Like a longtime partner or favorite pair of socks, it is a comfort to revisit a familiar game from your youth. It is a sense of ease to know what is inside every treasure chest, from which bush an enemy springs, or the secret tactic that defeats an enemy with ease. This soothing intimacy makes games like this a simple, nostalgic choice if you just want to relieve yourself.
This story originally appeared on Ars Technica, a trusted source for technology news, analysis of technical guidelines, reviews, and more. Ars is owned by the parent company of WIRED, Condé Nast.
But what if you want to add some spice to this familiar experience? After playing a classic game, how can you rediscover the sense of adventure and discovery you experienced at the first game? A small but growing community in the retro emulation scene is trying to answer these questions with a class of mods and hacks called "randomizers."
Shuffle Up and Deal
At their most basic level, random mods mix the data into the ROM of a game, making each run a new and unpredictable experience. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past So the Random Generator can change which items are in which chests, change the rewards of dungeon quests, and even replace Links Sprite with one of the many fan-made options ( The Sprite Mega Man X is a personal favorite, and you can go further by changing the starting positions for different doors in the game, or even the boss keys for certain dungeons around the world (and not the dungeons
What began as a small niche has now evolved into a retrogaming genre of its own The BIG List of Video Game Randomizers website, launched in 201
Different randomizer modes allow different levels of randomization, but the idea to swap positions of objects or discovered skills and abilities is more standard. Some retain the intended structure of the title, but change the rewards and items you find on your journey. Others completely change the way the game is played.
Two games at the same time
One of the more extreme randomizers actually combines two games in such a way that you both have to beat in the course of a single playoff. In the Randomizer Modification Super Metroid x Link to the Past you navigate through special random entrances between the worlds of Hyrule and Zebes, collecting items in one to move further in the other. It is very likely that Links Uncle will give you the high jump boots with which Samus can conquer the master sword somewhere deep in Norfair.
Randomizers give tired old games with new challenges an almost infinite repeatability for players to overcome with every playthrough. They test the skill and knowledge of the player rather than just the muscle memory gained from years of experience. By limiting the ability of the player to rely on the autopilot's memory, the focus is instead on quick adaptation and problem solving. What new paths can be open with every new item you find? Maybe you'll be forced to fight a difficult opponent with more meager resources than you normally would. Or you are asked to consider retaining a party member with a special ability, even if it barely survives a single hit.
Even if you are only temporarily remembering a classic game, there are many resources and guides at your disposal that can help. These range from beginner's manuals with basic strategies for approaching a random number generator run to full-fledged trackers that help you determine which areas can be accessed when you receive new objects.