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Premature Sunsets
by Ian Bogost on 01/08/10 01:02:00 am   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

Back when the Nintendo Wii first came out, I wrote about a hope for it, specifically for its Virtual Console feature. Here's what I said:
Without exception, the Virtual Console has been touted as a digital distribution channel for new games and "classic" games from vintage consoles. But the Virtual Console suggests an application for serious and independent games that no one has yet discussed: independent publishing of new games on classic platforms.
Nostalgia has so strangled game developers and game consumers alike that we fail to recognize platforms like the NES and C64 as viable targets for new video games. So mired are we in technological progress that we quickly condemn earlier platforms to the status of cult relic.
But just as the daguerreotype, the sonnet, the Super-8 film camera, and so many other constrained forms from other media remain valid modes of expression, so do games for the NES, the C64, the TurboGrafx. These computers enthralled millions of people, people who were not merely biding their time waiting for better technology.

At the CES this week, Microsoft announced their own take on the Virtual Console, the Game Room, offering arcade and classic console games. Among the 30 games announced for launch (to grow to over 1,000) are coin-op games, Intellivision games, and Atari 2600 games.

Given that I make new Atari 2600 games (including the recently announced IGF finalist A Slow Year), I find myself once again hoping that Microsoft might open this channel to sell new games made for old systems. I stand by what I said about the Wii three years ago:

Like all platforms, these classic consoles endured premature sunsets as they made way for their predecessors. The very idea that a platform like the SNES has been fully explored should make you bristle as much as the idea that the novel has been fully explored. Today, hindsight and historical distance can help us create experiences that went unexplored on these systems.

If nothing else, the addition of XBLA Achievements to the Game Room would offer new players a strong incentive to try unusual and creative new takes on old hardware. But I'd guess players would be interested in them for other reasons too.

(cross-posted from


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Javier Arevalo
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Considering the likely scope, price and quirkiness of such retro games, the most practical distribution channels look like Web/Flash or XBLA Indie.

Ian Bogost
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Javier, you may have misunderstood me. I'm not talking about making any old indie games. I'm talking about making games *for specific older platforms*, made by definition on and for those platforms and embracing their constraints and quirks and styles. Of course it's possible to "port" such a game to Flash or what have you, but the result is not the same, nor should it have to be. Particularly when XBLA and Wii have corners of their online marketplace devoted precisely to classic systems.

Javier Arevalo
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No, I understood you, but the game is going to run emulated anyway, so the emulator may be built for XBLA Indie (XNA) or Flash and bundled with the game.

The attraction of these services is not the platform as much as it is the games themselves. I imagine the potential hassles for Microsoft/Nintendo to create and maintain a process to support and certify new games built for those old platforms just can't compensate the potential interest (and revenue) it will create, so the onus of building a method to release such games (i.e. the emulators) falls on the creators' shoulders.

Ian Bogost
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There is no need for a new process. They've already built it so they can emulate as many games as they see fit. The context matters; these games belong with their peers, not with Geometry Wars or Canabalt.

Jake May
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It's a bit later along the timeline than the consoles you're focusing on, but I mourn the passing of the GBA, specifically the rather brief life of the Micro. Just as the console became truly pocket-sized the market went in a new direction. With the release of the Bit Generations series ( it felt as though the GBA had really found its niche: simple but compelling and stylish games. Then along came the DS, and the rest is history. Sure, you could still play the GBA carts on the DS but it wasn't the same, and now with the DSi even that isn't an option.

Most of my career has been spent designing for the GBA; there was a real skill in developing for this platform, not just technically, but also aesthetically. It was a fun challenge working within those constraints.

Roberto Dillon
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I wish there could be more new games for the legacy platforms too. But I guess we should work in expanding the target audience first by making also the younger generations of players interested in our "own" history. Maybe releasing most of the original old games for free instead of trying to re-sell them for the n-th time (people download the roms for free anyway and, realistically, there's nothing that can be done about that...) would help to make them more widely known and appreciated. This would then make the old platforms, albeit in an emulated form, viable to produce new games and sell them through the VC or similar services.