How old does a game have to be to be considered retro?

you'll always be getting older

Several of you brought up games that have had long shelf lives or active development that never really stopped. Is Team Fortress 2 “retro”?

I know that this forum is mostly video-game based, but there's an interesting paralell in the tabletop and board game spaces with this too. In 2012, the _Dune_ board game from the early 80s was updated with new mechanics and re-skinned into Fantasy Flight Games' _Twilight Imperium_ universe and as much as I love the concept of a Dune board game, _Twilight Imperium: Rex_ is much more playable and fun. It now comes full circle: in early 2020, Dune was re-published by Gale Force Nine with very few changes from the 80s design.

This kind of re-publishing of "classic" games is happening within tabletop RPGs too. Some of it are value-empty nostalgia-based reprints, and some are great updates and remasters like we would see from Digital Eclipse in the video games market.

I've also been thinking about this within the context of Roguelikes. For example, _Nethack_ is still in active development, but people would very likely consider it "Retro".

In many ways, _Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup_ has a very "modern" design. The development team has a design philosophy to guide decisions - what the team wants to have players do and don't do - and is being actively developed. It was first released in 2006 and 14 years later, still is being worked on and changed in what the player base considers a healthy and sustainable way. I genuinely don't know if I'd consider it "retro", especially since so many of the design decisions are so player-centric and implemented specifically to increase usability and accessibility - very modern considerations!

In summary, _Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup_ completely rules and I should probably go make a thread about it. And the classification of whether things are "retro" is one of taxonomy - which is valuable shorthand - but often loses a lot of subtlety in the description.

@neuroshmancer#2776 I think there's a very good argument for grouping things in generations, but the generational overlap is always going to be fuzzy. I agree that your observation of the zeitgeist of the eras are so radically different too.

Copy and pasting from Wikipedia's list of console generations, I think this is a pretty good framework. Though I think that the Arcade development kind of forks and goes in parallel.

  • - 1st generation (1972–1980)
  • - 2nd generation (1976–1992)
  • - 3rd generation (1983–2003)
  • - 4th generation (1987–2004)
  • - 5th generation (1993–2005)
  • - 6th generation (1998–2015)
  • - 7th generation (2005–2018)
  • - 8th generation (2012–present)
  • Looking at this, it's wild to see that their classification of 8th Gen starts with the WiiU, which I certainly consider last-gen based on what that console's design philosophy and zeitgeist was.


    @antillese#3442 This kind of re-publishing of “classic” games is happening within tabletop RPGs too. Some of it are value-empty nostalgia-based reprints, and some are great updates and remasters like we would see from Digital Eclipse in the video games market.

    This got me thinking: retro as a concept is very tied up with technology as a marker of the past. The underlying assumptions are that:

  • 1. technology improves uniformly and inevitably, and
  • 2. consequently, history can be measured through these improvements as they outmode previous forms of technology.
  • This is one of the reasons why certain film genres are looked at nostalgically - because the tech used for them isn't used anymore, outside maybe a few productions that specifically make use of that tech - and could explain why nostalgia is such a more powerful force for video games specifically: because video games are so much more reliant on technology/technological advancements than many other artistic media. Well, that and video games in general being more tightly bound up with consumer capitalism than other media.

    And granted, retro/nostalgia is also bound up in style, but style is to a real extent determined by the possibilities that the tools you use (IE the technology available to you) dictate. Besides that, mainstream game writing has always struggled to capture style or aesthetics without falling back on technology anyway.

    classic =/= retro

    What is the arcade equivalent of console generations? Here's my quick stab, would love if someone can think of something more sane:

    1931(Baffle Ball)-1965 - The Amusement Era
    1966(Periscope)-1977 - The Electro-Mechanical Era
    1978(Space Invaders)-1984 - The Golden Age
    1985(Gradius)-1990 The Jamma Era
    1991(Street Fighter 2)-1998 The Renaissance
    1999(Crazi Taxi)-2012 - The Last Gasp
    2013(Killer Queen)-present - The Indie Era

    hmm, I mostly agree with your timings here, but the JAMMA era doesn‘t really stop til much later. 1985-1990 doesn’t have a lot for me to point at, but it was the end of the dedicated board era by and large. in your renaissance era you also had more folks trying to do MVS-style things where you could just exchange the cartridge.

    I'd also say currently we're in the "connected" era more than the indie era, because we've got all these music games, gunslinger stratos, racing games where you save data to cards, etc etc. I might call it the nesica era or something?

    @exodus#3498 Yeah those two names are the ones I‘m most wishy washy about. Post Golden Age doesn’t sound great, and although JAMMA sticks around for ages I can't think of much else to define it by other than “post-crash pre-fighting games”.

    Something I just realized is that I suspect there are a lot of arcades that people who post on this forum wouldn‘t necessarily consider arcades. I’m talking small chain bowling alleys that have a few dozen games that are themed on Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds and Doodle Jump. None of those places would dream of having Killer Queen.

    Related: everyone please buy _Killer Queen Black_ and play it with me on Switch!

    @exodus#3498 Isn't Nesica pretty retro now? The first game was _BlazBlue_ in 2010!

    Yeah, I was trying to find a shorthand for the connected era - which I would say includes fruit ninja and angry birds, but maybe that's its own sort of thing, like a “novelty renaissance,” alongside tsum tsum and oversized space invaders et cetera. hmmmm

    I‘m a fan of the “10 years old is retro” cutoff we use on the Racketboy forums (also used by Retronauts) because it’s simple and unambiguous.

    I'm really not a fan of the concept of hardware generations because the more you expand your view, the more nebulous they seem. An obvious example is how the Wii U and the Switch are considered the same generation even though one is obviously a more modern piece of hardware. Then you have something like the Dreamcast, which is usually lumped into the same generation as the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox despite the fact that at the time, felt more like it was competing with the PS1 and N64. Throw arcade games into the mix and I'm REAL CONFUSED REAL FAST.

    IDK, I think a lot of it comes from the fact that I personally have trouble wrapping my mind around what generation is what. I'd rather just know the year and then I can find what else was available in that year.

    Ah, 10 years doesn't work so well for me because that makes Gears of War 3 a retro game (2011) and Mass Effect 3 not a retro game(2012). I think hardware generations draw a clearer line for a “feeling” of when things turn over than individual years do.

    For AAA-ish games the hardware generations thing works pretty well since the graphic leaps are very distinct.

    But some 2d or lower fidelity 3d games look identical across generations. Games like a short hike, minit, or celeste could have been released ten years ago or ten years from now.

    So what will make them retro? For someone who plays them for the first time years from now won't they seem like modern games?

    I think we‘re reaching the end of the line for the idea of retro almost. Is a PS4 game going to have a “vibe?” or will it just look a bit worse than a PS5 game? and then on the indie end of things, all bets are off really, because their vibe is often not tied to visual fidelity. But because of that some folks lump them ENTIRELY into the idea of retro. it’s gonna get extra vague and noodly pretty soon.

    @exodus#19654 PS4 games will have that nostalgic 30 fps vibe when we're all playing games at 8k 200 fps

    What I like about the 10 years as it somewhat divides early generation from later generation. But even that really stops mattering once we get past PS3 and Xbox 360. The jump from Lair to The Last of Us is much more apparent than the jump from infamous Second Son to Last of Us part II. But I like as just an arbitrary, this much time later where does the game stand in our memory / the popular consciousness.

    I suspect in a while* from now, all current games are going to look “retro” due to not having accurately traced global illumination and reflections, etc.

    "rasterised" will be the new "pixelated".

    *10-15 years?

    nothing released after say 2005 will ever be retro for me. Like 100 years from now you can talk about a game that came out in 2010 and I‘ll be like nah that ain’t retro, that's next gen!!

    but more specifically, anything played on a HDTV doesnt feel retro to me. PS3 games still feel like next-gen, and PS4 games felt exactly like PS3 games. Also PS3 games all suck, so all the more reason why I would never want to taint my perception of good retro games with those awful games! lol

    until brand new screens become the norm and we're all playing on VR, projections, holograms, or any other viewing technology my imagination cannot think of, HD games will never feel retro. Only once those screens are considered old will the current generations of games truly feel like a throwback.

    Do you think the age of the medium has something to do with what's considered retro? A 30 year old game feels like a greater step back in time than a 30 year old movie does to me, maybe because video games as a medium are about half as old as the motion picture?