Top Ten Dead Video Game Gimmicks of the '90s

By Stew Chyou on May 1, 2012, 6:38PM EDT

There are some things from the '90s that we look back on with fondness and some... not so much. Either way, it's a collection of memories that does well enough to fill our hearts with that special pang of nostalgia.

Without a doubt, gaming greatly contributes to the wellspring of reminiscence "“ providing much that can be seen in today's developments or long forgotten and buried. The following is but my own list of top ten gimmicks, remembered as either communal landmarks or just for chuckles.

10.) MIDI Music
Lately a buddy and I started a weekend ritual that involved watching copious amounts of cheesy '90s martial arts films. We've noticed one thing each of them have in common (aside from the gregarious use of ninjas) "“ they incorporate a lot of Easy Listening to their soundtracks, music that not too many people nowadays bother remembering, or enjoying for that matter.

Today, when the media discusses gamers, 8-bit tunage (for retro's sake) is greatly used as a sort of scene anthem. What's often overlooked was the use of MIDI tracks. These were often used during the later years of the SNES and Genesis era, and more prominently used in PC games, especially point-and-clicks.

I can't quite put my finger on why exactly I miss this style, but it's the same when thinking back to '90s Easy Listening and how the sax was appropriate for any occasion. I mean just listen to this classic theme from the 7th Guest. Yes? No? Okay, maybe it's just me...

9.) Action Movie Spin-offs
Prior to his attempts in banning violent games from his seat of California's governor, Schwarzeneggar has had various sprites made in his likeness including Last Action Hero, True Lies, and appearances in a few Terminator games.

Aside from Arnold's popular works, just about every movie was given an action game spin-off including, but not limited to, Cliffhanger, Time Cop, Lethal Weapon, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, 3 Ninjas, Surf Ninjas, heck, it seemed like the movie going experience wasn't enough unless you transferred it onto an 8 or 16-bit cartridge, and that could involve fighting random goons, wildlife, or jumping platforms - exactly as it happened on film!

Today, the choice of action movie spin-offs are selective, and just less as imaginative as the spin-offs from 20 years back. Where's that Expendables video game everyone's clamoring for?

8.) Live Action FMV
We all remembered it "“ that magical trend from back in the day where live actors and sets were used by western devs as that special attempt to break the barrier between reality and digital. Developers have even gone on record to say that it's (queue '50s science convention music):THE FUTURE OF GAMING!

To be fair, it wasn't difficult at the time to believe such a future. Abundant as they were, games that used this medium have gone down in history as the greatest( Mortal Kombat, Night Trap, Under A Killing Moon, Area 51) and not so great (look up Sewer Shark).
Of course, it didn't take long to figure out that the live action treatment can be rather counter intuitive, and art restrictive, for gaming. It didn't stop Command & Conquer sticking with it though!

7.) Edutainment
C'mon, admit it, you miss them. Reader Rabbit, Treasure Mountain!, Oregon Trail, Carmen Sandiego even Mario Is Missing.

Greatly faded from prominence, edutainment is perhaps one of the most overlooked novelties of gaming "“ reaching out to youngsters on a range of subjects spanning age groups. As a kid, it was one of the reasons I looked forward to time at the computer lab, thanks to edutainment developers working with schools across the country.

Today, I'm sure the only reason any kid would want to use the lab would be to peak their Facebook after their smartphone's been confiscated.

6.) Consoles, lots of them
Just about every blockbuster title today is released across the PS3, Xbox360, PC. Exclusivity is seldom, only to be seen with the Wii and a number of handhelds. Either way, we can be thankful that distribution has become much concise.

Back then, things were much of a scramble. Exclusive releases were very common as so many developers were stuck in the rat race to dominate the market with their own respective consoles. Let's see, we had the NES, SNES, original Gameboy, Genesis, Sega CD, Game Gear, 3DO, Neo Geo consoles, Turbo Grafx 16, Atari Jaguar, Philips CD-I, the PC of course, and before the end of the decade there was the original PlayStation.

Either you had to have the richest parents in the world, or pick and choose your loyalties.

5.) Sex, Violence, and The Big Deal
The '90s is probably the closest mankind has ever been (and probably ever will be) to world peace. But man is a restless creature, and it is within that decade that we saw a surge in mature themes taking foot in entertainment, met with an equivalent counter weight of protest.

It was thanks to games like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap that the ESRB was established. What I once viewed as the adult scourge trying to ruin my fun, I now can look upon respectfully. Rather than a form of control that I had originally perceived, the ESRB was made as an effort to help parents solidify their role in taking accountability for deciding the type of material they expose their children to. The novelty is more recognized as society continues to spiral towards an increase of single parent households.

In the present day, violence in games has become all too common. No doubt, a number of the greatest games you've played these past few years have not been child friendly and even today it's amusing to have seen that Dante's Inferno hasn't incurred much controversy. Even still, despite the ESRB, there are a number of parents that demand more. Rather than take responsibility in getting to know their children's interests and maximize family communication, they still wish to have that portion of their duties thrusted in the arms of well dressed strangers. Awesome job.

4.) "Well Excuuuuuse me Princess!"
If there's one thing I miss from back in the day it's how practically every popular game had its own Saturday morning/mid-day cartoon spin-off. Mario had a total of three, Sonic also had three, and before having his own stint, Mega Man was a part of Captain N's N Team.

And it's not just cartoons, there were a number of live shows that discussed tips, tricks, and serving as Q&A for viewers who submitted their questions via VHS. This included Video Power, and even GamePro (R.I.P.) had its own show, hosted by J.D. Roth. And let's not forget GamesMaster.

3.) Shareware
Remember when 'free' was a viable business model? Before the scuffle of DRM security protocols, many up and coming PC developers used the shareware model, where often times the first episode of a series was given out for free, and if enjoyed, consumers could pay to purchase the subsequent episodes.

Prior to DRM, gamers could pass around these shareware games to friends and could be installed on any number of computers. Forefathers of game design who used the shareware model included John Romero, John Carmak, and Tom Hall.

Shareware was left dead and buried after technology advanced towards the 21st century with little space to facilitate the model, and oh yeah, there was that rising issue of software piracy.

2.) Of Difficulties and Completionists
When we used to say that we "beat a game", it actually had meaning. What brought out the tension in making the precision jumps, dealing with the possibility of one-hit kills, or just being put in any sort of danger was the fact that games always started you off with a set amount of lives. If you couldn't pass that one hurdle before expending all your chances, that was it. Depending on the game you played you could be forced to redo everything from scratch or placed back at the beginning of the level. This made the process of hunting down extra lives invaluable, which in turn drove us to uncover all the game's secrets.

What certainly didn't help to make things easier was the fact that not many of games at the time saved data. How many times have we told mom and dad that we couldn't come down to dinner yet?

When you combine the above factors, it all seemed that every game at the time was trying to defeat us, trying to make us quit. But those who didn't give up would have the bragging rights, titles laid to rest would suffice as achievement trophies in themselves.

1.) Communication
Before the internet, there were only two sources one could consult for information: strategy guides and other gamers. While the former may involve the use of money or bumming a ride to the local Waldenbooks (R.I.P.), the latter was the most common and popular "“ often taking place in school.

Talking about games was a great way to break the ice, and for me it turned bullies into friends. There was a real sense of unity back then, if you needed help in a game, just asking would spark an enthusiastic exchange of intel.

Since the dawn of the internet, all the information is now at the fingertips of every gamer. Obviously, for one to ask for help today would be rolling out the welcome mat for getting stepped on. Somewhere along these occurrences, a new breed of unrelenting angry gamers came about. Debates back in the day were far and few (Mario vs. Sonic, Mortal Kombat vs. Street Fighter), but in the end everyone would agree on the fact that there were still plenty of games out there to be enjoyed.

Nowadays, just merely voicing a different opinion would have one subjected to an onslaught of derogatory and homophobic adjectives. Many of us dreamed of how games would evolve in the future, but the diminishing of better communication was certainly beyond my foresight.

blog comments powered by Disqus