Video games, and the technology that comes with them, has come on leaps and bounds in the 20 years or so… From the days of Pong all the way to the new Star Wars Battlefront 2 and Final Fantasy XV, pretty much everything about video games and the way they play has changed. And no, I’m not just talking about the improvements in graphics, but rather the quality of life changes in modern games…
That’s why, today, I’m going to be looking at 7 things in retro games that new gamers won’t ever have to deal with.
Let’s start with one of the more obvious changes in a gamer’s quality of life… One of that has become so much of an industry standard that you probably don’t even think about it anymore; autosaves. In modern games, whenever you finish a story section, beat a boss fight or win a match, the game will autosave your data. You know your progress is safe, and you can feel comfortable in the fact that you can just carry on, or stop and come back later.
But that didn’t used to be the case! In fact, even on the PS2 (which isn’t that old) autosaves weren’t really a thing. You still needed to find save points, specific areas or objects in the game that allowed you to save.
So, the idea of getting a Game Over, or even having to leave the game and turn it off, was something that instilled fear into the hearts of gamers everywhere! For example, imagine if you’ve spend the last 3 hours trying to be a really difficult boss fight (not uncommon in games like Final Fantasy) and just as you defeat it, the power goes out! Well, without the autosave feature, you’ve just lost that success! Yep, you have to do it all over again…
These days, these fears have been long laid to rest in modern games, but they were a huge part of retro games!
Following on from Save Points, the next quality of life change comes when you look at Memory Cards, and no, I don’t mean MicroSD cards. I mean the old PlayStation 1/2 or Gamecube Memory Cards, for example. They were bulky (especially for the Dreamcast) but essential peripherals that you could not live without. Why? Because back then consoles didn’t have hard drives to save your game data on! Weird, right?
Instead, your game data was saved onto these wonderful pieces of plastic, so if you didn’t have one, you couldn’t save! On top of that, they were limited in their capacity as well. For example, the Official PlayStation Memory Card could only have 15 saves… Just 15. So if you had more than 15 games, or multiple saves on one game, you’d end up needing more memory cards. Which also brings up the point that it didn’t save “game data” in the same way…
Modern games effectively partition a section of the hard drive and save all of you different game saves into that one partition. However, as you can see from the image above, there are 3 of the same logo. This is because, on these old memory cards, each save from a game took up a different slot on the card! Oh, and there are even some games that take up more than one! Some even take up all 15 by themselves!
So yeah, the inclusion of a hard drive to save your games on has definitely made life easier for newer gamers!
Losing Your Disc or Cartridge
Oh man, this was horrible… You see, we now live in a time where games can be downloaded at any time for your Xbox or PlayStation, or even for the PC using Steam… But that wasn’t always the case. These days, discs and cartridges are pretty pointless in a lot of ways (except for the Switch), but they used to be the only way you could play the game. Without a hard drive to store the game files on, consoles relied on discs and cartridges to hold that actual game, so if you lost it, you no longer had the game.
It was as simple as that. Without the game disc or cartridge, you didn’t have the game. You could not play it anymore. At least until you either found the game again, or went out and bought it again. There was no (legal) way to back them up!
The inclusion of a hard drive, and the ability to register a game to your account and re-download it at any time has made this worry fade from memory for a lot of people, but it was a terrifying moment when you opened up the game case to find the disc or cartridge not there… Or worse, broken.
Pulling The Power Cable Out
This one is pretty new, since even the PS3 and Xbox 360 still had wired controllers as standard… However, now that the PS4 and Xbox One both use wireless controllers straight out of the box, rather than requiring you to shell out for a third party controller, life has becoming a lot simpler. This is especially true for those of us who get a bit excited when they pass a hard part of the game.
You see, it used to be that if you got really excited, but had not paid attention to the slack in the controller’s wire, you could actually pull the console forward. This could either make it fall off the table or unit it sat on, or even worse, pull it so far forward that the power cable popped out!
For example, you may have just beaten Penance, the super boss of Final Fantasy X (which can take up to 8 hours, depending on how powerful your characters were). As soon as the victory music starts playing, you jump up in joy throwing your arms in the air in celebration, forgetting you’re still holding the controller. The wire gets tight, pulls the console forward, and suddenly it all turns off… And your heart sinks, knowing that you’ve got to go through the whole fight again… Wireless controllers are awesome…
Now, I’m sure a whole bunch of people are going to start screaming out about Dark Souls, and yes, those games (and Bloodbourne) are very difficult games… However, you’ve still got the quality of life upgrades mentioned above. Your game autosaves, and you can retry from a previous checkpoint in a lot of games these days… But back in the NES/SNES/Mega Drive era, that wasn’t the way it worked.
In fact, I would dare anyone who claims that Dark Souls is super hard to go and complete Contra, without the cheats! With an insane amount of enemies and some really difficult controls, plus punishing level design, you have everything you love about Dark Souls! Oh, but there’s no saving… So yeah, imagine Dark Souls, only more confusing to play, and without the ability to save and retry… Imagine starting from the beginning every time you got a Game Over… That was more than common for games back then, even with the likes of Sonic The Hedgehog! I mean, yes, there were passwords you could put in to jump to the start of the last level you played, but you had to note them all down, and if you lost that piece of paper, you were screwed. We didn’t have smart phones to write them down on back then either!
Yes, there are hard games these days, but nothing compared to the frustration-inducing games of the NES/Master System and SNES/Mega Drive days…
Games That Were Literally Impossible To Complete
Now, as someone who hates it when people use the term “literally” to mean “figuratively”, you should know that when I say there were games that were literally impossible to complete, I mean they were literally impossible to finish. Not because they were too hard, or too confusing… But because there were games released that the developers didn’t get time to finish making, so they made it impossible to get to the last stage, or finish the last stage.
That way, they didn’t have to worry about making an ending for the game, because no one would ever be able to get to the ending. Or, you have games that, when released, were so broken that you couldn’t even get passed the second level, because it might not load the ground, for example. And there weren’t any post-release patches back then either. If the game couldn’t be finished when it was released, then it couldn’t be finished. That was all there was to it.
Take the game shown above, known as Gladiator (or Great Gurianos) for example. The developer ran out of memory space for the game files to hold an ending, so he made the final boss invincible. You legitamitely cannot defeat the final boss, because it has infinite life… You cannot hurt it.
So yeah, the whole aspect of having Quality Control teams, even if they don’t get it right all the time (i.e Assassin’s Creed Unity), is a really big positive. And let’s be honest, a few disappearing face models in nothing compared to developers deliberately making it so you can’t finish a game!
The Start Up And Loading Times
Okay, now be honest,; how many times have you got angry or annoyed when a game takes a minute or two to load? I mean, they should be lightning fast so that you can start playing as soon as possible, right? Well, nowadays, yes… But did you know there was a time when games could take 10 to 15 minutes to load?
You could switch on your home computer (they weren’t known as consoles yet), go to toilet, make a cup of tea, grab some chocolate and snacks, and it would still be loading when you got back. And yet, people didn’t really complain that much, because that was just the way it was.
Oh yeah, and the colour mix was almost blinding, as you can see! So having the cool, animated and sometimes interactive loading screens that last just a handful of seconds is actually a huge improvement in technology!
And That’s All Folks
Those were seven of the different things that old school and retro gamers had to deal with (and still do, if you still play your retro game). The fact that gaming technology and design has now eliminated these is amazing, and makes modern gaming a whole lot easier!
However, as a lover of retro gaming, if I had the chance to go back in time and change any of these, I wouldn’t. They just add to the experience of the older games!
Are there any other experiences like this that you can think of? Ones that don’t exist on modern consoles? Let me know in the comments below!