How Authentic Should Your Retro Game Be?

How Authentic Should Your Retro Game Be?

Nostalgia never gets old

A.J. Maciejewski

Written by for Dear Devs on

One of the most important decisions to make when creating a game is how it will look. If you're working on a retro game, how authentic should it be? Should it even be retro? Let's explore three options through examples that may help narrow your decision down.

Shovel Knight screenshot
Retro games don't get much more authentic than Shovel Knight

First, let's look at painstakingly authentic. A perfect example of this is Shovel Knight. There's no denying that nostalgia has a bountiful resource of fans since gamers love looking back at simpler times. To prove this, Shovel Knight was a huge success and it sold much more than the developers ever hoped that it would. However, creating a game that authentic and awesome might be a restricting experience. If you're the kind of developer who just wants to freely express your imagination then working within the confines of a certain era may end up being too taxing of a challenge. One question to consider after deciding on this approach is, "How simple is the gameplay for my new game?" If you're planning on making a simplistic arcade-style game then why not make it look like it belongs on a Commodore 64 or an Atari 2600? Sometimes pre-NES visual styles can end up making your game even more enjoyable.

Next, if authenticity seems too restrictive then consider making your game appear retro but with your own twist. A great example of this is Axiom Verge. Some components of the game look 8-bit while others are 16-bit. Furthermore, there are aspects that couldn't be handled in either era. This resulted in a unique mixture of various styles. Players could experience a wide variety of nostalgia in many layers within this era-inauthentic yet cohesive world. The only downside is that gamers looking for something with true retro style might find the presentation hard to swallow. Nevertheless, this does offer you more freedom when it comes to creativity since the possibilities of being able to implement whatever techniques you find fitting for your vision are endless.

Axiom Verge screenshot
Although it takes many liberties, Axiom Verge offers a unique slant on old-school

Last but not least, why even bother making a retro game? The recently released Ori and the Blind Forest proves that beautiful artistic visuals can mix with old-school gameplay in an inspiring way. In other words, just because your game may play like a retro game, that doesn't mean that it has to look like one. Obviously, the main issue with this approach is that it doesn't tap into gamers' nostalgia nearly as much, but this might not be something that you necessarily care about. If your vision is so strong that you feel like you can produce your own awe-inspiring visual style then this is something that gamers will surely embrace and commend you for.

Now that we covered the three main approaches that I wanted to go over, there is yet another option that I've only seen a few times so far. This involves making a game authentically retro yet having it span different eras. High Strangeness accomplished this by featuring the ability to change between NES and Super Nintendo graphics on the fly. Also, Evoland had the ability to upgrade the graphics from Game Boy all the way to PlayStation quality. These games certainly aren't the greatest, but this concept still remains mostly unexplored. I would personally love to see more games that feature genuine multiple-era styles like this since it's such a unique approach that more than satisfies my need for nostalgia. So if you find yourself deciding to make an authentic retro game, why not make it span generations?

Ori and the Blind Forest screenshot
Ori and the Blind Forest shows that new-school graphics can be just as enjoyable

Whether you decide to make an authentic retro experience, a mixture of classic game eras, or not go retro at all, I hope that you enjoy creating games and I look forward to possibly playing whatever you come up with next. Whenever you finish your next endeavor, drop us a line and we'll review it on the site. We'd love to hear from you!

Gameplay video playlist for Shovel Knight, Axiom Verge, and Ori and the Blind Forest 9:37

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