Thursday, 19 December 2013

Retro, Generations and more bitching from me



"Retro - defined as being involving, relating to, or reminiscent of things from the recent past."

But what does it really mean to us in the gaming communities. Retro graphics, retro games, retro styles and jokes, are they really being "retro" with new games designed to look like old games or are they just going for the cheap buck "ooh it looks so old" like some hipster pricks jumping on a bandwagon because they can't cope or manage to do current generation graphics and effects like their friends are doing from the same graduation school of game making. So do we judge by generation? But that itself is a tough one to define.

Is it anything on previous generation consoles? Do some consoles get to be called "retro" or having an interest and preference in such consoles, become a retro interest? Consoles are much easier to define in generation thanks to the improvements in bits from 8 to 16 to 32 and such. Or simply the consoles released close together defining them as a generation of consoles. Easier but still some gaps in the net slip through there. While PC gaming is still PC games but do we judge them on how old the game is? The style of the game? Whether it uses the latest bollock-crushing graphics card capabilities? Or if the internal programming architecture uses specific graphic libraries or not?

It's a bit of a conundrum and no amount of debate and rationalisation is going to fix it for the masses, there will always be ill-informed opinions, people supporting those with even less knowledge on the subject and then it becomes accepted as truth within that community which then clashes with another community when the two become aware of each other.

Taking consoles into consideration, one could argue that various consoles pair up with each other to form "generations", an example being the 8bit era of NES and Master System, 16bit having the SNES and Megadrive, 32bit having the Saturn and Playstation and so on. However the pairings and groups fall apart when there are inequalities in power under the hilt. Such as the involvement of the N64 against the Playstation, do they get accredited as being the same generation? Are they grouped as being the similar time span or should they be separated on account of being 64bit and 32bit respectively. The lines begin to blur with the release of consoles being intermittent and jumps in technology taking different routes and directions.

If one were to say that generations of consoles are taken as the next sequential console for a company, then we could argue that Famicon and NES are 1 generation, SNES is another, N64 is next, then GameCube, Wii and Wii U. Comparatively PSX, PS2, PS3 and soon at the time of writing PS4 would only be 4 generations of console assuming we're looking at this like some technological family tree. It doesn't match and it doesn't pair up comfortably with newer consoles like Xbox, Xbox 360 and soon the Xbox One, 3 generations but nobody is going to say that the NES and Xbox are the same generation.

Sega doesn't help matters by having released a 32X add-on for the Megadrive, to then release the Saturn before bumping up to 128bit with the Dreamcast before the end of SEGA's home entertainment career in consoles, arcades however still thrived for significantly longer and software began developing on other consoles but I digress. The timing of such releases stopped the synchronicity of generations and threw a lot of it into disarray, grouping consoles into generations would be more an arbitrary process determined by one to two individuals with pandering groups following their decisions. Much like fashion, one or two pricks determine what is in fashion, but rather than ridiculing these people, flocks of sheep bray praises and hand over money to them. Not quite the same situation here, but people are enabling this kind of decision making.

Consoles can be grouped in the means of processing power, or in terms of technology, which is ease with the 8bit era, 16bit era etc, though lines blur with the 32bit and 64bit tech before it steps up to the modern tech where diversification has made it almost impossible to compare consoles because of the differentiation from one console and another. While I also admit that discussing 8bit consoles and talking from the 1980s point of view is easy enough, I'm neatly sidestepping Colecovision, Atari 2600, 5200, C64, ZX81 and now throwing home computers into consoles/game machines. While I'm at it, let's discuss Jamma boards and arcade technologies from late 70s to mid 90s and lump the Neo Geo into the discussion for someone to organise and determine which generation matches what.

How would we go about that?

Home consoles started as lights on a screen before catching up and surpassing arcade technologies. Eventually getting to the point where you could put a credit in a machine for 10mins of amusement or go BUY the game in a store for your home console and play it for as long as you want with likely, more content. Which generation of console pairs up then with various makes and models of arcade machine? Some will prefer to keep them distinct from each other but then consoles like PSX and Dreamcast seemed to have direct 1 to 1 conversions of arcade games, while the Megadrive port of Bubble Bobble is almost indistinguishable from the arcade.

I could argue the same distinctions for mobile phones. If I JUST look at Apple and its series of pods, touches, phones and pads, each one has several generational iterations with usually little difference between each stage of "evolution" for want of a better derogative term. Few would argue the differences between iPhone 3 and iPhone 4 but the differences between iPhone4 and iPhone4S however, are they worthy of being similar generation or next generation and to which generation of iPads do compare or even iPods for that matter. Then take into account the other smart phones such as Samsungs, Blackberries, Androids and the organisation becomes less apparent and clear. Given some of the apps and games available out there, such as Infinity Blade when it was first released and was mind-blowing to be shown working on apple machines, where do we place the machine in the generational divide?

Would it perhaps be better to say that a Game or Software is retro when hardware becomes too awkward to determine it as such?

Does a game become retro because it uses less advanced technology than the games available at the time? Some would argue that with flash games being made that are more in focus with using limited colour ranges, blocky graphics but are superseding the retro framework by having advanced effects and calculations in the game that wouldn't have been possible at the time when the game appears it COULD have been made. Does that still make it retro?

In a games market of First Person Shooters, does having top-down shooters make you retro? The uses of sprites over polygons make you retro? Not really, no. Given some of the hand held games consoles are still using sprites to make games, allowing companies that don't want to utilise 3D graphics the chance to make sprite based games instead, letting them get a foothold in the industry with the ability to draw instead, cannot be a bad thing and doesn't decry it as retro. Merely as a sensible alternative choice.

Taking a step back, looking at the PC generation of gaming. It could be considered easier to determine generations of games by the Operating Systems on which they're programmed. But that falls apart for the Linux systems and not everybody wants to discuss Dos and Windows even though they're at the forefront of most Personal Computers in the home. Though even with DOS, games from Space Invaders to Doom have been programmed for it, up to Duke 3D and Blood. Are these retro by definition of the engines they use in their games or that they're run on DOS? So do 3D games like Quake, which run through DOS primarily before we even start talking about ports to later OS's, still count as retro or just "old".

Going further into issues, do 3DFX games count as retro, compared to OpenGL or DirectX backing libraries? What of games designed to run on DirectX 6, or 8? Or 9? Before we get into the field of DirectX10 and DirectX11 and beyond? At which point does a game become retro there? And furthermore, if a game is taken such as Doom, is modified with custom made files that give it 3D rendering, light sourcing, pixel shading effects and so on, does it cease to become old and retro in the new light? Assuming it was sufficiently retro in the first place.

Some will argue, some will debate but there's always going to be loopholes and differences in understanding and appreciation. Some will happily determine that their favourite old game is "retro" because they think that's what it means, and will debase older games as being too old and new games as "not retro".

Is there a time limit on games and consoles before they become old/retro? Does it mean that it has to be a game or machine that's between x and y years old? Or something modelled on the style of x and y years old? But if Retro is reminiscent of something old, could all modern FPS being retro imitations of games like Doom? Or is doom too far gone to be considered retro in the fast moving pace of progression in technology these days?

Would a round number be sufficient? For example, retro in gaming and technology is any tech that was made more than 10 years ago? So for any modern games and machine to replicate styles of gaming and designs of hardware, from 10 years back, are retro in consideration of today? Or is it just old shit that needs to move the fuck along?

But then, there's the problem. Retro is to be styled on something that is old. Not to BE old in itself. Retro fashion is modern fashion designed and based around old fashion, it is not in itself, OLD, but new designed to look old.

The very argument that old consoles are "retro" is entirely backwards, they are just OLD. Retro games would be modern games that look or are styled on old games, rather noticeable on the indie development scene where a lot of games are made with more fresh looking graphics and slight game play modifications, but ultimately are new games that look old. Whether intentionally looking that way or through limitation of the programmers abilities (not to say they're incompetent, but just lack the resources to produce their vision). Few games these days ARE retro, these are games made in recent memory that deliberately use old graphics, audio processes etc, to make an old looking, old styled and old ambience within a game. These games are the true retro, not banding around the word like it's some sort of fashionable shield to defend that these people don't have the current systems and games and claiming that liking old stuff makes them "retro". It doesn't. It makes you someone who likes OLD stuff.

Retro City Rampage, is a game that is just as retro as you could actually get. A modern game, using antiquated graphics imitation (new but looks old). Plays like an old game, looks and sounds like an old game but was coded and produced recently, is the exact definition of Retro in gaming. Anybody claiming retro for old games, is claiming it incorrectly, they're just old. That's not a bad thing in itself; liking old stuff isn't an issue (unless you're into granny porn but that's another problem in itself) and shouldn't be shunned or hushed down because it's old. But calling old stuff "retro” is just a smack in the mouth waiting to happen.

And before anyone asks, no, Duke Nukem Forever is not retro, it just took a long time to make and looks old.