Why some old graphics are OK

I was thinking today about games that I can still play despite bad graphics. In my case, I’ve decided that I can put up with crappy graphics if I played the game when those graphics were considered at least decent. I think it might be the result of having learned the interface/units/etc. at the time. Now, I don’t want to figure out unintuitive interfaces and what some blob is supposed to represent. Let me give some examples to clarify:

I am replaying M&M6. The graphics are really bad compared to today, but I don’t mind at all. In fact, I find them strangely attractive. Similarly, I can play Master of Magic, despite practically hideous graphics by today’s standards. Again, I played this back in the day and loved it.

However, I now own a copy of Darklands (CD version, thank God!). When I try to play it, it just looks assy. I can’t stand it, and I can’t figure out the interface for fighting and such. Also, I’ve tried to play X-Com several times, and I just don’t get very far. I can see that it’s a cool game, but I can’t seem to play it and enjoy it. I missed both these games when they came out, and now I can’t seem to play them.

So for me, some older games are just fine, despite their graphics, but apparently only if I played them near when they came out and am now replaying them. Otherwise, I can’t get over how bad they look. Is this just me, or do others feel the same way?

2 D usually ages well, maybe because it has not been much developped beyond the SNES/386 era, maybe because it’s more iconic and simple. On the other end, I have a very hard time with the first gen of 3 D games, especially those with blurry textures… I’m looking at you Ocarina Of Time.

I just don’t understand this, “I won’t play that RPG because the graphics are old. Or the characters have big heads and small bodies.” It’s like saying, “I won’t go watch that Shakespeare production because all the women are being played by teenage boys.” A good game is about the story and the action.

I feel pretty much the same way. I know I’ve tried to play some of the old classics that I missed when they first came out (Ultima Underworld, for example) but I just can’t get past the graphics and the interface. But then I can load up another game from the same era (Ultima 7, for example) and have absolutely no problem hopping into that. That could be the difference between old 2D and old 3D, but I’ve found that it applies to pretty much across the board. I can’t play Final Fantasy III, but I still absolutely adore Secret of Mana.

You know, I probably wouldn’t go watch a Shakespeare production if it was all played by teenage boys.

Immersion is a large part of any narrative production, be it a play, book, movie and especially games. Bad graphics, or teenagers in drag, can be a significant barrier for that immersion.

However, that’s not really the point of this discussion. The point is that we can still play some of the old games with bad graphics because we played them when they were new. It’s jumping into old games for the first time that’s difficult.

I’m definitely becoming less of a graphics whore in my “old” (30) age. I’ve spent more time this year playing PS1 games than 360 games. Good art direction and style are becoming much more important to me. Many 2D games still hold up very well in this department, and I think a lot of the stylized games from last gen (Paper Mario 2, Sly Cooper, Sands of Time, Wind Waker, etc) will visually age much better than the games that strived for realism. Hell, I played Final Fantasy 6 for the first time about two years ago and thought it looked fantastic.

My heart crys out in pity that you missed X-COM.

I think you are totally right though. The graphics of say, X-COM in particular don’t bother me at all. Then again, I have fond memories of them. However, I’ve tried to play other older games as well and it was hard to get past the old graphics stumbling block. One problem is that a lot of older games had good manuals and/or the manual was required. In today’s games you have mouseover, help, tutorials, etc. No such luck with older games.

Try playing Sentinel World without the manual. Without the text written in the “dialog booklet” even. It would be completely incomprehensible.

No it isn’t. Perhaps some people prefer their stories to be immersive and that’s something they look for, but it is not a requirement for narrative. I, for instance, really don’t care for immersion as a concept in storytelling at all. Though I can see why other people enjoy it, there is little to no value for me.

In fact, I usually am not very picky at all about spoilers because its not about the impact of the discovery, its about how the storyteller told the story in the first place and I don’t need to be immersed to judge that. I’d rather sit back in the story and very much enjoy narrator-type intrusions that supposedly break immersion. (The recent DS game, Contact, has some of the greatest instances of these ever produced in a videogame, I believe and that’s no hyperbole. It really is something cool to see.)

As for the greater topic of this thread, I can’t describe it really well in English, but there is something charming about the crudeness of early 3D that I enjoy, something geometrically impressionistic. The sparseness of the original Star Fox I think destroy the atmosphere of the sequel. There’s something about the rough, pixellized 3D in Saturn and PlayStation games that hasn’t been replicated in this smoother generation. It may just be that I grew up with it, but I don’t think so, as I have no problem going back to older games.

In fact, just this week I started playing a new Famicom I’ve never played before for the very first time and greatly enjoyed myself, playing all the way through the end.

I cannot however tolerate some games with graphics below a certain level of sparseness that generally starts to disappear in games around 1985. The original Wizardry and Ultima for instance are really hard to play because not only do I not have an impression at least of whats being conveyed, but there’s no art style to appreciate. It like caveman scrawl on walls, but even those are more interesting because they obviously have the stuff of human need to express oneself etched into the lines. Pac-man and say Miner 49er or B.C. The Quest for Tires? The cute little characters do a lot to help me out there.

I also find I prefer the type of pointy pixels that would appear in hand-drawn-looking work for old PC games in cutscenes, or especially in adventure games like Simon the Sorcerer, Gabriel Knight or King’s Quest V over today’s high resolution beauties. Syberia is gorgeous, but the charm isn’t quite there as much as I can see in these older games and I think it has something to do with them feeling like a patched pattern on a chair your grandma knitted because of the large pixels making up the ideas of place and character the artists are getting across.

But seriously, as long as it was published after around 1984/1985, I probably won’t have any problem accepting the graphics. And it was impossible to play most of those games since I either wasn’t alive or was too young to even hold a controller and understand what was going on, so one can definitely get into older games when they haven’t played them originally.


I find older low res 2d to be much easier to swallow on portables. xcom is easy to get into on pocketpc, I couldnt get back into it on my pc at all, for example.

Same with the Worlds of Ultima titles.

The kids dragged out their N64 this week and started playing random games. They’ve never expressed an opinion as to graphics quality. It either entertains them, or it doesn’t. They are truly platform-agnostic.

Good for them. I try to be the same way, but I’ve got a little of that old technology whore in me. I recently loaded up Daikatana (wanted to see how bad it really was) and FAKK2 (I remembered it having an interesting control scheme for an FPS). The Quake 2 engine looks OK, but the animations are horrible. 90-degree turns, no mouth movements, minimal articulation, etc. And both of these games have protracted cutscenes that I feel obligated to sit through, lest I miss the total experience the devs intended.

So, the shooting’s OK, but everything else feels very primitive. And the funny thing is, the more ambitious the game was, the more primitive it feels today. Quake 2 is still on my hard drive, and it doesn’t feel as backwards because they stuck to the core experience and didn’t bother with the rest.

My threshold seems to be around 1990 or so. I can play most games from after that point but before then the graphics just seem too primitive.

My biggest problem is often the interface. I tried to play through System Shock 1 a summer or two ago and loved what I played of the game. It actually scared me even though it has relatively blocky graphics. But I just couldn’t get very far with the control scheme. If there was some way to hack mouselook into it I’d be in heaven. Same with the Ultima Underworld games - love what I’ve played of them but just can’t wrap my brain around the controls to the point where it ever becomes natural.

Old 3D games look like ass, mostly. But X-Com? I think it looks good.
Of course, I’m thinking of the Amiga’s AGA enhanced version.

I still play old GBA games on my DS, and they often have more problems
than just the graphics ;)

I find in my case that right off the bat, dated graphics it will bug me a little bit. But after an hour or so I forget I’m even playing an old game. My brain just adapts I guess.

Fun trumps graphics every time for me.

I’m in the camp that 2D stuff holds up better than early 3D engines do.

Yes, 2d holds up better, but that’s not really my original point. I put X-Com and MoM in there because they are from the same time and basically both 2D games…X-Com has levels, but you can only really see one at a time, and it’s basically a 2d game. Darklands is 2d also. The problem isn’t the dimensions, at least for me. That’s why it’s so odd. The only thing I can think of is that it relates to whether I played them or not. And interface is a big part of that, so maybe graphics isn’t even the main issue.

I have a more difficult time with 2D, map-based games than even primitive 3D ones. It’s an interface issue. Those old mouse interfaces aren’t that good, and low-resolution icons kinda suck.

I can play DOOM and still have fun because everything is moving so fast I still get wrapped up in the gameplay. When I’m staring at a static screen in the original Civ, and looking at the ugly map and crappy icons, I just wish everything look a bit more… clear.

Very nicely said, Kitsune.


I still replay Thief 1 & 2 to this day but I guess that’s not really going that far back. The graphics, artwork,and level design mesh perfectly with the sounds and ambiance of the game - it’s just something I never grow tired of.

But going waaaaay back to Darklands is a tough pill to swallow. I would be eternally grateful if some modders remade it or gave it an Exult like touch to make it more palatable on today’s large monitors.

Old flightsims are fun to fire up for nostalgia but flying a mission or playing out an entire campaign is out of the question.

There’s no single reason why some old games succeed while others don’t, of course, but the recurring trends I notice:

Nostalgia: an obvious biggie, if you loved it 10 or 15 years ago, it doesn’t take much to stir up those feelings again. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and all that. Conversely, if you have no such affection, an old game won’t tug on your heartstrings like that.

Interface issues: let’s face it, user interfaces have come a long way in the last 20 years - and thank goodness for that! But an old game with a really clunky interface is gonna be a big turnoff, especially if nostalgia isn’t a factor. E.g., I could probably still replay System Shock 2 and enjoy it despite the graphics; but the original’s interface is just waaay too clunky for me now.

Art design: it seems strange to talk about art design with chunky low-res bitmaps, but there is a difference between, say, the abstract symbols in a strategy game vs the crude figures in an RPG vs the cutesy mascots in a platformer. Some art designs age more gracefully than others; and some of us just have personal preferences.

Originality: does it still stand alone or is it just part of a herd now? Games like X-Com have been few and far between - and arguably, no one has surpassed the original - which means it remains unique, even after a decade. Likewise, Master of Magic has had a few imitators, but no direct sequel: for some, there’s simply no substitute. Civilization, OTOH - well, you did notice the three sequels, didn’t you? :-)

Classic games are timeless: there’s always a reason for a round of Tetris. Nuff said.

I think this goes back to the art direction point brought up elsewhere. Some games have really good art, so even with the “blocky” graphics the game doesn’t repel me. Others have poor art which just starts looking worse in tandem with dated graphics.

Chris Woods