This article was published on the "Gamecentral" area of the Metro Newspaper's website on 13th May 2011 here.
The following is the original article that I submitted.
The recent discussion in the Inbox about classic games and how the 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, yet some contributors couldn't "get into it".
The gameplay remains the same as it was back when it was released, as is true of any game. But if any gameplay elements that it introduced were adopted by later games, 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if there were gameplay mechanics that became an industry standard after the release, the game can seem even more out of date.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 Halo (2001), it certainly did become infinitely more popular afterwards. It's not only a mechanic, either - it is a tool for level design. If you are used to the mechanics and the design decisions that they bring, then a game lacking this will seem particularly old.
However, I can enjoy even older games with even more basic graphics - for example, Little Big Adventure (1994). Why is it that, despite being 4 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 aesthetics of the games. Half-Life is meant to look realistic, but Little Big Adventure looks more like a cartoon.
As technology improves, games look more and more realistic. Though this makes games more impressive on a technical level, and can make them more immersive now, it also means that anything that strives for realism will look horribly old when the next generation of graphical technology arrives.
The games that instead opt for a stylized 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 it's 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 5 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 aesthetics. If Little Big Adventure were released today, it would sell poorly due to the talking elephants, rather than being honoured due to its surprisingly dark tale of Stalin-esque oppression and genocide. 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!)