GameCentral - 12th May, 2011

Reader's Feature: What Makes A Classic Game?

A GameCentral reader discusses what makes a classic game truly memorable and why some games just don't seem to age as well as you'd expect.

Half-Life: classic Half-Life: classic

The recent discussion in the Inbox about classic games and how they have aged made me wonder exactly what makes a game stand the test of time, what makes a game remain a classic years later?

An example that was discussed was Deus Ex, which came out in the year 2000. The game was very highly regarded for its story and its gameplay, yet some contributors couldn't 'get into it' recently. The gameplay remains the same as it was back when it was released, as is true of any game. But if any innovative gameplay elements that it introduced were adopted by games that were released later on, it is understandable that it may have a less significant impact than it did originally.

Similarly, if there were gameplay mechanics that became an industry standard after the release, the game can seem even more out of date. As an example of this, think of regenerating health. Though perhaps not introduced to first person shooters by the Halo franchise, it certainly did become infinitely more popular after the first Halo (from 2001).

It's not just a simple mechanic, either – it is used for level design, because the developers will know exactly how much health the player will have (or will easily obtain) at each and every point in the game. It enables the designers to balance the challenge of an area with less effort, and reduces the requirement to allow the player to explore (for example, searching for health packs became redundant). If you are used to the mechanics and the design decisions that they bring, then a game lacking this will seem particularly old.

Another aspect to consider is the graphics of the game. Now I don't want to come across as someone who believes that the graphics are the most important aspect of a game, so let me explain myself. I personally adore Half-Life, which was released in 1998, but I simply cannot immerse myself in the game like I was once able to.

It didn't have any particularly amazing innovations in terms of how the user interacted with the game (although the artificial intellegence did seem revolutionary at the time) and the physics engine has been upgraded to modern standards in the form of Half-Life: Source. As such, the only thing I can find to blame is the graphics (the music is still fantastic).

However, I can enjoy even older games with even more basic graphics – for example, Little Big Adventure (which was released in 1994). Why is it that, despite being four years older and having simpler graphics, Little Big Adventure is more immersive today than Half-Life: Source is?

I think the true answer lies in the art style of the games. Half-Life is meant to look realistic, but Little Big Adventure looks more like a cartoon, with its anthropomorphic animals and simplistic vehicles. As technology improves, games look more and more realistic (have you seen the new Unreal Engine demo? It's amazing!).

Though this makes games more impressive on a technical level, and makes games feel even more immersive now, it also means that anything that strives for realism will look horribly old and redundant when the next generation of graphical technology arrives.

The games that instead opt for a stylised look in their art direction age much slower, in my opinion. Though better technology allows for greater detail, it doesn't necessarily add anything of particular worth to such games – would Okami look any more like a Japanese painting if it had more polygons or more complex lighting?

Of all of the niche titles that GC has recommended to its readers over the years, I can only think of a handful that opted for a more realistic art style. I wonder how many of us in five years will be playing Deadly Premonition for the umpteenth time, and how many of us will still be playing Okami, Psychonauts or Ghost Trick?

It's such a shame, then, that these games become so overlooked by the masses, in part due to their art direction. I imagine that if Little Big Adventure were released today, it would sell poorly due to the talking elephants, rather than being honoured due to it's surprisingly dark tale of Stalin-esque oppression and genocide in a sci-fi fantasy world.

At least I will still be able to enjoy it, and pass it on to future generations, who will hopefully find it equally as playable then, as I do now (as long as DOSBox still works!)

By Joseph Dowland

The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.  

You can submit your own 500 to 600-word reader feature at any time, which if used will be published in the next appropriate weekend slot. As always, email .


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