The Way of Mastery is to break all the rules—but you have to know them perfectly before you can do this; otherwise, you are not in a position to transcend them. - Aleister Crowley
I'm a vintage games lover.
I really admire those guys from the 80’s and 90’s that, with a few resources, managed to release games that are still considered masterpieces today. I started admiring them after spending some good quality time checking old programming codes from these games and watching postmortems of old classic videos from GDC. The “ancient” ones created extraordinary stuff with “stones and wood”. They released classics that are still a source of inspiration for nowadays developers.
However, many are oblivious to the fact that those titles were ahead of their time and they kept ideas that were still fresh today and are valuable lessons for new developers. Like ancient magic grimoires, keeping wisdom and important secrets, just waiting to be unleashed by an initiate. But those grimoires are in digital format and the knowledge keys are on each game players experience while playing those titles. Many projects I've started began by looking into vintage games so I decided to select a few and list some points that got my attention and guided me through a path that led me to come up with ideas for my present projects.
Starflight - When the whole universe fitted in 2 disks
Originally published in 1986 by Binary Systems and Electronic Arts, Starflight is one of the most iconic and complex games I could play and review. It's a brilliant work of game design and playability. Imagine a game with 270 stellar systems and 800 planets where you were able to explore, mine, capture alien life, space battle, meet alien races… a real sandbox filled with adventure and mystery. It also had some RPG features, with evolving shipsand crew.
The game has lots of interesting ideas that were used as a starting point for many modern games (even the infamous “No Man’s Sky”).The game had sequels and a modern implementation that can be found here (https://www.starflt.com/tables/). But what were the lessons I've learned from Starflight? Here are some interesting topics:
- How to build an interesting storyline;
- Encounter system;
- Memorable characters (Hail Gazurtoids!);
- Game flow.
Mix Mad Max post apoc with an America transformed into a battlefield (HOW I LOVE THE 80’s!!), a common recipe in 1986. Roadwar 2000 is an Adventure Game where we must explore around 120 cities in America with deadly encounters (extremely unbalanced), mercenaries, Satanists and a threat as a deadly bacterium strong enough to destroy the rest of the population.
One of the most interesting points in Roadwar 2000, and its sequel Roadwar 2000 Europa, is the constant tension because we never know what we'll meet down the next curve of the road (you really need to use your imagination for that one because graphics are really poor). The game motion grabs the player’s attention. I must confess Roadwar 2000 has inspired me during the design of a game I’ve been developing, Orc Leader. The idea of running into an enemy at every corner, to control a band of warriors, on a scenario full of clichés from that time….. it’s amazing. These are elements you can use on basically every project. But….. what did I learn from Roadwar 2000?
- How to create tension that gets the player engaged all the time;
- Prizes and punishment;
- Set the appropriate sort of feeling for stimulating the player;
- Game campaign based on combat and storytelling;
Roadwar 2000 is a game I deeply respect and it really taught me valuable game design lessons.
In 1988, there was this a game called “Pool of Radiance”, the very first one from a series of games known as “Gold Box” from SSI. Many RPG based on AD&D’s scenarios from TSR were released. Gold Box brought us important game elements, most of them transposed with a certain fidelity, the game rules from paper to the computer environment. A curious pattern I notice on about them is that they kept the unbalance from the original games (and we see that clearly in Pools of Radiance: to face 30 orcs all in the same room is kinda hard!!) but they were able to keep a vision really close to the original books. Since I was an AD&D Dungeon Master, I was really excited about all those games. And which lessons did I learn from the Gold Box?
- How to carefully balance a game;
- How to translate a physical system to digital media;
- How to create scenarios;
- How to work with linearity on a game.
Gold Box is, undoubtedly, the most important game series that cleared my head. If you ever have the opportunity to play any one of them, you will figure it out.That’s it?
You might ask: so only those three games have influenced you?
I have a huge list that keeps me going till today. I brought those three ones as examples because the concepts behind them helped me in the past and still help me today when I go about developing new game ideas. Many of the elements I use on my projects come from a lot of games (including board games) and they work as libraries of mechanics, rules, ideas, functions and amazing solutions.
Because they were so poor in resources, the innovation level achieved by the old programmers and game developers can serve as a lesson for the present time, when we are filled with resources and information. We have so many tools at our disposal but at the same time, we lack ideas or simple solutions for a plethora of situations. Games like old Atari’s Adventure can be an excellent resource of ideas for complex situations. So, my dear, how about start looking at the classics?
They have a lot to teach us….