One term that's cropped up recently in respect to C&C is "nostalgia."
I find this interesting. At the age of 38 or something like that (doing the math isn't worth it), I found myself, in preparation for my latest campaign, determined to replicate some of the feel of AD&D. I bought Necromancer products. I unconsciously created a world with more of a sword and sorcery feel. This was before I ran into C&C. I even started listening to some of the music that we used to listen to when I was younger, playing it in the background while I was writing campaign materials.
Is this all about nostalgia? At my age, am I looking back to easier times and trying to grasp some vestige of a lost past? There's an element of that, but I think the ultimate answer is "no." The entire "look-back" to older-era gaming wasn't about nostalgia, it was about quality gaming.
I'm not going to hash over a system war between 3E and C&C. That's already been done to death. In the context of nostalgia, though, it's the factor.
It's no coincidence that Necromancer Games uses "Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel" as their trademark. There's a market for game products that play like older editions. Why? I think it's because there's a real and abiding difference between 3E and prior editions. Two differences, really - one is the scope of the rules, and the other is the flavor imparted by the rules.
3E is designed by a company that focuses on player-vs-player games. The Magic card game is their flagship product - a smash hit which cannot fail to drive the company's gaming philosophy.
WotC creates games that focus on the wish-fulfillment of "I wish I had super powers." No criticism is implied - other, older, RPGs have focused on the same aspect of wish fulfillment and have been great games. There's nothing wrong with it. But D&D originally focused on a different sort of heroism - a hero who isn't particularly unusual in terms of anything but his experience. I think this is the source of the grognard's disdain for weird races and unusual character classes. The grognard senses that the underlying folkloric dynamic - the structure of the story - has changed from the AD&D model of the experienced but relatively average shlep to a model in which the character gains inherent powers far beyond and far different from the norm.
A similar change happened in 2E, when the folkloric dynamic shifted from the average shlep to the child of destiny - characters weren't made, in 2E, to die in the mud.
To a certain degree, I think the system wars are about the genre of storytelling that underlies the rules, not just about the rules themselves. Necromancer Games "duplicates" the first edition feel by describing environments where the flavor is grittier, more filled with "needless" and random risk, and by emphasizing supernatural and incomprehensible risks over simple contests of power. The environments also describe the characters in a context that assumes they're average schleps, even if they're all half dragon shadowdancers. The modules, in other words, reshape the underlying dynamic of the story they tell, back into the same dynamic that was assumed in 1E.
This is why I don't think C&C is a nostalgia product. By using a particular ruleset, C&C suggests that adventures will follow a story pattern that's fundamentally different from the one suggested by the 3E rules. Yes, this mode of storytelling is one that was used by the older game. But this doesn't mean it's a nostalgia product. It means that it supports and reflects a different genre of literature than 3E. Although the distinction is smaller, it's like the distinction between science fiction and fantasy, the difference between pulp fiction and Tolkien, the difference between Superman and Anna Karenina. Some people prefer different folkloric dynamics: heroic tales that unfold along different lines.
Yes, C&C harks back to an earlier ruleset -- but this is not just about getting a simpler ruleset. It's about reflecting a different type of story altogether. The C&C rules are rules for a different mode of storytelling than the rules of 3E. Preferring one type of story over another isn't a matter of nostalgia, it's just a storytelling preference.
That's why I say C&C is a parallel evolution of D&D - it's a direction that could have been taken if the game designers had been fans of a different literary and folkloric form.
'nuff said: sorry for the long post.