Nick Daily has spent a life immersed in video games, and now he’s here to share his opinions on the state of the gaming world with you in Gaming w/Nick.
By Nick Daily
One of the first humps any new film lover runs into as they grow up is discovering that there are old movies worth watching. The limited technology involved and aged appearance of the medium can discourage younger viewers; we’ve all heard some kid say, “Black and white movies are boring.” Of course this is frustrating, but most people grow out of complaining about the lack of color in films.
Gaming requires a different approach, since advances in technology have not always translated to better aesthetics. About ten years after video games really took off, the industry hit a big reset button, switching from standard 2D sprite based games to 3D worlds. These changes were always bound to happen, as developers worked toward allowing players to explore more realistic landscapes instead of simple 2D planes. However, the third dimension came at a cost, and the pixel-perfect sprites of the early days were replaced with large textured polygons. Games went from looking sharp and small to stretched and blurred.
Showing a game from this early polygonal era is difficult, not only because newer games have gotten closer and closer to realistic lighting and textures, but also because there are older games that look much better. Pixel art gives games a timelessness that cannot be stripped away. So how do you show your eight-year-old cousin a Nintendo 64 game without him freaking out or losing interest at the sight of the low-quality graphics?
My game of choice in this situation is Banjo-Kazooie. Released in 1998, it is a game that, while definitely looking its age, continues to stand head and shoulders above many other games from the same time. And while graphics are an element of its longevity, it is its art direction and game design that have truly allowed it to age so well.
Banjo-Kazooie tried a different graphical style than other games at the time. Games like Goldeneye 007 are graphical pushers, where the developers have seen the capabilities of 3D environments and attempted to create character models and images that are as “lifelike” as possible. The team behind Banjo-Kazooie went in an alternative direction. The game has no traditional human characters, instead opting for a number of animals and other assorted inanimate objects to round out its cast.
By focusing less on humanoid appearances, the designers use the limited amounts of polygons for the characters to define their personalities and make them stand out. Take Banjo for example: he has no hard edges, and the focal point of his body is his nose, which, instead of rounding off, sits atop his long snout of a face. Does he look like a bear? This is debatable. But he does look like Banjo, and trying to make a more “realistic” bear would take away from his personality.
The game also has amazing level design. It can give you an expansive world to explore, but it only takes a quick look around to get your bearings in any given area. In a smaller world, like Mumbo’s Mountain, the design still impresses, as you realize that the world is segmented into the uphill and downhill areas, and the termite mound in the center gives you a focal point and a constant reference to where you are.
Other levels are built with this dual structure mentality. Mad Monster Mansion is essentially divided into indoor areas and outdoor areas, while Rusty Bucket Bay can be divided into “on the boat,” or “off the boat.” These distinctions in these levels help to make exploration easier, and allow you to compartmentalize how much of the world you want to take on.
The game also radiates a charming tone; it is filled with distinct personalities and sharp writing like the sharp jokes that Kazooie cracks at the expense of the other characters. The game’s engrossing personality extends even to the villain, Gruntilda, who takes a more active role in the adventure, dispensing insults and taunts as you wander around her castle, going from world to world. While she remains distant for most of the game, she is always present, and this makes taking her out at the end all the more sweet.
Replaying games from the past is a gamble. Just like gaming today, there is just as much if not more garbage than good games. Nostalgia also makes it difficult to look back objectively and pick games that have not only aged well, but that are still fun to play. There are of course many more than Banjo-Kazooie, but all these aging games are in danger of disappearing. As cartridges gather dust, and consoles become old enough to get a drink at the bar, the need to preserve and share these experiences only rises. So drag out your old consoles, blow into a cartridge, and show someone you care about how much these old games mean to you.