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Console War Re-Enactors

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Does anyone else who make video games for old consoles feel like they're role playing as game developers in 1983? Because there's a fantasy element in supporting a system that's been long dead. There's no practical reason to make a game for a system that's been obsoleted many times over, but then again, there's no practical reason to go to a Renfaire, or to participate in a Civil War re-enactment.


We're playing out a hypothetical scenario... what if we were directly involved in the game industry during its early years? How would our games compete against what was available at the time? Could we have made an impact on the market, and on gaming history? I feel that part of the thrill of classic game design comes from injecting yourself into a world that no longer exists... a world you didn't get to experience first hand.


Of course, what we can do with these systems NOW is far beyond what would have been possible in 1983. We've got development tools and technologies that just weren't available to game designers forty years ago. Eight megabit ColecoVision games and 2600 games with a voice synthesizer and an extra CPU in the cartridge would have been the stuff of science fiction back then, but these peripherals are so simple by modern standards that they're almost trivial.


Is it cheating to make old games with new hardware? I suppose you could make that argument, but I honestly wouldn't want to be without these modern amenities. Games that would have taken a half year to finish in the old days can be made in a mere month, thanks to BASIC compilers and graphic tools like Aseprite. I wouldn't want to lose those conveniences for the sake of authenticity, even if I'm basically taking a laser gun to a musket fight.

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I highly doubt most old console developers are reenacting what it would be like to release their game bitd. The practical reason that they make games for these old systems is that to make a game that is comparable to other games on the system is an obtainable goal.


As you pointed out, development tools exist that make it easier to test your code. Frameworks exist that make it easier to bring a game from concept to playable demo. Also, the required amount of hours needed to make a game game for these old consoles is considerably less than what would be necessary for a 32-bit or 16-bit game systems.


Genesis - 4Mb

SNES - 6Mb

Neo Geo - 100+ Mb

Jaguar - 6Mb

N64 - 64Mb

PSX- 300 - 500Mb


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Posted (edited)

I never really thought about it, but when I play modern homebrews, I guess I do play them that way--as if they're up against their BITD rival systems. Vectrex and 7800 have become real console-war competitors too--with how they've blown up in both quality and quantity after their natural lifespans.


Not really on topic, but if I had a time machine I'd go back 20 years ago just to mess with past-reaperman.

I'd tell him, 'yeah, in a few years that old 7800 on the shelf really starts doing something.' 

That'd probably mess him up more than back-to-the-future dating his mom.

Edited by Reaperman
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Well fair or not I specifically look at what comes out on the formats I still have and gauge it off the known higher quality releases of the period for that platform.


Because of this unfair or not, not that I care if it is to the developer, it's my money... most of them I find just unacceptable.  Unacceptable on the level of the unlicensed cheap jank that (easy to stick to NES here) say Bunch Games, Color Dreams, AVE and others pushed in the day which were a mixed bag of mediocrity to downright bugged out and/or badly designed crap.  Usually leaning into poor design choices is what I find, not being just a broken game or a bug pit.  Another I tend to not enjoy is the myth of Nintendo hard and trying to match the myth (vs reality) or worse one upping it.  People used to spooge their guts about Battle Kid but I felt that was a bad game, largely because it tried to be the nastiest perfectionist run needed to make some micro-advancement forward.  Then you'd have others people at NA would love in the era like Assimilate that UFO alien abduction horizontal shooter of sorts...for what it was, it was ok, but it was pretty stiff, handled like a B-tier(higher end) turd from an unlicensed company as it had rough edges so also...not a fan.  Yet whether it was a port/remake or something unique,  you do get those rarer gems that come along totally worth it, quite on the level of what should have been licensed decads ago.  KHAN(Games) did something like that.  On one side, the conversion of Leisure Suit Larry 1 is just stunning, so incredibly well done, yet you have something like Study Hall which feels like an earlier almost black box era game simple in design but quality all the way through that handles smooth like a good game should.


These days now you have game maker platforms for NES, Gameboy, and a few others, where if you can figure out the overly complicated tools and navigate them, you can use templates to make a number of games.  Those can be more generic unless you get into re-coding bits if you're into that to get a unique output.  Many of them seem to survive off designing a quality story/experience since the mechanics the system handles so you can either take it or leave it on those.  The problem is for me I have experienced enough (15~) years of homebrew where most feel like C-quality graded high school computer class junk with lots of bugs, poor design choices, weird soft locks that I'm largely put off the format on the whole unless they prove themselves otherwise as this point.

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  • 2 weeks later...

It's an interesting idea but no not really. When I make a Fairchild Channel F game (between 1-4kb usually) it takes me about 3 days for each game when I'm focused. I'm curious how long it took the original developers because on a modern system I can assemble (find out where I went really wrong), and then load it into an emulator in less than 15 seconds, so I can afford to break the game and use trial and error to get it right. I imagine it was much longer back then to do the same thing to test things, and knowing what my dad said about compiling code in the 70s, you tended to like getting most of it done right first time and just look for errors that might occur.


So I'm in a privileged position, I can copy paste code that works in new games in seconds, I can have something working by the end of the day, and I can afford to go away from it for 6 months and jump back in when I feel like it. Would some of my games be better than the original released games? Possibly, well maybe a little bit more competitive Vs the 2600 but then I also have the benefit of time and having things to compare.


I also have the advantage of all the other developers who have shared things along the way, it took me about 3 years to understand assembly enough to make a homebrew, as it was a completely foreign language to me. If it wasn't for those other developers, I wouldn't be able to do any of it at all. I'm amazed by the arcade ports to the 2600, and I'm proud of what I've been able to achieve, but for me it's about pushing the limits of the technology or pushing what could be considered good gameplay. The Fairchild channel F was designed as a microchip seller, not a video game console, and a lot of it's games is very cheesy in the sense they are hardware programmer type games, not arcade style games. That's why the 2600 really won out, it's not just the number of colours it could display, it's games were actually fun to play.


In that sense, I feel no competitiveness against 2600 developers, or other chan F developers, I see us as independent but also collaborating with each other to make better games for everyone's enjoyment.

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