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old gaming vs. new gaming

Four years ago in 2006 I did a screencast of Star Wars: TIE Fighter, an MS-DOS game from 1994. I was the first guy ever to post that game on YouTube. Since that time it's been linked hundreds (possibly thousands) of times.

TIE Fighter fit on three floppy disks (maybe four, can't remember exactly), but oh, what a game you got. This was not a game you could finish in a single afternoon. If you played just a few hours a day, it would take you a whole week to beat the game - but hang on - there were all the bonus missions after that, many of which weren't easy to accomplish, but not frustrating. Just challenging. On top of that, the storyline was incredible. It went very deep into the Star Wars universe and did so properly. You were fighting for the Empire - yes, the bad guys - and learned all sorts of secrets about how they did stuff. And on top of that, the gameplay was fluid, fast, speedy, you name it, it was awesome. The gaming engine used was just spot-on perfect, given the PC hardware capabilities of the time.

I'll remind you again: This was a game that was on three floppy disks, and it was that good. How good? In a 2009 article about the Top 25 PC Games of All Time, TIE Fighter beat out Diablo, DOOM, Unreal Tournament, Fallout, Crysis, StarCraft, The Sims, World of Warcraft, SimCity, Call of Duty, MechWarrior 2, Half-Life, Battlefield 1942, and Civilization IV. In fact, TIE Fighter holds the #2 spot.

TIE Fighter is why LucasArts used to be the king of gaming.

Recently the game Portal was released for free and is available for download until May 24. This game even though released in 2007 is still considered modern. It has won numerous awards for just about everything you can think of, and yeah, it's good. Great, in fact. The storyline is amazing, the gameplay is challenging but frustrating (more on that in a moment), and the end of the game is simply awesome.

But I beat the game in standard mode in less than 3 hours, all on my own, with no hints, walkthroughs or cheating.

My first thought after beating it was, "Sheesh. Good thing this was free."

This is the exact reason why I almost never buy new games anymore. Games back in the 90s and even the early 2000s had loooooong missions, storylines and so on, but not Portal. Granted, I know Portal is a puzzle game, but still.. way too short.

Another thing that ticked me off about Portal are the bonus puzzles. They were good, save for the "Advanced Level 18" which for most people including myself is impossible to figure out unless you watch a YouTube video walkthrough of it. This is a point of frustration, and that's bad. A game should not frustrate you to the point of anger. The anger I speak of is the kind where you get angry enough at the game to say, "This is too difficult, screw this."

If you listen to the developer commentary after beating the game in standard mode, they mention they had to dumb down the game several times just for people to understand what the hell was going on.

I know precisely why they had to do that - no puzzle overviews before starting one.

In TIE Fighter, albeit a completely different game, you were given a "Mission Briefing" before starting any mission. This told you every single thing you had to do before doing it, but did it in such a way where you had to use skill to complete it.

Portal has no overviews of puzzles at all. And no, I'm not saying the game should tell you how to solve each puzzle, but it should tell you, "In order to solve this puzzle, you must do X, then Y then Z." No such thing exists in Portal. Instead there are little white pictogram blocks on the floor that don't really help you out that much.

If Portal were redesigned with basic overviews, they could have made the game harder and included more puzzles in standard mode. This would have made for a much better game.

The deal when you're playing a game is that it's essentially like an interactive movie where you are the main character making the plot go along. However, the main character has to know what to do in order to go on. TIE Fighter is spot-on perfect in this respect. As complex as that game is, you are never lost. With Portal on the other hand, the lack of basic direction such as with puzzle overviews equals frustration in short order because you simply don't know what to do.

Why is it that I was able to beat Portal so fast even with the lack of direction? Simple. I had played Half-Life 2, another VALVe game that uses the same gaming engine. I was already familiar with how VALVe does games and therefore took to Portal like a fish to water. That familiarity allowed me to figure out stuff very quickly. This is bad because it means I was able to figure out how Portal did things based on the engine it used rather than the actual challenge of the puzzles.

One can only hope in the future gaming will get better, because right now it sucks. There is absolutely nothing out there right now that can compete with older titles like TIE Fighter, StarCraft and Civilization.

And as sad as this sounds, this free Flash puzzle game in some respects is better than Portal. Play it and find out why.

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