Steam and Xbox Live Arcade ushered in an indie revolution that brought us modern classics with 8/16-bit sensibilities.
Technology progressed to the point where just about anyone could start up their own game studio in a basement. Small teams could once again make compelling games.
It’s hard to fathom that there were only five core staff members on Super Mario Bros, and just seven on the first Final Fantasy.
Throw in Kickstarter and a consumer base with the ability/desire to fund retro-looking projects and you have a powerful piece of our current gaming landscape.
But now that the initial (and long) rush of pixel-art madness has finally started to wane (although Hyper Light Drifter and Owlboy are kicking ass with pixels in 2016), is it time for 32/64 bit nostalgia to have its turn?
I recently made a video about PS1 franchises I’d love to see receive a modern entry and was surprised by the outpouring of love for series like Syphon Filter, Spyro, Legend of Dragoon etc.
Here are a few of my favorite mechanics from that era
Resident Evil, Final Fantasy VII/VIII/IX, Blade Runner, Legend of Dragoon, and many more games from this era used pre-rendered backgrounds to create incredible artwork. Not having to worry about animating the environment or render the full object allowed for far more impressive images than a full 3D environment could allow.
Sure it could look a bit jarring if the player’s polygonal character clashed badly with the background, but I always appreciated the net result.
Also, the idea that the game developer has full control over the visual perspective means they can more easily guarantee what the gamer will experience without taking away player control.
Campy Voice Acting
The early days of Voice Over was far removed from the Hollywood level we see now. The campy delivery of Resident Evil worked in its favor, giving it a b-movie feel and some classic lines about a Jill Sandwich.
Small indie teams won’t be able to afford a Nolan North, but they can work within those limitations and play up the lack of high-end talent.
Color, Fun, Goofiness
The PS2’s GTA III caused the industry to pull a hard 180° away from anything that could be construed as childish. Colorful mascots were out, and gritty, grey, violence was in.
The Kickstarter success of Yooka-Laylee has shown a thirst for colorful mascot platforming. While I wasn’t into collect-a-thons myself, I’d love another Ape Escape or Mario 64 type 3D platformer that focused on tight controls and fun.
Why it might not happen
The biggest problem with 32/64 bit games were the generally mediocre visuals. Polygons were low and textures were either simple or muddy. We’ve seen plenty of PS2-era games receive an HD coat of paint, but games from the previous generation generally need to remade from the ground up. There just wasn’t enough to work with.
The Nintendo Solution
Nintendo knew they didn’t have the memory space to fit detailed textures, so they didn’t bother with textures at all! By designing everything in Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time with this ideology, they managed to create visually pleasing games that hid their weaknesses.
These design principles could work wonders for aspiring designers that have limited artistic skills or a limited art budget. Keep it simple!
The game industry has known for years that nostalgia sells and 2017 will see no shortage of remasters/remakes. But I’m far more interested in new ideas wrapped in the accessible package of older technology.
What would you like to see?
Devs: My take on this is that this era has not aged very well. Play through the PSX or Saturn library. Then play through the PS2 or DC library. I’d go with either 8/16bit, 64bit or 128 bit indie games, I think the 32-bit generation just hasn’t induced nostalgia as it is a half-step in the evolution of video games. Again, just my opinion.
I absolutely agree that it’s aged the worst out of any post 8-bit generation. This was the forefront of the brave new frontier. Learning what they could do with polygons and starting off so many of the franchises that we still play today.
I’m a complete programming layman but I’m wondering if programming simpe 3D visuals the way the best N64 games looked would be a low entry point for indie devs. Embracing the simplistic flat polygons of Mario 64 and even TIE Fighter.
Superhot did this and was one of my favorite games of the year.