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I like old games - very much! And more than I should!!

Ron Alpert, Blogger

August 1, 2007

6 Min Read

  Well, I should get this out of the way pretty early - I am definitely what one would refer to as a retrogamer. Whereas my peers are excited to waggle their wii's and get intimate with the 14 or so switches on their bluetooth xbox controllers, I am more than happy to limit myself to UP UP DOWN DOWN LEFT RIGHT LEFT RIGHT BABABA SELECT START. Not just for Contra, or Lifeforce, but pretty much in general when it comes to videogaming. Hell even if it's just a joystick and an action button, I can make do pretty well. Like most folks in my age range who do this for a living, I grew up during the Golden Age of Gaming; unlike most of them, I seem to have gotten myself quite stuck there.

   When I was quite young, I got introduced to Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Atari 2600. I am not sure which caught my fancy first (hey, I was like 5 yrs old, whad'ya want) but I was pretty hooked right off the bat. It took a couple of years of nagging but finally my folks broke down and bought me an Atari 400 (yeah, that's right.. the one with the membrane keyboard!) I was kinda disappointed that it wasn't the Colecovision I had long been drooling over, but it won me over pretty quickly. Anyway, as I got older, things like the NES came into fashion and I was right at the front of that war. I was making maps for Super Mario Bros. when most kids still thought that stuff was terribly dorky.. Gluing my eyes to the Black and White kitchen television to save the princess in Legend of Zelda. Yeah, all the usual "80's Gaming cliche's" that you've heard thousands of times, I was just another example of the same story. But yeah, I was pretty fulfilled! Then, yeah, graduation to 16-Bit with the High Definition Graphics of Sega Genesis and SNES.. and well.. I dunno. I went to art school and discovered girls and beer, what can I say? My sheltered social life of adolescence finally gave way to finding something different to do with my hours (toiling away in the studio or rampaging thru campus) and I guess I started getting tired of sequel after sequel of the same ol' business.

   And of course, halfway through college, I stumbled into my calling. Originally a Fine Arts student (but hey.. I had originally planned to draw comic books, in my innocence), I found my way into the mysterious young 3D Graphics department in our school. Jurassic Park was the new Hot Shit film, Terminator 2, and then the first Toy Story by Pixar.. 3D was always this beautiful novelty but now it was starting to pop up here and there for more than 14 seconds in a film (The Abyss). The time was right, I somehow slipped into it, and I was hooked immediately (I'll never forget the first time when someone showed me how to make a Sphere Bounce in front of a .TGA of a house on his Mac, and it only took 1 minute to render!) So yeah, I was hooked with the new captivation... I put down my charcoal and graphite and started laboring inthe lab, in front of Infini-D, in front of D-Paint, in front of Alias Poweranimator V7 on the SGI. Yeah, all the stuff I made was... CRAP.. but being in the middle of it was damn fun. It felt, strangely, like being a little kid fascinated with Legos, all over again.

   But video games? Okay, I loved Sega but their CDrom system disappointed me and their 32X add-on was just malarkey. SNES was always very pretty but I never caught the RPG train and all the SFII ripoffs were making me yawn for years.. Saturn was on the horizon but (ouch) $400 for .. Clockwork Knight and Bug! (Yeah people look back at those games fondly, but looking at the box covers at the time, not terribly impressive). And then, we had the Playstation.. and of course Project Ultra, I mean N64. Okay, I was still paying attention, but I looked at the graphics on these things and then I looked at the 3D capabilities of the machines I was playing with at school. It was hard looking at these games with these super-simplified characters with blocks for hands and heads. It just looked ugly and gross. Virtua Fighter was pretty fresh when it launched but it didn't age well even back then. So basically, gaming lost me back there.. for awhile.

   Yeah, it's a shallow thing to say. "I lost interest in games 'cause the graphics sucked" I know it's all about gamelay, and I knew this as well back then, but something about the rules of playing a 2D game never properly translated into those early 3D titles in a way that captivated me. Of course, things have changed in the years since - games are BEAUTIFUL now, even I have to admit it - but something else got lost that in there that has never completely been recaptured for me. That's not to say I haven't found games to enjoy since, not by a longshot. But things have definitely changed - I have changed - and working on the other side of the screen affects things as well.

   So where does this leave me today, then? I mean, do I have any right to even try to write a game industry-themed blog when I say something like "I don't like video games anymore?" Well, honestly, I do like video games, and more than anything else, I can say I am profoundly excited about where games are going. I think anyone can agree that right now, we are stuck in kind of a rut of "bigger and better" where every game tries to outshine it's competitors with this gimmick or that, or throw some money at the proven dev team and let them crank out a sequel or inspired knock-off. And sure, a lot of the games come out well, with fun gameplay, multiplayer goodness, never mind the gorgeous audiovisuals. But for guys like me, the days of wonder are gone.. or at least, changed.

   I have a lot to say about what retrogames I believe have held up, and what captivates me today. In spite of my tone, I still spend several hours a week cranking away at some of my favorites which time has otherwise forgot. More than mere nostalgia, there are a lot of titles which never received proper attention and slipped by the wayside, but due to the whole "retroscene" many have enjoyed sleeper status, a second chance. Some I have been lucky to get my hands on - so many, I still don't even know exist. The fun part is makinng those discoveries.. Anyway, those particulars are to be explored in other entries. For now, I must sign off..

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