So I recently had to take a rather long train ride and to pass the time I took along my Nintendo DS and a bunch of games. Out of the five games I took, only one got played over the entire four hour trip. That game was Etrian Odyssey.
Those of you that have followed my blog and read most of my posts probably already know about this game. For those of you that don't, it's an olde skool dungeon crawler of the Wizardry variety. There is no epic story, no cut scenes, not even the pre-made characters that we're used to seeing in console RPGs. You make as many characters as you like, form them into a group, outfit them, then send them into the dungeon in search of money and.... well... mostly money. You don't even actually see your characters except for the still pictures on their status and equipment screens. Town is a menu with all the different places you can visit. The dungeon itself is displayed in first person and you can only move forward, backward, and turn either left or right. No strafing. Battles are random and done in the original Dragon Warrior style. You see a still picture of the monster, or group of monsters and a minimal animation for each attack. Did I mention that you have to draw your own map of the dungeon? Yeah, the game has a pretty nifty software tool you can use for that.
At this point you're probably wondering what the hell compelled me to play this game for four hours straight. To be honest I couldn't tell you. I'd like to think it was the difficulty since I only mapped out about two dungeon levels in that amount of time and had to rez a couple of my characters. However, I don't think that was it. I could claim that I was addicted to getting my characters to advance, but being interrupted by a character leveling up was almost as annoying as being interrupted by random battles with monsters that my party could beat in one turn, and selling the loot and gearing up between dungeon dives was more chore than reward. Was it the Mapping then? I'm not sure but trying to fill in the whole level before the train pulled in did feel pretty compelling.
I've been noticing something similar to this about my gaming habits lately. I find some of the older games more enjoyable than the more recent stuff that's come out. It isn't just nostalgia either. I remember being bored with God of War after about twenty minutes, but then spending a whole afternoon pummeling my way through the Streets of Rage Remake that combined all three games into one coherent story arch. I even went back through the game to take all the alternate routes that I missed the first and second time through!! Recently I obsessed over the Goldeneye 2D "de-make" that turned the first level of the N64 Goldeneye into a Gameboy game. The three most played games on my Nintendo Wii right now are Super Mario Bros., the original Legend of Zelda, and Super Punch-out.
It's more of the same with PC games. Since I haven't upgraded to Vista yet, I'm still able to use DOSbox. My most played PC games right now, besides the smattering of indie and doujin games that clog my desktop, are Worlds of Ultima: Savage Empire, Red Barron, Jagged Alliance, and Master of Magic. Clearly, something is amiss....
Unfortunately, I don't know what that "something" could be. I do notice that I enjoy more recent FPS and RTS games as much as the old stuff. Well.... let me clarify that: I enjoy the multiplayer component of more recent FPS and RTS games as much as the olde skool stuff. I have no use for the Bioshock or the single player parts of Gears of War. Interestingly enough, I was totally into Zelda: Twilight Princess and Metroid 3. With Twilight Princess, they didn't stray at all from the puzzle solving / exploration formula of the Zelda franchise, so that is no big mystery. Metroid 3 however, was more of a shooter than any previous Metroid game ever was. There was still some puzzle solving and exploring, but not to the same extent as Super Metroid or the first Metroid Prime game. I will point out that Metroid 3 isn't trying as hard to be a movie as say..... Halo 3 and that may be a contributing factor to why I played Metroid 3 to the end.
Right now, I'm just chalking it up to the fact that I'm 33 years old and have a totally different set of expectations about games than the 19-25 demographic that the industry currently targets. In my day, games weren't meant to devour your life whole. I've actually heard this from people slightly older than me that played games up until the early '90s and then quit. After the games started demanding that you spend more than a half an hour per session, they just found something less taxing. The gamers grew up, but the games didn't. The developers just kept catering to an audience that had nothing better to do with its time than sit on the couch and play video games. Right now we're seeing the end result of that evolution.
I actually heard a reviewer complain because a game only lasted about eight hours. I'm going to ignore the fact that said reviewer plays video games for a living and probably got through the game much faster than an ordinary person would and just focus on the "too short" argument. This is a time where we expect games to last us 40 hours. Why? When's the last time you actually completed a game that took 40 hours or more to complete? I normally run out of patience with an RPG around the 20 hour mark myself. Action games get dull right around the six to eight hour mark. And yet, the industry is flooded with games that demand 60+ hours of your life. You do realize that you only have so many hours before you're dead right?
I'm not really sure where this is headed since I didn't really plan this blog out at all. I'm just at a loss as to why games that are 15+ years old seem to hold my attention more than more recent, and heavily produced, games. There are a few exceptions to this, but not nearly enough. I'm also wondering if I'm the only person experiencing this. Is everyone really this fuckin' content with Oblivion and Halo 3? Am I just some kind of freak? Or have game developers lost sight of something fundamental to what video games actually are? If so, What?
That's really all I have for this week. I probably won't be posting for some time since I'm thinking about making an Atari 2600 version of the first level of God of War, just to see if it's really the game that's lacking or my expectations of the game.