.

Is there a game you wish you could love, but it is too dated to get into now? Is there a game you do love, but have to reckon with how dated it is?

(also, sub-question: if people want to tell me the mods i should install to gain a love of STALKER, lemme know)


#2

This is an excellent question! I do agree that I wish I was the type of person who fell in love with Stalker back in 2008, but now might never go back to it.

But the first game that came to mind for me was Dragon Age Origins. It’s probably right up my alley, but I feel that ship has sailed.


#3

Big same! I’ve never played a Bioware game, and I think I might like KOTOR or Dragon Age Origins, but I also wonder if perhaps I couldn’t. I do think maybe if I were sitting with or talking with a big fan of those series, it might help me persevere, but I don’t know that I could approach that type of game on my own these days.
I miiiiiiiiiiiiight give Inquisition a shot though. There’s a lot of dating in that game…


#4

Inquisition would have been better with more dating and less wandering bloated worlds doing fetch-quests, imo.


#5

STALKER and Morrowind are both that for me, for sure. They’ve been installed in my Steam library for years, but every time I actually give one of them a go, I come away wanting to play something else that’ll scratch the same itch but with a little more modern polish. Ironically that often means Fallout 4/Metro and Skyrim, respectively, which all have there own issues with jank. But I’ve modded Skyrim and Fallout 4 pretty heavily to get them to a place I like. I would also be very interested if anybody has any essential modding fixes to STALKER or Morrowind that might help with this.

The other candidate is the original Thief trilogy. I love stealth games and immersive sims, and those games are widely regarded as pioneers in both those genres. I’ve put 19 hours into Thief: Gold over the course of 2 or 3 intermittent restarts, and I think I’m nowhere near the end of the game. Sometimes I absolutely love the game, and honestly it holds up surprisingly well. But I just don’t know if that is well enough for me to want to keep going. I think one of major issues is that the game does not hold your hand at all. I like that in modern games, but the models and textures in the environment are so simple that it’s very easy to get turned around in a level and totally lose track of where you are. If you’re in a tunnel, for example, every inch of the wall of that tunnel will look identical. There aren’t always the types of clutter or patterns that your brain looks for to map out your place in the space. So basically you’re relying on memory, and so I find that I can’t save mid level and come back another day. I basically have to restart the mission, and that can feel really shitty.


#6

I luckily didn’t miss my window on it, but I can’t imagine going back to the older Hitman games after playing Hitman (2016). Blood Money was kind of clunky even back then. It took me 2 or 3 separate attempts before it finally “clicked” for me and I was able to make it past the first couple levels. Once it did click, though, it ended up becoming one of my all-time favorite games. But I feel like that process of getting used to Blood Money’s quirks would be so much harder now if you’ve already experienced the way Hitman (2016) ‘fixed’ them.

As for a game I did miss the window on, I have to give that to Heroes of Might and Magic 3. I played HoMM 2, got interested in other genres for a few years, then came back to HoMM 4, then HoMM 5. Apparently 3 is “the one” that everybody seems to consider the peak of the series and I can easily see why, but it somehow just doesn’t do it for me. It bums me out a little bit.


#7

I 100% get why this happens to a lot of people, but I think I love playing older games so much that I feel like I’m not affected by it. Morrowind is actually one of those games that I go back to from time to time and I always feel that same sense of wonder I did when I popped the disc in my Xbox during high school summer break.

What’s strange is that it even kind of extends to games I have no nostalgia for. I didn’t have my own system till the 16 bit era, but for some reason playing the original Castlevania on my 3DS today still thrills me. I have no rational explanation for this, and I want to be clear: I can absolutely see where and how these games are dated; I’m not blind to it or anything.

On the other hand I probably wouldn’t recommend those games to someone who doesn’t share my predilection—like I said I can absolutely see why people are put off going back to a…let’s say less elegant era of games.


#8

STALKER is always going to be pretty janky, but it’s still very playable with the STALKER Complete mod. It adds tons of new hi-res textures and fixes a whole host of bugs, and depending on what else you bolt onto it, also reworks a lot of the weapons.

Again, it’s STALKER so the baseline game still determines a lot of the look and feel. But Complete makes it a lot more enjoyable to play now, at least in my book!


#9

I kinda… don’t believe in this concept too much? Like, I’m not trying to invalidate anyone’s experience, I just think that when someone says “this game is good, it’s just too dated for me”, what they’re really saying is, “this game has the kernel of a good game, but too much of it is badly made”. 'Cause it’s not like every older game has this issue, right? I mean, Super Mario Bros. 3 came out 30 years ago and it’s no less stellar today than it was back then.

I think “dated” is the way we’ve come up with to soften a criticism of a game we’re all supposed to think is a timeless classic just because of its reputation or pedigree or whatever. I mean, let me know if I’m full of it or anything, that’s just how I see it at this point.

Not that I don’t have that blind spot for badly-made games that I like for whatever reason. The first Witcher is an ugly, buggy mess, and despite loving it, I totally understand when people tell me they couldn’t stand playing it.

(Criticize the Witcher 2, though, and we’re going to have a fight)


#10

i think you’ve got a point, but i do still think that a game can be well-made for 2009 and feel like wet sand to play in 2018. FPSes as a genre have tightened a LOT in the past decade (especially on PC) and going from Payday 2 back to Left 4 Dead 2 just felt terrible. that would make L4D2 badly made by today’s standards (and i would agree with that) but, was it badly made back in 2009? or did it age poorly?

i totally agree with your premise but i think that it still ends up discounting a lot of actual progress that developers have made in various genres over the years, especially recently


#11

I would be a little more generous, and say that dated often means “it was good or great for the time, but game design has evolved past it”. Remember that 80’s era console games had their roots in the arcade, which meant their designs were based on the original requirement to squeeze as many quarters out of a person as possible – even though there is no such thing on a console. (Why should console games have lives at all, if you can’t buy more with quarters?) It took a long time for designers to get out of that line of thinking.


#12

Warhammer 40K: Space Marine for me.

I’m not a fan of Warhammer in the least (I don’t hate it either), but people who are have been recommending this game since day one. Plus it was made in my city so I feel like I should give it more of a go.

But it’s still sitting in my steam library, with zero hours played. It’s not that I don’t want to play it, it’s just that there are newer games, and I have no emotional attachment to the franchise, so it’s not really on my radar most of the time.


#13

I certainly don’t meant to discount the progress, and you are certainly right that over the years, devs have streamlined and improved systems in many ways. The best example is probably the JRPG, where you can see every console generation how the basic mechanics are iterated on and made more fluid and less requiring micromanagement. But the first Final Fantasy is still a good game, despite seeming kinda rough in comparison to later titles. It’s totally normal for old games to feel clunky, but if you feel like you completely can’t get into them, my theory is you probably would’ve felt that way back in the day as well.


#14

That’s actually a really good example of what I’m saying - the good arcade games, the games that are still fun to play today, are the ones that used the multiple lives concept to make a game that’s more engaging and challenging. Pac-Man and Golden Axe are still played because they stood the test of time, and the concepts they introduced were so good that they stuck around for years even when the economic model that gave rise to them was no longer relevant.


#15

I feel like “the window” we’re talking about is, for me, less about how the games of then relate to the games of today and more about how the me of then relates to the me of today.

I have so much less time today than I did ten, fifteen, twenty years ago that to sit down in front of a 100+ hour RPG, or a game that “gets good after the first 15 hours” or something is a non-starter. I just refuse to invest that much time.

The game that fits this for me is KOTOR 2. I played the first one when it was new, but gave the sequel a pass. Now that I hear Austin talk about it so lovingly I wish I had played it back then. But me of today can’t sink that time in.

But, on the other hand, I have missed the window on new games too. The Witcher 3? Sounds great. But I know myself well enough that I know I can’t. Playing for about one hour every night isn’t going to get me very far very fast.


#16

There is also a window in terms of cultural relevance. Ironically I can point to two Bungie games here, I played a shareware mod of Marathon way back when it was actually current, but never played the original until much later (I think there is a point where a game is old enough that it becomes easier again to take it on its own merits rather than comparing it to current games?).

I was sad to read so much of the lore in the Marathon games at a time when basically no one else was interested, but it primed me perfectly for getting heavily into Destiny, right at the end of its life. I had two friends who had played it from launch, and I think I surprised them by how much I got into it, probably because of it sharing the same ideas as Marathon, but I wish I’d been around for at least the second year of that game also.


#17

As a gamer who grew with the genre, and as a designer who went back to the well of old mechanics to bring them into the world now, I can think of several games that I loved at the time and that I still love now but that just – are hard to want to play again. For arcade games, I think you’re by and large right – for the most part, the need for an arcade game to be instantly learnable and playable drove the good games of the arcades away from the greatest sins of 20th century game development.

With PC or board games, it’s a different story. If you look at the original imCity, XCOM, or even Dungeons and Dragons you will see games that were deeply innovative and brilliantly designed using the language of the times – but I just can’t play them in their original form for very long without feeling frustrated and tired. The language of UI design has moved on and we have better tools.

There was a big movement toward usability in the wake of the dot-com bust. Electronics were originally the purview of experts and enthusiasts : people who want to use a thing badly enough to read the massive manuals that shipped with these things. Suddenly, people with money were paying attention and realizing that, if you made something easier to use, more people would buy it.

The language of good user interface design has grown as a conversation between designers and users. Everyone knows how to interact with computers to some extent. Control design patterns have standardized. Because there is now a canon of user interfaces, users and designers can come into the conversation and bypass some of the awkward first steps (though this does have fallout for accessibility to new users).

A really illustrative example of this is the Persona 4 -> Persona 4 Golden. Persona 4 came out JUST when my life got too busy for playing a full-on, big-screen JRPG. I tried to get into it, and really liked what I played, but it never quite got me. Golden, on the other hand, added a lot of “quality of life improvements,” making the game much easier to get through by reducing the number of uninteresting actions / decisions I had to make as a player. It also put the game on a mobile platform, which meant that I could play it during commutes, downtime, or on the couch next to my wife who was working through her own playthrough at the same time.

Culture at large also affects what games I can still play. Anything with political content from prior to 2016 feels naive and dated, and honestly anything made before THIS YEAR that talks about race or gender has even odds to be something I can’t play for pure entertainment – I think if I played P4Golden now, just 2 years afterwards, I might have just stopped playing after the Naoto / Kenji gender bending plotline’s dissapointing conclusions.


#18

MGS 1 and 2 live in this world for me. I tended (and still tend) to skirt more overtly military titles and, by the time I realized they were works worth engaging with, the sheer time commitment to playing a pacifist run was daunting.

The drop-in mission-based self-paced design of MGS-V finally gave me the ability to access Kojima as an adult.


#19

I’m surprised no one has had this one yet, but I enormously missed my window on the Pokemon games. Despite my enthusiasm for the TCG and the show, I never had any Nintendo consoles, so I never played the games. Later in life I tried going back to it because I was interested in the metagame of the battles, but the grinding and the general slowness and complexity of everything made it way too annoying for my adult self to bear. I’m interested in playing some of the more recent ones, but it seems like there haven’t neccessarily been huge improvements in those areas.

The interesting thing is that I definitely know plenty of people who generally have the same preferences as me surrounding these kind of annoyances in games, but who played Pokemon as kids and still enjoy both the new and old games. It seems like there’s a sort of innoculation effect that goes on, where the brain plasticity and extreme boredom inherent to being young get you over the hump of all that awful stuff and help you ignore it later on.


#20

I’m very glad that I went back and played Blood Money and even Absolution prior to picking up 2016. Blood Money really foreshadowed the design philosophy that made 2016 so special. The the clockwork of the levels in BM was far simpler, obviously, but it was turning that approach up to 11 which gave 2016 so much character. Absolution, on the other hand, is a very different game. Very linear and driven by a more focused narrative which was… strange. But having played it so closely before 2016, I feel like I can give it props for being pretty mechanically solid. A lot of the character control stuff from 2016 is directly out of Absolution, and it’s interesting to think that those mechanics were probably a major focus for the development of Absolution because of its more linear, stealth-action approach.