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:
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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. ãƒªã‚ºãƒ å¤©å›½ã‚´ãƒ¼ãƒ«ãƒ‰ (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.
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.
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!