Console Contempt Contained: PC Games on NES

Article by Jake Alley? | Posted December 2, 2010

Thereís a line of thinking amongst modern PC gamers, and a distressing number of developers, that the average PC game is far too complicated for console gamers to be able to appreciate or understand. It fluctuates between mild elitism and bald-faced contempt, and itís given us games like Halo and Civilization Revolution. Itís also a surprisingly modern notion. In the days of the NES, RPGs and strategy games of the PC tradition were ported to the NES with no alterations made for the sake of demographics.

Take M.U.L.E. To this day, itís considered a surprisingly deep game of strategic economics, with players speculating on metal prices, and manipulating markets in various ways, up to and including buying up valuable resources and destroying them to cause radical inflation. The only changes made for the NES port were graphical. The same is true for Archon, a weird action-oriented chess variant which sticks to its PC roots with its spartan lack of music.

Granted, those are joystick-driven strategy games. The NES controller is arguably better suited to them than what was originally available. Surely a mouse-dependent game like, say, a graphic adventure would need to be seriously simplified, right? Well, tell that to Maniac Mansion. The main changes made for the NES port involved tweaking some dirty jokes here and there. Otherwise, itís mostly the same game, right down to the early SCUMM engine that was still a bit nitpicky about selecting a verb for everything.

The best examples, though, are the RPGs, the Ultima series in particular. Ultima III: Exodus dropped players with at best a passing familiarity of the original Dragon Warrior into a game where characters were created before actually beginning the game (with the ability to abuse the system by selling gear and rerolling the party, no less), leveling up was manual, combat was tactical, fog of war and time of day factored into exploration, and it was possible to make the game nigh-unwinnable by attacking little girls on the street and facing the wrath of the town guard forever. Assuming, that is, the little girl herself didnít kill you. No hands were held. Publishers had no notion of console gamers having a hard time grasping complex strategy. After all, the console kids were figuring out which random bush to burn to find a dungeon entrance in Zelda and the way out of the infinitely looping castles in Super Mario Bros. What should keep them from figuring out that after leveling up they can swipe a pirate ship?

One might think the coddling of console gamers came about when these games were deemed a failure on consoles, but no. Even in the era of the SNES, we were getting PC-perfect ports of Ultima V, all the various Sim games from Maxis, and even Civilization.

Granted, todayís console gamer is generally fed a stream of weak mush with a blunted spoon while wearing water wings when it comes to the effort most games require, but if weíre comfortable reviving the NES Mega Man games, Bionic Commando, and Contra for modern audiences, thereís no reason to assume managing tax rates and rationing food would automatically reduce anyone to tears.

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