You take games too seriously.

Retro Today: The Static Screen


Sadly, this isn’t an E.T. entry, as the image implies. Instead, I want to discuss a technique ET and most Atari products used: the static screen.

Many recent games have been variations on the retro gaming experience. Everyday Shooter, Alien Hominid, and anything PixelJunk resemble NES games with sexy paint jobs. Though these games have elaborate control schemes and features that might scare away an 8-bit gamer, their core mechanics are nothing new. Why have these games developed such popularity?

This blog focuses on a new problem amongst gamers: as former hardcore players, how do we find time for elaborate, 40 hour games in our 20 something lives? If the market hopes to continue its growth, game designers must answer this question, and find ways to win this tightly-scheduled audience. Sam might argue the iPhone answers this problem, a perfect mesh of the Xbox and Blackberry generations. Maybe he’s right.

With that considered, I offer two theories why the retro format has found recent popularity.

More of this relatively dry, but curious entry after the jump… Or click here to be ‘Rick-Rolled.’

1.) Retro Appeal: The obvious, gamers want to remember their days of glory. When a father recounts his Asteroids war stories to his son, the boy might find little interest in the blinking white triangle and its rapid-fire dots. Transform those dots into particle effects, add a little bloom lighting, and the kid’s playing an Xbox Live Arcade game. The retro rehash technique acts as a happy medium for gamers of all ages. Yet, often, designers avoid a life rule, keep it simple. For example, examine the prostitution of Jetpac, Jetpac Refuelled.

2.) Instant Access: I believe the design restrictions of the retro format results in games that allow for hours and hours of challenge, but utilize pick-up and play mechanics. PixelJunk Racers and Pixel Junk Monsters employ static levels, or screens. Ms. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong are two of the most famous games to use the static screen technique. This permanent map image allows the player to see the entirety of the level, and construct a plan to complete it. When players accomplish a screen, they begin a new, more difficult screen.

The lack of complicated maps and detailed 3D environments allows the player to instantly develop a strategy. In contrast, games like Team Fortress require players to spend hours and hours researching their maps, before they can truly compete in the game. All 3D games don’t suffer from this problem, and many gamers would never recognize it as a problem, but there is no doubt the static screen format appeals to gamers with little time to invest in elaborate games.

What do you think about the static screens: smart approach or just a lot of fuzz?

Also, why was ET punished with a trip to Greece in his videogame debut?


Image: Link



Filed under: Commentary, Retro Today, , , ,

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