It’s impossible to find a writer, that doesn’t like reading, or a director that doesn’t enjoy movies. Unfortunately, the great paradox of being a creative in any medium is that you, sort of, get trapped in your own work. In the end, playing games is usually the very thing a typical indie game developer doesn’t have time to do. The consequences of separating yourself from the art that inspired you can be severe, and a growing distance towards the current reality of th everchanging market is only one of them. Of course, there are extreme cases of people that played one or two games in their whole life and suddenly try to topple the development process like any other business, but it’s hard to treat them seriously altogether.
Unfortunately, there is also a growing problem of historical ignorance when it comes to the computer games industry, related to the number of younger developers coming to the market. This of course dooms so many of us to repeat past mistakes made by others, but also takes away a great chance to find priceless inspiration in past efforts. The growing academic community surrounding the industry, tends to use classic games as examples of level design or overall artistic concepts, and often mention cases of wasted resources and bad management (the history of the Duke Nukem Forever project is probably the best known), but reading and hearing about something, rarely has as powerful of an impact as experiencing the very nature of it.
Being an active gamer is the most efficient way to understand the needs of a player and the shortest way to practical innovation. Modern and “classic” games are naturally not all there is to know. Particularly the obscure, the forgotten and the unknown, can occasionally hide great innovation and controversial ideas – sometimes, it all sums up to being “ahead of its time”. I will also promote the idea that the games with wasted potential, or those that are just… well… mediocre, can be extremely useful for game developers. They can become some prominent learning material, as they offer more contrasts than purely bad or well made games, allowing to see and contemplate the ideas that were put in them and the mistakes made.
The games with wasted potential, or those that are mediocre, can be extremely useful for game developers.
Personally, I find the period between 1999 and 2005 the most intriguing when it comes to experimentation and lesser known games from all the genres. It’s comparable to the indie revolution that occurred later, but the specific awkwardness of the period, plus the sheer amount of form variation and game play innovation, make it unique. Sometimes you can hear those years echoing in the modern game industry and can see ideas rediscovered across the market, but they are mostly visited by the nostalgic and the few explorers.
When it comes to the legends of the industry, the games that did rise the bar when released, there are many great sources you can find in the Internet. One of the best YouTube channels you can encounter is the one hosted by Egoraptor (famous, between other things, for his short animated video game parodies) – Sequelitis. It’s hard to find a more in depth, yet viewer friendly, approach to the given material. With a lot of humor he, for example, analyzed the genius behind the Megaman game series (particularly the analysis of the Megaman X’s first level and character progression is a must watch for anyone planning action game development) and pointed out some specific problems with the Castlevania sequels. As for the bad games, Angry Video Game Nerd was, and probably always will be, the leading expert, however the convention of the show can be controversial for some viewers. Either way, experiencing the game by yourself is always a good idea if there is a possibility to do so.
A direct contact with the game can be the most enlightening one
It’s a lot harder to find such material on lesser known games, so playing them can sometimes be the only chance for an in-depth look – as the direct contact can be the most enlightening one, it’s not always a bad thing. Gaining knowledge and experience most people don’t have, is always beneficial. There is a lot to learn and a lot to find.
The ideas in the above text came from a recent contact with such a lesser known title – KISS Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child. In the end, experiencing the game as a nostalgic player and a game developer inspired a more thorough look at the mentioned period. Thus the first post on a new blog came to be:
I plan on expanding the idea and writing similar texts on other less known and obscure games from the 1999 – 2005 period. Not to mention, the future posts will expand beyond video games in to other related arts and also talk about some more practical aspects of game design.
What games would you like to read about? Anything intriguing hidden in the memory?
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