Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The undeniable lure of simple game play.

As I have mentioned many times before, I used to program video games back in the day. I'm not a huge fan of games now, because they are way too complicated. If I had kept playing them from the 1980s until now, I would have seen the gradual nature of the change, but I didn't, so trying to play Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft now is like jumping into a seven book set of novels in the middle of the fifth book.

Seriously not fun.

But cell phone games are a completely different story. While the computing power inside a cool phone these days puts the old video game machines like the Atari 2600 and the original Nintendo Entertainment System to shame, a cell phone has the restriction of a teeny tiny screen. A lot of programmers decide to get around this problem by going old school and designing games that could have worked on some 1980s home console.

One such hit is an app from Finland called Angry Birds, which builds a completely unnecessary story around a simple game of a catapult destroying a two dimensional castle. There are other versions of the same idea around, but for some reason the idea of birds wanting to exact revenge on egg stealing pigs makes this the true cultural touchstone.

Don't ask me why birds and pigs. I can't 'splain it. It's like asking why did Mario, a guy with a massive hammer rescuing a princess from a giant ape, have to be a plumber.

These are the deep mysteries of the cosmos.

And then there's a game that sucked away a few weeks of my life back in 2009, Ninja Ropes Extreme. The idea is simple enough. You're a ninja in outer space with ropes you use to swing across the galaxy by attaching them to those things that look like gears, using the circles with arrows in them (called gravity vortexes) to give you pushes, sometimes forward like the one in the illustration, but the arrows on later screens point to any of the eight main points on a compass.

To quote the song Ninja Ropes, written by Joss Whedon and his brother Jed, "Simple in its game play, and yet epic in its scope."

The simple style games originated by old timers like me aren't going away.


Anonymous said...

I loved Mario Bros.

namastenancy said...

I still play the city building games - Caesar III and Pharaoh/Cleopatra. I love building my little cities, fighting off the enemy and keeping all the gods happy. I've played them so often that I have the game play memorized but I don't care. It's not about the game, it's about the altered state of consciousness that playing the game puts me in.