Friday, April 21, 2006

Games You Should Have Played - 1984

[Computer Gaming]

Hah! You thought I wasn't coming back to the Games You Should Have Played - but you were wrong! This time we're digging up a time capsule from the year 1984. In Michigan a farmer reported an eggplant shaped like the head of Yoda, Bill Clinton recorded his first hit solo saxophone album, and for five minutes in March the Great Wall of China inexplicably turned a bright duck-egg blue. The console market had become suddenly attractive as game after game started coming out for Nintendo's Famicom system, and some other things happened that no one in their right mind cared about.

The list of games you should have played for this year is long, but let me reiterate again - living in the 80s and not playing these games is the same as living in the 60s and not going to Woodstock. If these games haven't passed under your gaminig thumbs you're living a sad, pointless existence which you should terminate at the earliest opportunity (and restart from a saved game in the 80s).

1) King's Quest I: Quest For The Crown (PC)
This is probably the most important adventure game released until 1990 (when LucasArts produced Loom and Secret of Monkey Island). It's not the best (by a long way), but it's the most important. Why? Because this is the first animated adventure game; it's the first animated adventure game by Sierra (kings of the adventure genre for the next decade); and it's the start of the eventually very good King's Quest franchise. Zork had a better verb parser; King's Quest's graphics would be quickly surpasse;, and it still had the frustrating system where an early error could completely stop you from winning the game. But this is the release that would define how adventure games would look for years to come.

2) Ghostbusters (C64)
I love this game. This is one of the very few examples of a movie license being used to make a really decent videogame. You drive around New York busting ghosts, making money, and upgrading your ghostbusting equipment. After a certain point, you go fight Zuul in some platforming-style action. Classic stuff, and as far as the ghostbusting part of the game it features some truly original (for the time) gameplay.

3) Lords of Midnight (C64)
You've probably heard of most of the other games on the 1984 list; but I expect that many of you will never have heard of Lords of Midnight. And that's a shame, because not only was this a game epic in scope, orginality and ambition when it was released, but there's STILL nothing else like it ever been attempted in gaming. The game presents you with a selection of characters, who can move around independently of each other in a fairly large world, depicted as a series of locations on grid coordinates, each presented as a picture of the terrain. Characters can fight monsters, raise and command armies, and explore for treasure. Against you are arrayed the forces of Lord Doomdark (who also command armies). To win the game you must either find and destroy the Ice Crown, or conquer Doomdark's home city of Ushgarak. Thus the game could be played as an RPG, a wargame, or both. (Yes, it's more than a little inspired by Lord of the Rings.) Fantastically addictive and multi-levelled - get an emulator for the original or check out one of the many remakes (1, 2, 3).

4) Duck Hunt (Famicom)
Yes, you know it better on the NES, but the NES doesn't come out until next year in the US and two years after that for Australia. It's Duck Hunt! Light guns! Shooting birds! Annoying dogs! Yes, it's pretty much the first home light gun game. And Nintendo's recent tendency towards nostalgia fan-service has pretty much canonised it in the annals of classic gaming. So, y'know, check it out.

5) Marble Madness (Arcade)
Navigate a marble through a 3D isometric level! What could possibly be more enthralling? I can't stop using exclamation points! It's sheer MADNESS, I tell you!

6) Karateka (Apple II)
High kick! Punch! High kick! This might be considered the first scrolling brawler; or then again, it might not. But regardless, you can go completely kung fu krazy kicking guys in the head in this game... or, y'know, karate krazy, cos there's not really any kung fu. In retrospect, I am so surprised I ever managed to finish this game, especially at age 6. It's filled with sections designed to do nothing more than frustrate the player, like the stupid falling gate that impales you unless you deal with it just so, or the fact that the girl you're trying to save will kill you if you don't drop out of fighting stance before approaching you. Gah! Damn you, stupid girl!

7) Paperboy (Arcade)
Well, actually, I played the Master System port of Paperboy, but that didn't come along for another, oh, 6 years, so I'd better deal with the arcade original. It's a simple enough game - ride bicycle forward, throw papers at houses, attempt to NOT smash windows of your subscribers, and dodge common roadway obstacles like breakdancers, tornadoes, and the Grim Reaper (??). At the end of each "day" (level), you get to see how many subscribers you kept, and how many got pissed off and cancelled their service; this then carries over to the next day. Very simple gameplay, but the fact that your performance carries over in such a concrete way makes it substantiallly deeper than many other straight action titles of the era.

8) The Ancient Art of War (Apple II)
Early real-time strategy. Not very deep, but fairly successful for its time. You had three types of troops (Knights, Barbarians and Archers) that operated on a kind of rock-paper-scissors (Knight beats Barbarian, Barbarian beats Archer, etc), and you used them to beat your enemy. They moved around in real time. The game tracked hunger, morale, et cetera, and had various options for fighting and moving in formations and travelling at different speeds.

9) Boulder Dash (Apple II)
(Don't worry, you're going to see these Apple titles tapering off soon in favour of the emerging PC and the burgeoning console market. But boy howdy was the Apple the place to be in the early 80s - probably the best thing my parents ever bought me as a child.) Boulder Dash basically takes the gameplay from Lode Runner and Dig Dug, mixes it together, and adds an additional layer of graphical polish and strategic depth. I have memories of this being a better game than either Lode Runner or Dig Dug, but I haven't played any of them for years so it might be just the dementia talking.

10) Spy vs Spy (C64)
(Yes, it was on the Apple as well, but the C64 version is the one I played, because my friend's C64 could support two joysticks whereas my Apple couldn't.) Look, there are better games than this in the honourable mentions below, but Spy vs Spy had some fairly unique gameplay mechanics that make it worth a place in the top 10. Firstly, it had multiplayer. Secondly, and most importantly, the gameplay was split-screen. The two players could be in different places doing different things, which was pretty much a first. Based on the comic strip from MAD Magazine, the two players controlled the Black Spy and the White Spy as they wandered around an embassy setting traps for each other while collecting vital items necessary for victory. As a competitive game, it has a range of design flaws which kept it from ever being truly classic, but it does have a whole heap of "got there first" design cachet.

And that's ten. Thanks for the attention, everyone. As always, I'll conclude with a few honourable mentions:
* Ice Climber: platforming fun for all, including simultaneous co-op play
* Excitebike: another part of Nintendo's classic canon, and decently memorable, but nothing really to make it worth talking about
* Balloon Fight: Nintendo reinvents Joust, only cuter
* Hogan's Alley: more light gun shenanigans, but less well loved than Duck Hunt and otherwise functionally identical.


Jey said...

I have played no games from the year I was born...not that I am entirely suprised. I did play Duckhunt on NES many years later though.

Check out my new album

GregT said...

Once again, your blog demands identity-type information before it will let me post, but - hurray! Fridge! Ducks! Cheer! I demand more photos.