I've got back into retro gaming in a big way after buying a framemeister. Me and a friend have been heavily playing Super Tennis on the SNES, amongst other games, and this got me thinking about the idea that retro sports games are (generally) much better than modern sports games. I'm trying not to be nostalgic here. I think it very easy to fall into old codger mindset that 'things were better in my day' but I genuinely believe this to be true. There are plenty of reasons why I think this, including the fact that retro sports games usually have simpler controls, more iconic representation and a larger focus on the single screen multiplayer experience but I think that it comes down to the simple fact that modern sports titles have an endless obsession with realism.
I think the pursuit of realism is one of the most detrimental forces in MODERN game design.
I've also never really understood the motivation behind our industries obsession with it. Ok, I get the idea that some people want graphics to look as close to real-life as possible, and it is a laudable goal which I admire (even if it doesn't float my boat) but I never fully bought into the idea that the game design itself should also pursue this goal.
To paraphrase Roger Caillois games are separate and closed off from real life. Unlike life, the very best games are simple, clean, easy to understand. You know who was the winner, you understood everything that took place and can easily comprehend exactly why it had that outcome. So I do find it so perplexing that some designers insist on putting these opaque rules inside the game to better simulate stress levels, concentration or fatigue.
I mean, what does the "vision" stat actually do in Fifa 15?
I go back and play EA Hockey, Irem Skins Golf or Super Tennis and there is an elegant simplicity to the gameplay that makes for a wholly more satisfying experience. I think this is one of the main reasons that Rocket League is getting so much attention. It taps into that more simple retro sports game design philosophy (that and it was free to PlayStation Plus subscribers!). The game becomes about players pitting against each other real-time competition where the only difference between them is their dexterity and skill.
This is an argument that I've had many MANY times with friends when talking about Fifa Soccer (or why I don't like playing football games any more). I can easily understand why a company like EA would push for more and more realism, but why is it that, on the whole, this is the only type of sports game available? There are realistic and unrealistic racing games, realistic and unrealistic first person shooters and realistic and unrealistic third person action games in the triple a space and yet the only unrealistic sports game of note in the last ten years (that isn't some sort of future sport) is Wii Sports!
It is interesting that Wii Sports is also the second best selling video game of all time. So perhaps there is a market for a unrealistic football game after all..?