Wednesday, November 12, 2008

We can steal the term "neo-retro"; there are parallels in P-n-P gaming and console gaming.

The console gaming scene has a term, which is fairly new it looks to me, since I follow these things here and there, called "neo-retro." A neo-retro game is a game designed to mimic the play style and aesthetic, or graphics, of earlier games, especially 8-bit game systems like the NES. This term is used both for a new retro-style Megaman game, but also for entirely new games designed with this aesthetic.

There seem to be a number of parallels to the retro-gaming scene in console and p-n-p gaming. One parallel is the urge to get back to a simpler time, with less time investment (whether real or perceived) and in general just good old fashioned fun without the baggage of rule/game bloat and in the case of console and p-n-p games, to get back to games that are easy to just pick up and play.

It strikes me how similar the idea is on one hand for neo-retro console games to mimic the "inferior" aesthetic of 8-bit gaming, and on the other hand for p-n-p publishers, and not just those publishing retro products, like to have a retro presentation of art and layout.

Before I go too far afield, what I'm proposing is that we call games like Mutant Future, BFRPG, Castles & Crusades, and Mazes & Minotaurs "neo-retro" games, while leaving the term "retro-clone" as a more specific instance of a neo-retro game that seeks to emulate a specific game as closely as possible. I've been inspired by some of jrients's funky graphics in the past, so allow me to present one here...oh wait I almost messed up. Since Jeff likes "three-fold" models, here's my three-fold retro p-n-p model...

I'll let the picture speak for itself to some extent. My reasoning with the near-clones is that they borrow a lot from previous games, but implement things in a slightly different way or combination to create a neo-retro game that has "clone-like" properties.

So, what do we make of the parallels between retro console gaming and retro pencil-and-paper gaming? I don't want to play amateur sociologist, but based on previous discussions in the old-school online community I wonder if one component is a general alienation to modern games, and the glut/bloat that happens with this drive by game publishers for ultra-commercialization. The drive for games to be more EXTREME!, as well as an over-polished look and intense complexity may be invading on the fun factor. I'm not going to deny that nostalgia plays at least some role, but I don't think admitting that is a flaw to the old-school renaissance. We all play games to have fun, no matter what kind of game you like or why. "Nostalgia" does not necessarily need to connote "blind admiration." People who prefer D&D 4e today, even though it is shiny and new, may go on to always prefer it and feel nostalgia toward when they first discovered it. That doesn't subtract any from the credibility of old-school gaming as relevant today and just as valid of a play aesthetic into the future.


David Macauley said...

I like it. I must admit I'd probably lump all the near-clones in with the neo-retro's myself, just to keep it simple.

Lord Rocket said...

I know no-one asked me, but I honestly think you guys should dump the whole 'retro' thing.
The word, I mean - after all, its pretty demeaning, as it puts you in a bit of an intellectual ghetto. To paraphrase an old computer magazine I've got lying around somewhere, if you bust out some classic Wells or Balzac (if you're highbrow) then you aren't accused of 'retro-reading,' or, more recently, if you sit down and enjoy Dirty Harry then you aren't 'retro-viewing' - so why do people who enjoy older games get labelled (and dismissed) as 'retrogamers'?

David Macauley said...

Well I don't know Lord Rocket, I don't take offence to people thinking I have a guilty pleasure. I'm a bit of a collector and "retro" has become the new "antique", so much so that much of what's retro is now well out of my price range. I think the term is gaining a respectability that's sure to flow on to the rpg community. Wear it as a badge of pride. Retro and Proud of it!!!!

K.R. Proctor said...

I think that that these retro-clones really represent a simulacrum; this holds true for retro-gaming in consoles as well. The problem is that the simulacrum does not simply represent the old games we once played, but rather it also reflects others aspects of our previous gaming experiences as well. I think this nostalgic element should not be underestimated. How many of use remember how fun it was when we first started playing? Or the fun interactions with other players? Or the sheer joy of thwarting the nefarious plans of the DM?

But I think for many the appeal of retro-gaming is that it harkens back to a time when many of us had fewer real responsibilities. It also a time in which we were less likely to let reality get in the way of a good adventure (Dan, you might remember our Ghostbusters RPG, rubber glovers, and a proton pack).

While it is interesting to try to construct a literary theory out of this movement, I think that much more of the movement can be explained by a combination of nostalgia and the efforts of some to pursue a more "authentic" form of gaming who may have missed the boat the first time around.

S'mon said...

Thanks for the useful model, Dan. I think it does clear up some confusion. I note that BFRPG is a bit of a special case as it looks a lot like a retro-clone, only not quite.

My own attraction to the retro-clones and neo-retro games is that (unlike eg 3e & 4e) they are ideal for PBEM play:

They have simple, easily grasped rules.

They are available free online.

They are easy to house rule.

Zweihander said...

I note that BFRPG is a bit of a special case as it looks a lot like a retro-clone, only not quite.

I think that's an accurate observation, as BFRPG is very much a B/X D&D sensibility wrapped in a stripped d20 shell. It's why I'm planning to use BFRPG for the next game I run. My group is so familiar with D20 it would be a good idea to leverage that for a more retro campaign.

I know no-one asked me, but I honestly think you guys should dump the whole 'retro' thing.

IMO I don't see anything wrong with the use of the word 'retro', but I could use 'classic'.
Classic Rock
Classic Cars
Classic Gaming
Even has a nice ring to it.

Dan of Earth said...

The problem with using "classic" is that this word in general refers to basic D&D specifically, and sometimes extends to OD&D depending on who you talk to, but not AD&D, etc.

I personally don't think the word "retro" necessarily has bad connotations, and if it does, let's take it back!

Lord Rocket said...

Its not that 'retro' has any bad connotations per se (although 'out dated' does come to mind), its just that appending it to things separates those things from other things that are similar to the former things.

Um, well.

Look at it this way: after writing this, I open E-UAE (Amiga emulator) and start playing, say, First Samurai. So far as I am concerned, I am playing a game, but some other twat might prefer to say that I am 'retrogaming,' I would be offended by this, since I don't consider First Samurai to be really distinct from newer games, despite the discrepencies in graphics and genre, but use of the term 'retrogame' (as opposed to just game) has made it so. Even if you disagree with that, you should be able to see that the term has lumped it in with a bunch of games that may not have anything to do with it, such as, say, the Ultima series.
It simply isn't a fair comparison - although I'd be willing to accept a blanket love or condemnation of, say, platform games, I will never understand people who can set an arbitrary date and lump everything before or after that into one amorphous mass.

Anecdote: I knew this girl back in university - this is only a couple of years ago for me, by the way - who declared she would never be interested in playing any computer game made after 1989. Just... what?

Considering pen and paper games specifically, anyone can see the difference between RuneQuest III and AD&D 2e, despite the fact they were made (very roughly) contemporaneously. So why are they necessarily both 'retro'?

Frankly, it will be better for the 'old school revival' if it stops isolating itself in this way, decrees that the games it plays require no prefixes, works out what makes its games different from the 'new school' and begins producing new games with their own style and charm in a variety of genres - in other words, becoming a viable alternative other than just a niche ideal.

All that - and I shouldn't even have to say this - is just my (poorly expressed) opinion, of course.

Jeff Rients said...

Nice chart. I like the overall schema. I've been looking for a classification system like this.

RE: 'retro'

I use 'retro stupid' to describe my gaming preferences because I see it as a clear way to communicate what I am interested in without slipping in a sideways snub at other people's choices. I'd rather choose a less-than-completely complimentary term than come off as some sort of snob.

John Adams said...

Well, a chart - with color!
Who can argue with a chart?
Good analysis, Dan.

disa said...


donna said...