Instruction manuals these days suck. They really, really do. Aside from a handful of holdouts, the industry at some point over the last few years decided that instruction manuals were a needless expense that could be removed. A few developments shoulder the responsibility for this unfortunate state of affairs. The digital distribution revolution, where games are increasingly being delivered over the internet, means the instruction manual has to either come as a separate file (which almost no one will ever bother opening) or be removed altogether which, in turn, has affected physical counterparts. However, the lion's share of the blame can be attributed to changes in game design. Increasingly, the instructions that used to be part of the manual are now handled by in-game tutorials, making the manual somewhat redundant. As a result, most modern instruction manuals are now little more than leaflets, a few pages long at most, that go over common technical issues. Some games have stopped including them altogether.
Overall, the loss of instruction manuals isn't exactly a major development, but it's still a shame because old instruction manuals had character! Yes, the bulk of the manual was always boring stuff on controls, game mechanics, and warnings not to store your games in a toaster, which I'm pretty sure no one ever read, but the authors always made attempts to keep things interesting, usually by including things like an intro story (in an era where many games didn't have one of those), hints and tips, pictures and descriptions of levels, enemies, and bosses (offering a tantalizing glimpse of the things you hadn't reached yet if you were playing a particularly hard game) and some minor trivia on the in-game universe (did you know that the Sunken Ship in Super Mario World is actually an airship from Super Mario Bros. 3 that crashed into the sea? You would if you'd read the instruction manual!).
As a sweeping generalization, Nintendo games always had the best instruction manuals; Sega tended to cheap out and use black-and-white paper versions (or, in the Sega Master System days, blue-and-white), a practice Sony sporadically copied in with their PS1 games (and they had to print out tiny instruction manuals so as to fit them in a CD jewel case), whereas Nintendo pretty much always went with full colour glossy. Some games went whole-hog and made their instruction manuals a product unto themselves. The Lunar games for PS1 both included full colour hardcover instruction manuals, and the Kings Quest "instruction manuals" were largely composed of in-universe stories (sometimes with solutions to puzzles enclosed within for the sharp-eyed).
That almost never happens anymore and, minor though it may be, that makes me sad, probably because an oddly endearing memory of mine is eagerly reading through the instruction manual for every new game purchase to distract myself from the drive home (those instruction manuals were probably the only reason why I didn't leap out the car window and sprint the rest of the distance to my house the first time we pulled up to a red light).
Pardon me if this entire entry comes off as hipster ranting, but I'll open things up by saying that I was into gaming before it was cool. Back when I got into the hobby, it was something that was more or less the exclusive domain of nerds; gaming had a stigma about it that more or less labelled any self-admitted gamer as either an awkward, glasses-and-pocket-protector-wearing preteen boy, or an anti-social recluse who probably lived in his mother's basement. Yeah, our PR kind of sucked.
But over the last 10-15 years, gaming has slowly but steadily been dragged into the mainstream of pop culture. Gaming's adherents now number in the hundreds of millions; it is a hobby that has seen an absolutely explosive level of growth in only a decade's time. Gaming has expanded to virtually every demographic imaginable. There are games targeted at grade school kids, sports fans, sci-fi geeks, fantasy nerds, music enthusiasts, strategists, adrenaline junkies - you name an interest, there's probably a game for it.
And while that may be good for business, it's also kind of sad for the hobby, because in expanding to cover so many different bases, gaming lost a piece of its identity. Calling yourself a "gamer" used to mean you were part of a club, an exclusive group of people with a mutual shared interest. That label now covers a group of people so broad, it no longer really has any meaning. Just because you and your co-worker both identify as "gamers" doesn't mean that you share even remotely similar tastes in games.
Gamers used to have a degree of solidarity, because this was a hobby you could literally be beat up for having. That solidarity still exists (if you don't believe me, head to a video game message board any time a high-profile politician suggests that video games be restricted or banned), but not to the degree it used to. As a result, new gamers will never fully understand the sense of community that gaming once had, when it was still just a few nerds hanging out in a basement together.
#8: Cheat Codes
A somewhat unexpected casualty of the relentless advance of time, cheat codes are a once-common feature from the older days of gaming that are now almost completely extinct (to be clear, I'm not talking about unlockables or Easter Eggs here, but honest-to-goodness, press-a-sequence-of-buttons-on-the-title-screen codes). Cheat codes first became common in the NES years and enjoyed a renaissance in the SNES/Genesis era. Back then, codes could be just as famous as the games they featured in. It is a testament to their enduring legacy that even now, almost two decades later, I can still remember various codes from "back in the day." There was Donkey Kong Country's BARRAL code (50 lives), Mortal Kombat's ABACABB (the Blood Code, a way to dodge censorship available on the Genesis version only) and, of course, the classic Konami Code - up up down down left right left right b a start (a variety of effects, but first rose to prominence with Contra, where it gave 30 lives).
Cheat codes back then could be a lot of fun. Some simply gave you a better chance to beat an otherwise impossibly difficult game. The good ones unlocked new, otherwise-unattainable secrets and expanded the gaming experience. An few just gave odd, humorous cosmetic changes, in case you ever wanted to watch stormtroopers do a dancing line behind their imperial officer in Rebel Assault.
As gaming moved into the PS1/N64 era, cheat codes were still around, but they started to dwindle in number. Some games made fantastic use of cheat codes (Banjo Kazooie and the Stop n' Swap codes come to mind), but overall this is the era where studios really put the brakes on cheats. As games became less "idle pastime" and more "in-depth adventure", developers didn't want gamers blazing through their carefully constructed creation too quickly. By the time the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox years rolled around, only a few holdouts remained.
Today, in the world of extreme connectivity, of online leaderboards and achievements and trophies (and the fact that companies now use these features as metrics to determine how good of a customer you are), there simply isn't any room for cheat codes anymore. The hypercompetitive nature of modern gaming means that cheat codes are now effectively a permanent relic of the past.
Well... that's not entirely true. Some of the bonuses - mostly cosmetic - once granted by cheat codes are still around, only now we have to pay for them. In one of the more insulting developments of the last few years of gaming, Downloadable Content (DLC) has moved in and taken over several of the roles once served by cheat codes. Remember "infinite money" codes? Namco will sell you 300,000 gald (in-game currency) in their "Tales of" series of games for only $4.49! Maybe you preferred the fast-firing, super-powered weapons codes? EA's got you covered - Dead Space 3 allows you to buy damage and speed upgrades for various guns for a few bucks apiece. What about those codes that had your characters dress up in goofy costumes? Those are all over the place as paid DLC these days. Probably the most egregious offender is Capcom who, in Street Fighter III: Third Strike, offered you two different purchases of $3 each just to change the colours of the characters (that's the thing you used to be able to do in fighting games by pressing "Start" instead of "A" when selecting your character).
So I guess in the future we'll be able to regale our children with stories of the days where you could play games without having to pay extra for the goofy, nonsensical crap.
#7: Gaming Magazines
Another casualty of the internet, gaming magazines are a particularly awesome piece of history that were once an essential part of gaming life. For those who weren't around back then, once upon a time news was not ferried to you at the speed of light over online websites and social media; instead, the stories were carefully transcribed onto bits of dead trees and placed in stores where gamers actually had to spend money to read them. Crazy, I know, but it happened - I was there.
Gaming magazines were one of the first casualties of the internet, and I don't just mean within gaming. The early internet was the domain of the techno-geek, a demographic that overlapped heavily with the gamer sect. As a result, gaming culture moved online much faster than many other hobbies. By the time newspapers and some other hobby magazines were starting to feel the pinch from an increasingly digital culture, several major gaming publications had already been forced to close their doors, and most of the rest would join them in the years afterwards. There were some holdouts (Nintendo Power actually kept going until 2012, publishing a particularly awesome final issue in December) but gaming magazines pretty much died a quick, bloody death in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Gaming magazines provided the same services that are now handled by popular websites - today's GameFAQs, Escapist, and Kotaku were yesterday's Electronic Gaming Monthly, Game Informer, and Nintendo Power. Magazines detailed upcoming releases, carried interviews with developers, published gossip and rumours from within the industry, and, of course, had huge sections on reviews, walkthroughs, and cheat codes for newly released games. In an era where you couldn't look up a metacritic score, these were the publications you trusted to tell you whether or not a game was any good.
The internet, of course, does all that and more and is certainly much more convenient (not to mention free). But there was something intangibly awesome about gaming magazines that websites will probably never be able to fully capture. I think a lot of it came from the fact that because news wound up being published in monthly cycles (and even then, only in limited amounts), the small tidbits that made their way to the gaming public were valued that much more. Every new scrap of information about an upcoming game or console was the cause for breathless excitement. It's a far cry from today where we have 24/7 reporting on even the most mundane aspects of development. And while I wouldn't want to go back to having gaming news published exclusively offline, it remains a fun little memory for those who lived through the era.
Yes, there are console wars today but, in my entirely unbiased and not at all affected by nostalgia opinion, none will ever compare to the console war that started them all. Console wars today are relatively tame affairs; barring the odd snipe or in-game joke, the Big Three largely avoid anything so confrontative as acknowledging each others' existence. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft aren't shy about blowing their own horns and touting their successes, as any large corporation is wont to do, but - with only a few notable exceptions - they conspicuously avoid taking more than the occasional pot-shot at one another.
It wasn't always like this. Earlier this year, during Microsoft's disastrous reveal of the Xbox One, Sony quickly capitalized on the ensuing mayhem by releasing a clever tongue-in-cheek video explaining how to share games on the PS4 (by handing them to the person next to you). Some gaming media outlets expressed shock that Sony would so blatantly twist the knife in Microsoft's self-inflicted wound. Indeed, an attack that direct is a rarity these days, but back in the SNES/Genesis era, that would have been business as usual.
Prior to the SNES's launch in 1990, there never was a true console war. Oh sure, there were multiple consoles out, but there was always a clear leader (Atari 2600 in the 70's and early 80's, and the NES in the mid-to-late 80's) and the rest were made to fight over table scraps. But when the Genesis hit the scene, for the first time ever there was a legitimate contest to see which console would come out on top.
It is difficult to explain to anyone who didn't live through the era just how big of a fued this console war was. Understand that, unlike literally every other generation of gaming consoles, there was no clear leader in the SNES/Genesis war (at least initially - the two consoles traded sales leads for a few years before the SNES finally pulled ahead towards the end of the generation) and Sega was determined to wrest the market from Nintendo's grasp, going so far as to hire celebrities like Michael Jackson to endorse their console (note: In 1990, this was a big deal). Back then it was also not common for gamers to own more than a single console, so the gaming community wound up substantially more polarized than it is in modern day. Moreover, Sega and Nintendo were not afraid to take jabs at one another. "Genesis does what Nintendon't" was one of the catchphrases used to market the Sega's console; meanwhile, Nintendo saw fit to include Sega mascot Sonic's shoes in a "No Hopers" section of their hit game Donkey Kong Country 2. The companies' respective mascots, Mario and Sonic, forged one of the most iconic pop-culture rivalries of the 90s.
It was juvenile and antagonistic and it also happened to be completely awesome. You were either on Team Nintendo or Team Sega and you were more or less required by law to hate the other guys. And, thanks to the changing gaming landscape, a rivalry like this is pretty much impossible to conjure up in the modern era. First of all there's the issue of there being three competitors today instead of just two, which sort of wrecks the "us vs. them" mentality. Gaming, and its fanbase, have also grown older and matured, which makes this sort of name-calling a bit less attractive these days. However, probably the biggest reason we will never see another Nintendo vs. Sega is the fact that it's now extremely common for gamers to own more than one console, which means many gamers have a vested interest in more than one of the console manufacturers. It's hard to be a fanatically loyal supporter of one team when you happen to be fraternizing with their rivals.
Yes, we still have the fanboys, but - contrary to how it may seem sometimes - gaming isn't, and never will be, quite as much of a battleground as it was back then.
As a rough approximation, 100% of all games today have an online aspect to them, including those which really don't need it. It's more or less expected these days that gamers be able to access some form of content online, from free gifts to multiplayer modes, and rare is the game which cannot connect online for SOME contrived reason. It's gotten so bad that offline multiplayer modes are becoming a rarer and rarer thing (a significant loss, in my humble opinion). Being able to connect online and play with people across the globe is as normal to the gamers of today as being able to save a game (another feature that gamers of yore used to do without).
Part of me misses the days when online gaming was a novelty, not because I particularly enjoyed having to wrestle with an intermittent dialup connection to try and play Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight with a friend (until someone picked up the phone and RUINED EVERYTHING!!!), but because the mere act of doing such a thing was so incredibly mind-blowing. You felt almost like a bold pioneer, exploring digital horizons that had yet to be fully realised by the unwashed masses. The possibilities of online gaming - the very concept that you and a friend could both be playing the same game at the same time despite the fact you were in separate houses - was the most amazing thing ever invented by human hands, easily beating out penicillin and the concept of reason.
New gamers will never have that sensation. The internet will always be "normal" to them, a completely common and predictable experience that's in no way novel or innovative.
Arcades were, in a very real sense, the cradle of gaming. Long before home consoles were a thing or computers had fancy peripherals like mice and graphics, arcades were the hub of gaming subculture, the second home of gaming's small-but-faithful fanbase.
"Real" arcades are rare today and even the ones that do exist are a pale imitation, a mere shadow of their former selves. Back in the 80s and early 90s, arcades were an odd amalgamation of night club, casino, and sports bar for the under-18 crowd. No mall was complete without a resident arcade; the bigger ones had three or more. Some arcades were even successful enough to be standalone buildings. They tended to be low-lit (the better to accentuate the glow of the arcade cabinets) and noisy, the beeps-and-boops of the games accentuated by the clink of quarters/tokens tumbling into the metal trays of the change machines and punctuated by the excited yelps of gamers.
Arcades were, for a time, the nerve centre of gaming subculture. In the pre-internet days, this is where information was traded, grudges were settled, and pecking orders were established. Like a nerdier version of Cheers, every arcade had its character ensemble that was more or less consistent, regardless of the arcade's physical location in the world. You had the pinball wizards, who were constantly hunched over the pinball tables, expertly nudging and bumping the machine to keep the ball in play without triggering the tilt sensor; you had the guys who were freakishly good at fighting games, deftly pulling off insane comboes in an era where few people even knew the button combination to any special moves; and you had the one kid (and it was *always* a kid, usually around 9 years old) who walked around with $150 worth of quarters in his pockets, deftly feeding them into the machines until whatever game he was playing lost the endurance match and rewarded him with an almost never-seen end screen (if you ever made friends with this kid, you could count on spending an hour and a half playing a single game).
Arcades held strong until the mid-90s, when they experienced a fatal one-two punch. The first major blow to gaming was the continued improvement of home consoles. Consoles already took some of the lustre off of arcades when they first launched, since you could play in the comfort of your own home and didn't have to feed a quarter into an NES every few minutes to keep playing. However, for gaming's entire history up until that point, arcades could always boast that their games were superior. Home console games inevitably had worse graphics, poorer sound, less interesting presentation, and were never able to replicate the full arcade experience. But as gaming moved into the Playstation/Saturn/N64 era, home consoles not only started to surpass arcade games in their quality (with arcade versions looking worse than the home ports, rather than the other way around), they also began offering consistently longer and more engaging products compared to previous eras of gaming.
The second, somewhat more insidious strike against arcades was the internet, which supplanted the arcade as the favoured meeting place for gamers worldwide. Where gamers could previously only hold "meetings of the mind" outside Wizard's Castle (or any number of other creatively-named arcades), now the internet provided a convenient and free forum for them to share ideas and discuss their hobby.
Arcades never recovered. Today arcade cabinets are still around, tucked into the back of bars and airports, but the full establishment is a rare thing indeed. And it's a shame because the old arcades really had a lot of character to them that new gamers will largely have to miss out on.
You may have noticed a theme in this article and that theme can more or less be summed up as "the internet changed everything." It, directly or indirectly, contributed to almost all of the other changes I've listed so far.
As with so many things, the internet completely redefined gaming. The digital revolution has had effects on our hobby that are still sorting themselves out. There are the obvious changes, of course - back before the internet, there was no such thing as DLC, no digital distribution, no online leaderboards, no Xbox Live or PSN or Steam or Origin or battle.net. Always-online controversies, like the ones surrounding Diablo III and SimCity, never happened and the DRM of the day didn't include online verification; conversely, piracy was a much smaller and more isolated issue (and the subject of hilarious anti-piracy campaigns like "don't copy that floppy").
But there are other, more subtle changes that the internet wrought upon the hobby. These days, help with a tricky part of a game is just a few clicks away; back before the internet, if you couldn't figure out a puzzle you either had to ask around your circle of gaming friends, bust for a guide, or throw your hands in the air and give up. It sounds miserable - and, in fact, it kind of was - but it also made actually completing a game a major accomplishment. There was no safety net in such tasks - you either figured things out for yourself or you never made it to the credit roll. Discovering glitches and secrets was another treasured pastime that has basically been ruined by the internet, since now you can count on every unlockable and hidden Easter Egg being codified in painstaking detail on a number of websites the day after the game launches.
Then there's the interconnectivity. The internet pulled together gamers and developers in a way never before possible. Depending on what you think of the comportment of gamers online, that may or may not be a good thing. While it allows gamers with intelligent feedback and creative ideas to communicate directly with the people making the game, I doubt anyone here would argue that "intelligent" and "creative" are not exactly the first descriptors that come to mind regarding the discussions that take place in many gaming forums.
Whether you consider increased internet connectivity to be something for good or for ill, it is something that has monumentally - and permanently - changed the face of our hobby and many experiences of pre-internet gaming, both good and bad, simply do not exist today and never will again.
For the last generation or two, we've reached the point of diminishing returns for graphics. Yes, games are constantly coming out that look better than the games of last year, but the amount by which they look better is constantly decreasing. We're rapidly heading for photorealism, that theoretical end point where graphics are so good they are completely indistinguishable from real life. But even if we never get there, we're now close enough that we'll never again see a real, appreciable jump in graphics. And that's sad.
Let me explain: one of the coolest parts about a new console coming out used to be the sudden leap in graphical capabilities. It was something that would provoke instant excitement from just about any gamer looking at them.
Gamers who lived through the 80s and 90s got to see a few major jumps. The Atari/NES to SNES/Genesis era was a pretty big one, with games going from "random collection of pixels" to "actually identifiable characters and backgrounds." Or the N64/PS1/Saturn to DC/GC/Xbox/PS2 jump, where suddenly those flat, blocky polygons that resembled Popeye as rendered in cubist-style origami became 3D models that actually looked somewhat like a real person (one of the Super Smash Bros. Melee trailers used this to great effect, comparing the models from the original game on the N64 to the Gamecube sequel - in some cases *cough*DK*cough* the differences were jaw-dropping).
Looking at screenshots used to be a great way to build up hype and excitement for a new console generation. Really, nothing more needed to be said: "Remember that character from that game you loved last generation? Here he is on our new console, except he looks roughly a billion times better. Now give us your money." But now? Go look at a PS4 or X1 preview and try to tell me the games look better, at a glance, than the current generation. Oh there are slight improvements to be sure, and there likely will be for some time yet, but not on the scale of what used to happen.
The excitement just isn't the same as it used to be.
Of all the things that new gamers will never get to experience, this one saddens me the most. To someone who never experienced gaming in the pre-N64/PS1 days, you cannot begin to imagine how absolutely incredible the jump to 3D was. It was, in my opinion, the single most momentous thing to ever happen to gaming.
In the SNES/Genesis days and prior, almost all gaming was 2D. Some pseudo-3D games had hit the scene, but most were mere 2.5D games where the character existed on a 2D plane and could move forward, back, up, down, and jump. But when the Playstation and N64 launched, suddenly everything changed.
Like many others, my first introduction to 3D gaming was Super Mario 64. And what an introduction! The opening cutscene, with a Latiku cameraman making a quick pass by the castle and then zooming in on Mario exiting a pipe, seems like a fairly mundane thing by today's standards; back when it came out, it was literally the most amazing thing to ever happen. The practice of wandering about in a true 3D environment left jaws on the floor. I know plenty of people who spent their first hour or more of the game outside the castle, just playing around in the courtyard and drinking in the idea of 3D gaming.
Over the years that followed, gamers waited with baited breath while, one by one, their favourite series made the jump into 3D. Some, like Zelda and Final Fantasy, became revered legends. Some took longer than others, with some industry legends like Metroid and Sonic actually waiting a full generation to get their first full 3D game (no, Sonic 3D Blast does not count). A few crashed and burned (Mega Man X7 anyone?) but, regardless of the timing or the quality, it was still an incredibly exciting time to be a gamer.
I doubt anything like that will ever happen again. Technology has advanced to the point where, if designers can dream it (and if the studios will fund it), a game can be made of it. The idea of any style of gameplay being impossible because the technology isn't there yet is now a thing of the past. And that's kind of sad, really, because it means all the frontiers have basically been explored now and new gamers will never again have that unique experience of seeing a whole new way to play the game opened up before their eyes.
Unless, of course, we get true Virtual Reality one of these days...
I guess the moral of this article is to treasure the memories of gaming that you forge, because you never know what the future will bring. Ours is amongst the most dynamic of all hobbies and what was there today may be a bygone relic tomorrow.
Hope you enjoyed the list!
List by darkknight109 (11/11/2013)
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