Modern Retro Game Design

Two things that recently happened in the game industry have got me excited: the new trailer for Super Mario 3D World and the Might No. 9 Kickstarter. What makes them related- and makes them stand out to me- is that they’re both modern games made in the spirit of retro games. Might No. 9 is obviously Inafune’s effort to revitalize the Mega Man formula, and 3D World (like its fantastic predecessor 3D Land on 3DS) is all about bringing the classic sidescrolling Mario Bros. gameplay to life in 3D.

Keeping the spirit of retro games alive in today’s industry is something I’ve been thinking about lately. Often when developers try to do this, they limit themselves to recreating retro games: how they looked, how they played, and all. While this can certainly lead to great games and be worth some nostalgic fun, it’ll only go so far, won’t it? By its very nature, that’s not really progress. I think if we want to make games that truly feel like continuations of the classics we loved, we should focus not on every little aspect of games from back in the day, but the spirit of them: what make them unique and charming, and what made us love them.

I think the way to do this is pretty straightforward: “modern retro game design”. That is, designing games to take full advantage of today’s technology and the progress the medium has made over the years, but with the spirit and mindset game developers had back in the day. Basically, what kinds of games would they make back then if they knew all we know today? Take Mighty No. 9: its most exciting aspect to me is its multiplayer modes that take advantage of online play and recent trends in great multiplayer design. These, if the pan out well, will still stay true to why people loved Mega Man-style gameplay, but also give it a breath of fresh air it would never have had if the team had stuck to doing what they could have done in the 80’s.

This is, of course, something a lot of developers are already doing, and I love seeing it. It’s something I’m striving to do in my own games as well, and I hope it will let me help me make games that are the best of both worlds: modern and retro.

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