It's not the graphics, It's all about the limitations

I consider myself a classic gamer. I wasn't really old enough when the first big boom hit back in the early 80's, but once the NES was available, it was over for me. Now, even today, I'm still playing the consoles of that era. Whenever people ask the simple question of "Why?" the answer is simple: Limitations.

Let us use the example of my all-time favorite game for this experiment, "Samurai Shodown II" on the Neo Geo. For those who don't know, this is a one-on-one fighting game much like Capcom's famous "Street Fighter" series. The difference? It's actually more limited.

Unlike the combo system of "Street Fighter," this is a game that restricts what the player can do, but it's all for the sake of a better game. Landing a hit on a skilled opponent, particularly the slower and hence more powerful ones, is a true accomplishment. You feel it. The game actually slows down for a brief second so a player knows his accomplishment. In "Street Fighter," you can land a hit and then follow it with many more in rapid fashion. "Samurai Shodown II" doesn't allow this, with each player battling for that one move that can end the bout, significantly enhancing the skill involved.

Unlike modern 3-D fighters, "Samurai Shodown II" doesn't let players dodge to the side with a quickstep maneuver. You can move backwards, duck, and block, but you are always confined to a single plane of movement. In "Soul Calibur," skilled players simply dodge an attack to the side and initiate a massive assault on their helpless opponent.

Newcomers to the game are lost, baffled and confused as their opponent dances around them in a taunting manner all the while draining their health meter. Die-hard players simple trade blows in-between their movements. In "Shodown," a new player can quickly figure out an all-out attack is not the way to play and the field is evened, again because of a limitation in the gameplay.

I'll get even older now. How about Taito's "Space Invaders?" You are limited to a movement of left-to-right, nothing more. What if the game was moved into a 3-D perspective, just behind your ship/turret, and you had the ability to change your altitude, as could the aliens. Not only has the game completely changed, but also it's become needlessly complicated in the process. The simplicity (and, of course, the limitations given to the player) is what makes this one such a classic.

Moving into more modern times, we'll look into the saga of "Grand Theft Auto III/Vice City," a series of games I find myself writing about far too often. Here is a game that screams at players during the advertisements: "Go anywhere! Do anything!" Really? Even if it were possible with this generation of hardware, would you even want to be able to do "anything?" Would it even be a "game" anymore?

The sheer definition of a "game" has limitations. Would Monopoly be fun without the brilliantly designed rule set? No. So, if you could walk into a high school gym (in the game) while playing "GTA", pull out one of those blue mats and start doing gymnastics on them, would you really be having fun? No. There's also a reason other cities are unavailable from the start. It gives the game a purpose, a reason to keep playing.

Most players today (especially most of the younger ones I believe ) don't realize that this is why classic gamers and games are still around. Designing a game and making it more expansive only needlessly complicates things. Sure, some games pull it off, but then why is "Tetris" said to the video game most played in the history of the industry? In the end however, I probably can't say it any better than Eugene Jarvis (the creator of "Defender" and the "Crusin" series) did in a 1996 interview:

Question: So too much freedom is a bad thing?

Answer: "Yeah. We forget that games are about limitations. Limitations are what really make games. Take the game of Chess - possibly the greatest game of all. You're on this stupid board and you've got 64 squares, you can't move in three dimensions, you can't move off the board, and the pieces only move in certain, really horrible ways that are totally stifling to your creativity. Yet, here is this incredibly rich game."

Sounds like "Samurai Shodown II" to me.

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