The allure of retro-style games is a mix of the 8-bit era's simplicity and striking visual style, according to an industry panel held during PAX Prime 2013.
The "Retro Games Done Right" panel featured input from Game Informer associate editor Tim Turi, Muteki Corp creative director Adam Rippon and Sean Velasco of Yacht Club Games on why retro games never go out of style. All three panelists agreed that the era of 8-bit in particular held something special in its simplicity.
"Games nowawadays have gotten really complicated," Velasco said. "I'm really inspired by that era — it's when gameplay was king ... To me, that's what retro is."
According to Turi, modern games have "so much going on" that it often distracts from what the core gameplay is. By returning to retro games, developers are dialing back and getting to the core essence of a title.
Much of the allure of past eras has to do with the color palettes, according to the panelists. Visuals are huge in recreating retro games, Velasco said, and specific color palettes automatically register as being form a certain era for viewers. Nintendo games are often limited in their color selections, but that's part of the charm.
"The colors in it just explode with vibrancy in this weird way that actually a lot of games today don't," Rippon said, adding that modern games also use a lot of brown or gray.
"There's a fine line between doing retro correct and how people remember it."
Another hallmark of a good retro title is the music. It's possible that players no longer revisit their favorite games, but the soundtracks can live on beyond the shelf-life of a console era.
"Think about it this way: how many hours have you spent playing Chrono Trigger in your life," Rippon said. "Now think about how many hours you've spent listening to the soundtrack of Chrono Trigger."
Nostalgia is a powerful factor in modern day games that capitalize on the use of a retro style. As a critic, Turi said that measuring these games is difficult for a number of reasons.
"You don't know if it's just tricking your brain to make you feel like you're 12 again," Turi said.
Holding them against the same standards as a modern AAA game, however, isn't necessarily the answer. Turi said that his personal methods involve looking at whether the retro game does well in preserving the feeling of its era. Rippon added that not everyone understands the technical limitations of working with retro games.
"There's a fine line between doing retro correct and how people remember it," Rippon said.
Full disclosure: This panel was moderated by Polygon reporter Alexa Ray Corriea.