Category Archives: Computer Games

Best. games. ever?

OK, maybe not the best games, but the most important games. A panel of game industry luminaries has put together a list of the ten most important games of all time. The games are:

Spacewar! (1962), Star Raiders (1979), Zork (1980), Tetris (1985), SimCity (1989), Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990), Civilization I/II (1991), Doom (1993), Warcraft series (beginning 1994) and Sensible World of Soccer (1994).

Seems like a pretty reasonable list–it’s interesting to try and identify games that were really important in advancing new gameplay ideas, as opposed to just ranking them based on popularity or nostalgia. (Although obviously most of the important games also happened to be popular ones.)

I see two possible holes in the list, however. One is that there really isn’t a full-blown computer RPG represented on the list–you could say that RPGs grew out of the adventure genre, but the computer RPG genre of the mid-80s and later really evolved into something unique. I’d nominate Ultima IV for the list–not only was it an enormously important RPG, but it was also one of the first games to successfully incorporate a coherent moral worldview into gameplay.

Secondly, and more debatably, I wonder if there shouldn’t be a graphic adventure game on that list somewhere. Granted, they evolved out of text adventures as did RPGs, but their use of graphics to enhance otherwise typical adventure gameplay had a big impact on later games and genres. I’d probably nominate King’s Quest I for that honor.

(But then, I guess nobody really asked me, did they?)

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Remembering Gettysburg! (the game, that is)

Last week I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Jeff Shaara, author of several excellent Civil War (and other) novels. My interest in the American Civil War thus stirred up, I resolved to do something to capitalize on said interest. I’m not really into the Civil War re-enactment thing, and the movie Gettysburg, while an excellent film, seemed a bit too long and melodramatic at the time.

The solution? I dug through my computer desk drawer and found my old copy of Sid Meier’s Gettysburg!, a fine strategy game if ever there was one. I was a bit startled to learn that it’s nearly a decade old; and I was even more pleasantly surprised to find that it’s just as fun to play now as it was ten years ago. Meier is best (and justly) known for the Civilization series; but I happen to think that his game-design genius is just as evident in some of his lesser-known titles–games like Covert Action (if you remember that one, I salute you) and Gettysburg.

If ever there were a game that desperately needed to be remade today (with updated graphics and an improved interface, perhaps), it’s Gettysburg. The Civil War is generally only touched on by games that are set firmly in the hardcore-wargame genre; but Meier’s Gettysburg (and its follow-up Antietam) are so fun and simple to learn that anyone can be replaying the battle within fifteen minutes of installing it, even if you’ve never touched a wargame in your life. You don’t need to worry about memorizing your units’ attack ratings, tracking their remaining movement points, or dragging game pieces with obscure military symbols around a hex grid; Meier’s game is all about fast manuvers and outflanking the enemy before he does the same to you.

The game engine was even used, I believe, by BreakAway Games to create one or two Napoleonic battle games. Back when I was addicted to Gettysburg, I would’ve killed for a “Great Battles of the Civil War” collection using the same game engine. But alas; the Civil War has once again largely disappeared from the gaming scene. Matrix Games has recently released Forge of Freedom, but I think that’s about it as far as notable Civil War games go. (If you know otherwise, please let me know.)

It’s not easy to find a fresh copy of Gettysburg these days–your best bet is to pick up a used copy of the Civil War Collection–but if you should come across a copy and have even the slightest interest in strategy gaming, I highly recommend it.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Pay it forward

Things were looking grim for my undead warlock in World of Warcraft. I was out of spell components and thus could not summon the familiar upon whom I depended for protection. I was far, far away from the nearest friendly Horde outpost, and had inadvertently stumbled upon an enemy Alliance encampment. In the course of escaping from it, I was spotted by guards and flagged as “player vs. player”–which meant that any Alliance player who spotted me (and deep in Alliance territory as I was, there were plenty of them roaming around) could attack and kill me.

I was not pleased.

I began to travel back in the direction of “home,” trying my best to stay hidden behind trees and to keep off the main roads. If an Alliance player spotted me out here I was dead meat.

Seconds later, an Alliance player appeared atop the hill in front of me. Many levels higher than me, riding a mount that could outrun me without breaking a sweat, and covered from head to toe in gleaming red battle armor. He saw me, dismounted, and sprinted towards me.

I knew I had a zero chance of survival in a fight. I began to run away, then stopped and turned to face my soon-to-be killer. If I was going to get killed in one blow, at least I would take it like a man, not spend my final undignified moments scrabbling futilely to escape.

The Alliance player approached, stepped into combat range. I waited for it. He moved right up to me.

And gave me a hug.

And then he was gone. I stood for a moment, half-expecting the killing blow to come after all. When it didn’t… I turned and ran for home.

Anonymous Alliance player… thank you. In your honor, I swear I will show mercy to the next Alliance player I catch in similar circumstances.

[Yes, there’s a ‘hug’ command in World of Warcraft.]

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

You'll never beat me: games with show-stopping bugs

There are games that seem impossible to beat, and games that really are impossible to beat. That’s the story with the recent Bubble Bobble Revolution, which

includes a game-halting bug. Apparently the big boss battle in Level 30 isn’t much of a battle at all because the boss never appears, meaning that the game just sits there on an empty level waiting for a boss who will never come. The remaining seventy or so levels are unreachable.

Ouch–this doesn’t sound too good for the publisher’s Quality Assurance department. If this were a computer game, a downloadable patch could fix the game, but since this is a handheld console game, fixing it will probably involve recalling the game from store shelves and shipping out corrected copies to stores and customers.

It is not uncommon for games to ship with serious bugs–in fact, it’s a common computer gamer gripe that the availability of online patching has made it easier for developers to release buggy titles and patch them later. But it’s fairly uncommon for a game to ship with a bug so severe that the game is unfinishable.

The only such game that I’ve personally encountered was Mechwarrior 2: Mercenaries, a very fun game that also happened to be riddled with bugs. The bugs might have been tolerable, except that one of them made it impossible to progress beyond a certain point in the game. After completing a particularly difficult mission partway through the game, you are told to wait for your dropship to pick you up and end the mission. The dropship showed up, all right–but it never landed. I spent a good hour chasing it around the map; I tried shooting it down; I tried reloading old saved games; I tried replaying the mission from scratch, but the dropship never landed and the mission never ended. So I stopped playing the game. (I later learned that a patch was made available, but this was in the mid-90s before internet connectivity was ubiquitous; by the time I came across the patch, the game had long been gathering dust.)

The only other game I’ve played that comes close to the “unfinishable” level was Ultima 9–a famously buggy game that, like MW2:M above, was quite enjoyable… during the small windows of time between crashes and lock-ups when you were actually able to play. I had to completely reinstall the game and start from scratch twice. The third time I made it halfway through the game only to have it corrupt all of my saved games was the last… while there was no one single bug that rendered the game unwinnable, the odds of making it through the entire game without running into a game-killing glitch were so low that it probably counts as “unwinnable” in my book. (The game’s bugs were so severe that the publisher actually shipped out fresh copies of the game to registered customers; but I didn’t have the willpower to start over from scratch again in the hopes that it wouldn’t just die again after sucking up fifteen more hours of my life.)

Extremely difficult games I can handle. Even games so difficult that they might as well be impossible for me to complete. I can shrug off a few bugs here and there. But completely unwinnable games? That just makes me wonder if anybody over at the game company actually played the thing before slapping a $49.99 price sticker on it and bundling it off to Gamestop.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

All alone and happy in Azeroth

Although it’s updated somewhat sporadically, Scott Miller’s Game Matters is one of the more thought-provoking game blogs out there. While catching up on my reading there, I came across an interesting post suggesting that World of Warcraft‘s extreme popularity is due at least in part to the fact that almost alone among massively-multiplayer games, it can be played alone. Says Miller:

There’s one overriding reason I played WoW, while I never played previous MMOs: I could solo all the way to the top. Not once did I group to enter an instance. Occasionally I grouped with players in the same area doing the same quest, and occasionally with a friend to share a quest, but 95 percent of my experience was as a solo player. And that’s how I prefer it. I like to be able to jump into the game and play without waiting to form a group, getting right down to the business of fun.

It’s a relief to see somebody else admit that, because I’ve had a similar experience with WoW and have wondered how common it is. For a multiplayer game, WoW works surprisingly well as a single-player game. I enjoy grouping up with other players a bit more than Miller apparently does–when the teamwork comes together, the experience of conquering a tough dungeon as part of a group is a real thrill–but I confess I’ve rather guiltily enjoyed a lot of the game without interacting much with my fellow players.

Miller then asks the obvious question: if you’re going to play the game solo anyway, why not stick with single-player-only games like Morrowind and its ilk, and avoid paying the montly Warcraft fee? It may sound strange if you’ve not experienced it, but his answer is dead on: it’s somehow just more fun when the world is populated by “real people,” even if your interaction with said real people is quite limited. Crossing paths with other lone adventurers in the far corners of Azeroth, making my way through the teeming, diverse crowds of Orgrimmar, and knowing that the potions I’m selling at the auction house are being bought and used by other real people–there’s just an intangible thrill to it all. There’s a hard-to-define depth and sense of immersion that simply isn’t there in even the most elaborate single-player games.

So it’s good to know that on those days when I just don’t feel like interacting with other players–when I just want to hike off into the Badlands without having to chat it up with guildmates, when I don’t feel like spending an hour organizing an expedition into the Wailing Caverns–I’m not alone. Solo players of World of Warcraft, unite keep goin’ it alone!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Remembering Tony Jay

Earlier this month, voice-actor Tony Jay passed away from cancer. Chances are you’ve heard his voice in a video game at some point in the last decade; his IMDB page lists out the various projects to which he lent his very memorable voice.

I first read about Jay after playing Planescape: Torment (which boasted an unusually high quality of voice acting all around). I was quite impressed by the voice of The Transcendant One in that game, and wanted to find out who had played that role. Since then, I’ve noticed his work in quite a few different games–he has a deep baritone voice that’s impossible to miss. Rest in peace, Tony, and thanks for contributing your voice-acting talents to our little corner of the universe.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Requiem for a guild

I experienced my first guild breakup last week. I logged into World of Warcraft after having been offline for several days, and what I found was quite a surprise: guild membership had been slashed by half; guild chatter was abuzz with stories of backstabbings, betrayals, and emotional outbursts; and there was talk of new “splinter guilds” being created from the remains of the old guild.

I can’t say it affected me or my Warcraft gaming much; I enjoyed interacting with the other members of my guild but have always considered such interaction a side-benefit of the game rather than a core feature. It was interesting to see how seriously the guild breakup was taken by some people, however; particularly those who spent a lot of time online and who clearly saw the guild as a major real-life social outlet.

All in all, an interesting experience–and I must confess, a mildly amusing one; I wish I had been on the guild’s teamspeak voice-chat server when the Big Blowup went down. I felt a little bad that the guild breakup affected me so little, but I just can’t really bring myself to take the game seriously enough to feel bad or hurt about it. I’ve joined a new guild created by refugees from the old one and am plugging away happily doing quests, exploring dungeons, and killing monsters… and wondering how long before this guild, too, goes the way of all guilds.

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

> go north, get sword, update to Inform 7

A friend informs me (ha!) that the long-awaited version 7 of the Inform game-writing language has been released, and that it’s quite a big deal for the interactive fiction community.

I’ve only glanced at it so far, but I’m inclined to agree: it seems to represent a complete overhaul of the text-adventure-writing process. The most immediately noticeable change is that you can now write your text adventure as a single file using something very closely akin to “plain English,” rather than creating and compiling a vast library of separate files written in scary-looking coding language.

It’s a bit difficult to explain, actually; I recommend just downloading it and giving it a try. In the few minutes I’ve spent playing with it, I can almost say that the process of writing a text adventure in Inform 7 is almost a text-adventure game in and of itself–and I think that’s a good thing. Go give it a try!

Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather