How Modern Games and Consoles Can Learn From NES

Anthony examines how modern consoles could improve if they took cues from NES.

By Anthony Vigna. Posted 04/21/2014 09:00 6 Comments     ShareThis

3. Intuitive Game Mechanics

See that photo above with the PS4 controller and the bazillion lines pointing to different buttons? I absolutely hate screens like this. Sometimes, developers think they can get away with flashing one of those during a ten second loading screen to show you how to play. Yet, something like this almost always fails at teaching the mechanics of a game for a couple major reasons:

  • We have limits to how much information we can process at once, which is a phenomenon called information overload. So, when a controller screen pops up for a short time, it’s hard to absorb everything it displays.
  • We tend to learn best when we actively engage in an activity instead of just passively learning about it.

Of course, developers also do the complete opposite of this brief controller screen, which are lengthy tutorials that can last for multiple hours. Some of my favorite games, like Xenoblade, fall victim to this kind of set-up, making a large portion of the experience completely tedious. Video games are an interactive medium, so game mechanics should be taught in an efficient, interactive way.

On NES, games like Mega Man understood this well and taught players without tutorials. Sure, the game is really simple because all you can do is run, jump, and shoot, but you also have to learn about hazards that are in your way. In order to do this, the developers placed these hazards in such a way that allows you to learn about their effects through the level design instead of text prompts. For example, enemies like Sniper Joe are placed far away so you can see their attack pattern before you confront them.

This style of learning is another big reason why I love NES games. If more games could adopt a more proactive tutorial that is taught through level design, they would be a lot easier to learn.

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6 Responses to “How Modern Games and Consoles Can Learn From NES”

  • 102 points
    Hawthorn says...

    You’re rebooting the issue numbering? O_O Does that mean those pages that preview the content of the issue will return? And the unique editorials?

  • 1507 points
    penduin says...

    Hand-holding in games has certainly gotten out of control, but even at their worst, Navi and her successors do have one redeeming quality.

    My free time comes in completely unpredictable chunks. I might fire up a backlogged epic I’m halfway through and then … crap, what was I doing again? Looking for a cave south of some town? Or maybe it was east? Was I collecting something? Backtracking with a newfangled ability? As much as I hate little miss “Hey! Listen!”, sometimes I do need to have my memory jogged.

    Now, all the unskippable spell-everything-out-for-you crap, yeah, that has to die in a fire. But a chirp every now and then from which you can optionally be reminded “hey, weren’t you going to go see what became of so-and-so?”, that can actually be useful.

    • 180 points
      Anthony Vigna says...

      I totally agree. I would just like it to be a lot less in your face. Like for example, Star Fox Adventures lets you know what to do and where to go if you choose to communicate with Slippy and Peppy. I really like that. God knows how annoying a constantly interjecting Slippy would be :p

  • 1285 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    Good piece, Anthony. For me, the Plug and Play aspect is the thing I miss most. I can appreciate all the things that today’s system can do that the old ones couldn’t, but man, it was nice to just hit power and start playing. I turn my consoles on to play games almost exclusively; the rest is just noise.

  • 1379 points
    xeacons says...

    I remember telling my wife, “Remember when you could just pop in a game and play it?” Now we have to sit through ten minutes of installation with every disc. Luckily, the 3DS seems to be following this your code, and it’s success is proof.

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