Product design is an extremely different field from graphic design. Whereas the former specialises in a lengthy on-screen and off-screen process to produce a physical component, the latter requires everything to be done in one on-screen place to create a digital or print element. The design of a retro video game also requires several different elements. The main setting of the game, the rules of the gameplay, the look and feel of the characters and backgrounds, and the underlying game mechanics and programming that make the whole thing work. Plus the countless hours of testing to make sure the gameplay is well balanced. Game design is a real art and that’s why the best games still stand the test of time. It’s also why several games have been adapted for different purposes.

Classic arcade games are often considered the pinnacle of retro. From the late 70s to the mid 80s we had several absolute classics appear in our local arcades. Games like Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Defender and many others have ingrained themselves into the very fabric of our gaming culture and beyond. Again this is often down to high quality design. Donkey Kong has quite difficult game mechanics, but the cute graphics and animation keep drawing you in to try again. Space Invaders’ balanced gameplay starts off at a slow pace to give you a false sense of security and then speeds up towards the end of each level to really raise your heartbeat. The sound design is great there too as the Space Invaders music has a heart-beat bass effect that echoes, or even leads, your suspense levels. Pac-Man was designed in a way to appeal to all gamers, female and male alike, and it’s hard to argue that the character of Pac-Man is perhaps the most iconic and recognisable gaming character to date, along with the likes of Mario, Sonic, Lara Croft and others.

These famous early games had such good design that they have often been repurposed for various other media. Donkey Kong and Pac-Man both got converted into board games for MB, allowing gamers to enjoy the characters and the gaming experience with the whole family at the same time. This conversion wouldn’t have been possible if the original games had not been designed so well and become so famous. Pinball machines and slot machines are other areas where the retro gaming subject matter has been inserted into different game styles. With sites like, favourite slot machines can be accessed globally with bonuses available, and thanks to the experienced online gaming designers of the world, some of these include our favourite gaming characters in these online games too.

Image from BoardGameGeek

There has also been a modern redesign of several old games. Once again Pac-Man and Space Invaders are popular subjects here, with both of them having new modern variations released in the arcades in the last 10 years. Space Invaders Frenzy is a redemption ticket game where you sit in sports seats and blast the invaders with physical laser cannons. It can get quite frenetic and although hard to be intricate with your shooting strategy it can still be great two player fun. Pac-Man Battle Royal, launched in 2011, allows up to four players to play Pac-Man with traditional elements but also added effects, powers and mazes. In both examples, the main elements of the traditional gameplay have been utilised but other more modern aspects have been added to enhance the experience.

Back in the 70s and 80s, one of the main parameters for designing arcade games was that you wanted people to drop their quarters, or 10ps, into the machine. Designers created attract screens with quirky animations and attractive sound effects to stand out from other games and entice you to play. Moreover, the gameplay itself was designed to not let you live for too long. That difficulty balance was crucial, to kill you so often that you had to put more money in but not make it so hard that you would give up. It was all about making you want to have ‘one more go’.

As video games made their way into the home, with the advent of the 8-bit systems, such as the Commodore 64 and, in the UK, the BBC Micro, Amstrad and Sinclair ZX Spectrum, games could have longer game times and could afford to allow you to explore larger, more complicated worlds. Elite is a classic example of expansive gameplay. Somehow, David Braben and Ian Bell, created a world in less than 48k that contained thousands of planets that you could explore for hours and hours and hours. Gameplay had become immersive and game design had evolved.

When you want to look at something that has spanned every genre and age of video games, you need look no further than Mario. From his early days appearing as Jump Man in Donkey Kong, in the arcade game Mario Bros and in the classic Game and Watch handhelds, the Italian plumber has come a long way. The Mario games have evolved in many different ways. Firstly the graphics improved, while the gameplay got tweaked, in all the classic Super Mario World style games. But then Mario evolved into the ever-present Super Mario Kart and the ground breaking Super Mario 64. Since then he has appeared in multiple games as guest appearances or in his new games such as the inventive Super Mario Galaxy, the open world Super Mario Odyssey and interactive Super Mario Maker. With the latter game the design element has come full circle. The graphics and characters are still there but now we can become the game designers and design the rules and the world for Mario to live in, much like in the similar Little Big Planet nearly a decade previous.

With the advent of ‘new’ retro inspired computers such as the ZX Spectrum Next, we may see even more homebrew games appear by bedroom coders around the world. All in all, it goes to show that modern designers around the world continue to allow retro games to live on in their new digital forms via game design principles, as explained on This means that millions of people can access their favourite childhood games in a click of a finger and instantly be caught in a ‘flashback’ moment. Long may retro games continue.