Friday, 12 January 2018

Computer games

I have been playing computer games, on and off, for getting on 40 years.  The first game I came across as a young and enthusiastic computer hacker, was called Colossal Cave, and was invoked on the computer I was using by the command ADVENT.  You couldn't call it Adventure because the computer only recognised capital letters, and program names had to be no longer than 6 characters. You can get a flavour of this game here.   Computer games have come a long way since then.

I suppose it started at uni, with Dungeons and Dragons.  This rôle-playing combat and treasure-hunting game is based on a map, figurines and rolls of the dice.  And lots of rules, looked up in a book, for how armour, weapons, magic spells, and everything else in the fantasy world actually work.  (How much time, magical energy and money does it take to develop a micro-fireball oven?)  We'd collect together of an evening around the boards, dice and a considerable amount of beer, and play through the night. I remember thinking that it could all be made much simpler using a computer.  I didn't conceive of what a graphics-oriented PC could do, since they hadn't been invented yet.

The first "modern" game I played on a "multi-media" PC (that is, one powerful enough to play music, and have reasonable graphics at the same time) was Myst. An early first-person exploration/puzzle game, you were transported to a very different and realistic world where you had to figure out how things worked in order to finish the game.  My wife and I played it together and we still do, with games of this type.

I was transfixed for a while by the first real-time strategy game I played over one Christmas holiday (it was a present).  Called Command and Conquer, you play a General, deploying ever more powerful forces in increasingly challenging situations, leading to eventual conquest.

There are now many well-understood categories of games: first-person exploration and puzzles, first-person shooters, real-time strategy, simulations and so on.  I touched on simulations in my last post; they often go well beyond the concept of a game: they can realistically simulate driving a formula 1 car, piloting Concorde, driving a train and so on.  They have become valuable training aids.  There are also multi-player online games where many players interact and there is a social element as well.

At the moment, my wife and I are playing a first-person exploration and puzzle game called The Witness.  It's good.  You find yourself on a island where various puzzles of different kinds first teach you how to solve them and then require some lateral thinking to progress.  The puzzles are always very logical but are not always what you think they are.  We play it on the Steam platform that allows us both to interact with it, her on her PC and me on mine.  It is interesting to see how our different creativities and puzzle-solving techinques apply in different situations.  We make a good team because our differences allow us to get into the heads of the devious bstds who invented the puzzles.

I post this photo of the Tour Montparnasse in Paris that I passed the other day.  The top fades into the mist, and the tree traces paths across the windows.  It reminded me of The Witness, where some of the puzzle solutions require tracing the shadows of tree branches onto a grid.  Or not.


Woodsy42 said...

I remember playing a set of text adventure games, exactly like ADVENT, on the early Apple II when we first got one at work. Can't remember the titles or authors but they must have been adaptions of the original. Then we progressed to Leisure Suit Larry.

James Higham said...

"my wife and I are playing a first-person exploration and puzzle game"

The couple who play with each other stay with each other.

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