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February 27th, 2008
09:32 pm
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"Old-school" gaming: A moment of perspective
(Reposting this from a friend's journal, where a pet peeve was brought up -- use of the term "old-school" to refer to things within our lifetimes.)

I respectfully disagree that "old school" is being inappropriately used -- at least in proper context.


2007:

("Call of Duty 4", Gamespy's Game of the Year)


2002:

("Metroid Prime," Gamespy's Game of the Year)


1997:

("Myth: The Fallen Lords," Gamespot's Best Graphics pick for the year)


1992:

("Street Fighter II" on Super NES, one of the year's biggest hits)


1987:

("Legend of Zelda," American release)


1982:

("QBert" in arcades)


1977:
Space War (not embedding due to image resolution)


Consider.

I am 30, and I virtually outlive modern video games. The outside edge of "old school" for video games is 30 years old. Look back 15 years, or even 10, and you wouldn't be able to believe these games were cutting-edge if your only metric was what's commercially available today.

This is why we can talk about older games as if they're relics from our grandfather's generation: because, in game years, they are. If civilization developed in the same time scale as video games, then firing up an emulator and playing an old Super NES classic would be like talking to someone who was alive in the time of Jesus. Sitting in front of an Asteroids arcade machine would be like shaking hands with the hunter-gatherer who invented bronzeworking.*

I would say the "modern" (new-school) video game era began sometime around the Playstation's success in the late 1990s; that was the time that the real transition from 2D to 3D took hold. "Old-school gaming" properly refers to the previous era, or (the sometimes newer but excellent) games designed under those principles. And it's pretty easy to see not only the graphical difference but the design difference if you've played both old-school and new-school video games.

P.S. Feeling old now.

--
* And the board game "Monopoly" would be a literal Neanderthal, walking in circles with his little dog while the rest of us are building cannons and cars.

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From:circuit_four
Date:February 28th, 2008 06:23 am (UTC)
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Besides, wasn't the term "old school" made popular by rappers... for hiphop from the early 80's? I think it makes perfect sense to apply it to something only a few years old. The expression implies an old way of thought, an old model -- yeah, for something like video games, recognizable generations really do come and go pretty fast.

I mean, there's an old-school for web comics: "four wacky geeks sit in a panel and crack IT jokes, waiting for something to happen; one year later, they're fighting aliens and one of them is dead." If I knew a damn thing about MMORPGs, I could probably make a case for those having an old-school. And cripes, if the people on boardgamegeek.com can call Puerto Rico a "classic" game when it's SIX YEARS OLD, anything can be old-school. :)
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From:frameacloud
Date:February 28th, 2008 07:57 am (UTC)
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Oh, maybe they mean "old school" as in "the old high school I went to, before I switched counties and was held back for about this long"...
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From:baxil
Date:February 28th, 2008 08:33 am (UTC)
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> Puerto Rico a "classic" game

... Well, see, now this is where I stand with frameacloud's original point, and roaminrob's distinction below: There are some places where use of the term just makes no linguistic sense.

Old school implies a new school; classic implies a modern. And maybe I'm just not deeply enough into the board game subculture, but I can't imagine there's been any fundamental revolution within the last six years that has changed the face of modern board gaming.

If "classic" is to have any meaning at all, it has to apply only to things where modern standards have changed.

Frex, MMORPGs -- any commercial MMORPG today is functionally identical to Everquest in gameplay mechanics; there are a lot of variations on the theme, but the fundamentals haven't changed. There are old-school MMORPGs out there -- but to find them, you have to go back to the text days. The MUD/MMORPG distinction is arguably the border, simply due to the text/graphics intreface shift; but I personally would argue that the dividing line was in between asynchronous player interaction (Trade Wars and other such BBS games; Kingdom of Loathing) and synchronous (MUDs, MUCKs, MMORPGs). That was a fundamental revolution in gameplay.
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From:necama
Date:February 28th, 2008 03:55 pm (UTC)
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I suppose that the European-style board games -- Settlers of Catan, Carcasonne, etc.) -- could be argued to be new-school board games, since the board is usually different every time you play, and the game's format encourage you to create and apply alternate rule sets which change the fundamental way the games are played.

OK; it's not the last six years, but it's certainly the last 10 or 15.

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From:krinndnz
Date:February 28th, 2008 04:25 pm (UTC)
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In that case, it'll definitely be interesting to see a genuine second generation of Massive games. Currently, as you point out, it's a pretty steady gradient up from MUDs. Part of why I've never gotten into Massive games is that I played a few DikuMUDs, got into them, got out - and then saw that UO, EQ, and that lineage were all the same thing, just with graphics and not free.

I would draw a bit of a distinction between Massive games where the computer handles the mechanics invisibly (Diku, EQ, WOW) and ones where it's basically a social exercise (White Wolf or D&D or whatever chats with a diceroller and that's about it). Not as important, though.

I'm pretty sure we'll see a second generation of Massive games soon because that'll be the only way to beat World of Warcraft, and there is a huge commercial incentive to beat WoW. It also probably won't be from Blizzard, because WoW is hugely profitable as-is and they don't need to cannibalize their existing property.

Also, this and another discussion about videogames are interesting thought-food. I remember you showing me Shadow Of The Colossus, which is pretty astonishing compared to my earliest videogame memories, or the things that formed my tastes like Civ2, A Mess Of Trouble, or Hypercard games.
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From:feedle
Date:February 28th, 2008 06:50 am (UTC)
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Don't feel bad.

You could have your online moniker and the name you are known by in many far flung circles being from a video game that was released when you were in high school.

Almost 25 years ago.
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From:baxil
Date:February 28th, 2008 08:38 am (UTC)
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This is where I get to nod knowingly, since I googled your essay on your name history. ;-)

My online name's been stable since about high school (though not as far back chronologically). Before that, my BBS name was Delta Dragon [ddragon], whence came the e-mail address and webspace I used until I bought my own domains. Good times.

(Also, great icon, especially considering the thread. :))

Edited at 2008-02-28 08:48 am (UTC)
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From:frameacloud
Date:February 28th, 2008 07:55 am (UTC)
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Well... okay, I concede that it's valid to refer to video games and other high technology as being "old-school" because technology is progressing and aging at a faster rate than anything else. I've read about the theory where the rate of technological progress is accelerating exponentially, so the time interval between significant upgrades is always getting narrower. All the transhumans are betting on it. Video game platforms are going past like mayfly generations. It's not fair to describe mayflies by the same chronological standards as tortoises.

(Monopoly is a Neanderthal? Pfah! The Mancala and Cat's Cradle game families both predate the written word in real time. That's old-school. Or... ahh, I would bet that Cat's Cradle is far older, coinciding with the discovery of fiber crafts, and that Mancala merely appeared along with the discovery of agriculture. Hunter-gatherer people on isolated islands play Cat's Cradle in nearly the same way that people play it on a continent on the other side of the world. That is hard-core antiquity.)
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From:baxil
Date:February 28th, 2008 08:47 am (UTC)
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Well, with the "video game decades = span of human civilization" timeline compression, that would put mancala and/or cat's cradle ... um ... somewhere between Lucy and the dinosaurs, depending on how old you think the game's origin is. Monopoly as a Neanderthal was an exaggeration, but we're still talking a prehistoric game here (in the literal sense of the word; pre-history, before the written record.)

Now you've got me wondering what the oldest known game is.
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From:roaminrob
Date:February 28th, 2008 09:24 am (UTC)
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Well, Go dates back to 200 BC ...

The next contender is, not surprisingly, Mancala. There doesn't seem to quite be a consensus on whether or not it is in fact the oldest game; "Dr. Dig" says the winner is The Royal Game of Ur, going back to Mesopotamia; however, Wikipedia -- which also mentions Ur -- has Mancala predating it by several thousand years.

In either case, IIRC, East Asian cultures predate Middle Eastern ones by a lot, and I'd figure that the first formal games probably originated there and have since been lost to the cruel entropic destruction of time.
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From:frameacloud
Date:February 28th, 2008 10:31 am (UTC)
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The Royal Game of Ur and its elder Egyptian cousin Senet are both simple racing games with similar layouts and play, although we have to guess at the rules. Unfortunately for us, nobody had thought of writing the rules inside the lid back then! Senet is my personal favorite, but they're both rather boring compared to some types of Mancala, even if the racing-game boards were usually much prettier. Royalty liked having game boards inlaid with ivory and lapis lazuli. I just wish that the terribly wealthy, smart, and literate rulers had also included the rules.

Thanks for spotting the board game time-line on Wikipedia! That's neat. I hadn't seen it before.

Wikipedia is a great place to look up game rules. I found a lot of Mancala games and variants that weren't in my books when I became obsessed with it last October, including one in Mongolia where the playing pieces are goat droppings.

No, not figuratively.
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From:roaminrob
Date:February 28th, 2008 10:56 am (UTC)

Wikipedia

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Thanks for spotting the board game time-line on Wikipedia!

No worries. I don't have all that strong of Google-fu; it came up on an obvious search.

It's funny; lately, for the heck of it, I've been going out of my way to note cite Wikipedia. It's kind of an experiment ... and so far, it's failing miserably. It really has become an incredible, centralized information source, and I'm on the verge of saying "Humbug" to those that criticize it as being unreliable.
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From:packbat
Date:February 29th, 2008 02:39 am (UTC)

Re: Wikipedia

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Outside of the right kind of popular article, it is unreliable. I personally had to go in to fix "Parkinson's law", whose version of last September displayed a shocking lack of reading comprehension, and that's a non-obscure topic in a geeky field. Not to mention the deletionism.

Yes, Wikipedia is of comparable reliability to the average encyclopedia. That doesn't make it reliable.
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From:eredien
Date:March 2nd, 2008 01:29 am (UTC)

Re: Wikipedia

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The thing I don't like about Wikipedia is that it lets people who want to spin controversial topics edit facts out of existence to suit.
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From:packbat
Date:March 2nd, 2008 01:56 am (UTC)

Re: Wikipedia

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Wikipedia has a crapload of vulnerabilities - the ability of malicious or deluded parties to delete facts is only one of them.
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From:frameacloud
Date:February 28th, 2008 10:04 am (UTC)

Oldest Games

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It's hard to tell how old games are, because the materials for playing them can be rather transient. We don't have very solid traces of them, until people started to get fancy and construct real game boards. We know Mancala games are really old because we've found rows of carved pits that archaeologists think might have been Mancala boards. (They found Nine Men's Morris carved on the same structure, and some other designs that look like game boards too, but there's some controversy over whether they're all just decorative designs.) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mancala#History Most of the time, Mancala games are ephemeral and improvised from available materials: they're played with odds-and-ends for pieces, and the "board" is just a few holes scooped out of the ground. That doesn't leave enough of a lasting trace for archaeologists to find. The symbols that people attribute to Mancala games usually have to do with agriculture: either the playing pieces represent seeds being sown, or they're livestock being herded. In Africa Counts, the author told about how children being taught how to herd cattle develop their ability to count by grouping through Mancala, which they play when they're at rest and still watching the cattle. Grouping is the only way to count a herd of moving animals, and it's the only way you can mull strategies in Mancala fast enough.

Mancala is well-distributed throughout Africa and Asia at least, but the distribution of Cat's Cradle is so universal that it's mind-boggling. The scenario I mentioned about the island really happened. Jayne's String Figures and How to Make Them: A Study of Cat's-Cradle in Many Lands tells about several cases where a traveler, with no language in common with the natives, sought to teach the children a new trick and found out they knew a few more string-figures he did. What makes it scary is when the figures are presented in the same order from part of the world to the next, although that may be a necessity of form, to some extent. The author says the game must be at the very roots of humankind for it to have spread so widely. I think it's connected with the discovery of fiber crafts because you can't play the damn thing without string (or things sufficiently like string), so it can't be much older than spinning. You'll end up making entertaining string figures before you learn how to do practical things with it, like weave, so it might not be much younger than weaving. In cultures where Cat's Cradle is a game linked with a gender, it's usually a girls' game handed down to them by their mothers. When the girls grow up, they'll be trained in the fiber crafts that are considered women's work in their culture. The curious thing is that Cat's Cradle is still alive in industrial cultures that have abandoned spinning to the machines.

(To such an extent that when spinning started to become a fashionable hobby in the Seventies, interested people couldn't find any living people who could teach them how to do it. They had to guess how spinning wheels worked through trial and error. It had gone the way of flint-knapping after the discovery of metallurgy. People have had to reinvent that wheel, too. I think it's odd that European peoples didn't continue making stone tools as a folk craft useful in a pinch, or an amusing hobby, even though it wasn't as swanky as metal tools. It just died out completely, until farmers who found stone arrowheads couldn't even tell what they were supposed to be, and called them "elf-shot." Anyway, this is a huge digression.)

The oldest game of all is probably some form of tag. (Er... I heard someone argue so, once, but I'm not finding sources in a brief Google and Wikipedia search.) No tool use required, some other animal species can understand it, every culture has it, and it practices important survival skills: running away from the thing that's trying to catch you, and trying to catch the thing that's running away from you. Unfortunately, the dratted thing doesn't leave much hard evidence of having been played at all. As simple and alien as their minds might have been, Lucy and other Australopithecene species may well have played tag when they were children.
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From:natetg
Date:February 28th, 2008 07:06 pm (UTC)

Re: Oldest Games

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Games of lurking, fighting, and stealing are all survival traits and are practiced by a lot of species.
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From:roaminrob
Date:February 28th, 2008 08:12 am (UTC)
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I think that if the term "old school" in some contexts makes you feel old, that has more to do with issues over your age than anything.

I was taught "old school" climbing methods: you climb the big rocks, not the little ones. Place gear on lead. Treat the rock with respect. Go balls-out unless it's stupid. Don't forget that some guy probably climbed this thing in wool and hobnail boots a long time ago.

I follow "old school" programming practices.

"Old school" merely refers to a division between a current methodology and one or more previous methodologies, especially where the previous methodologies required a greater mastery of their field, or yielded more impressive results.

A 3D game engine ... written in hand-optimized PowerPC assembly? Old school.
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From:baxil
Date:February 28th, 2008 08:47 am (UTC)
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Totally agreed; and well put.
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From:targaff
Date:February 28th, 2008 11:51 am (UTC)
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For some reason I still find it hard to believe that you're younger than me even though I've known it to be true for over a decade.
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From:baxil
Date:March 6th, 2008 09:07 pm (UTC)
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Not that four months is a vast difference, or that at the age of 30 it makes any difference ... but, yeah. I remember back in the old days. It does feel odd.
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From:mouser
Date:February 28th, 2008 12:18 pm (UTC)
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Objection: Your chosen games mix generes. If you want to be fair, you have to stick to FPS games.

CoD traces back through Quake, Doom, Castle Wolfenstein 3D, all the way back to Maze War in 1973...

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From:natetg
Date:February 28th, 2008 04:32 pm (UTC)
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Actually, PvP/PvE move and shoot is an old game - like snowball, dirt clod fighting, or the gauntlet.

Even if you're only looking at computer simulation, you've got proto-FPS in the form of artillery calculations which were done on paper ...
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From:baxil
Date:March 6th, 2008 09:10 pm (UTC)
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Well, if you want to look at it that way, "PvP/PvE move and shoot" dates back to prehistory, to the invention of the spear.

The first war with spearmen was the very first massively multiplayer PvP FPS.
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From:baxil
Date:February 29th, 2008 12:04 am (UTC)
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I wasn't trying to trace a particular genre of game so much as I was trying to show the generic progression of games; I think my examples are reasonable representations of the state of the art. (Though arguably there were prettier games in 2002 than Metroid Prime.)

Feel free to build alternate timelines, though. If you're looking at first-person shooters, it would go something like this:

2007: COD4
2001: Halo
1996: Quake
1992: Wolfenstein
1987: MIDI Maze
1982: Phantom Slayer
1973: Maze War

The biggest disadvantage to genre purity is that FPSes get pretty obscure before the Wolfenstein (1992)/Doom (1993) era. I'd never heard of any of the last three games before looking them up just now, whereas I'm pretty sure most folks our age have seen "Q-Bert."
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From:toksyuryel
Date:March 4th, 2008 11:28 am (UTC)
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It should be a federal crime to leave Half-Life off any historical list of FPS games :P
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From:shatterstripes
Date:March 7th, 2008 07:21 am (UTC)
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I always get the sense that "oldschool", in the context of talking about video games, means "the stuff I played before I hit puberty". There's certainly a sense of innocence and nostalgia attached to discussions of "oldschool video games".
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