When old becomes new: Revived video game classics

Montreal  - The HD age dawned three years ago in the video game world and brought novel gaming concepts, breathtaking graphics and crystal clear sound. Video games had never seemed closer to reality. And then something happened: the technological prowess of the consoles was also harnessed to revive ancient classics of video gaming. That means that today's Xbox, Playstation and Wii aren't just showing off the latest in visual fireworks, but now also have been put to work on long-lost, but well-loved classic titles as well.

That includes a new iteration of the Prince of Persia game, designed to return the series to its roots. It's been almost 20 years since the prince first stumbled his way through dank dungeons to rescue his beloved princess.

"In terms of the core gaming concept, nothing has changed to date. It's still about rescuing women and getting through levels using acrobatic tricks," explains Jan-Erik Sjovall, an animation artist working Ubisoft's Montreal offices.

Want to see if differences from the original Prince of Persia game are really just marginal? No need to dust off your old computer and floppy disks. Microsoft's online Xbox shop offers a glimpse. "Xbox live provides a graphically spruced-up version of the original game from 1989. It really is still as much fun as it was back then in front of the PC," says video game journalist Christoph Adrian from Berlin.

The online shop system integrated into the Xbox 360 is a good source for classic games. Adrian cites the August 2008 release of Bionic Commando as a "perfect implementation" of a game originally published in 1988. With 130,000 units sold, it has been a tremendous success for its publisher, Capcom. The high sales seem to involve more than just a wave of nostalgia. "Even 20 years out, Bionic Commando is still a damned good game," Adrian says.

Old games in new clothes are particularly common on the Nintendo DS. Gaming masterpieces such as the arcade classic Metal Slug or the Final Fantasy series have been finding their way out of the archives and into the hands of the console players. Some titles, including Final Fantasy IV or Sim City, certainly benefit from the specific input options for the Nintendo DS, namely the touchscreen and stylus.

Sarah Giblin does not play modern video games. She nevertheless is a big fan of the old arcade-style video classics: "Naturally I don't have space for hundreds of arcade games in my apartment," the 23-year-old singer says of her unusual hobby. One alternative is collecting the individual circuit boards that formed the heart of those arcade games and inserting them into an arcade-game shell when they're wanted.

Another opportunity to play old classics is MAME. It's free software that lets fans play arcade games play on the PC, the Mac, or on cell phones. The MAME system has just one big disadvantage.

"It's illegal to play arcade games downloaded from the internet - unless you own the circuit boards," says Giblin. Configuring the games on the PC is also no simple matter, even for a specialist like her.

"If you want to play a non-pirated classic, then look through some game collections," she says. Original versions of Tetris and Pacman are available for the iPhone, for example.

Yet not every reanimated video game from the old days is good: "The ports can sometimes be anything but ideal," says Christoph Adrian. Games collections in particular are often of questionable quality. "The companies often just try to repackage their old games as retro without making any changes," Adrian says. These loveless implementations can make for a nostalgic travel through memory lane to the early days of gaming, but the fun is often quite muted.

"We've gotten a bit spoiled after 30 years of video game history," Adriad notes. (dpa)

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