“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” – GEORGE SANTAYANA

An appropriate lead-in for my first subject in the new feature of what makes up a “good” game. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m going to use my longevity as a player as well as my industry experience to provide some insight on what people need to consider when thinking about creating a game. This is an interactive feature, so I encourage questions and feedback.

I decided to go with the history aspect of gaming as the first entry. When creating a game, is it important to know the background and evolution of gaming as a whole, or can it just be good enough to simply take a concept and run with the current technology? In my estimation, I’d say that it is important to at least have a general understanding of the beginning, even if the technology is outdated.

Look at the inspiration gained from music and film. Most concepts for modern pieces are built upon later ideas, and the same holds true here. Everything comes from previously established ideas. While there are new twists and different interpretations in today’s theme, looking back at the beginning can provide insight and even show that the big developers of today, started out small just like today’s smaller, non-corporate developers. Considering that the indie game movement is gaining more and more in popularity, and there is a “going back to basics” mentality that is becoming more prevalent with “pick up and play” gaming, perhaps people need to focus more on what worked then, and how to capture that sense of “magic” now.

Ken and Roberta Williams of Sierra started their business in their kitchen, showing that great things can come from the smallest and most unlikely of places. There are also stories of the original Activision founders, a small group of programmers that split from Atari and wanted to “beat the system” creating things out of the Atari 2600 that were considered nearly impossible given the tech limitations for a system essentially designed to run Pong and Tank. The arcade was the original “social gaming” experience, filled with twitch games of every imaginable subject (however unlikely) that provided an experience that lasted only a few minutes, but built an entire industry. And of course, the repercussions of flooding the market and not excercising quality control which led to the “Great Crash of 1983”. Could such a thing happen again? With the current advent of too many similar “me too” genres, and low quality shovelware, it doesn’t seem entirely out of the question that further lack of restraint and self-regulation could cause problems one day. We’ve already seen several established companies such as the aforementioned Sierra and even Midway collapse in recent years.

But it’s also important to learn gaming history just to see how gaming legends such as Will Wright, Shigeru Miyamoto, David Crane, Yuji Naka and Tōru Iwatani got their starts, from level inspirations to the initial concept of their characters. Many of these stories highlight being given limitations to work with, and finding ways to produce more regardless.

There are a few books out there that cover the history of video games, as well as classic video game websites that highlight the “golden age” of gaming. While presented more in brief summaries and very picture friendly, the book High Score! gives a good initial look at the beginnings of gaming up to the 2000’s.

Gaming history tells the origins of companies, and characters and franchises. It tells how even “the little guy” can find success starting at and finding inspiration in the most unlikely of places. It shows the ever-changing “fads” of gaming, from the Pac-Man Fevers and “trojan horse” tactics of Nintendo in the 1980’s, the fighting game, FPS, and 3D mania of the 1990’s, and the online MMOs and motion control crazes of the 2000’s. And as mentioned before, it shows how to make the most out of what one has, and the dangers of too much of the same thing.

The next entry in the series will be: “Gaming Concepts”.

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Filed under: making the game