And she’d sat on the floor with me, and looked somewhere else when I embarrassed myself. I’d started salting the carpet over a song that was playing when life was taking too long. Final Fantasy VIII was there for me when nothing meant anything. I lost my phone for a month and when I got it back it was full of texts that went: Your bill’s way overdue. All I had for company were the streetlights outside my window for the longest time, stooping like I always did. I would only sit up straight for Squall, who I mirrored a great deal. Now, I’m told, I’m more of a Zell. Final Fantasy VIII is the warmest gaming memory I have and I’d frame it if I could. In a way, I have: Its nostalgic value to me is so abyssal I can’t even listen to covers of its music without painting myself into the portrait with manly(ish) tears.
“There were a few games that helped me get through some hard times, and I think it’s a similar situation for every gamer,” muses Jacek ‘Resil’ Niemojewski, Good Old Games’ business development specialist. “This is what forms our personal, strong connection to the hobby. I can’t point out one specific event, but as a lonely nerd I had a lot of tough times and thoughts that seemed like a matter of life or death at the time, but whenever I needed to leave the real world, to catch my breath, or just get my mind back on the right track, games were there to help. I understand this sounds a bit ridiculous, as games are mostly a form of entertainment, but for me they were a way of coping with reality and issues that were bigger than me, especially as a teenager. Right now, as a guy in my 30s, I mostly depend on myself and my wife – but video games will forever be an important part of my life.”
“Nostalgia is a great, warm feeling of happiness,” says Robert Przybylski, GOG’s head of PR & marketing. “That may sound very fluffy but it’s true. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion that’s often enough to get me to spend a lot of money, like on a Kickstarter, on just the promise of getting that feeling back, even if for just a little while. Gamers are especially prone to this, because video games and those special moments become very strongly ingrained in our minds as we grow up. We usually want to grab those memories and hold on to them for as long as we can later on in our lives.”
Stephen Kick, fearless leader of relicensing leviathans Night Dive Studios, has been triggered.
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion that’s often enough to get me to spend a lot of money, like on a Kickstarter, on just the promise of getting that feeling back, even if for just a little while. Gamers are especially prone to this. – Robert Przybylski, GOG
“I remember going to the mall with my dad and hitting up Electronics Boutique and Babbage’s as often as we could,” he recalls. “There was always something new and the wall of PC games in the classic big boxes were a sight to behold. Not every game had huge marketing support and every once in a while an unknown gem would catch your eye. You’d take a risk and more often than not you’d be treated to an exceptional gaming experience. PC gaming in the early ‘90s was like the Wild West, it seemed like no one really knew what they were doing and some of the early innovators like Westwood, ID, and LucasArts were responsible for creating new genres. How often does that happen in the history of any medium? Nostalgia in gaming is extremely powerful and to me defines a time in my life where I felt like I was part of something groundbreaking. It inspired me to become an artist and make games, and now my passion is restoring the very same games I grew up on.”
It was also the guiding light for Tokyo RPG Factory’s creation and, by extension, the recently released ode to Chrono Trigger that is I Am Setsuna.
“Mr. Matsuda, the CEO for Square Enix, saw some success stories where independent studios abroad had developed titles paying homage to classic JRPGs and asked why we couldn’t do the same in Japan,” says director Atsushi Hashimoto. “That opened up the opportunity to found Tokyo RPG Factory. Gaming has generated many genres over the course of time. We also saw many changes in methods of game design. There are always trends, but ‘old’ and ‘retro’ doesn’t mean ‘bad.’ Rather, I think every game design of any period has its own beauty. I believe retro gaming gives users non-mainstream gaming experiences – which once were mainstream! – and if the quality is good enough then users can still enjoy those in their own right, regardless of the nostalgia aspect.”
Something else occurs to him.
Every game design of any period has its own beauty. I believe retro gaming gives users non-mainstream gaming experiences – which once were mainstream! – Atsushi Hashimoto, Tokyo RPG Factory director
“Nostalgia in films are more to do with the characters that appear and the perspective of the film world at that time, as viewers enjoy the stories in that medium by watching passively,” he says. “On the other hand, game users enjoy the story by controlling characters so they may feel nostalgia from the actual gameplay experiences as well. For example, you will have strong memories of the bosses you would defeat after many attempts and fails. If you come across enemies with a similar attacking style to a memorable boss, then you may feel a kind of nostalgia from that. In other words, it will invoke a nostalgic feeling in the player experience, from memories of how you struggled to win after many defeats.”
It’s a distinctly Japanese appraisal of really not getting the Psycho Mantis fight in Metal Gear Solid 1,000 times. Kick branches out.
Stephen Kick: “I would say that there are two differences. First of all, while film is a young media compared to music or dance or acting, it is much older than gaming. With gaming, many of the original people are still with us and creating new works. As examples, Paul Neurath and Warren Spector who created the original System Shock game, are working on new titles. With film, many of the early pioneers are gone. Secondly, games are interactive. I think that this creates a more personal experience. When you go to a movie, everybody sees and feels mostly the same thing. With a game, everyone plays it and experiences it differently which creates impressions that are so personal that it transcends the connection people feel through other mediums.”
Robert Przybylski: “Each medium is vastly different, and the way we experience nostalgia reflects that. The games we’re most nostalgic towards are the ones that truly engulfed us – as if we had actually lived them. For me, no other medium creates memories as significant and personal as gaming.”
Atsushi Hashimoto: “I think gamers plan how to play when playing games and the results they get can be changed by how they play. So the way in which they played and what happened because of that approach are tied together in their memory. I believe this only happens with gaming experiences.”
GOG’s head of territory management, Christoph Pardey, throws another branch on this bonfire plotline.
“I feel there are basically two forms of video game nostalgia. On one hand, there are the true masterpieces that taught me a lot about game design, captivating narrative arcs, worlds to get lost in. Naturally, you have fond memories of those because you experienced something great that stuck with you,” he says. “On the other hand, I loved many mediocre (from today’s point of view) games just as much as the greatest ones. When you could get just a handful of games for an entire year – birthdays, Christmas, money from grandma visiting – I think you found something great and worthwhile in every game. You just didn’t have the choice of opening your digital library to browse your pile of shame and dozens of unplayed games. I miss these moments of fully committing to every game you play.”
Jacek ‘Resil’ Niemojewski: “Gaming was my primary hobby growing up, so numerous important life moments and emotions were related to video games in one way or another. I can feel nostalgic towards a movie or a book, but video games happened to be the most influential of the bunch. In general, I don’t think there is a big difference, it’s just a matter of how significant your emotions and feelings are towards a certain medium. But gaming can still be unique in terms of teaching us patience, overcoming adversity, and blowing on cartridges.”
It’s at this point that Monkey Island creator and vaunted LucasArts alum Ron Gilbert looks up, maniacally, from behind the teetering mansion that is the labour of his latest point ‘n click love, Thimbleweed Park.
“It means remembering a more innocent time. Maybe it was because you were younger, or maybe because games were younger. Either way, it was a time of infinite possibilities. We’re also nostalgic about things that helped form us and make us who we are.”
“A man is defined by his actions,” the gross clutchy reflux baby in Total Recall once said, “not his memory. You are what you do.” In video games, all you do is do. Wadjet Eye founder Dave Gilbert knows that better than most, having devoted his professional life ‘n times to creating resonant modern pixel hunts like Gemini Rue, Primordia and, someday soon, new one Unavowed.
“Spider and Web helped me nearly fail my midterms, so there’s that,” he says.
“Defeating that bastard wizard in King’s Quest 3. I played that game before internet walkthroughs, and I spent months trying to figure it out. When I finally did, I nearly cried.”
Atsushi Hashimoto: “When I was a kid, I used to go to my friend’s house with others after school and play RPG games. Gathering around one TV set, we would play in turns, creating save data for each of us. Unlike PvP games, RPGs are basically meant for only one player at a time and it was a very inefficient way of playing as I look back now. Even when it comes to how to defeat bosses, each player has his own way and it was a great fun to watch and discuss it between us.”
Stephen Kick: “The first game I played with my dad was Myst and it blew our minds. Suddenly we were transported to an island populated with beautiful landmarks, statues, buildings, puzzles and a loneliness I had never experienced before. As the story unfolded the island and the worlds we traveled to became places of great sadness and tragedy. I would lie awake at night thinking of the horrors committed by Sirrus and Achenar and how I could free their Father Atrus and restore balance to the island and the Ages pillaged by the two Brothers. Every night after dinner my dad and I would sit at the computer together. Double-clicking on the executable to an adventure game was a ritual. We had played dozens of adventure games together and kept comprehensive journals of our travels. They were essentially strategy guides my dad wrote which were filled with hand-drawn illustrations of puzzles, clues, and screenshots he’d print out and paste within the pages. They resembled the grail diary from Indiana Jones by the time we reached the last page.”
Jacek ‘Resil’ Niemojewski: “Well, I won’t be original in saying that one of the most important moments for me was the death of a certain character in Final Fantasy VII, or the entire ending to Shadow of the Colossus. I am not sure if ‘fondest’ is the best term to describe these memories, but they definitely were the most impactful. Of course, there are many and they all helped shape the person I am right now. They also definitely helped me start working in the gaming industry!”
Christoph Pardey: “Privateer was just a perfectly crafted game. Even today, one of the most intense gaming moments I recall was in that game: I was a merchant (my kind of play style) and approaching my delivery destination. I was hauling basically my entire wealth, acquired over dozens of hours of gameplay, when suddenly a pirate appears on the intercom! His laser beams were pounding away at my ship, and those few minutes until I finally reached the planet were the most intense ever. Staring at the distance indicator moving just a bit too slowly, my shield energy nearly depleted by laser beam, just barely pushing forward… it was incredible.”
It’s suddenly a massive Good Old Games party and in what I suppose is typical of a man named for a pagan warrior, business development and operations guy Oleg Klapovsky arrives late hefting another keg of reverie.
“I remember buying my first graphics card. I think it was the Voodoo 2,” he says, barely remembering, “which came with a copy of the original Half-Life. We sat huddled with our friends in front of a single PC and played through the whole thing together. I thought it was alright – but the true magic happened about a year later when we discovered Half-Life deathmatch in an internet cafe. Suddenly, the competitive and social aspects clicked into place and turned Half-Life into the biggest addiction of my life.”
Christoph Pardey: “One particular moment in Syndicate stands out: when I realised I could set taxes low enough for everyone to be happy, leave my Amiga 500 running over night, and get incredibly wealthy. I didn’t read about this in a wiki or see it in a ‘Get rich quick in Syndicate’ video. I just had this idea one day and felt so incredibly smart for figuring that out on my own.”
I remember spending time in class drawing out complex plans using different coloured Crayola markers for breaching the last levels of Rainbow Six with my team led by the heroic Ding Chavez. – Stephen Kick, Night Dive CEO
Stephen Kick: “As I got older I found myself drawn to other genres – FPS and RTS mostly. I remember spending time in class drawing out the perfect maps and placement for Tesla Coils, Power Plants, Refineries and Barracks for upcoming multiplayer games of Red Alert, or complex plans using different coloured Crayola markers for breaching the last levels of Rainbow Six with my team led by the heroic Ding Chavez. I was even in the original closed beta for Counter-Strike, which my 14.4 modem made unplayable.”
Ron Gilbert: “Unfortunately, most of my recent gaming memories are about making games, not playing them. The last game I truly got sucked into was World of Warcraft. I was part of a hardcore raiding guild and played it nonstop, getting completely sucked into the social aspects of being part of a guild of real people who became my friends. It was much more than a game to me, it was a network of people I enjoyed being around, despite never having met any of them and not knowing any of their real names.”