A comment I’ve often seen or heard from “gamers of a certain vintage” is something along the lines of “when I go back to the games of my youth, I’m always disappointed. Some things are best left with positive memories.

I certainly understand and have experienced that sentiment, but I also think it’s missing the point.

Watching the recent documentary on Jim Marshall and the invention of the iconic amp (Play It Loud), Pete Townsend talks about John Lee Hooker putting a mic inside the guitar to achieve distortion on a track called Devil’s Jump in ~1949. The recording of it isn’t what you’d call high fidelity, and I can’t imagine how the audience of the time reacted. It’s influence is undoubted, though, and I can understand that.

Similarly, the effects in movies will almost never have the same impact on today’s viewers compared with the original audience. For example, The Arrival of a Train, a 1 minute film of a train coming straight at the camera and the legend holding that the audience ran screaming for cover, or 1953’s The Thing from Another World - terrifying for the time, by all accounts, yet laughably tame by modern-day standards.

In Mark Cousins’ amazing documentary series The Story of Film, he regularly refers to newer films “quoting” scenes and imagery from older films. Compare the design of C3PO with Maria, the robot from Metropolis, or the entire end-scene of Reservoir Dogs taken almost shot-for-shot and action-for-action from an 80s Hong Kong movie.

Going back to games made 30 years ago and being “disappointed” shouldn’t be surprising, because you’re measuring them by the standards of today. Revisiting older games should be about inspiration, reminding yourself of those positive memories, and for figuring out how you can make games that make you feel that way again (or why the games you play now don’t make you feel that way).