We don't usually do editorials at Oldschool Gaming because there's no allowance for them in the overall structure, but it occurred to me the other day that this site is about two years old now. Well, strictly speaking the site itself is a tad older than that and some of the content dates back to it's two "unreleased" precursors, but the actual domain registration was on the 12th February 2004 (the domain renewal prompted this piece, in fact) and our first news items were added a day later so that's the point the site was shifted off the blocks and moved out into the public eye, so it's as good an official start date as any.
So what's changed in the past two years, at least as far as Oldschool Gaming and the people it's by and for are concerned? To be honest, not much, although that isn't necessarily a bad thing; there seems a few more games in production and being released each year than when we started and at least one format has seen a lot more activity in that period and although I'd be lying if I claimed we bore any responsibility for that, it's something we're very pleased to see. There's also the distinct possibility we'll have to add a few more categories to the site in the future to cover formats that are starting to see some new products and that's always been something we've wanted to see happen and machines like the Amstrad CPC are interesting programmers again when they hadn't previously.
The overall quality of the games seems to remain a constant though, ranging from some gems like Turrican 3 on the C64, Fabulous Mister Fruity on the Spectrum or Dynablasters for the Atari 8-bit machines to a few titles like Cross Motor on the Plus/4 or the ridiculously named Slarti And Slash Space Saga on the C64 that are pretty dire - that is, I suppose, to be expected, although there are a few specific cases where I'd hoped that perhaps having a poor review might have hinted to certain developers that they needed to reconsider how they were going about things. Sadly the subtle approach doesn't seem to have worked, so it might be time to get the electric cattle prod warmed up...
One disappointment to me personally is that Oldschool Gaming as a site hasn't moved a little faster; the dual reviewer system we're employing means that reviews are more balanced and, hopefully at least, less likely to head off into the wilderness when one person really takes a dislike or overly falls in love with a game. But at the same time it means that getting a complete review ready to publish can take us a lot longer than having a single writer on each game and whilst this more balanced is always going to be the one we as a team prefer in the long run because of that balancing, a tiny part of me wishes we could get more done.
And what about you, our dear readers, do you feel that we're offering you all a good, balanced service or are we talking out of our posteriors? Actually, we have absolutely no idea simply because we rarely get any feedback from the outside world; we know you're all out there because we can see your muddy footprints in the hallway and there's stuff missing from the fridge, but nobody really tells us what they think - hopefully that's not because it's very rude!
THE HIGHS AND LOWS
Probably some of the biggest highs were seeing some amazing titles like Abe's Escape or Turrican 3 (yes, we liked that one a lot!) released and having a legitimate excuse to play all these cool new games! If I'm being honest, that's part of what the site has always been about; a chance for people to have a decent play of something from time to time, regardless of if you're a reader or one of the writers. But it's also an encouragement, at least I would hope it is, to the people out there developing new games; the OSG team are made up mostly of part time developers, so we all it sometimes feels like you're alone in the wilderness, so some moral support and an interest in what others are doing can only be a positive thing.
Another point of interest has to be the popularity of "retro" now, with a dedicated mainstream magazine in the form of Retro Gamer, regular columns and supplements in other publications and the sheer number of classic arcade and console titles either being released as compilations like the Sonic Mega Collection or in a new "remixed" form such as the forthcoming Outrun 2006 Coast 2 Coast and Afterburner Climax; granted these titles aren't guaranteed to be fantastic simply because of their heritage and Sega themselves have already tried to revamp their classics with poor results, but the interest shown by big names like Taito, Konami and the companies behind the glut of Direct to TV joysticks and the USB Competition Pro amongst other items must surely indicate that we're all right to be interested in the days when computer games were more about pick-up-and-go playability rather than long, artificially drawn out story lines and cut scenes.
As for the lows, the sheer number of previews released that didn't go any further is at the very least a shame; there are titles on just about every machine that we're eagerly waiting for and whilst some like Pinball Dreams or Xeo3 look fairly certain to be released due to the activity surrounding them, there are others that the life signs have all but disappeared for and the ECG is flat lining.
But probably the worst thing for most of the team was watching the quality threshold of some developers (no names again, but I'd hope that the people in question are aware of who they are) either wavering or dropping even further downwards; compared to more acerbic reviewers like the Game Over(view) team (a dedicated C64 disk-based magazine that actually gets released on a regular basis...!) we're fairly gentle, but a bad game is always a bad game and it's somewhat disheartening sitting down to play yet another poor puzzle game with a flaw in the design, another shoot 'em up that doesn't even recognise diagonals on the joystick or another Sokoban clone where the levels are badly designed.
We don't expect every game to be awesome or anything, but it's a must that they be fun to play and that sometimes gets forgotten and when some newer titles are compared to what has gone before and not even the compared to the highlights in some cases, a few recent titles have fared poorly against to some of the weaker titles of yesteryear. It's almost annoying to think that with a little more effort they could have been so much better games and on that note, here and now an invitation to anyone developing a game; if you at any point feel the need to get some outside advice, feel free to talk to the OSG staff, we'll happily act as beta testers for any project on just about any 8-bit platform and I'd like to think the feedback will be useful to you. And we're house trained and won't bite the postman too often.
TO INFINITY AND BEYOND
So where does Oldschool Gaming go now? (At least one writer will have said "down the pub" at this point i expect!) Well, over the last two years we've been quietly expanding; adding more new reviews as they're completed, creating and populating the interviews section and slowly expanding the writing team. No, things won't suddenly burst into feverish life because all of us have jobs, families and strange hobbies to keep us tied up a lot of the time, but the site will continue to grow. More articles will be written, more tutorials too hopefully and, all being well, ways for you the reader to interact more with us as soon as a stable way to add a decent set of forums and perhaps a good web-based IRC client are found.
But if there's another feature you'd like to see added or if you'd like to join a lazy but fairly friendly reviewing team, why not talk to us and we'll see what can be done! Just a quick click on the Contact link down at the bottom of the screen and away you go!