Trig­ger Happy

Steven Poole on our chang­ing re­la­tion­ship with videogames past

EDGE - - CONTENTS - STEVEN POOLE Steven Poole’s Trig­ger Happy 2.o is now avail­able from Ama­zon. Visit him on­line at www.steven­poole.net

As I stum­ble through the first half hour of An­other World: An­niver­sary Edi­tion, learn­ing again to kick slugs to death and suf­fer­ing re­peated in­stadeaths from badtem­pered laser-wield­ing gi­ant wom­bats, I feel a pow­er­ful nos­tal­gia. Dim mem­o­ries of play­ing the orig­i­nal on my lit­tle sis­ter’s Atari ST; a whole early-1990s gestalt re­vived. And yet it’s not merely nos­tal­gia. The enor­mous in­flu­ence of An­other World can still be felt in mod­ern clas­sics such as In­side. And our re­la­tion­ship to the past in videogam­ing has changed, for the bet­ter.

For a start, An­other World is still spec­tac­u­larly beau­ti­ful: its flat pas­tels are a tes­ta­ment to the power of thought­ful artistry over mere vir­tual pho­tog­ra­phy. A ter­ri­fy­ing mon­ster is con­jured merely by a few red pix­els blink­ing for eyes among a spiky blank ex­panse of black. A green-screen com­man­d­line com­puter ter­mi­nal was al­ready a wry retro aes­thetic when the game first came out. And the mute sto­ry­telling of the min­i­mal­ist cutscenes still seems more authentically ‘cin­e­matic’, in a new-wave style, than to­day’s in­ter­minable mo-capped ex­panses of wise­crack­ing mur­der­ers and horse-both­er­ers.

The game loads by de­fault with sharp­ened vi­su­als, and it’s with a sigh of re­lief that you turn them off to ex­pe­ri­ence the ex­act pixel art of the orig­i­nal. The sur­prise is that this doesn’t make the game feel more old-fash­ioned; weirdly, the lo-res ver­sion seems ac­tu­ally more mod­ern. Af­ter all, the 8bit or 16bit graphic aes­thetic is now the pre­ferred style for so many new games – and not just mi­cro-bud­get art­house ex­per­i­ments – that it no longer reads as ex­clu­sively retro. It has be­come one pos­si­ble representational mode among many. Per­haps the suc­cess of Minecraft among the young has primed them to ac­cept blocky graph­ics as an art style even though they never lived through a time when that was all you could do.

Peo­ple used to talk about a thing called ‘ret­rogam­ing’, a term I al­ways hated. (If I read a Stend­hal novel, I’m not ‘retro-read­ing’; if I lis­ten to a Beethoven quar­tet I’m not ‘retrolis­ten­ing’.) But what has changed is that ret­rogam­ing is no longer a nerdy sub­cul­ture. It’s ev­ery­where. Peo­ple play­ing fruit-based smart­phone puz­zle games on the train are ret­rogam­ing, even if they never played the orig­i­nals. The form has fi­nally ma­tured to the de­gree that game ideas, as well as art styles, from 20 or 30 years ago can still, in the right hands, feel fresh and con­tem­po­rary. Hence, of course, the suc­cess of Nin­tendo’s Mini SNES – it’s can­nily mar­keted as a way for old­sters to re­live their 1980s mem­o­ries, but clas­sics such as Su­per Mario World and

A Link To The Past make it a to­tally cred­i­ble videogames con­sole for fresher-faced con­sumers in 2018.

Un­der­stand­able, then, that Sony should have tried to grab some of this ac­tion by an­nounc­ing the PlayS­ta­tion Clas­sic. The orig­i­nal PlayS­ta­tion is only four years younger than An­other World, but rep­re­sented a huge leap for­ward at the time. The trou­ble comes when we start to con­sider the re­la­tion­ship be­tween its games and to­day’s. We re­mem­ber PS1 fondly be­cause it was the first con­sole to re­li­ably run fairly shonky ver­sions of the kinds of 3D games that dom­i­nate the market now. Whereas the vi­su­als of An­other World would still grace any in­die plat­former to­day, you couldn’t get away with se­ri­ously re­leas­ing PS1-qual­ity code as a mod­ern game. And so the dan­ger is that PS Clas­sic, un­like SNES Mini, is a ma­chine re­stricted to ret­rogam­ing in the bad, old sense.

And yet, and yet. It has Tekken 3, which surely still has legs (and arms) as a hi­lar­i­ous twoplayer punch-up. And, dammit, it comes with Ridge Racer Type 4, my favourite rac­ing game of all time, the one with the best sound­track ever, and as it hap­pens the game I caned all sum­mer while I was writ­ing Trig­ger Happy in 1999. I know that if I de­cide to play it I run the risk of ru­in­ing those mem­o­ries. And, un­like with An­other World, it would make much more sense to do a re­mas­ter of

R4 with higher poly counts and fram­er­ate, rather than force us to play the orig­i­nal, be­cause the tem­po­ral res­o­lu­tion of the PS1 ver­sion al­most surely does not cut it any more. But it was also the most lov­ingly art­de­signed racer of its era, a tri­umph of sun­drenched elec­tro-jazz am­bi­ence. I can’t be­lieve that has dis­ap­peared.

Hmm, so I seem to have talked my­self into a PS Clas­sic af­ter all. Now, for pity’s sake, will some­one please re­make Can­non

Fod­der and Tur­ri­can 2?

Game ideas from 20 or 30 years ago can still, in the right hands, feel fresh and con­tem­po­rary

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