But your write up shows there is a ton of drama going on inside the player’s head. There are intense emotions boiling inside you. I imagine the Nintendo developer would look at these old games and think, “That is all there is? Where are the cutscenes? Where is the story? Oh dear…” So what Nintendo developers have done (and modern game makers) is to dramatize the game more with cutscenes, stories, and ‘characterization’ (ugh). They think this is making a better product.
What is dramatic to the developer is not dramatic to the gamer. Metroid: Other M was probably very intense drama to Mr. Sakamoto. However, it comes across as noise to the player. And the so-called ‘undramatic’ moments of Metroid such as getting lost, getting stuck in the lava (you know how that felt), getting your ass kicked by a boss- all of those were intense dramatic moments to the player.
Or take Minecraft for example. You dig down (uh oh) and fall into a pitch dark room where you can hear monsters all around you. How do you feel? The player becomes frantic and scared. None of this could be simulated with a ‘story’ or ‘cutscene’.
I believe 2d Mario has far more drama in it than 3d Mario and is a more intense experience. But for Nintendo developers, they’ve been ‘developing’ so long that they lost touch to what it meant to be a gamer. They thought the ‘drama’ of the game would be in ‘new experiences’ or ‘new sensations’ or ‘surprise’.
Can a game developer get out of touch by being a developer too long? It is certainly worth exploring. There is definitely a pattern that the more experience a game developer gets, the more he declines in quality.
I replayed some old games I made over a decade ago. Let’s say there are three phases of them. The first use very simple mechanics because I was struggling to make the computer behave (and chose simple mechanics because I couldn’t get it to do much else). The second phase of games had more complex mechanics and more story. The third phase had the most complex mechanics (computer doing more stuff) and WAY more story. When I tested them out with friends, they disliked the third phase the most and enjoyed the first phase. This confused me because my experience was the opposite. I figured they were stupid and didn’t know as much as me since I could manipulate the computer to do this stuff. When replaying these games recently, I was astonished at how awful my more mature ‘phase’ was. And the first batch of games were more accessible and fun.
My point is that the increased development experience can lead to a corrupted context of gaming. Why? It is because the game developer turns the development process into a game. How fast can this be done? How can you reuse previous assets? How to trick the computer to do this?
Let me give a modern example of this: the Dragon Soul raid in World of Warcraft. Before patch 4.3 hit, Blizzard kept talking up how amazing and incredible the Deathwing fight would be. The players would be on Deathwing’s back while he flies! This took an extreme amount of development work because the WoW engine was seven years old at the time. It became a development game in order to pull it off. The actual experience of the paying players was ‘meh’. A professional game developer constantly lives in reality and would realize what he did did not work. An unprofessional game developer would say the gamers are ‘too stupid’ to understand the game.
I don’t think the Nintendo game developers realize just how much drama and intense excitement there is in the early games and how the more modern games can feel ‘soft’ and ‘neutered’. This is not about difficulty. Good gameplay creates drama inside the player. Imagine playing Tetris and stacking your blocks so a single four block line will get you a Tetris. But that piece doesn’t come. And the stack rises and rises which causes you to panic. Simply ‘faster’ and ‘harder’ could not create this drama.
If games are toys, as Nintendo believes, then they need to allow the player to interact with games as toys. A toy is a tool for the imagination… nothing more. While you may be moving an 8-bit pixelated Link around stabbing pixelated monsters, your internal drama is generating excitement in ways that not even Nintendo understands.
You cannot force a game to be dramatic. That is what it feels like game developers try to do these days (e.g. Sakamoto). They need to trust the gameplay to boil up the drama.