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Commentary: The Gap Between Retro and Modern Gamers

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Posted on May 20, 2013 AT 04:51pm

Retro City Rampage Designer
Brian Provinciano

Do you aim to “complete” or “beat” a game?

From its initial pitch to the design document, a core pillar of Retro City Rampage focused on fusing modern and retro games into one—to build an experience that appealed equally to both audiences. In many regards, I succeeded in reaching this goal; in the end, though, I discovered that it’s impossible to simultaneously hit both targets with one proverbial shot.

As games have evolved to become more cinematic, so have players. I’m generalizing here, but modern gamers want to “complete” a game, while classic gamers want to “beat” it. This differentiating factor makes it difficult to appeal equally to both demographics at the same level of receptiveness.

Modern players generally want to experience games in a similar way to how they’ll watch movies: from start to finish without any roadblocks to the next big moment. Alternatively, retro gamers are ready for a challenge and prepared to tackle whatever’s thrown at them. With too many save points, a game will be far too easy—but without enough of them, those who just want to experience the story without interruption will feel as frustrated as the average viewer does when trying to watch a TV show with far too many commercial breaks.

Interestingly, hiding in cover for 30 seconds waiting for health to regenerate in a modern game is widely accepted, while failing and having to replay 30 seconds of a level is considered frustrating. As a classic gamer, I’d much prefer the latter, but I’ve learned that I’m definitely the minority in this day and age.

Let me cite a personal example. A set of Retro City Rampage missions focused more on story and were lighter on action. And since the setting revolved around school, you were unable to use weapons, which made the gameplay much less diverse in this particular section. Playtesters raised this issue, which I’d acknowledged myself—at one time, I even considered cutting this segment from the game entirely.

Modern players generally want to experience games in a similar way to how they’ll watch movies: from start to finish without any roadblocks to the next big moment. Alternatively, retro gamers are ready for a challenge and prepared to tackle whatever’s thrown at them.

However, I also felt that the story was strong enough that it would carry players through this portion. To my surprise, these have actually turned out to be among the most well-received missions in all of Retro City Rampage. And for every player who felt frustration on challenging missions, another gamer felt great satisfaction from beating them. Both demographics are still very much alive—and hungry for new titles to satisfy their playstyles.

Similarly, I discovered early on in Retro City Rampage’s development that the audience was split on their preferred driving controls. Around half advocated the simple D-pad method, where you press in the direction you want to go; the rest wanted to steer left and right with separate forward and reverse controls. One of the best decisions I made was supporting both—because, as tracked by leaderboard statistics, the split gets as close as 45 percent D-pad, 55 percent steering.

Knowing what I know now, I could take steps to further bridge the gap next time around. However, when it’s not as simple as driving-control options—when it’s something that defines your game—perhaps it’s better to simply choose your audience and develop for them 100 percent.

— Brian Provinciano is a developer who’s worked on a title or two for just about every platform in the past decade. He’s also better known for spending nearly a decade on just one. If you want to know just how much he loves games, look no further than Retro City Rampage. Follow him on Twitter: @BriProv

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