Jordan Zolan talks about gaming’s past…
A friend of mine was recently late to a meet-up we scheduled because he had to reach a save spot in a game. He complained how long it took to save his data, and that he was frustrated about being late as a result.
It all got me thinking about how things used to be back in the day, and that him having to wait a little bit to save is nothing like what we had to go through when I was a kid. We discussed what it was like oh so many years ago, and I started to reminisce about all the other aspects of retro gaming that I miss. Here are just a few things gamers today might not remember, but they were staples of my gaming experience growing up.
Anyone who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s can probably still recite a cheat code or two. Whether it’s “IDDKQ,” “KDFM,” or “Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A B A Start,” these sequences are burned into our memories. With cheat codes, we could act like God’s among men, devilishly manipulating the world around us. We now had the power to grant more lives, unlock unlimited weapons, or bring ourselves back from the dead.
Playing through Doom II was fun but having the ability to equip the BFG from the very start made for a really great ride. Knowing the correct buttons to push or keys to input, made gamers feel like they knew something no one else did. It was a secret that made you feel larger than life. Sure, everyone knew these codes, but in the privacy of your own home, you were the sole wielder of such great power. To this day, I can’t pop in Contra on my NES without inputting the code for thirty lives. It’s ingrained in my muscle memory for all time.
This all still exists today, but it’s not as prevalent and just doesn’t feel as cool as it did oh so many years ago. What are some of the cheat codes you remember always using as a kid?
Save Game Passwords
Gamers today don’t know how easy they have it when it comes to saving a game. Most of the time you can just hit the start button and save your data on the spot. Occasionally, there will be a game that makes you work a little hard for it by having you find a save spot or wait until finishing a level. Either way, saving games in today’s world is a simple affair.
This wasn’t always the case, and I remember the pains of what my generation had to go through. Back in the day, we didn’t have the option of saving willy-nilly. What we had, were things called passwords or save game codes. If a game did allow you to save (which wasn’t always the case), it would give you a long string of randomized characters to input. This would allow the player to start at the most recently completed level, or at the spot where the password was received. I used to have notebooks full of passwords written down as to not lose them. I worked hard at advancing through various games, and those save game codes were of vital importance. I can’t imagine having to do something so archaic today, but back then it was the norm.
I don’t remember when exactly it became a thing to get rid of instruction manuals with games. Back in the day, every title came packaged with a detailed booklet for all to read and enjoy. If you go back to the NES days, not only were they informative, but many had fantastic artwork throughout the pages. To see a great example, try to find an original Zelda manual. Each enemy and all the weapons were beautifully drawn with immense detail. Many times, there would be whole backstories written inside to build the world of the game.
I used to collect mine, never throwing any away. One day, all of my manuals were tossed, and it was devastating. Today, assuming you don’t buy a game digitally, all we get is a little insert, possibly a coupon or code, and that’s about it. I’m sure it was a cost-cutting measure to do away with instructions, but they used to add so much to the gaming experience. Even to this day, I think about my tossed books of fun, and I wish I had them to read through.
Sure, gaming magazines are still released on stands today, but none of them are as iconic or enjoyable as Nintendo Power used to be. When you received a copy of that larger than life magazine in the mail, it was a glorious day, to say the least. The wonders and thrills imprinted on each page always brightened my day. The cover art was always amazing, and the details within continually made me excited for what was to come.
From 1988 to 2012, Nintendo fans were treated to something special within those pages. The magazines released today still inform players of upcoming games and news, but it’s not the same. By the time an issue hits the newsstand, the information it contains is outdated and made irrelevant by the internet. I was given a subscription to Game Informer when I paid for my GameStop PowerUp Rewards, but I didn’t read a single issue. The magic that was Nintendo Power can never be recreated.
PS1 Power-Up Theme
This might be silly, but I loved the theme that played when you first turned on an original PlayStation. It gave the PS1 an instant bravado that made it say “I’m Different, and I’m going to kick butt.” When you heard that tone, you knew you were in for an experience. I can remember turning up the volume, controller in hand, and hitting that power button with the biggest grin on my face as that music played.
It truth, not all games lived up to the hype generated by that grandiose tone, but it always made you feel you were strapping in for a great ride none-the-less. Other consoles had their other start music after that, but nothing quite matched the grandeur of the original PS1. I loved the GameCube start-up music as well, but it didn’t have the same adrenaline-inducing magnetism as the PS1.
Nintendo was king of the peripherals. From the Power Glove, Super Scope 6, the Power Pad, and the Light Gun to name a few, gamers in the ’80s and early ’90s were inundated with first and third party peripherals.
So many of these add-ons were quite useless, but I’ll be dammed if they didn’t look cool on the shelf. The R.O.B for the original NES was probably the most confusing and nonsensical peripheral of all time, and yet there was something special about it. I still have mine, although it doesn’t work, and I’m missing all of the various attachments.
Steering wheels, flight sticks, brake pedals, and arcade-style lap controls were all a part of what gaming was all about. I know they still sell things like that today, but the newness of it all back in the NES heyday made it all the more special. If you loved playing Afterburn in the arcade, now you could have your very own Jet flight stick at home.
It was kitschy and pretty geeky to have some of these beautiful pieces of plastic, but it just made the who gaming experience so much more visceral. What are some of your favorite peripherals from back in the day? Are there any you always wished you had but never owned?
Simple Wired Controllers
I can remember getting so frustrated at games (I’m looking at you Battletoads), that I would throw my controller in a fit of rage. The NES controllers were built like tanks, and since they were wired, they couldn’t go very far.
I can safely say I never broke a single controller back then by throwing it. It was a great way to channel your frustrations and to take a minute to cool down and try again. Jump to today, and I would NEVER throw a controller no matter how blind with rage I’ve become. Aside from the fact that they can easily break, controllers are exceptionally expensive. Having to replace a first party Xbox One, PS4, or Switch Pro Controller will set you back $60 or $70 bucks. The Joy-Cons, as much as I love them are also exorbitant. Throwing your controller today is an expensive form of anger management, one which I highly recommend you do not do.
Makes me yearn for the little square piece of hard plastic with its two buttons and securely wired tether.
These have been just a few of the things I miss about retro gaming. Sure, many of the things I listed above aren’t practical today, but that’s not the point.
I realize gaming has evolved to make things easier and more streamlined for players, but that doesn’t mean I can’t reminisce about the days of yore. I wouldn’t want to go back to inputting a long password to start a game where I left off or be forced to use simple wired controllers again.
I enjoy how gaming has evolved, but a part of me misses the simple pleasures of how things used to be. Are there aspects to retro gaming you miss? Write in the comments below and let me know what you think of my list and what I might have left off.