Wednesday, 25 August 2010

pure graphics ejaculate

Computer games used to be so much better

A friend drew my attention to an article poking fun at old cover art for old games on the Atari.  Being an ex-owner of a 2-600, I must point out that even as a child, I realised the graphics were an artist's interpretation of the imaginary world of the game.  The graphics were shit from our lofty position now of real-time generated multi-million polygons: but remember, at the time, they were cutting edge for the price.

I remember playing a game [name of such escapes me] that involved controlling a chunk-tastic pixel representation of a bomber down a unrealistic valley, avoiding squares that represented shells emitted from bigger squares.  Each mission's objective was to release an equally chunky block of pixel magic on what can only be cursorily described as rectangles of differing sizes. And you know what?  I fucking loved that game.  I was there in the cockpit of that bomber.  I was the bravest war hero of all time, apparently without fear of the enemy's anti-aircraft defences.  In reality, I was scared; my chums back at the base were being shot down every day and our nation was at the brink of defeat.  My character had no name, no back story imposed on them.

Today's games are woefully dull in comparison.  In order to really surprise, entertain or enamour, they have to have a gimmick.  Think of Grand Theft Auto - a brilliant game way back when it was top-down and low definition pixel-riffic - the first forays of the franchise into 3D meant a requirement for cinematic cut-scenes to progress the story.  Now the entire city "lives", featuring fantastically detailed streets and characters with an entire CV and realistic criminal record.  I'm informed there's paedophiles, politicians and even fast-food restaurant workers in there. Yes it's progress and yes it is bloody impressive, but is it interesting?

Consider against Lucas Arts games and the like, which were 2D, linear and full of jokes.  They were digital equivalents of those adventure books where you choose the destiny of your character; you had few options but in that lay a spark of a requirement for imagination: you were the character and you decide the outcome.  There was little scope to explore off the main game's 'plot' but that added mystery.  Similarly, the characters had little in the way of back story - but like reading a good novel, it left it for you based on the semiotics of the situation what their story was.  Games which capture the imagination are few now.  The last which impressed me with its simplicity and pure addictive playability was Pikmin on the N64; you didn't exactly care about the character itself, but those little cute plant-creatures were like your children, whatever the fuck they were.

A little while back, I guffawed at seeing an Nokia N-gage in a second-hand store: I mused openly about how much of a flop it was.  Who would sit and play a game on a tiny screen on a phone turned sideways when they have a game system with 1080P of pixel-mendous action pumped direct from HD TV to Super HD eyeball?  Then a few weeks ago, I downloaded a game on my Android phone.  I found it fascinatingly addictive.  Simple, pure and fun.  I was sat there until literally the battery ran out, playing it again and again attempting to beat my previous high score.  The graphics aren't amazing, the game has limited scope and there are no characters. Then it dawned on me: I did this when I was 10.  In 1992, I was sat staring in awe at the black and white telly in our front room as myself and my co-pilot brother bombed the shit out of Nazis, or Gooks, or whoever it was we were bombing.  It didn't matter; we were heroes.

That's why the Wii has been such a run-away success despite its appalling graphics for today; it's simple and while infected by a multitude of leisure software, I'd not knock anyone for having one on their Christmas list.  PlayStation and Xbox owners might sit there aloof as billions of pixels of pure graphics ejaculate forth from their 3D LED screen.  Secretly though, if they're honest, they'd love to have a day playing on an old NES, or a Master System.  The graphics were laughable, the games were abysmally simple to the point of idiocy but they were really fucking fun.

{Originally posted to my facespace notes}