Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al (livredor) wrote,
Not sheepish, but individ-ewe-al
livredor

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They don't make 'em like they used to

The kind of computer games I like are easy to learn, addictive and largely abstract. Preferably the action takes place in a single screen (though there may be multiple levels of increasing difficulty), and ideally the controls require no more than half a dozen keys. This means that there aren't really any modern games that I like as much as the old staples: Qix, Snake, Bubble Puzzle, and Donkey-Kong type games. And nothing from the past 20 years has lived up to Tetris!

The big exception is Civilization, which I adore with a passion, and which does depend on somewhat more computing power than was available when I discovered video games at the age of 6 or so. The major problem with Civ is that I'm near incapable of playing it for less than 8 hours at a stretch, and, well, I don't generally have eight hours free for it. There are a few games from the 90s I really wanted to like: Black and White, Grand Theft Auto, Baldur's Gate, Myst. But for me, the learning curve is too steep, the gaming is too complicated, and in the end I'd rather watch someone else play than play myself. (I should add that I never got into Elite, despite appreciating intellectually what an amazing achievement it was, for similar reasons.)

I was hoping that online gaming would encourage people to develop smaller, simpler games again. But nowadays everyone has broadband, so you still get hugely bloated stuff. And then I was hoping that mobile phones would encourage something a bit more sleek, but again, they've got so powerful so quickly that the retro gaming never took off, apart from a few months of my beloved Snake coming back into fashion, thanks to Nokia! I don't have access to my BBC Micro emulation stuff at the moment, so I can't satisfy my craving with that. I suppose something like Popcap is a reasonable substitute; I'm quite fond of Bejeweled, and Zuma / Luxor, though the implementation is overly fancy at the expense of gameplay. And Spogg has a tolerable version of networked Tetris, which is something.

As for the current decade, my feeling is that gaming has maxed out when it comes to technical achievement. There's no room for games to get prettier, or more complicated. In terms of novelty, a lot of what's coming out now is variations on a theme, endless remakes of 90s classics with the graphics even closer to video-realistic, with the world map or the number crunching even more huge than before. Everything I've heard about Katamari Damacy suggests it may actually be doing something original, and I expect I would get on with it too, but I've never found a copy.

It seems like the future of games is the seriously interactive. I've dabbled in Second Life a bit, mainly because I want to be able to tell my friends' grandchildren that I was there right at the start of immersive virtual worlds. So far, it hasn't grabbed me; it's pretty, but I've not managed to do any actual interacting. And my computer, which may not be absolutely cutting edge but is new this year, can't really handle the processing required, so it tends to grind to a halt rather often. I'm not convinced it's possible to get a whole lot out of it without paying vast sums of money to Linden Labs (or eBay entrepreneurs) for premium features, and it doesn't even come close to exciting me enough to want to do that. I suspect it's something that might be more fun if played in company; would anyone like to come and explore with me?

So that leaves the clones and remakes, real classics created for PCs with (usually completely unnecessary) fancy graphics and bells and whistles. Even these are falling out of fashion; it's a lot harder to find decent, simple freeware games for WinXP than it was with Win98. Anyway, I just wanted to record that I have found the ultimate Breakout / Arkanoid clone: Jardinains. This has the additional twist that there are garden gnomes standing on the bricks throwing flowerpots at the bat. The flowerpots can mess you up, whereas you can knock the gnomes off the bricks and bounce them around to get bonuses. It is incredibly silly, but it's just the added touch that makes the game playable and stops it from getting boring in the way that most Breakout versions eventually did. And it gets all the standard features right, powerups that are fun but not over-powerful, right level of difficulty, avoiding endless loops, a good variety of levels including some clever puzzles as well as just pretty designs. It's also surprisingly witty; everything from the gnomes' facial expressions which are deeply cute, to a powerup which not only slows down the ball, but everything, including the sound that the ball makes when it strikes the bricks! And some very funky tricks with fire and ice powerups. Unfortunately, the original game which was free-as-in-beer has been removed and replaced with version 2, which is improved in some ways but which is a shareware / nagware licence. The free version is certainly playable, with 50 levels and no serious restrictions, but eh.

Also, Armagetron is a really well thought-out implementation of the Lightcycles game from the old film, Tron. I loved Tron when it was just a matter of drawing lines on the screen to cut your opponents' lines off. But Armagetron actually recreates the sensation of driving a lightcycle, by doing some really clever things with automated camera angles. It's totally configurable, both in-game and from a command line, and all the details just work. (In theory, it's set up to be playable networked, even, but I've never tried that.)

I think I need an icon for general geekery, (as opposed to talking about science or linguistics). I happened to stumble on a dollmaker that actually provides "long plait" as a hairstyle option, and has a reasonable amount of flexibility without being so over-complicated it's boring to use. So, behold, a vaguely manga-ish version of me!
Tags: gaming, gip
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  • Update

    I'm really enjoying the resurgence of people doing little potted summaries of what goes on in their day-to-day lives, so I think I might give that a…

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    In summary, I had a really excellent weekend followed by quite a major come-down when I had to come back to campus and leave my people behind. This…

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