Weekly Discussion: Faux Retro

With smoother and shinier graphics appearing with every game that’s released these days it’s odd that we’re seeing the appearence of faux retro games. What do I mean by that? Well I mean titles like VVVVVV or Bit. Trip Beat, which take a deliberately pixel art style and 8-bit sound track to try and evoke the same feelings that retro games do, although this may not always be the only reason that the style’s chosen.

See the thing about blockbuster games is they cost money. A lot of money. Remember that scene in The Dark Knight where the Joker burned that huge pile of cash? That’s the kind of moolah we’re talking about when Activision go ‘Hey guys, we should probably make another Call of Duty game.’ A good chunk of the budget is spent on getting together large teams of artists and graphics programmers to make sure the game looks as good as it possibly can. Do you see where I’m going here?

Yes, sad as it is small developers don’t tend to have huge wads of cash lying about. If they did they wouldn’t really be a small developer. Of course developers can go and license the Unreal Engine or some other pre-existing software to try and make your game look pretty whilst saving on developing their own tools, or they can get creative. Personally I prefer the creative option, when indie developers stop trying something new and just fall in line with what the industry in general is doing it will be a sad day indeed.

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Now there’s a wide range of places that indie developers can and do go with graphics, but there does seem to be a few games that are falling into the faux retro style at the moment. Maybe part of that is to do with resurgence of retro gaming itself, just look at the re-releases that regularly pop up on XBLA and PSN. Hell the Wii has the Virtual Console which is dedicated to bringing classics to the current generation of gamers.

Of course there’s not really anything wrong with the faux retro style, and some titles use it fantastically. The super retro levels on Super Meat Boy are very enjoyable, although fiendishly difficult. VVVVVV may be one of the oddest titles I’ve played in recent years, but it does justice to the Comodore64 styling that it has adopted.

What are your thoughts on the growth of the faux retro style? Do you like these call backs to the early days of gaming, or would you rather that we looked to the future than the past? Do games that adopt this style really add anything new to the gaming gene-pool?

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14 Comments

  1. I don’t think they add a great deal to today’s games really. It seems they’re going backwards a bit, to me. The old games still exist & play perfectly fine, if I want to play retro, I’ll just go & play those, rather than buying something new which is meant to be old.

  2. I think the Scott Pilgrim game did it pretty nicely (also, typo – penultimate paragraph, first sentence – “Of course there’s not really anything with the faux retro style”).

  3. Just thought I’d say, this is a nice weekly discussion to tie in with the retro avatars running through the forums. I’d also like to say your retro TSA icon is done well too.

    For my 2 pence I’d have to say that graphics play a large part for me. Obviously they are not the be all and end all but when a game has unrivaled graphics it can blow me away. That’s not to say bad graphics put me off (though I was horrified at how bad MGS looks comparative to my memories of it).

    There’s always room for the retro style. People will always look at the nostalgic element of it and it can remind them of when games were solely judged on gameplay. I remember Nofi doing a article on this exact matter not too long ago. I share the view that often games with lesser graphics will have to up the ante when it comes to gameplay, as with Braid. What a superb game that was. That wasn’t hung up on looking new and carried a real sense of retro with it and ended up being one of the most incredible games in recent times.

  4. There are varying ways to look at this and varying shades of the definition. Visual and audio is the obvious one but three or four years ago people would have described side-on 2D fighting games as a thing of the past. That element of Street Fighter IV could be described as a call back to retro roots. And yet when the game was made, it shone more brightly because of that determination to work within the constraints of that, presumed-dead, viewpoint/mechanic.
    This shifting of definition can be applied to all sorts of genres. Did StarCraft II look likely after base-building RTS was thinned down to its bare bones over fifteen preceeding years? Does Duke Nukem Forever look like a modern FPS or does it look like its predecessor? Should these games be forgotten and not made because the trends have shifted away form their core?
    I would say the same thing goes for visuals too. Would VVVVV have been better if it was sculpted in beautifully textured polygonal 3D? Probably not but it would have been a lot more expensive and might never have seen the light of day because of that.
    Wow, that was quite a ramble. I suppose my summary would be this: It’s brilliant if it’s used in games for a reason and if those games are still allowed a chance to excel and expand on certain aspects but just pasting a faux retro filter over for a skin change is probably a bit pointless.

    • I was going to comment, but I agree 100%.

  5. Im with Gideon, the difficulty with faux retro games is that if they don’t come up with a new gameplay mechanic or add something new, then you might as well go out and actually get a retro game, probably cheaper and usually already own one anyway!

  6. This happens with every medium in which there are genres: Books, film, most notably fashion.

    There are themes which flow through stages of popularity, only to return when they’ve been away long enough for their core demographic to be a different generation than those that saw it the first time around.

    I’m looking forward to a generation without open-world games.

  7. I like to see a few brand new IPs using retro/8 bit graphics but some retro classics have been released each generation with little or no upgrading visually and i’m tired of paying for the exact same game each generation. These are games i like to see upgraded visually while retaining/enhancing the gameplay that won me over originally.

    • like sonic 4!

      • Yea. The Sonic games were and still are one of my favourites. If Sonic 4 used the old style graphics, I probably wouldn’t have bought it though. Its kept its side-scrolling element, but now its feels like there’s actually a background and foreground (and everything inbetween).

      • the graphics in sonic 4 were ok but the physics were way off, i know they probably used a proper physic engine for this game that wouldn’t have been possible on a megadrive, but it just didn’t play like a sonic game any more.

  8. I would love for Sony to open up a dedicated section of the PSN with old skool belters becoming available.

    I would be all over them….

  9. having grown up with these kind of games i can appreciate what they’re aiming for.
    personally i think the retro look is just as valid a style as any other, be it cell shaded, hyper realistic, trippy or any other kind of visual style.

    so long as the games are not just clones of the old games we played way back when and bring something those old games didn’t, or couldn’t, and most importantly, if they’re good games.
    get those two right and it doesn’t matter what style the game is.

    i do love the retro pixel style though. :)

  10. Looking polished = expensive to make
    Expensive to make = not willing to take a risk
    Not willing to take a risk = unoriginal

    If it looks like crap it’s more likely that they’ll be trying something new, instead of “Yet another FPS”. Big budget games are less likely to do something revolutionary, otoh you can pretty much know what to expect.

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