E3 Shows Nostalgia is Still the Reigning Champion in Video Games

Courtesy of Frontier Developments

If you’d fallen into a coma for the last decade or two, this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo would’ve been technologically mind-blowing — yet incredibly familiar as far as actual content goes. Aside from a handful of relatively unfamiliar names like Death StrandingControl, and Ghost of Tsushima, the vast majority of the new releases and announcements at video games’ biggest event of the year were sequels, continuations, or reboots of well-known titles from years past. But while Hollywood may take a lot of flak for continuing to use and abuse the same subjects and series year after year, the gaming industry is proving that it’s possible to capitalize on nostalgia for the games of yesteryear while still moving forward in interesting and appealing ways.

While games like Capcom’s Mega Man 11 and Warner Bros’ sequel to their 2016 reboot of Hitman may be obvious and deserving choices for showing off how today’s improved technology, budget, and standards can breathe new life into older titles, perhaps one of the best examples comes from a name that’s not exactly known for great gameplay, Jurassic Park.

Although some may have fond memories of playing a wide variety of unremarkable Jurassic Park-themed adventures throughout the ‘90s and 2000s, there’s never really been a defining Jurassic Park (or Jurassic World) game created on any console. As demonstrated and released at E3 this year, the crew at Frontier Developments is hoping to change that with Jurassic World Evolution.

“It’s been a huge honor to have the [Jurassic World] license, as we’re huge fans of the films ourselves,” says Nick Rodgers, the game’s head of animation. “We know the fans have an emotional investment in the lore and in the films and how it all makes you feel. From the get-go, we tried to make sure that our game is as authentic as possible and really gets the same feelings across as when people watch the films for the first time.”

In order to best provide the mixture of wonder and tension that goes with any Jurassic movie, the premise of Evolution is that you build your own dinosaur theme park and handle everything from breeding to guest relations. But whereas most resource management and business simulation games are all about averting catastrophe, at least handfuls of of them are guaranteed in the brand new game. After all, it wouldn’t be Jurassic World if there weren’t at least a few dinosaurs on the loose from time to time.

“It’s not about preventing disasters as much as it is about containing them when they happen,” says executive producer Rich Newbold. “When that T-Rex breaks out, you want to make sure you can get it tranquilized as quickly as possible.”

As a studio that generally prides itself on scientific accuracy — much of which can be seen in the various “research” areas of the game — the developers at Frontier made the conscious decision to stay faithful to how the dinosaurs looked and sounded in the Jurassic movies rather than cover them in feathers and beaks. But reptilian-looking dinosaur attacks and Jeff Goldblum cameos were far from where the nostalgia celebration ended at E3, as the most prominent genre of game would’ve made George A. Romero proud.

“Zombies are a huge part of the pop culture, so there are many fanatics of zombies,“ says Kornel Jaskula, a producer on Dying Light 2 — Techland Publishing’s big reveal for E3. “We are experienced on that topic. We’ve previously delivered Dead Island and Dying Light — which was a tremendous success — so we’ve been working with the community of zombie fans since the first game. We’re just trying to bring something fresh to this part of pop culture and not be cliche from any other media.”

Even with Dying Light 2’s infected being easy to spot roaming around the halls of the Los Angeles Convention Center based on their bald heads and paper-white skin, a couple of other areas were so saturated with zombie-themed booths that it was hard to differentiate which undead belonged to which game. But whereas a dozen zombie movies may all follow the same (or similar) plots, video games allow for enough diversity for each developer to have their own corner of the industry. For instance, Techland’s upcoming sequel occurs 15 years after the initial zombie outbreak in their universe, and its gameplay tends to be more action-packed and faster than a classically slow tension-building survival horror like Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 remake (which mercifully kept their zombies contained in a walkthrough haunted house for fans on their way to the demo) — and then there are games like the latest branches of the Metro and Warhammer 40,000 universes, which each approach death and horror in their own unique ways.

For those without massive budgets and studios to rework classic subject matter, E3 proved that gaming nostalgia is alive and well through classic gameplay too. Now that the Madden games are complex enough to need a serious understanding of football to compete in, Mutant Football League has stepped in to fill the void for simple (and laughably violent/brutal) arcade-style football gameplay left by the disappearance of NFL Blitz. At the same time, the upcoming 3 Minutes to Midnight offers an updated take on the classic point-and-click adventures that any kid with a PC in the ‘90s tried out at least once — likely before quitting due to an impossibly vague puzzle stumping them for hours.

“We wanted to bring back the feeling of solving the puzzles in those old LucasArts games, where you’re so excited about going further and figuring out how things work,” says Pavlina Kacerova of Scarecrow Studios, the developers of 3 Minutes to Midnight. “We wanted to have a classic point-and-click with a modern twist. The mechanics are easier, the art is really amazing, and the stories and puzzles are so awesome that they drive people to play the game. We can’t compete with all of those big battle royale shooters because we’re a small studio. This is a chill game for a specific kind of people, and we’re focused on making it for the people who actually are nostalgic about it.”

For a week-long event showcasing the latest and greatest of video games, this year’s E3 proved that sometimes the best way to move forward is to look back a little bit in one way or another — even the new mysterious games like Death Stranding and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice are primarily anticipated based on what their developers have done in the past. Oh, and Nintendo is bringing every character from your childhood back to the new Super Smash Bros. Ultimate while Bandai Namco has all of your favorite old anime and manga characters together again to battle it out in Jump Force. Why? Because it’s never too soon to release yet another fighting game where you can hit your friends with a Kamehameha.

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