Aging Well

I have been recently upgrading my Dreamcast library and going through some of the games. Playing old 3D games there is one thing that REALLY strikes me every time. They often age quite horribly.

Case in point, Metropolis Street Racer. It actually is a very smart, cool racing game. It focuses on fictional city courses. It features only roadsters and light racing cars, nothing too exuberant. There are some interesting innovations in the racing structure such as time trials where you need to set your own target time before you begin. However, once the actual race begins, things get VERY ugly.

The environments actually don’t look too bad. Or let’s put it that way: they look bad but that’s pretty much what we are used to from racing games. My problem are the cars. The next generation racers have introduced insanely detailed and faithful car models. They make Metropolis Street Racer looks pretty horrible. It’s especially evident in cars with a lot of rounded surfaces like the MX-5 in the video above. It’s a common car and you’ve probably seen it in real life. The in-game model is a far cry from the real thing.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. 2D games age generally quite well because they have a unique visual style. They clearly distinguish themselves from the games we have today. We see the difference but we won’t even start comparing them like we would with 3D games.

And actually the Dreamcast library also has another 3D game that demonstrates well how to age in dignity. I’m talking Jet Set Radio of course. They used 3D technology to create a unique look and feel. They didn’t try to recreate reality. They embraced the limitations of the technology and built a visual language around it. So yeah, the faces of the characters are actually just simple textures. And some characters look as if they are made out of boxes. But that’s how the visual style works. You don’t recognize this as something they had to do because of hardware imitations. It just looks like something they did because it was cool.

I guess the lesson for game designers is that you shouldn’t rely on technology’s ability to recreate reality. This ability will improve and it will just make your games look old after some time. But sadly, there is no economical payoff to that lesson. It’s not like Jet Set Radio profits from it’s longevity. “Good” and “successful” are sometimes incongruent. At least people like me still can appreciate and enjoy Set Jet Radio.

Do you know any games that aged especially well or especially bad. Why do you think that is?

P.S.: When I get a job as a professor, I’m totally going to get my students to call me “Professor K”. Just saying. ;)

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

4 responses to “Aging Well”

  1. Kylie

    Sprites or cel-shading are really the only ways to go if you want your game to age well. It’s unfortunate that so few gamers can really appreciate an older game because dated graphics get in the way – I’m guilty of this as well. The nostalgia factor can help get over that hurdle, but if you’re trying to play a highly rated game from, say, 10 years ago for the first time it often just doesn’t work.

    Unfortunately re-making an older game with updated graphics isn’t so easy, even if the fans want it. Just look at recent statements about the impossibility of re-making Final Fantasy VII.

    1. Krystian Majewski

      I feel there might be other ways to go then simply cel-shading or sprites. For example, I can imagine that Little Big Planet will age well. There just hasn’t been to much experimentation with visuals styles yet. I reckon as the improvements in 3D technology yield diminishing returns, many game developers will start being concerned with visual style rather than mere realism.

  2. Digital Tools

    Somehow I find Metropolis Street Racer a little bit of funny. Just because it is so painfully detailed, while at the same time the laps are so short. Like in a casual game. This doesn’t really fit together. I guess, that this game wasn’t meant to be funny in that sense… But to be honest: I’m not really familiar with Dreamcast games…

    1. Krystian Majewski

      I haven’t played the game for too long but I think the latter races get longer.

      But yes, the initial tracks are incredibly short.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


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