In this weekly feature, CheatCC contributing writer Steve Haske explores the rich history of video games, from notable and memorable games to important events in the industry, as viewed through the lens of gaming's contemporary standards, design, and culture.
In a recent podcast, I got into a discussion with a colleague over what constitutes being a nerd now that gaming has become, more or less, a legitimate pillar of pop-culture. The fact of the matter is that the line is no longer clear between gamer and non-gamer, if non-gamers even still exist. With the advent of the would-be casual revolution led by Nintendo over the past several years, the development of touchscreen gaming on portable devices, and the allegedly barrier-breaking peripherals like Kinect - which has yet to be a convincing arbiter of any game types besides fitness and dancing, anyone can be a gamer in 2011.
Think about your group of friends: almost all of them probably enjoy playing video games in some fashion, whether it's Farmville on Facebook or Tetris on their phone, Gears of War or old-school NES or arcade games. That last mention in particular has had an interesting and perhaps-near atomic influence on the industry in recent years. Whether you consider yourself a gamer or not, almost everyone has at least one memory of Super Mario Bros., Zelda, or old arcade favorites like Pac-Man, whether from personal experience or a peripheral encounter with their lasting legacies. (Nearly all, I would argue, fall into the former.)
Today, this has translated into a revival of retro-style games, which are actually pretty big business—companies like Capcom and Konami have released, if not as full-blown 2D sprite fests, retro-minded titles like Bionic Commando Rearmed and Hard Corps: Uprising (a long-lost sequel the Genesis' Contra: Hard Corps). Even Epic's Shadow Complex essentially plays like Super Metroid, albeit with a few current-gen design changes.
Then you have the demakes, purposefully recreated using generally 8-bit design and visuals: games like Mega Man 9 and 10 or Dark Void Zero, all of which are billed as "lost" 8-bit games rediscovered from the company archives (and the latter of which is ironically far superior to its bland HD cousin). That's not even counting modern retro games like Super Meat Boy, a tough-as-nails platformer, or Scott Pilgrim, which superimposes Bryan Lee O'Malley's unique vision of Toronto over the tried-and-true blueprints of an old-school brawler.
You even see games with more modern design sensibilities (or dare I say, post-modern) like the ingenious Half-Minute Hero, a game that literally presents the conceptual actions of an RPG in thirty-second chunks, going totally old-school with a clean, 8-bit look. The flipside to that is 3D Dot Game Heroes, equal parts shameless rip-off and loving homage to Zelda, which eschews 2D entirely for a three-dimensional representation of the NES's charmingly primitive pixellation and blockiness. You get the idea—retro is everywhere.