Games – Keep it simple

Computer games are fun, but since I’ve been working with computers I no longer find the time to be a keen gaming enthusiast.

These days I find my self gravitating towards ‘retro gaming‘ (playing old classic games), for three reasons:

  • While the new games are impressive, the modern big budget games industry is surely evil.
  • I can’t actually play the newest games at the moment, because I’ve not got a high spec PC or console
  • I find there’s something beautiful about the simplicity of older games.

Nostalgia is another reason. I wasted several years of my life playing on my BBC micro. But I think nostalgia is overrated. Even in a modern context, we should recognise the advantages of keeping games simple.

For years people have been making and re-making simple old style games. Increasing CPU power has made the programming challenge easier and easier, but also further and further from the state-of-the-art where the money is. These programmers were marginalised as geeky hobbyists, but I’m happy to see simple old-style games moving back into the mainstream, as some new technological frontiers have appeared in the past few years.

Web developers are paid to attract people to their website, with every trick they can devise. This includes attracting ‘casual gamers’, hence the new market for simple games which run on a web browser. Applet and Flash games are all over the web, and while these have a slightly perculiar (and not particularly retro) graphical feel, they often offer the same kind of simple entertainment fix that I love. As a java programmer I’m more tempted to try and make an applet game than a flash game, although the flash games seem to be better on the whole. I particularly like the unique and innovative SaltaCol.

An even newer technological frontier is mobile device games. Mobile phone games in particular, must be kept simple, for all the same reasons that the original old games were i.e. CPU and memory limitations. I have only tried a few of these, but I’m hoping technologies like J2ME will open up the market to many more small companies and amateur game developers, offering downloads of their funky little retro style games. (I’m tempted to try making a midlet myself). To fuel this fire the mobile manufacturers should really start java-enabling all mobiles as standard. Sadly it looks like the same story as WAP. Corporate greed is killing a technology which should really be free. In meantime this frontier is racing forwards. PDAs are already as fast as PCs, and capable of running quake (3D game), so the mobile retro gaming revolution may not last very long.

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