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.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What is a retro-clone game?

According to wikipedia, the fountain of all accurate knowledge, I am responsible for coining the term "retro-clone," at least in the context of pencil & paper RPGS. For as long as I've had a home page for Goblinoid Games I've had a description of what a retro-clone game is, at least as far as I am concerned.

I've seen the term used all over the place now, sometimes used in ways that confuse me. So I want to define a little more closely what I think a retro-clone is, for whatever my ramblings are worth.

A retro-clone, the way I use the term, refers specifically to a game that attempts to emulate as closely as is legally possible the game rules of another game. That's it. If you've ever encountered the various game emulators for NES, SEGA, and other old cartridge console games, then you have an idea what I mean.

However, I see the term used for other games, such as Castles & Crusades and Mazes & Minotaurs. We should draw a line between retro-clones and retro games in general. Mazes & Minotaurs is a retro game, but it clearly is not closely cloning another game.

Castles & Crusades is in an odd category. It clones elements of Basic D&D, AD&D, and D&D 3.5, mixing them all together for a game that can appeal to 3.xers and old-schoolers. So it is definitely a retro game, to one degree or another, but it does not emulate the rules of a specific single game. As a side note, fans of C&C who are critical of retro-clones have no moral high ground. Cloning elements of three games does not make it qualitatively more "moral" compared to games that only clone one game. IMHO cloning is cloning.

Mutant Future is also a special case, which I would call retro but not a "retro-clone." Since it borrows its core rules from Labyrinth Lord, but other elements from other OGC, it does not directly emulate a specific game.

Anyway, I'd classify this post as one of those "oddball rants" I promise in my blog header.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Evolution of Elric Part 1

I was wandering through a bookstore in Johannesburg and saw a book simply titled, "Elric." It looks like it is a reprint of the original Elric stories as they were first published in magazines, before they were expanded into the novels.

It's interesting to see how the trappings of Elric and the world evolve not just when comparing these original stories to the novels, but actually within these short stories as they progress. This post is "part 1" because I'm about halfway through the book, and I want to put down some thoughts as I'm encountering them. I'll post part 2 when I'm finished reading it.

One of the first differences I noticed is that the kingdom of Melnibone is not described in as great of detail in the original stories. We get the overall gist, which is that it is a decadent society. In addition, the first stories seem to indicate that the Melniboneans are simply humans of an old society, and as the stories progress there is some brief description later about the features of Melniboneans, that they have slightly narrow and long skulls, no ear lobes, and slightly pointed ears, but the implication seems to be that these are "racial" traits, not traits of a separate "species" as they are in the expanded novels.

Another thing that is different, which surprised me the most, is that in the earlier stories Elric's sword Stormbringer is simply an evil blade that likes to kill, but as I get further into the book Moorcock is altering his descriptions so that instead of simply sending its victims "to hell," the sword is now "drinking souls." Also there was no epic struggle between Stormbringer and it's "brother" Mournblade. In the original short stories Elric's cousin simply already had the sword, it was noted that the swords were of a simlar type, and left at that. No funky cosmic struggle, which was ok with me.

Even though I'm only halfway through, I can say so far that there is no indication of an "Eternal Champion" nonsense which turns me off of the Elric stories. I'll have to wait and see if it surfaces later. These stories lack a lot of the detail that was fleshed out in the novels, and so far I don't feel like the original stories are worse for it. A lot of the fleshing out, as far as I can tell, takes things in different directions that I personally don't care for. I like the idea of the struggle of Law and Chaos, and I like that so far it hasn't gotten too bloated with pseudo philosophical nonsense as it does in the books.

One final thing I'll say is that something that is difficult to stomach in the books is that in many cases the writing, with all due respect to Moorcock, sucks. It flows poorly and leaves an amateurish impression. In the original short stories, though, I don't get this at all. So I'm left wondering if the poor writing is the result of Moorcock either rushing to write the novels or is it from a labored effort of trying to flesh out the stories in new directions. I have no idea, maybe it's some combination.

More later.

Been Away

I want to keep posting here on a fairly regular basis. As some of you know, I'm in South Africa at the moment and my access to the internet has been spotty. So I'll do the best I can until I get back to India in late December.