Search Results for: classic games

Lester's Legacy

Wiley Wiggins shares the news, learned at last week’s GDC, that Eric Chahi plans to bring his groundbreaking 1991 work Another World (known as Out of This World to us Yanks) to the iPad.

What moved me to mention it here, though, is the YouTube embedded in his post, the first half of a speedrun through the game by YouTube user ghost1215. (I’ve embedded both halves to this post as well, after the jump. Edit: Oops, it looks like they deleted their account the day after I posted this! Here’s the first part of someone else’s speedrun, though without the opening cinematic, alas.) I played a fair amount of this game in college, never getting far beyond the bit with the wobbly cage, so found fascinating the chance to watch a full playthrough.

A couple of minutes in, I thought: Hey… it’s Limbo! The similarity struck me not just in the subject matter and play style, but in the overall user experience: both works are rare examples of great games that never present any messages directly to the player, circumventing the display of “in-world” information. There is no HUD displaying health or inventory, nor do any tutorial prompts to press buttons ever appear. The games offer no subtitles for in-game dialog, because there isn’t any. You learn through a moment of initial experimentation how to make the defenseless little guy on the screen jog around and jump, and do your best from there. When the control scheme is simple enough to avoid frustration, this can be an elegant way to add a layer of unsettling, even alienating mystery to a game.

Both games also gleefully murder the protagonist in dozens of creative ways before the player sees the ending screen. Something these YouTubes don’t make obvious is Another World’s absurd difficultly level. Whoever’s playing it in this video seems to possess a very practiced hand at it (to the tune of Wiggins’ “billions of times” playing it as a kid). In reality, every time poor Lester, the ginger-haired and extremely fragile hero, gets eaten or dissolved or ray-gunned — an inevitability, several times over, with each new screen he explores — the checkpoint he reappears at is often located some distance in the past, requiring replay of several challenges. This being one of the classic ways to make a game you can speedrun through in 20 minutes (i.e. two YouTube videos) feel like a weeks-long epic to a new player.

Limbo, as I’ve written about, had its release long after cruel games have fallen from vogue. So even though (judging by the lengths of its YouTube collections) a Limbo speedrun takes more than twice as long as Another World, its vastly kinder distribution of respawn points (as well as, it seems to me, its much better-clued puzzles) means that you can traverse the work from end to end in an evening or two. By crafting a highly polished and deeply evocative experience, the makers of Limbo number among contemporary designers who stake that their games should aim to have longevity in their players’ memories, not necessarily on their game consoles.

I’ll be interested to learn how newcomers react to this 20-year-old design on the iPad — or if certain tweaks have been made to it, to better suit modern players’ palates.

Note that the following two videos spoil the entirety of Another World. Proceed with caution.

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Tetris in the Zeitgeist

Hey, remember Tetris? Check out these Tetris gameshelves! Except you'd have to stack them with holes on each level or else your games will disappear. Which reminds me of a recent favorite explodingdog drawing.

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Episode #4 - Tile Games

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[info]prog and [info]mrmorse look at three tile-placement games.

  • Carcassonne, a game of communal map-building and sneaky claim-jumping. We look at the basic set, which was published in the United States in 2000 and remains widely available.

  • The Very Clever Pipe Game, a Cheapass "Hip Pocket" entry that delivers on its title for under five bucks. The two- and four- player variants play quite differently, and we examine both.

  • Pipe Dream (et al), a classic computer game about laying pipe on a grid against a liquid timer. It was a commercial title in the 1980s, but due to its simple concept it's seen many shareware and freeware clones since then. The ones featured on the show include Federico Filipponi's MacPipes and Adam Doppelt's untitled Java applet (which you can find all over the place, in case that link ever goes bad).

The players inlcude [info]cthulhia, [info]ruthling, [info]rikchik, [info]grr_plus1, [info]radiotelescope, marymary, and [info]prog.

This episode features even more music ripped off from Star Control II / The Ur-Quan Masters (a game we reviewed two episodes ago). Our opening song is once again the goofy Orz Theme, and the clangy-bangy number that plays while Matt introduces The Very Clever Pipe Game is the Zot-Foq-Pik Theme. Frungy frungy frungy etc.

The airy music underscoring the opening skit is a composition by the great video game soundtrack composer Yuzo Koshiro for a version of Zork that was released only in Japan for the Sega Saturn. You can find the game's entire soundtrack here.

So, you may have noticed a nine-month gap between this episode and the previous one. The short explanation is that I launched a startup company based around the Volity Network last year, and in December got so deeply involved with it that work on it pretty much precluded every other activity, including any Gameshelf work. All the live footage from this episode was shot at the beginning of December, right before things became crazy.

I would have at least completed editing this episode that month, but at the time I was quite discouraged by the quality of the footage, especially the host segments. Matt and I were mediocre at best in our attempts at scripted skits or game introductions - if we want to keep doing this, we need to either practice more or have a better cueing system. Also, I was dressed terribly; that T-shirt managed to accentuate my programmer's gut, while the clip-mic's drag delicately exposes an off-center hint of pasty white throat-flesh.

While the content of the gameplay segments was great, they also made me sad due to technical problems. The sound levels were way off and at some points barely audible, and sometimes the light was off as well, giving a weird grainy appearance to the Carcassone footage. I fixed what I could in editing but I am not an expert in either, so it's still not very good. You can also hear the players' voices "skipping" during some scenes. At least some of these problems were probably due to the fact that the camcorder I use to export footage onto my computer had been accidentally dropped during one of the shoots, rendering it still working but a bit cockeyed and possibly wonky. So, yes, many small sadnesses.

What's next for The Gameshelf? I'm not sure. I'm still running the company, but have a better handle on my time than I did at the start of the year. On the other hand, I'm going to be taking a day job of some sort soon because the startup ain't paying the bills. I will therefore say nothing now, except that I very much want to continue the show, and am full of ideas about how to make it better. I'll figure something out. Stay tuned. Better yet, stay subscribed through iTunes or something, and you'll get a pleasant surprise sometime in the future. (Which, indeed, may have been the case with this very episode for you.)

If you'd like to watch a video blog about games in the meantime, there is Board Games With Scott. It is different from my show in many ways - it concentrates solely on board games, for one thing, and also focuses more on explaining gameplay than actually showing it in action. But he does a much better job at explanations than we've done so far. Look for future Gameshelfs to gleefully rip off techniques from him.

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Episode #3 - Wargames

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Jmac and guest host Joe Johnston take a look at some fairly recent wargames.

  • Memoir '44, an accessible yet rich modular game of tactical engagements between Allied and German forces in World War II.

  • Gnostica, an abstract wargame played on a shifting deck of Tarot cards. Players use colorful Icehouse pieces to represent their forces.

    The players on the show use my copy of the Aquarian Tarot, which, with its pretty but low-key imagery, is my favorite deck for gaming. I marked up this deck with Gnostica stickers [pdf link], which helps tremendously in remembering all the cards' powers and point values in this game.

  • Warsong, a very deep, story-driven wargame released for the Sega Genesis video game system in 1991. I spent much of the summer of 1993 playing this, and now you too can while away the hours on your computer through a Sega Genesis emulator. Finding the ROM is an exercise left to the viewer cough cough.

I did not like this episode as much as a the previous one, mainly because our regular director, Joe Constantine, had to miss the game shoot. (We currently split the show's footage collection over two shoots: one for games, another for the host segments.) Lee Stewart, who usally does camera, did an admirable job filling it as director for that shoot, and I took over camera duties. My camerawork was rather mediocre, though -- check out the vertigo-inducing focal plane misplacement in some of the Memoir '44 shots -- and I didn't get to play any games!

I need to position the cue cards closer to the camera -- that's why I keep looking to the side -- and have a better idea of what I'm going to say. Until then it's the Umm uhh uhhhhm show, at least during my monologues.

Other than all these technical complaints, I think that the episode content is pretty good. And hey, we used the green screen correctly for the first time (for that intro bit with me yelling at the camera). Looking forward to having more fun with that later.

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Episode #2 - Space Games

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Jmac and guest host Joe Johnston take a look at space-themed games.

This episode looks a lot better than the previous one, don't you think? It was entirely shot in the SCAT studio with an excellent crew. It actually doesn't make use of a "board-cam" we rigged up to continuously film an overhead shot of the table during games. Maybe I'll edit some of those shots in later, but Joe Constantine did such a good job directing the player-cameras that I didn't really feel the need to do the extra work.

I also mention The Interactive Fiction Competition, a.k.a. the IFComp, as an aside before the first segment. If you want to see (and maybe help judge) the latest efforts from the amateur text adventure creation community, do have a look.

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Episode #1 - Medieval Games

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For our first full-length episode, we look at three medieval-themed games.

  • Shadows over Camelot, a (mostly!) cooperative board game that pits the (more or less) valiant knights of the Round Table against the forces of Evil. And quite possibly against each other, as well. Published in 2005 by Days of Wonder and widely available, especially in game shops.
  • Rampart, an arcade game from 1990, widely available these days on the console disc Midway Arcade Treasures Volume 1.
  • Peasant's Quest, an amazingly faithful parody/homage of the famous King's Quest adventure games that Sierra published in the 1980s. Published by those crazy guys at Homestar Runner.
  • Black Knight 2000, a classic pinball machine from the late 1980s. Not really a featured game, but it's seen hanging around in a few scenes. I note this mostly because Jason Joy dug up an MP3 rip of its great background music, which you can hear a little of in the show's closing credits.

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