This page is devoted to learning game design by experiencing games of the past (aka retro games).  I never played most of the games that are now retrospectively considered generation defining games, which introduced unique game mechanics, experiences, features or are otherwise considered by the gaming community to be cool/rad/the shit/sick etc etc.  Its time to rectify my spent youth of riding around the neighbourhood, playing cricket, mucking around at the creek etc and learn all about these great games.  This page is broken up into the following sections – Intro, The Consoles, The Games, The Schedule.

I kicked off the following content around mid-2014…I’ll add updates with dates as things change…


 

Intro

So, I am going to acquire the consoles that defined each console generation and grab, within reason, the 5-10 most popular games on each and play through them, making game design and “experience” notes as I go.

In terms of distilling game design tips from the games, I’ll be using the Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics Model and Jesse Schell’s “lenses”.

While aiming to play the most popular games, I will however have a number of self imposed “guiding principles” (as opposed to hard and fast rules) which I will use to select the final games that I will play.  The main one is that I don’t intend on playing games from genres that I’m not specifically interested in from a game design perspective.  I appreciate that this means I’ll miss out on some awesome games…but such is life.  The second main limitation will be financial – when I first thought about doing this project I wasn’t aware that the retro-gaming-economy was so huge right now (…and still is in July 2017).  Am I really going to fork out $100+ for some of these games…nah ah!!  This may mean that, unfortunately, I may have to dabble in emulated versions of these games (such as using an OG XBOX running Coin Ops or Wii Homebrew…which will let me play copies of the game that I own, but ah, which aren’t working…).

The main guiding principles are as follows:

1.  No fighting games.  This includes things like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Tekken etc.  Brawlers / beat-em ups are okay, but not fighters.

2.  No driving sims / kart games.  This includes things like F1 simulators, Mario Karts and the like.  Basically I suck at driving games and they don’t hold my attention.  (July 2017 – turns out Mari Kart really is that fun, as are things like Drive Club.  Still, I wouldn’t contemplate making a driving game, so they’re still on the “not to play” list).

3.  No sports games.  No football, soccer, baseball, basketball, cricket, golf, skate-boarding etc.  With the exception of the FIFA franchise, sports games have never really floated my boat.

4.  Franchises.  This is a very tough one.  My original thoughts were that I would not “get into” any franchises unless successive entries in the franchise introduced fundamentally new mechanics or design features.  The idea was that I’d probably skip over a highly popular franchise entry in favour of games from another genre.  But the more I researched the games for this project, the more intrigued I became about the popularity and passion that gamers have for certain franchises – particularly those that were consistently popular across multiple console generations.  To me “The Legend of Zelda” stood out as something I wanted to get into and chuck my guiding principles out of the window (July 2017 – managed to make quite some way through Link to the Past on the SNES…and just completed Breath of the Wild yesterday…).  As did Metroid (maybe because the lead character is “unique” by being female but is fully capable of kicking alien ass like no other), and to a lesser extent Mario (not least because Mario seems to be “the” defining Nintendo character / franchise).  Other popular franchises however, such as Final Fantasy, while no doubt probably as popular as these franchises I’ve listed, just didn’t pique my interest based on the game play style I saw on youtube and/or briefly experienced.

5.  Where possible, try to play games which are exclusive to a system/console (eg Halo on Xbox)


The Consoles

I was naturally constrained by the supply available, but I specifically selected consoles that appeared to me to be most popular, both in their day and contemporarily based on the interest / trading action observed on various facebook pages etc.  Wikipedia was used as a guide for the different console generations.  Based on this, I considered retro-consoles to be those that span the first through to the sixth generation, with the seventh (aka “current” as of 2014) generation being defined by the PS3, XBOX360 and Wii.

First Generation

While I respect that this is where things started (with consoles like the Magnavox Odyssey)…these consoles and games proved to be too difficult to obtain (though the bloke from work did bring in his Vectrex which as pretty cool).  While historically significant, they may be of limited value to my project in terms of game design insight.  So…my adventure will really start with the Second Generation.

Second Generation

Console #1.  Atari 2600

July 2015 Console #1.2.  I managed to pick up a Hanimex TVG-070C...had no idea what it was, and its not in the “official” list on Wikipedia.  I plugged in the power pack and heard a pop-bang come out of it (no smoke though)…assume it was an old capacitor.  Luckily this thing could be run off batteries, and sure enough it came to life…colour graphics and all.  Came with one cartridge with ten sports games and they seemed quite playable, despite being very rudimentary.  More one for the collection, not so much the project.

July 2017 Console #1.5.  Managed to pick up an Intellivision for a reasonable price…and games seem to be similarly reasonable on Ebay.  Assuming the project kicks off again, experiencing some of the more popular games may be the go.

Third Generation

Console #2.  Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

July 2017.  Recently also managed to obtain a Famicom.  The advantage being that for some of the franchises, like Megaman (aka Rockman) and Bomberman, the games actually sell on Ebay at quite a discount to the PAL versions.  Although I’ve “finished” the third generation as originally planned, there maybe some back tracking…otherwise I’ll just keep building the “Man” collection.

Console #3.  Sega Master System / Master System II

March 2017.  Although not forming part of the original retro gaming project, I did manage to secure one of the 100,000 Atari XEGS produced, as well as a Commodore 64 and a Dick Smith VZ-200 (not reading from Datasette unfortunately).  Not really planning to get games for them, more hoping to get some BASIC action happening.

Fourth Generation

Console #4.  Super NES

September 2017.  Since I managed to get the Famicom, it made sense to also grab a Super Famicom so that I could still target those franchise that I’ve developed a thing for.  Unfortunately when the SFC turned up it wasn’t working…looks like modding a SNES could be easier option.

Console #5.  Sega Mega Drive / Mega Drive II

November 2016.   Managed to pick up a PC-Engine…but getting hands on the Hucard games is proving a bit difficult…hoping to get R-Type, eventhough I’ll play this on the Master System.

July 2017.  And I did end up getting R-Type…and Bomberman…both work really well on the PC Engine, R-Type being noticeably better than SMS.

Fifth Generation.

This is where things end with Sega, and Sony starts.  The Sega Saturn and Dreamcast, while acknowledged as being decent systems in their own right, don’t seem to be trading as freely as the other consoles, therefore the cost of acquiring the consoles and games was considered too prohibitive.

Console #6. Nintendo 64

Console #7.  Sony Playstation

July 2017.  Well I ended up with a Saturn and a Dreamcast…weren’t so cheap.  But the games are still quite prohibitive, so both these consoles will not likely feature in the project.

Sixth Generation

Console #8. Nintendo Game Cube

Console #9.  Sony Playstation 2

Console #10.  Microsoft XBOX (aka OG XBOX)


The Games

The games for each of the consoles are listed in popularity order.  There is no great science behind the final selection.  For each console I simply found five websites with a “20 best games” listing and performed a quasi-averaging process to come up with a single top ten list of games.  However, due to my guiding principles, availability and other issues, I was forced to extend the list outside the top ten to accommodate additional games.  These are identified as “discretionary games” – games that were generally popular (ie within top 40) and which I found myself to be particularly curious about, especially if I think they had a particularly interesting game designs behind them.

I have zero doubt that these final lists aren’t truly reflective of the most popular games…but unless someone comes up with an authoritative source that does this for me…I’ll go with what I’ve got.  I also tried to see if any one had produced lists of best games based on genre instead of consoles…but these were few and far between or otherwise incomplete.

Colour code:

Green – Games that made the final cut!  I’ll be playing through these and making design notes as I go.

Red – I ended up acquiring these, but didn’t make the final cut.  If time permits in the given “play” schedule, I will play through some of these

Yellow – Although popular, I’m not intending to acquire as part of this little activity, reasons will be provided over time.

Atari 2600

It was surprisingly easy, or maybe I was just lucky, to be able to secure a decent collection of Atari games without having to either search or pay too much.  I bought the NES and SEGA Master System from one guy and he threw the Atari console in for free (because it wasn’t working).  I didn’t realize he was also chucking the games into the deal as well.  While a lot of these games weren’t the top ten list, there were still some eagerly sought after titles such as King Kong, Donkey Kong and these obscure, but super rare Foot Craz Video Jogger / Reflex games. The latter turned out to be the distant ancestor of the Wii Fit and reasonably valuable – even without the game mat in the deal.  To be honest it looked a little boring (and was fundamentally useless without the mat).  So I flipped a few of these games to help fund the rest of the collection.

ATARI#1 – Pitfall

ATARI#2 – Missile Command

ATARI#3 – Adventure

ATARI#4 – Space Invaders

ATARI#5 – Kaboom

ATARI#6 – Frogger – I played a rip-off of Frogger, called Hopper, on the Dick Smith VZ-200 back in the ’80s. Its a pretty basic game, the concept for which I recall well enough – which warranted not getting this game specifically for the project.

July 2015.  I ended up getting Frogger…but as I had already completed the Atari 2600 phase of the project, it stayed on the shelf…un-analysed.

ATARI#7 – Yar’s Revenge

ATARI#8 – Super Breakout

ATARI#9 – Asteroids

ATARI#10 – Demon Attack

ATARI#11 – Combat

ATARIDiscretionary#1 – River Raid

The Full List

Atari

Nintendo Entertainment System

I lucked out a big way in buying the NES (the toaster version with composite outputs instead of the upright version) sight unseen.  It was in immaculate condition – though the games weren’t playing reliably.  A bit of research indicated that the console’s 72-pin connector could be the culprit.  So, after ordering a new connector and finding some guidance on the net, I carefully completed the surgery…to find that the games still didn’t work.  A bit more research indicated that each NES requires its very own idiosyncratic way of having the game cartridge inserted before it will play.  For me, this was to insert the cartridge but not push the cradle into the console…seems to be working well so far!

NES#3 – Super Mario Bros.  Nope not a typo – SMB3 actually was the most popular, but I’ll kick off with the OG game…since this is one of the games I’m going to break the franchise rule for.

NES#2 – The Legend of Zelda – As detailed, I really wanted to get into Zelda.  But after forking out a pretty penny for A Link to the Past on the SNES which was in the same style as the OG Zelda, I decided to give this one a miss…happy to receive donations…

July 2017.  No donations required.  Managed to pickup both “The Legend of Zelda” and “The Adventures of Link” from Cash Converters at a reasonable price.  But, I’ve finished NES…so they ‘ll just be in the collection.

NES#1 – Super Mario Bros 3

NES#4 – Mega Man 2

NES#5 – Contra/Probotector – Simply was not readily available and too expensive.  I was able to snag Contra III / Super Probotector on the SNES and given my fourth guiding principle, I gave this one a miss.

NES#6 – Bionic Commando

NES#7 – Metroid

NES#8 – Castlevania #8 was actually Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, however it was almost non-existent in the market.  The original Castlevania III is understood to have remained largely faithful to the mechanics of the original, so the original will have to do!

NES#9 – Dragon Warrior

NES#10 – River City Ransom

The Full List

NES

Super Nintendo Entertainment System

SNES…what a pain in the bum.  Its easy to see why the SNES is considered to be one of the most popular of all consoles.  It proved to be very hard to hunt down the most popular titles due to primarily cost ($100+ for LOZ: A Link to the Past…but I got it cheaper…yessss!) and lack of availability.  Accordingly, I needed to look beyond the top ten to try and identify some more obtainable titles – but even this was problematic as outside the top ten there was little correlation between the different website lists.

SNES#1 – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

SNES#2 – Chrono TriggerUnavailable.  I’m fairly certain this was only released in Japan anyway – which probably explains its lack of availability.

September 2017.  But now that I have a Super Famicom coming…I may get it…

SNES#3 – Super Metroid.  Unfortunately Super Metroid, due to its popularity, is very expensive – $80+.  If I can’t get it for a good price, I’ll be playing by emulator.

September 2017.  Yeeesssss!  Got it for $50…and since I’ve not yet finished SNES, its going into the Project!

SNES#4 – Super Mario World

SNES#5 – Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

SNES#6 – Secret of Mana

SNES#7 – Star Fox

SNES#8 – Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

SNES#9 – Mega Man X

SNES#10 –  Earth Bound

SNESDiscretionary#1 – Super Probotector / Contra III: Alien Wars

SNESDiscretionary#2 – Super Bomberman 2

SNESDiscretionary#3 – UN Squadron

SNESDiscretionary#4 – Super Star Wars

The Full List

SNES

Nintendo 64

The N64, although also very popular, seem to have a much better supply of games in the local retro gaming market, especially compared to the SNES.  The top ten games would regularly come up for sale.

N64#1 –  The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

N64#2 – Super Mario 64

N64#3 – GoldenEye 007

N64#4 – The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

N64#5 – Perfect Dark

N64#6 – Super Smash Bros

N64#7 – Star Fox 64

N64#8 – Mario Kart 64

N64#9 – Banjo-Kazooie

N64#10 – Banjo-Tooie

The Full List

N64

Nintendo Gamecube

The Gamecube suffered a similar game availability issue as the SNES.  Not sure why, but the games seldom came up for sale.

GC#1 – Metroid Prime

GC#2 – Resident Evil 4 – RE4 rated highly on both Gamecube and PS2.  I managed to secure a cheap copy on the PS2 well before I started compiling my Gamecube games…so PS2 wins.  I’m not sure console it was supposed to be better on.

GC#3 – The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker

GC#4 – Super Smash Bros Melee

GC#5 – Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem

GC#6 – Pikmin#6 was actually Pikmin 2, however the price difference between the two was considerable.  Some research indicated that Pikmin 2 didn’t add to much in terms of additional mechanics.  So I decide to give the original game a go instead.

GC#7 – F Zero GX

GC#8 – Super Mario Sunshine

GC#9 – Resident Evil

GC#10 – Timesplitters 2

Sega Master System (inc MSII)

I wasn’t originally planning to get the Master System – mostly due to the fact that the last two generations had no Sega representation.  But a console came up in a bundle of consoles and turned out that the guy selling had most of the popular titles for it as well, and a bunch of others I was able to flip.  So, the Sega Master System was in.

MS#1 – Phantasy Star Simply wasn’t available.  The fleeting times it was, it was hideously expensive.  This may be one of the games I play via the emulator.

MS#2 – Sonic the Hedgehog

MS#3 – Alex Kidd in Miracle World

MS#4 – Wonder Boy III: The Dragon’s Trap

MS#5 – Wonder Boy in Monster Land

MS#6 – Land of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse – I figured Castle of Illusion would give enough insight into the game design.  This may or not be accurate – purely assumption

MS#7 – Castle of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse

MS#8 – R-Type

MS#9 – Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – I managed to get Sonic 2 on the Mega Drive…so didn’t feel the burning need to get it on the Master System.

MS#10 – Golden Axe Warrior – This was originally in my list to play through as part of the Project.  However I saw that there was some level of similarity in the gameplay that I would experience in the first Zelda games.  Given that the execution of the Project largely failed, I decide to skip this game in order to get to Zelda sooner rather than later.

MSDiscretionary#1 – Ghosts and Ghouls – At Newcastle’s World’s Biggest Car Boot Sale I stumbled across GnG.  The limited research I did indicated that this game stood out as being particularly difficult, but challenging.  It may have some good game design tips to give me.

Sega Megadrive (inc MD2)

MD#1 – Sonic (1-3 & Knuckles)

MD#2 – Gunstar Heroes

MD#3 – Phantasy Star IV

MD#4 – Streets of Rage 2

MD#5 – Super Street Fighter 2

MD#6 – Shining Force 2

MD#7 – Rocket Knight Adventures

MD#8 – Earthworm Jim

MD#9 – Alladin

MD#10 – Ristar

MD#11 – Landstalker

MDDisretionary#1 – Jungle Strike

MDDiscretionary#2 – CrackdownBefore getting into XBOX in about 2001/2, the only console games I ever played were Crackdown and Herzog Zwei on the borther’s Mega Drive.  I’ll give Crackdown a go, because I remember it as a pretty cool little game which I was actually able to beat.  In fact, I think Crackdown was the first game I ever fully completed without any cheats.

 

Playstation 1

PS1 was a bit of a problem child.  Mainly because the top ten list included so many rule breakers

PS1#1 – Metal Gear Solid

PS1#2 – Final Fantasy 7-9, Tactics.  As per guiding principles – not interested in this particular franchise.

PS1#3 – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.  Averaging in excess of $200…nah I’ll give it a miss.

PS1#4 – Tekken 3 – Fighting game…although fighters did end up in my final collection, Tekken 3 just didn’t appeal.

PS1#5 – Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 – Sports game…doesn’t interest me.

PS1#6 – Resident Evil 2

PS1#7 – Gran Turismo 2 – Driving game…doesn’t interest me.

PS1#8 – Chrono Cross

PS1#9 – Silent Hill

PS1#10 – #12 Crash Bandicoot / Warped / Cortex Strikes Back

PS1#13 – Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

PS1Discretionary#1 – Grand Theft Auto

PS1Discretionary#2 – Tomb Raider

Playstation 2

PS2#1 – Shadow of the Colossus

PS2#2 – Resident Evil 4

PS2#3 – Metal Gear Solid 3 – Snake Eater

PS2#4 – God of War 2

PS2#5 – Okami

PS2#6 – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.  Refer to below entry against XBOX

PS2#7 – Grand Theft Auto III

PS2#8 – Ico

PS2#9 – Final Fantasy X

PS2#10 – God of War

XBOX

XBOX#1 – Halo CE – This is where my gaming hobby started…and I’ve played through CE about 10 times, both old school and the anniversary remake.

XBOX#2 – Halo 2 – XBOX One and Master Chief Collection for Xmas 2014…nope, I won’t replay Halo 2 on the OG box.

XBOX#3 – Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic

XBOX#4 – Splinter Cell Chaos Theory

XBOX#5 – Ninja Gaiden Black

XBOX#6 – GTA San Andreas – I think I devoted a year of Friday afternoons working my way through GTA:SA.  This was in part due to a silly decision to take all the neighbourhoods in Los Santos before completing all the missions….only to find out that I had to retake all the bloody neighbourhoods again in the end…so nope, won’t be replaying GTA:SA.

XBOX#7 – Jade Empire

XBOX#8 – Prince of Persia Sands of Time

XBOX#9 – Fable

XBOX#10 – Burnout 3 Takedown


 The Schedule

RetroSchedule