Name That Game competition answers, and Why You Might Wish to Play All These Games

To celebrate the release of the Braid theme for the Xbox 360, we had a Name That Game competition wherein people look at small pieces of screenshots and try to identify the games they came from.

20 people have submitted the correct answers, and so the competition is now closed. (Actually, I mailed out 25 codes, because a few of the entries looked suspiciously like they were submitted by people trying to get more than one copy. But I can’t be sure about that, and the problem wasn’t big, so I just sent out extras.) If you haven’t received a reply, you didn’t win; sorry about the lack of personal replies, but there were too many submissions to respond to each.

Here are the answers. I chose these because they are all games worthy of your time and attention:




1. Adventure


by Warren Robinett, Atari VCS, 1979
 

 

Just about anyone who owned an Atari VCS played this game, and there were a lot of VCSs out there. Like all home games of that time, Adventure had to be pretty minimal (the VCS only had 128 bytes of RAM!) Adventure put the player into the role of a knight searching for the Holy Grail (err, the “gold chalice”) which he must return to the Gold Castle. Depending on the difficulty level, the world would change between 3 different layouts; items would be scattered around somewhat randomly so that you didn’t quite know where to go and what to do.

Something about the minimal graphics and game design helped Adventure flourish as a mini-system. As a player, I cared about the map of the world, small as it was. I wanted to experiment with the various objects. The gameplay was about searching and exploration in a very focused way. Many games were influenced by Adventure, but it seems that with all our modern riches our ability to create that simple kind of joy has mostly atrophied. (In, say, Fable 2 the world is very lushly rendered but I don’t care what’s in it because it somehow doesn’t matter; I barely see what’s being drawn on the screen as I fight guys or run on my way to the next waypoint.)

Recently I did get some of that old-style exploration-based feeling of joy from a couple of games: Mark Johns’ stdbits and Sean Barrett’s Lost in the Static.

 

2. Gamma Bros.


by PixelJam, Flash, 2007

 
 
 

 

Gamma Bros. is a simple space shooter with loads of character, playable for free on the Internet. Though simple in presentation and game mechanics, it manages to give you the feeling of an epic journey; by the time you get to the end of the game, you feel like you’ve been through something big, even though this game is “small” compared to today’s $60 retail games. Among the most notable elements contributing to this long-journey feeling are the sound design and the smooth way in which waves of enemies flow into and out of the player’s area of concern.

 


3. Strike Force


from Midway Games, Arcade, 1991.


 
 
 




 
Strike Force was a worthy successor to Defender and Stargate, mixing Smash TV’s style of fast-action excess into the formula. Your goal is to rescue civilians from all the planets in the system, then eventually defeat the alien mothership; to help with this, you can collect a variety of special weapons, many of which are massive overkill. But you have to be careful using them, because there are civilians everywhere. Before long you learn to accept a little collateral damage.

 

4. Netrek


Kevin Smith, Scott Silvey et al
UNIX workstations (later spreading to Windows, MacOS and other platforms), 1991.


 
 
 


 

Netrek is one of the best video games ever made. It’s hard to say more than that. It’s a team-on-team game of realtime action and strategy in space. The quality and richness of the intense team-oriented gameplay has never been surpassed, though maybe Counter-Strike came close. (Yet, Netrek provides more opportunity for strategic-level thinking).

Netrek is a client/server game that can look a little different depending on which client you use. The image for the competition was rendered by the Client of Win; the full-screen shot is from a later client.

This full-game shot is nice — it shows an offensive starbase pressing forward to cover an enemy planet so that it can be taken. When this happens in a tournament game, it’s a very intense time. The defending team is under a lot of pressure to destroy this heavily armed, armored and escorted thing, but it’s a big risk for the offense too: if you lose your starbase in this game, your team is screwed for a while.

The base in this shot is piloted by my old teammate Mojo Riser (hi Tom!) and it looks like he’s not getting enough help from his team, and is going to have to back off quickly after this failed attempt to take the planet (the lower explosion is a Romulan ship that was trying to drop armies but didn’t make it). No Rigel for the Romulans today! But maybe while the Feds chase the starbase away, R9 and Rd will take Organia and the Roms will at least get some fuel near their front line. This map layout is rough for them!

 

5. Space Giraffe


by Llamasoft, Xbox 360 and Windows, 2007

 
 
 

 

I’m not sure what to say about Space Giraffe that I haven’t already said, so I’ll refer you to my previous blog posting about the game (and the comment thread will show you a wide variety of opinions about the game).

Space Giraffe sold poorly in its original release on XBLA and got mixed critical reviews, mostly lukewarm. However, with its recent PC release the game seems to finally getting some critical respect; for example, PC Gamer UK recently gave the game a review score of 92%.

Space Giraffe requires your attention and a very large helping of Benefit of the Doubt, but if you give it those things you’ll find it to be an extremely rewarding game of consciousness expansion, and an experience unlike any other.

 

6. Gravitation


by Jason Rohrer, Windows / MacOS / UNIX, 2008.

 
 



Gravitation takes 8 minutes to play. It has simple controls. It is difficult to master. And if you pay attention to the game, you’ll find that it expresses a lot of things — and it does this through its game mechanics, not through story elements. It’s a free download and it’s such a short game to play that you’re robbing yourself if you haven’t played it.

 

7. リズム天国ゴールド (Rhythm Tengoku Gold)


(Soon to be released as Rhythm Heaven in America)
from Nintendo SPD, Nintendo DS, 2008.
 
 
 

 

Some Japanese game developers seem to be adept at creating feelings of pure joy. Katamari Damacy has this kind of feeling, but achieves it mostly through the characters and the music. Rhythm Heaven definitely uses characters and music to good effect, but because the player’s actions are tied so closely to the music, the feeling of joy is closer and more intense.

Rhythm Heaven is a collection of mini-games, with each game requiring you to do a different kind of action in response to the music. The first time you reach the end of a section, where the song you play along with is (spoiler deleted), it feels like a wonderful tour de force, amplified because the idea is so simple and so natural and yet nobody had done it before now.

 

8. La La Land 4


 
TheAnemic, Windows, 2006
 
 
 



 

This game is freely downloadable. It is short to play. If you play it with an open mind, you’ll have an experience unlike those given to you by mainstream games.

We game developers can work so hard and spend so much money and development time to try to scrape together certain kinds of feelings, yet this less-than-no-budget-game gives you that stuff in a concentrated form.

Also, it’s Punk Rock.

 

9. The Gostak


by Carl Muckenhoupt, Z-machine 5, 2001.

 
 
 

 

The Gostak is a work of Interactive Fiction, a genre in which everything happening in the game is communicated through text, and similarly, the player performs actions by typing text. Click on the full-screen image above to get a readable version; that will give you some idea of what this game is like. If you read onward without doing that, you’re treading into spoilers! In fact, I recommend you download and play the game before continuing.

The title of the game comes from an old example in linguistic philosophy. I’ve shown this game to some friends, and a lot of them can’t be bothered to play it: they read the intro and think “yeah, yeah, I get it, the point is to decode what all these words mean,” and they just feel like they are busy or just don’t want to do the work, and quit.

But that’s not actually the point of the game, except at a very coarse level, because why would you assume that these words have English equivalents? The further you get into the game, the more you realize that things don’t work the way you are used to. Yes, you can think of English-language terms that are similar in some ways to the words you are learning, but whatever model you have in your head is likely to contradict with the way the world works, in some obvious way. This is a truly alien world that you’re in, yet you have learned to exist and succeed within it. That’s one of the most fascinating things about this game: a depiction of alien-ness that comes from interacting with the objects in the world, and that only works because the game is text rather than graphics. As such it feels deeper, or truer, than you might expect.

 

10. Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar


Origin Systems Inc., various home computers, 1985.

 

 
 



 
The tiny screenshot piece used as the competition clue is of the twin moons in Ultima IV, the phases of which control where the moon gates are. The moon gates can take you to far-away places, and through a full game of Ultima IV, players will have looked at this tiny area of the screen many, many times.

Ultima IV has been a huge influence to many game designers, and it’s started to pop up again in current game design discussions. Clint Hocking gave a lecture in 2007 that discussed the ways in which Ultima IV prompts self-exploration, and how we might pick up on that in the future. I gave a short rant in 2006 talking about how Ultima IV’s mapping of RPG stats to real-world moral values was an interesting way to grant new meaning and importance to a traditional game strucutre.

This game is very different from the RPGs of today; if you haven’t played it, give it a go on an emulator!

 
That’s that. Congratulations to all the winners!

29 thoughts on “Name That Game competition answers, and Why You Might Wish to Play All These Games”

  1. Congrats on the winners.

    When can we expect some news on the PC version? Such as if it’s completed & the projected requirements, method of distribution/pricing, extras (:P), and DRM choice-if any.

    I know there are lots of big-name games coming out soon for the PC (FEAR2, Sins of a Solar Empire expansion, Burnout Paradise port, and many others). But any news would be good news. Excuse my impatience, just tired of all the same-old games coming out for PC. The only games coming out soon that really made me happy are Zeno Clash, Braid (hopefully soon), and Trine (http://trine-thegame.com).

    Wish you all the luck.

  2. With the PC version, right now I am working on bug fixes to things that were in the original xbox release. The game was relatively bugless, the biggest problems being one or two things that only affect the xbox version. But, there are a bunch of small things that I’ve been wanting to fix. I have fixed most of them at this point.

    I have several online publishers who want to distribute the game now; it’s just a matter of me giving it to them. I am also talking to some retail people but we’ll see how that goes. I don’t particularly like DRM so would like to go without it where possible. I won’t ever release Braid using one of the very Screw-You kinds of DRM (like StarForce, etc) — I would turn down a publishing deal before releasing a game that screws with your computer.

  3. Not to hijack this comment thread either but I’m going to hijack this comment thread to talk about the PC release. I have been so very excited to see this come out and I will purchase it as soon as possible.

    On the matter of DRM, did you read the blog post over on 2dboy regarding the piracy rate of World of Goo?

    http://2dboy.com/2008/11/13/90/

    If read carefully you learn that it actually had the same or even a slightly lower piracy rate than Ricochet Infinity which USED DRM. Does Steam have a DRM policy if you want a game released with them?

    Anyway, I will be buying it either way!

    Oh, and great games list. I’m going to try all of the free ones this weekend.

  4. Thanks for recommending these games. I just tried Gravitation and found it pretty profound… At first I simply tried to collect as many stars as possible while climbing as high as possible, then I focused on reaching the top. Afterwards I realised that one actually has to [SPOILER (kind of, at least I recommend that you experience the game yourself before reading this)] collect these stars and push them right into the fireplace, thus scoring. Well, at least apparently. I’m not sure though because when I did that the little girl at the bottom disappeared all of the sudden.
    Another thing I found quite interesting is that I wanted to return to the girl after reaching the highest point at my second try, but unfortunately I was distracted by a pile of stars which lead into a pit. I found myself trapped and ran out of time, this way I wasn’t able to return. That moment I had to think of how greed sometimes makes people neglect what is really important in life.[/SPOILER]
    I’m looking forward to further explore this game tomorrow because it really seems to be very meaningful (like Braid, but only with the help of gameplay, without any text, as you mentioned above).

    Finally, I’m also kind of looking forward to the PC version of Braid, even though I own the XBLA one. It’s simply amazing and by putting it on my notebook I could show it to my friends in an easier way.

  5. Quinton, you talk about Steam’s policy on DRM. I’d like to point out that Steam itself is DRM, so including one’s own DRM would be kind of silly would it not? Considering the whole aim of DRM is to prevent casual piracy, having anything included along WITH Steam would be stupid.

  6. Thanks for the answers to the contest. I’m looking into playing as many of them as I can to give them a try. I certainly like following your blog to gain a new perspective on gaming!

    Regarding DRM. I would stay away from keys and activation. If Microsoft, Adobe, Autodesk, etc. can all be pirated with their incredible resources, then I would say that Braid would be just as easily.

    The BEST DRM that I have ever come across was the new GTA IV game (which I bought). Even though they have the standard key/activation and require the disc in the drive, the rather interesting thing that Rockstar did was “hobble” the game in many creative ways. For example, cracked versions could not save their progress, the screen started to look “drunk” after 10 minutes of play, the computer that gives side missions wouldn’t work, and more! Scattered throughout the game are little “annoyances” and problems that are harder for crackers to find and so people get fed up with the pirate problems and go out and buy the game. In the end it probably all gets cracked, but at least it slows it down and frustrates some users!

    Maybe you could make some of the puzzles impossible in some way if the copy is pirated? Just a suggestion…

  7. The problem with games that hobble themselves if they think they are pirated is that, inevitably, this will happen for some legitimate users. But it’s even worse than if the game refused to run, because now the game is broken and it’s not even obvious to the player that it’s not working properly. So, I don’t think I would ever do this to software, even though it’s fun to think about sometimes.

  8. Hey Jonathan, I wanted to let you know that I just wrote an article for a gaming site called Forty Two Points. The article was a brief opinion piece about gaming innovation and I mentioned several independant creators including you. Braid has a spot along with Passage and others that I’ve been drawn to through your game, so thanks for the inspiration and hope you like what I had to say.

    http://www.fortytwopoints.com/

  9. I remember how incredibly adept you were at Adventure. Damn, I just could not follow what you did on those maps. And I’m a bit disappointed that you don’t have EA’s Racing Destruction Set on the list…

  10. Before I download it, The Gozak is a free (and legal) download, right? The description doesn’t explicitly say so, and I’m very particular about these things, so…

  11. It’s not decided yet, but system requirements are not going to be low. A lot of laptops probably don’t have the graphics horsepower to run the game.

    Something about as powerful as a desktop GeForce 6800, or anything later than that, is totally fine. For stuff earlier than that — we have to see how things go in the next few weeks.

  12. I’m looking forward to Braid PC, but I’d really like to see it on Steam. I’ll grab it anyway if Impulse is the only online distribution, but Steam is definitely my preference.

    I don’t know anything about the real impact of piracy or how to combat it, but I do know that as someone who buys my games, I really hate DRM – I had heaps of issues with GTAIV, heaps of problems with it, and they were all related to the overbearing DRM. I think that if it’s a good game and the price is right, people will buy it.

    Oh, and pre-order on online distribution is useless without a discount or added bonus.

  13. I have signed deals with 3 different online distributors right now but I am letting them announce the details since they tend to care a lot about those announcements. So Stardock is the first partner to put out a press release, but there are others.

  14. By the way… why PC version costs 20$?

    I remember reading about Jonathan complaining about price of the 360 version… so why now PC version is more expensive?

  15. Having just found this page, it’s _great_ to see Strike Force getting some recognition. I put way too much money into that in the arcades, and there’s a _lot_ more going on than just another defender clone.

    Heck, it even has an interesting collaborative mode for two players, but overall, it just had more stuff happening with more independant entities than anything else I can think of at the time.

    Extended game summary:

    On your side, there’s colonists running around on the ground, and marines. On the bad guy side, there’s little lizard men and big lizard men who shoot at you. If a lizard man grabs a colonist, they mutate the colonist into another lizard men.

    Weapons are sitting around on the ground; lizard men pick them up and use them to shoot at you.

    Marines can be summoned, and they then hang off the bottom of your ship shooting at the lizards; if you drop marines off on the ground, they’ll run over to the colonist to rescue them, fighting lizards as they go. The marines then grab the colonist and jump up and down to try and return the colonist to your ship.

    So there’s always a balancing act between carrying marines around to give your ship greater firepower where you are, or leaving them on the ground to fight off the lizards and help to rescue colonists.

    Collaboration; your ship can be in fast mode or slow mode. Fast mode is typical Defender; slow mode flies much more slowly but can shoot in all directions. In two player mode, you can dock the slow ship onto the fast one, so player 1 flies and player 2 can shoot in all directions.

    Also, you can buy weapons between different levels, and different powerups have different effectiveness on different enemy ships; you choose which level you’re going to go to after rescuing everyone on the current one, so you can judiciously buy the right powerups for what you’re going to encounter next. (this isn’t new these days, but back then it was a lot more innovative, especially in a game in _arcades_).

    Seriously, people, if you haven’t played this, you have _got_ to try it.

  16. Great Games. I loved Ultima IV. I am enthralled by the idea of The Gostak, but I can’t find an emulator or whatever I need to play it, for Windows!!! Even a unix version would work…

  17. Lol, I’m not upset about missing this contest because I am simply not old enough to know these games!! Although I do recall a game called Gem Quest or somethign that was very similar to The Gostak. A Game in which you can Role Play and interact with other players in combat and guilds all through text! Really phenomenal innovative games.

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