Games Before Their Time

What are some games that would have been better if not for technical limitations?

Hard to say, most games don’t overscope that much. It’s easier to look at how games evolved as technology got better to allow for them. Like, before a certain technological point, certain genres of game simply weren’t possible. For example, there weren’t any twin stick shooters on the N64 or any system before it. I think it’s almost always possible to make a good game within the technological limitations you’re operating under, but making a specific type of game might not be possible. And I think if the game was made before the right tech existed, then it’s just too bad for that particular game.

I think the Atari 2600 was too primitive to really allow for a lot of games. I played the ports of Pacman and Donkey Kong and they were really sad honestly. I was however supremely impressed by Sky Diver, which I’ve mentioned before. It goes to show that you can do a lot with only controlling the position of a sprite on-screen. This talk goes over a few other Atari games that are actually fairly well designed, but most were pretty crap.

Marble Madness had a lot of cutbacks due to technical limitations, though it probably worked out for the best in the end in this particular case.

Early RTS were hacked together like no one’s business and it’s a miracle they worked as well as they did. You couldn’t do things like pull workers off mining if they were in danger. You couldn’t select multiple units originally.

Crysis had a lot of its AI functionalities cut out in development. It was originally intended to be squad based
Crysis 2 couldn’t get the large crysis 1 style maps working on console, so it became a corridor shooter.

Thi4f and Deadly Shadows removed or limited rope arrows because otherwise you’d go too high and draw too much stuff at once and it would break consoles (earlier games had it, but they really wanted the improved visuals). Both games also interrupted levels with loading zones.

Dial-up Era netcode wasn’t really up to snuff for its time for the few early games that had netplay at all. It was the future, but it really wasn’t there yet.

Obviously anything 3d had to wait for better graphics processors. I’m amazed they got Wolfenstein working on SNES frankly.

A lot of PS1 games really needed analog sticks. Megaman Legends is the standout, it tried to make a 3rd person shooter on a system with no analog sticks when realistically you really need dual analog for that. I think Mario Sunshine arguably could have pulled this off too, but it was just a bit too early and they hadn’t figured out the 3rd person shooting control paradigm yet. Metroid Prime did amazingly well for its lack of dual analog controls and Metroid Prime Trilogy managed to make an implementation of a similar control scheme work with free pointer aiming.

N64 games also suffered from a lack of dual analog. I think Zelda would have been better if they went with a fixed camera solution, or a fixed viewpoint like LttP or the later Ys games. I think 3d Mario has had a weird backwards evolution. If they were more realistic then they probably would have started with fixed isometric cameras, then moved up to free-cams. Instead they did a free camera first, then moved to an auto-panning-cam with galaxy, then a fixed isometric camera in 3d world. Seems like they’re finally returning to free cams with Odyssey, which makes sense.

DMC would have benefited from the smooth panning cameras of God of War.

Dishonored cut dynamic lighting for baked shadows. Baked shadows limit a lot of games, because you can’t move very much once you choose to use them. This also meant no water arrows or light/shadow based stealth, which they had already nixed.

Halo did a lot pre-havok with its vehicles, but lacking a proper physics middleware prevented a lot from happening with the vehicles and environment. They still did a pretty damn good job though, all things considered.

Also LOD wasn’t really standardized until Unreal 3, so most games had to choose between a few hi-res models or many lo-res ones, or raster sprite solutions.

Old NES shmups like Summer Carnival ’92 Recca were limited in how many sprites they could draw and had to do all sorts of workarounds to get that working. Many bullets in this video didn’t actually have hitboxes.

Infamous Second Son wanted a ton of really fancy particle effects and coded a new engine from scratch for it that was basically houdini in a game engine. The drawback? The asset import process was a nightmare, and people say it was the hardest game to work on they’ve ever attempted at making. Got some sick effects out of it though.

Early FPS games like Doom suffered from the lack of mouse control. It’s amazing they came out so good considering how much modern console shooters are compromised for the same reason.

Cinematic platformers (prince of persia, heart of darkness) had the tech to make control systems that didn’t move in lock-step with the tiles, but they sucked at implementation, that or were really concerned about the characters’ feet ice skating (not moving in sync with the motion on the ground). Modern 3d solutions motion blend and most 2d solutions from the time period just didn’t give a shit. Also they could have implemented more animation cancels like other games of the time did.

Most games are designed around the limitations of their time and don’t really try to overscope, so it’s hard to list definitive examples here of games trying to do something that is rendered easy by later technology. It’s perhaps easier to look at games and see where technology became good enough to allow a certain style of game. Like the NES’s additional sprite capacity allowed for attacking animations and avoiding multiple objects onscreen at once, as well as scrolling levels, which the systems before it couldn’t do. Zelda and DMC are both good examples of a game sticking with earlier technological limitations despite having better alternatives develop after them (fixed cameras in DMC, a lot of things in Zelda). Mario eventually excised its camera issues in galaxy and 3d world, albeit that arguably came at a huge loss in scope relative to the earlier 3d mario games. If Nintendo were more realistic about technology, we’d probably have seen something like Mario 3d World back on the N64 (like we saw Crash Bandicoot with its auto-camera on PS1), and seen things more like Mario 64 developing now when we have dual analog and know a lot more techniques for managing 3d cameras effectively.

I don’t really like Crash Bandicoot’s control scheme, but it was very realistic about the technological limitations present back then in a way that Mario 64 wasn’t, and was arguable a financial success over Mario 64 for precisely that reason.

Nowadays we don’t have many tech limitations, it’s usually about tradeoffs in performance versus visuals. One I’d like to mention though is the lack of 3d Joysticks. This isn’t important for the vast majority of games, which are able to map character motion to a single plane rather easily and let gravity and the like handle motion in the 3rd dimension, but you run into issues in swimming games or space games. Zone of the Enders had a good solution here, binding two of the buttons to Z axis motion. However you can see the limitations of 2d joysticks in games like Tekken, which need to do a lot of trickery to make directional blocking and side stepping AND jumping all possible on the same stick. Other 3d fighting games use a block button to get the same job done. A 3d stick could easily handle all of these possible inputs without conflict or overlap.

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