Tuesday 7 October 2008

The Great Console Divide

First of all, apologies for website downage. It appears that I don’t know quite as much about web domain management as I thought I did. I think it’s also fair to say that I don’t know as much about the internal workings of the shrew as I thought I did. Although I don’t think I actually care too much about the latter. Usual service will be resumed shortly. Anyway…

I love old games. Personages that frequent these pages will know that by now. In fact, they probably know that to death. However, there is something that I have only just started to understand, and I’m going to share it with you today.

When I was growing up, I loved taking trips to the local (and not so local) arcades. I loved playing games that only cost 20p in my youth. I really got my money’s worth, because a lot of these games I could play for a lot longer than the usual five minutes that most people seemed to get out of them. I loved going back again and again, to get a better time, a better score, to progress further into the game or in most cases, feed an addiction. But I was not a big games console player. I was never taken with the ubiquitous Atari 2600. The games were just too basic for my liking. I remember being impressed by the Nintendo Entertainment System, but not enough to warrant the purchase of one. Considering what a Segaphile I am, I didn’t even really take to the Mastersystem until I decided that I wanted something less irritating that my old C64.

For me, there was always a big, big difference between an arcade game and it’s home console counterparts. An arcade game was quick, simple, punchy. A five minute blast for the paltry sum of (usually) considerably less than a pound. The only way I could put up with the rubbish that came out for the 8-bit era was by telling myself that these seriously chopped down, simplified excuses for games were to serve as a reminder of the superior coin-op games while I was unable to visit them. Final Fight, for one had a very turbulent time in the home console conversion. The C64 version was rubbish. The Spectrum version was worse. The NES version employed stupid childish graphics. The Amstrad version was a graphical travesty. The Amiga version was unplayable. Even the Super NES version was missing a character until an expansion pack was released at additional cost! I could never understand why. Sure, the arcade cabinets may have cost like ten times more than the average home games console of the time, but the games that were released were in many cases unforgivably poor, unless they were specifically designed for the machine in question.

Now, I am a regular viewer of the works of James Rolfe, AKA the Angry Video Game Nerd and it’s nice to know that I’m not alone in this. It is true, as much as a lot of die-hard fans will defend these old games until their dying breath, a lot of these portals to the past are really under par. Nowadays, console and computer games are so good, that the arcade is dying. But how did this industry get to this point when it was built on such weak foundations?

I personally believe that it’s due to the fact that you would pay up o £1 to play an arcade game, and if it was not good, you didn’t play it again. Games that were rubbish in the arcade didn’t generate much revenue, and were quickly replaced with something better. But for me, spending a few 20p pieces from my weekly allowance was not a lot of money to sacrifice – but buying a computer or console game was. Therefore, in the days before shops like Game let you return your games after 10 days if you didn’t like them, and swap them in for money or a different game, when you bought a game, you were stuck with it. When your only income was £5 a week, this was a big investment. And if it was crap, tough luck. Therefore in order to justify the expenditure, you would play it to death out of principle, probably knocking years off your young life out of total stress. But that did not bother the likes of Atari or Nintendo. You had bought the game, they had made their money and we were the ones that lost out. I entered the world of gaming towards the end of the 8-bit era, thankfully – and was truly wooed by the speedy blue spiky one. Since then, for me at least, there has been no looking back. Well, only looking back to a certain point, anyway.

- Galford.

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