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What Causes Some Video Games to Age Poorly, In Your Opinion? What Do You Feel Makes a Game Timeless?

TheGreatCthulhu

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Quite simply, some games have stood the test of time, while others are really showing their age, and I'd like your opinions on that. What aspects of a particular game do you think are timeless, and ones that have aged poorly.

I ask this, because video games have been subjected to Moore's Law for the entirety of the industry.

I think it's a combination of various factors, and I separate this between the tangible and intangible here. The tangible being what we actually play and see, and the intangible being how we feel about it.

So to start off this discussion, let me give my opinion on this. I shall warn you, this is going to be a long opinion as I consider multiple factors of this.

CHANGING STANDARDS:

When asking the question, "Why do some games age poorly," it's prudent to address the concept of changing standards. For example, before the advent of HD, 3D was the standard back then.

How well or how poorly a game ages is fundamentally a consequence of changing standards. Saying that games get better every year or two due to Moore's Law does a disservice to the potential player.

For example, why would I ever want to play old games, when newer games have a higher polygon count on their models?

If the new standard looks better than the old standard, I would argue that the former statement shows inherent bias.

Thus, I would say that the changing standards argument is contextual not consequential. It's for this reason that I can make a sound argument for an old game still looking good compared to the standards of today. For example, F.E.A.R. still looks crisp and sharp even when comparing it to the standards of today.

ATTENTION TO GRAPHICAL DETAILS:

This play a big role on whether or not a game truly looks old. More attention given to the graphical details of a game also lead into the discussion of a game holding up. I argue a game has aged well when it meets or exceeds the standards at time of release, or still holds a candle compared to games made in the last 5 years.

An example of this would be the Crysis games. These games were made with the intent to far exceed the standards of their time, as well as hardware limitations of the time. As a result, the series still is used as a benchmark. Call the Crysis series a generic shooter all you want, but they made a statement and set a new standard in graphical fidelity that few titles ever get close to them.

It's not just Crysis that this happened with, many older PC games were also developed with the intent to run better on future hardware, and this pushes the industry forward, creating new standards. Thus Crysis and older PC games with the same design philosophy of pushing the boundaries plays into the perception of games ageing.

If we reel this view back a bit or condense it down, I believe that games with more attention given to lighting effects, and texture resolutions will tend to age better than those that don't, or couldn't have that same attention to detail. We don't even have to go to PC games that still hammer hardware to see this in action.

For another example, there's a reason that Super Mario 64 has aged far better than Bubsy 3D.

That's because Nintendo, on top of the stellar gameplay of Super Mario 64, put a lot of attention to detail in their 3D modeling work, texture resolution, lighting, and other factors. For the time, it exceeded the current standard.

When it comes to the two graphical details that play the biggest factor in a game holding up, are texture resolutions, specifically normal maps, and lighting effects.

Normal maps give the illusion of depth in the geometry of a model. Therefore it stands to reason that games that give a greater attention to detail to their normal map work will age inherently better than ones that meet expectations.

But why do some games age horribly, and others age well? I think this is due to various factors. For example, a game developed only for consoles will inherently age quicker due to the limitations in fixed hardware in an industry that's always improving.

No more clear an example of this can be demonstrated than with Condemned: Criminal Origins and F.E.A.R (First Encounter Assault Recon). These two games were made by the same developer, with Condemned being made for the Xbox 360, and F.E.A.R. being developed for the PC initially. As a result, F.E.A.R. looks far crisper than Condemned.

40434
Condemned: Criminal Origins.

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F.E.A.R. (First Encounter Assault Recon)


Quite a stark difference isn't it? This isn't just shown with the games themselves, but development considerations, like the allocation of memory bandwidth with the PS3 and Xbox 360. There came a point where developers couldn't squeeze anymore juice out of those systems, prompting them to release newer consoles.

Notice, I'm not talking about what systems they were released on, but what their primary development was intended for.

As a result, one of these platforms between the two games can easily scale with and adjust the game to current standards, while the other can't. That leads into F.E.A.R. looking far better even though Condemned and F.E.A.R. were released the same year and made by the same developer.

What also plays into this is the screen resolution and whether or not it's viable to put better looking textures. The standard for 7-8 years was 1280x720 (720p). This meant the your average character model was 512x512 for their head, and 1024x1024 for their body.

This doesn't look bad when you're playing on a smaller screen with a smaller native resolution. However, scale that up to 1920x1080 (1080p) with a bigger screen and you're sitting the same distance with the same model resolution, texture resolution, and other factors, the game will look blurry and worse as a result.

This was the reason for pre-rendered cutscenes. This is usually the result of the developers not being able to do real time cutscenes due to the limitations of hardware. So they render it on their side and convert it to video on your game. This is inherently flawed, because pre-rendered custscenes were usually rendered in the standard of the time the game was released, which in some situations leads to good looking gameplay, but cutscenes that look worse than the gameplay. Add in the artifacts and compression ratio to this, and you can already see how this will age a game terribly.

Perhaps the biggest factor in a game aging terribly is simply design. If you design a game to the standard of the time, with no other elements or aspects of the design made to be timeless, the game will be doomed to age terribly. This is why a ton of older games made to be timeless still hold up to this day, despite their age.

For example, a lot of the "photo-realistic" games made in 2007, contained various shades of brown, with little to no color depth, making the game age terribly.

Think of your Call of Duty's and Battlefields for examples of this. Older Modern Military Shooters often show their age, while games like Doom, Quake, and Deus Ex, don't show their age as much.

Scale that up to today, and this is one of the reasons why I think games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Doom (2016) will age pretty well, because both games met and far exceeded the standards at the time of release, and a ton of attention to detail in all aspects of these games will cause them to inherently age pretty well.

To scale this to a Zelda example, there's a reason many people, including myself, weren't that impressed with the HD remake of Twilight Princess. The game had already aged so much that you can see inherent artifacts that were the standards of its time. Also its limited color depth and artistic design cause it to age more quickly than Wind Waker. Because of Wind Waker's art style and design, the HD remake of it was a stark contrast, and the color depth, and lighting effects of that game made improved character models, normal maps, and the improved lighting of the remake made it seem like a much better improvement over the HD remake of Twilight Princess.

Budget is also a big reason. The more money you invest into a product, like everything else, the better the result is usually. Ever wonder why Steam is filled with pixel art 2D side-scrolling games? That's the reason. Now, there are indie devs who even take that art style and through their dedication and passion, can make even pixel art look unique and timeless. It's one of the reasons I give massive credit to indie devs that strive achieve a standard that far surpasses the current standards of indie games.

Why do people remember Undertale and not the millions of other Earthbound clones? Because Undertale had real passion, and likely, budget to set itself apart from the crowd.

This is also why I totally respect the amount of work that goes into developing a game, but I have little patience for developers being lazy and only working to meet a standard, not working their balls off to make something truly exceptional.

There are ways for developers to circumvent the inherent aging process of video games. For example, if a developer truly cares, they will strive to make sure that 7 to 8 years down the line, the game will at least meet the standards of the projected future. This leads to a concept called "future-proofing."

For another Nintendo example, Nintendo put a lot of work into Breath of the Wild, and the visuals of that game alone, show an incredible amount of time, money, work, perseverance, stress, heart, and soul into them, to say nothing else of the other aspects of that game's design that likely took a similar amount of work, time, money, perseverance, stress, heart, and soul.

As a consequence, I feel Breath of the Wild will be a game that not only met expectations at the time of release, but far exceeded them, and likely will hold up to future standards.

As a result, the game also scales really well. For example, you get a stark improvement in the visuals if you run the game at 2560x1440 through an emulator. The game looks far crisper, and shows that Nintendo really put tons of effort in making sure it will scale well with the times as the game inevitably ages.

If a developer doesn't put that effort into making sure their games exceed expectations, they won't age well, and will result in a game looking awful on current hardware and standards. This is why some games don't scale well when you crank them to 1080p, 1440p, or heaven forbid, 4K.

All of this to say that visuals play a huge role in a game aging well. As much as we like to say that graphics don't matter, I argue that they do, and everyone feels that they do matter, though people have different ways of expressing it.

GAMEPLAY AND GAMEPLAY MECHANICS:

Gameplay and gameplay mechanics are also victims of changing standards. If you look back at games from 10 years ago, from any genre, you can see that at the time, games were largely different.

Games are usually worked on for years, then shipped off in a presumably perfect state based on the standards of that time.

By "perfect state" I mean the developer will release a game when they believe it to be in the best possible state for sale. But that state is limited to the amount of information that developer has in that time frame. A developer that has sharper ears and on top of all the work that goes into the game's development, pays attention to changing standards, will usually end up releasing a product that ages far better than others.

For example, why do many games these days not use tank controls anymore? Because developers and consumers have found far more elegant solutions to character movement.

When standards change, it's usually a result of a universal agreement between gamers and developers of a certain mechanic being better than the old standard. To bring it back to the tank control example, it's the reason why games these days aren't using tank controls anymore, because we've agreed and accepted that analog stick movement and WASD + mouse movement is far better than tank controls. When standards change, it's usually the result of the reception, and more importantly, the money made on a game using a certain mechanic.

Yes, money plays a huge role in this. People that tell you all about passion have a point, but passion alone won't get a game to succeed, for that, you need money.

But let me pose a question here. Does the new standard make the old standard bad, or was there merit in the old standard? Was the old standard inherently flawed but we put up with it, or did it have some artistic and game design merit and thus the change was unwarranted?

The answer I believe lies somewhere in the middle with most mechanics. No, sometimes new standards aren't warranted, and new standards are a bit more polished than the old standards.

Usually what prompts these changes are usually a few games that spark innovation in their respective genres. Remember the slew of 3D platforming mascots as a result of Super Mario?

This is a nice segue into some games aging poorly because they were copycats, and ultimately didn't understand the winning formula that made that game so innovative. As a result, they meet the new standards that the innovative title did, without adding anything new or interesting, leading to a legitimately poor clone of the innovative title, which ultimately leads to the game aging poorly because people just say, "Oh that's just a Zelda/Doom/insert-innovative-series-here clone!"

Sometimes aging isn't just demonstrated by looking back at two titles, hindsight is always 20/20 after all, sometimes this is just demonstrated by comparing a game to its competition.

For example, Clive Barker's: Jericho has aged like mold, was outdated at time of release, largely because its competition was Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, and BioShock, note that I think that only two of those titles have aged well, that being Halo 3 and BioShock.

Another way of looking at this. Games should be fun, first and foremost, and if a game wasn't fun in 2005, how fun do you think it will be in 2015? That's what mechanical aging boils down to, if a game isn't fun, has terrible and counter-intuitive gameplay mechanics, that will age it like 40 year old horse****, moreso than visual standards will.

Now onto the intangible aspects of this, all of what I said previously were tangible aspects that can cause a game to age well or poorly. Now we talk about the intangible, or how we feel about a game.

If what I was arguing before left you with the impression that I think new standards are inherently better than the old standards, you've misled yourself.

What does it mean for a game to be timeless?

I argue that when a game's design isn't effected by time and the continual improvements in computational power due to Moore's Law.

Why is Majora's Mask still my favorite Zelda title, even though Breath of the Wild has better lighting effects, texture resolutions, higher polygon counts on models, better physics engine, and such?

Because Majora's Mask achieved something special, had a story that stuck with players for 19 years, had the same flawless gameplay mechanics, and added in something new that you can only experience with that title.

For another example, why do I say that the first F.E.A.R. game is the only good one in the series? Because the other two, despite having better visuals, higher polygon counts, and better physics, can't hold a candle to the first one. The first one hit everything in terms of an FPS game to me, decent visuals, satisfying gunplay, smart AI, and the fun factor, while the other two felt like they were castrated.

This is why some older games feel timeless, because their core ideas of what makes them tick are themselves timeless.

If we were to boil my opinion down to a sentence, games age because they aren't perfect, but some games have elements that are.

What do you guys think? Let's have a discussion about this!
 

Dizzi

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Kinda both cuz you cant find some games on x console that was released in the 80s and not released onto x console that just released...
 
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Deus

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Games age poorly when quality of life changes occur across the rest of gaming in the future.

Clunky controls for instance. In many older games the controls are clunky and not smooth. Now it is industry standard that games have smooth controls. At the time when most games have clunky controls you don't notice but when you play games with smooth controls and go back to the old game, you realise it has aged poorly.

In terms of looks I think there is a threshold for where if you cross it your graphics will never look bad even to future generations. Final Fantasy 15 for instance is a beautiful game and it's pleasing to look at most of the time even when not in motion. You can cook closely and notice flaws but most of the time when playing the world looks alive. And even in 10 years that won't change.
 

TheGreatCthulhu

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Games age poorly when quality of life changes occur across the rest of gaming in the future.

Clunky controls for instance. In many older games the controls are clunky and not smooth. Now it is industry standard that games have smooth controls. At the time when most games have clunky controls you don't notice but when you play games with smooth controls and go back to the old game, you realise it has aged poorly.

In terms of looks I think there is a threshold for where if you cross it your graphics will never look bad even to future generations. Final Fantasy 15 for instance is a beautiful game and it's pleasing to look at most of the time even when not in motion. You can cook closely and notice flaws but most of the time when playing the world looks alive. And even in 10 years that won't change.
Another valid point.
 

Spiritual Mask Salesman

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I don't have much to add because I think you pretty much nailed it. I think the overall quality of a game determines whether it ages well, or not. However, I think there are probably some exceptions. I think if a game excels in one particular area it can sometimes outweigh the other aspects that feel dated.

Let's look at The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind as an example, since I've been cracking away at it slowly but surely. By today's standards it's graphics look bad, hell, it didn't look that great when it came out in 2002. It's combat is all based on RNG, and there are no map markers while traveling - so it can be a pain to play. It has an exceptionally deep story, however, and that's the whole reason to play it. For many TES fans, it's still one of the best TES games. It's pulled me in despite it's flaws because of the story and lore.
 

TheGreatCthulhu

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I don't have much to add because I think you pretty much nailed it. I think the overall quality of a game determines whether it ages well, or not. However, I think there are probably some exceptions. I think if a game excels in one particular area it can sometimes outweigh the other aspects that feel dated.

Let's look at The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind as an example, since I've been cracking away at it slowly but surely. By today's standards it's graphics look bad, hell, it didn't look that great when it came out in 2002. It's combat is all based on RNG, and there are no map markers while traveling - so it can be a pain to play. It has an exceptionally deep story, however, and that's the whole reason to play it. For many TES fans, it's still one of the best TES games. It's pulled me in despite it's flaws because of the story and lore.
Morrowind is definitely the best TES game in that whole series.
 

Spirit

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Modern business practices make games age poorly.

Let's use Overwatch as an example.

It's a good game, looks good, sounds good, feels good. Has good character design...

But it's always online so when the servers get shut off you're gonna have a dead disc. I hope you got your money's worth out of it while it was still live.

Also it has very little story within it and all of the world building is in other media releases like short films or encylopedias. The game itself can't really stand on it's own for those seeking a narrative experience, which sucks because if it at least had an offline campaign it would have helped it for the future offline status it will have.

Other things like games needing massive patches like Spyro reignited. When those patches are no longer available the disc won't be worth having because the majority of the game needs to be downloaded first.

@Deus mentioned quality of life enhancements. I'll agree with that. When a remake comes out and improves on the original then the original can seem more archaic than it already was.

What makes a game age well?

Good design in terms of world and functionality. Something most modern games dont have.
 

TheGreatCthulhu

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Modern business practices make games age poorly.

Let's use Overwatch as an example.

It's a good game, looks good, sounds good, feels good. Has good character design...

But it's always online so when the servers get shut off you're gonna have a dead disc. I hope you got your money's worth out of it while it was still live.

Also it has very little story within it and all of the world building is in other media releases like short films or encylopedias. The game itself can't really stand on it's own for those seeking a narrative experience, which sucks because if it at least had an offline campaign it would have helped it for the future offline status it will have.

Other things like games needing massive patches like Spyro reignited. When those patches are no longer available the disc won't be worth having because the majority of the game needs to be downloaded first.

@Deus mentioned quality of life enhancements. I'll agree with that. When a remake comes out and improves on the original then the original can seem more archaic than it already was.

What makes a game age well?

Good design in terms of world and functionality. Something most modern games dont have.
I'm of the opinion that if a game isn't fun today, it will age like mold.

Games that are fun tend to age better in my view.
 
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The answer to this question for me is a much simple case of asking how stylistic the game is. Were they focused on creating their own universe or emulating our existing one? The reason why this question is important in determining whether a game ages well is because technical improvements will always change the perceived quality of how well a game can emulate reality, but something that is stylistically detached from that can only ever be judged by its own rules.

The most fitting example I can think of here is the difference between WWs and Twilight Princesses artstyle. Wind Waker was a very novel approach to graphics at the time creating something wholly unrealistic but incredibly stylistic. It has a very specific vision of what it viewed as real in its own universe. Twilight Princess on the other hand, leaned more towards reality than imagination. Things were muddier and grittier and the result was that while the game was technically impressive at the time, audiences today struggle to adjust back to it.

The reason for this contrast is because Twilight Princess graphics are only ever going to be as successful as our current vision of reality in a video game allows. Unfortunately, that vision is one quick to shift when a new system comes out that presents us with a more successful emulation of reality by throwing better textures and increased polygon count our way. Wind Waker however featured an artstyle entirely detached from reality. It's function cannot be changed by future technological advances because it's style was never influenced by reality. I can still pick up WW today and have fun visually despite being very aware of the low poly count and very simple textures.

This battle of stylistic choices vs realistic ones applies to other areas of game development too. Soundtracks, plots, and perhaps most notably, gameplay! A good example of the stylistic vs realistic gameplay can be seen by comparing a game like Team Fortress 2 to modern Battlefield or Call of Duty games. All of them are shooters, all of them are multiplayer focused, but only Team Fortress 2 is said to have aged well. The reason? In my opinion, the stylistic gameplay. Call of Duty games 10 years ago pandered to our then current view of "reality" in video games. It featured real looking guns with realistic capabilities and human avatars with realistic abilities (on the whole, they still took liberties). All this created though was a game that was good for it's time but was only going to be forgotten when someone figured out how to make guns look better in their game, or to make the guns function more realistically or to create a more immersive avatar. Once that new game released our view of how realistic a game can be changed and any older games that do not hold up to this new standard are considered to have aged.

Team Fortress 2 on the other hand is still fondly remembered by many. It was a game that featured cartoonist graphics, slapstick humour and incredibly zany gameplay. While it still featured guns and human avatars just like any CoD game, it focused on making choices that were more stylistic and therefore unique to itself. It invented a set of universe rules that were far detached from anything real, but therefore still fun to pick up today. Our view of it can't change with age because it was always its own thing with its own unique character. It wasn't trying to simulate reality, it was trying to create it's own.

Even controls can fall under this curse. Technical limitations can really limit what a game is capable of and, therefore, how easily we are able to interact with it. A simple game that was focusing on a stylistic approach that lended itself well to controls available at the time is always going to be easier to play than a more realistic one that had to make do with modern controls because they had no better way of simulating the reality they wanted. A good example of this would be tank controls. Games like Resident Evil made use of them to great acclaim because of the stylistic use of fixed cinematic camera angles. Meanwhile you had Tomb Raider which had to make do with tank controls because it was desperately trying to find ways to keep up with the realism of controlling Lara. Eventually, games came out that did this better and Tomb Raider's controls aged poorly as a result. Resident Evil on the other hand is just as easy to play now as it was then because tank controls compliment the stylistic choice to keep the camera fixed (even if that choice was born of technical limitations).

There are certainly other factors beyond the 'stylistic vs realistic' approach, but they usually have little sway compared to the former in my mind. Some people consider games to have aged because they're too simple and therefore not fun to play. Things like space invaders and pong. Personally I feel this is more just a case of personal preference. A simple game is always simple but there is still a marked difference between a simple game that has aged well and can provide just as much fun now as it did then, and a simple game that hasn't aged well and has lost its appeal as a result.
 

Sheikah_Witch

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I consider Super Mario 64 timeless. Jumping running and dashing as Mario just feels as damn good as it always has done. There's something about the heaviness of the footstep sound effects and the skitting animations and the sheer gravitas of the jump. Just those kind of tactile joys is something that will never stop being fun to experience. Whereas mechanics like leveling up, or shooting demons with a gun that is fun at them moment but over time you notice that the gun lacks pressure and the feedback just isn't there, those things that feel satisfying on a more temporary level, are things that go out of time imo. Maybe I've derailed a bit from the OP that was more about artistic choices, but personally, I consider solid mechanics and thought-through design is t what makes games feel timeless.
 

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