You Know You’re Playing An ’80s Game When…
The release of Ubisoft’s Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon has given us cause to revisit the 1980s, a decade in which childhood summers seemed to last for months, SodaStream tasted better than Coca-Cola because you put the bubbles in it yourself and completing your Panini sticker album required endless rounds of swapsies with your friends. There were also a host of telltale video game conventions to be observed – some we miss, others not so much.
…You Can Save The World With Just A Couple Of Buttons
Game controllers were once exemplary pieces of minimalist design. You could save a princess, master a sport, defend the Earth and help a frog to cross the road with no more than a button or two. The skill was in how you played the game not whether you could contort your fingers and your mind around an assortment of bumpers, knobs and gyroscopic nonsense. Individually, the buttons did something cool, while pressing them both at the same time was guaranteed awesome.
…You’re Spending Your Time Playing, Not Watching Cutscenes
Once upon a time you could learn everything you needed to know about your character’s background and motivations by reading the back of the game box. Developers didn’t feel the need to prefix their game with 10+ minutes of poorly scripted, non-interactive exposition. You jumped right-in and got on with the serious business of delivering those papers, killing those aliens and Shinobi-ing-up the place.
…The Box Art Is Terrible
’80s video games had a lot going for them but the packaging was not was not one of their strong points. Haughty exclamations of “State-of-the-Art High Resolution Graphics” and hopeful tag-lines promising “All the Arcade Action” were accompanied by bandana-wearing macho men or a picture of a lone plane or helicopter. Arguably the worst offender was SEGA, with its blue and white graph-paper-style Master System boxes that looked as though a school child had become bored and doodled in their exercise book.
…Part Of The Fun Is Whether The Game Will Load
A legitimate part of the fun of the cassette tape games of the ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64 was A) betting Pick ‘n’ Mix sweets with your friends over how high the tape-counter would get before the game loaded and B) deciding how long to leave it before acknowledging that the game had crashed. It was a popular parental axiom of the era that if you wanted to teach your child the value of anticipation over instant gratification you buy them a cassette tape personal computer. True story.
…You Pay One Price and Get A Whole Game
The internet has brought us many wonderful innovations and means we now seldom have to venture outside for entertainment, gratification or information unless we really want to. Unfortunately, it has also opened the door to the nefarious notion of selling our games to us piecemeal in the form of shoddily packaged downloadable content. There was a time when all the horse armour, pretty outfits and playable characters you could ever want came included on the cartridge to be unlocked via dedicated play or quick-fix cheat codes.
…The Amusement Arcade Is THE FUTURE
The best thing about family holidays was wandering into an amusement arcade with pockets full of change and eyes full of wonder. Arcades offered a shady retreat from the midday sun filled with a cacophony of electronic noise and myriad brightly lit screens, all vying for your attention. Some let you pilot an X-wing and take down the Death Star while the likes of Gauntlet allowed a staggering total of four players to team-up to raid dungeons – “Wizard shot the food!” Stupid wizard.
…You Win Or You Lose, There Is No Save
Quick Save, Auto Save, Save and Quit: it’s little wonder that kids’ attention spans are getting shorter. Arranging falling blocks and gobbling-up dots was once considered serious enough business that it couldn’t be postponed just because you had to visit the grandparents or go to bed. You sat and played for hours-on-end until you either saved the world or you didn’t. Now, games bleat at us every 15 minutes to “take a break and go outside” but in the 1980s you had to pry a kid’s Power Glove out of their sweaty little hands to get them to stop.
…It Makes Sense That Your Character Doesn’t Speak
When games were the size of modern-day email attachments it made sense that none of the characters spoke actual audible words. Truth be told we didn’t need them to; we read the back of the box, we read the manual and we read the words on the screen. Now we have a strange mismatch of Hollywood stars rattling through pages of dialogue while your character remains mute throughout. Link must’ve really seen some terrible things to still be struck dumb after all these years.
…The Game Goes On Forever (Kind Of)
If you measure value for money in terms of hours of gameplay then the games of the ’80s could be considered the cream of the crop. Pac-Man, Galaga, Space Invaders, Centipede, Donkey Kong, Tetris: all were games that could theoretically last forever as they had no programmed end and, mercifully, no final boss. Unfortunately, a range of issues that often involved internal counters and messy 8-bit integer overflows frequently meant that the game came crashing to an end anyway, unceremoniously ending that hard-fought high-score run.
…The Tutorial Consists Of Reading The Manual
Want to know how to play the game you just spent all your pocket money on? Read The Flippin’ Manual! Unsure how to use that cool new power-up? Read The Frakking Manual! Can’t work out why Little Mac keeps getting knocked on his ass by Mike Tyson? READ THE F****** MANUAL! This method worked just fine for all of us until someone decided that we were all too stupid to read the manual and that the start of every game should be given over to a lengthy tutorial. It was probably the same person who thought cut scenes were a good idea.
If that’s got you feeling nostalgic for a bygone, neon-tinged time, check out our feature You Know You’re Watching an ’80s Movie When.
Stace Harman is a freelance contributor to IGN and is convinced that zombies will one day inherent the Earth. You can follow him on Twitter.
By Stace Harman