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Gems In The Rough: Yesterday's Concepts Mined For Today
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Gems In The Rough: Yesterday's Concepts Mined For Today

January 6, 2011 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

[Looking for an idea for a game? Why not try taking a peek at some old ones? Gamasutra looks at five not-quite-classics that had interesting ideas mucked up by poor execution, and uncovers how they just might work as present day indies.]

A great idea can have a lot of power, but the proof lies in the execution. There's no denying that, in a creative medium like game development, execution has humongous importance. Unfortunately, a lot can get in the way -- budgets, misapplication of concepts that are otherwise solid, or bad features getting in the way of good. In short, concepts are misused.

The best indie games show that great ideas do have power when aptly applied. And many of the best are inspired by game ideas from the golden age, where simplicity was a necessity; these add just enough modern touches to appeal to a lot of different people.

Yet as much as some indie games are celebrated as a melding of the past and the future, there are several ideas from the past that have slipped through the cracks. They've been around for quite a while, of course, and are arguably as unique as some of the best stuff that's come from the last few years, but the games' reputations precede them.

The following feature takes a look at five games from the NES era -- specifically Japanese games from the mid-'80s, when the Famicom reigned supreme. These games are not classics and did not sell millions of copies. In fact, they aren't even recognizable to most people.

If they're known at all, it's because hardcore fans of retro games the world over have turned these games into laughing stocks. They were made on the cheap, by designers and programmers who were probably just punching the clock -- and if not that, then their passion was misdirected. These are classics for different reasons: chiefly the fact that they're ironically loved by the generation that first played them.

That said, these games aren't entirely useless. This article is not intended to defend them, however. This is a simple presentation and evaluation of their ideas. Certainly, why bad or just low-quality games are remembered becomes evident when playing them, but we won't be dwelling on that.

Instead, we present these titles so that today's game developers -- of all experience levels -- can extract the designs that powered these bizarre, broken gems, and think of ways to improve on them for use in a fresh title, rather than relying on the obvious classics. From Famicom dud to iPhone hit? Stranger things have happened...

Bokosuka Wars

ASCII, 1985

In a Nutshell: A sort of action-RPG where the player amasses a phalanx of troops as they move upon an enemy castle, controlling them all at once. It's a long trek fraught with resistance, though, and battles can destroy you in one swoop if your army's overall strength value is but a digit lower.

Legacy: Bokosuka Wars was ported to Famicom from its original computer version, and games on early PCs were not nearly as deft as the Famicom/NES were, so Bokosuka Wars' extra-primitive graphics and slow scrolling felt out of place on the console, receiving scorn from kids who maybe didn't realize it was from a less-impressive platform. It became one of those aforementioned "ironic" classics some time later.

What to Consider: In the proper time and context, Bokosuka Wars is a clever design, and these days, it is in a sense a bit like a reverse tower defense game, wherein you play the offense; the horde descending upon the stationary castle, and the knights and soldiers you rescue have their separate strengths and can be upgraded.

Taken that way, you have a concept that isn't explored too much in the defense genre. Like tower defense, there is a strategy to it, but not enough to call it a strategy game -- a dependence on simply keeping high numbers of troops can potentially make the game a cinch. Perhaps using less transparent mechanics, and possibly even a more twitch-based element to battles, could keep Bokosuka's concept fresh for today.


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