What's in a game?
September 30, 2008 4:38 PM   Subscribe

What can one learn from the design choices of past games? John Harris discusses different game aspects, 20 games at a time, at Game Design Essentials. You can read on 20 Open World Games (where generally the player is left to his own devices to explore a large world), see your destroyed controllers in a new light with 20 Difficult Games or check out 20 Mysterious Games (that rely on algorithmically-generated content or emphasize secret-hunting), 20 Unusual Control Schemes and 20 Atari Games. What about roguelikes, you say?

Harris also maintains a column called @Play at GameSetWatch, discussing old and new roguelikes. And if that wets your appetite for some Nethack, but you prefer having graphics and mouse control in your games, the most recent post might help.

On the other hand, if you don't care about such novelties, an interview with the developer of Dwarf Fortress (previously) may be of interest.

The games are chosen for their instructive qualities and general interest, not to compare them using a meaningless yardstick. They're here because I could illustrate something important using them as examples.

Older games tend to have more elemental designs, presenting their mechanics strongly rather than submersing them between a sea of what a game is "supposed to be." This is particularly useful for explaining and highlighting design conventions.
posted by ersatz (51 comments total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
Let's play Global Thermonuclear War.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:40 PM on September 30, 2008 [5 favorites]


"You slip off while attempting to ride your pony. --more--"

"You die... --more--"
posted by aheckler at 4:48 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've always been curious about algorithmically generated game universes such as Elite Plus, and others of similar ilk. I've been combing used book stores looking for a copy of Infinite Game Universe to see if it will grant me some insight.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:00 PM on September 30, 2008

Aha, the Atari games list is arcade-only. Shame Star Raiders couldn't make the cut.

As for the open-world games list, a critique and some addenda...two Zelda games but no Link to the Past? No La-Mulana? No Darklands? No Starflight or Star Control II? No Noctis (check that out, BrotherCaine, if you haven't)?
posted by lumensimus at 5:10 PM on September 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

What the heck? What am I doing on Metafilter?!

This place has obviously gone downhill.
posted by JHarris at 5:16 PM on September 30, 2008 [8 favorites]

Ah, noticed the algorithmic section in the mysterious games section.
posted by lumensimus at 5:16 PM on September 30, 2008

Oh, this looks good.
posted by cortex at 5:16 PM on September 30, 2008

Heh. Hiya, John.
posted by cortex at 5:17 PM on September 30, 2008

Holy crap that's a lot to read.

Also, I totally played Propcycle. it was pretty fun.
posted by GuyZero at 5:20 PM on September 30, 2008

lumensimus: The lists are not of the most X things, which is an article theme I find as played out as anyone, but of 20 instructive examples. Which is not to say that those other things aren't instructive (in some cases instructive as hell, Noctis and Lu-Mulana are awesome, and I write about Starflight in a different piece), but there are thousands of games out there, and hundreds I know about. It comes to the point where eventually I have to stop casting about for examples and write the thing.
posted by JHarris at 5:22 PM on September 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

Makes absolute sense -- consider it well-intentioned mild grousing ;)

I can see why you picked Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker -- there is a lot of tasty contrast between the two, after all.
posted by lumensimus at 5:38 PM on September 30, 2008

Ah,Vindicators. A buddy and I finished that one Sunday afternoon at a cost of about five bucks apiece. I never sent in for the t-shirt, though.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 5:52 PM on September 30, 2008

Propcycle = awesome + tiring.

Lucky & Wild's gun and steering wheel was pretty cool.
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:53 PM on September 30, 2008

Gauntlet Legends, how many years of my life did I waste on you? Good Times.
posted by SaintCynr at 5:59 PM on September 30, 2008

posted by Baby_Balrog at 6:59 PM on September 30, 2008

NES Zelda was a piece of schoolyard glory. It was *hard*. I beat it without guides and I was, for the first time ever, So Cool. Even until punks started talkin' bout the second quest.

13 years or so later, I'm still impressed by it's depth and replayability. Dude, Zelda rocks.

Also, this post.
posted by The Whelk at 7:19 PM on September 30, 2008

The Whelk: Tell me about it. My first play through Zelda, which was done without any hints other than the manual and included map, took me months. (Eventually, the thing that had me stuck turned out to be Level 7, actually one of the easier dungeons in the first quest, because there's a required room that's not on the map and I didn't think to try bombing it open.)

In the time since then, I've finished the game without dying, finished the game without a ring without dying, and finished the game with a blue ring and a wooden sword.

It would actually possible to with the game with no sword except for one little thing. Ganon, the final boss of the entire game, can only be hurt if struck with a sword. EVERYTHING ELSE can be killed with subweapons. I like to think of that as a little joke played by Miyamoto on perfectionists.
posted by JHarris at 8:21 PM on September 30, 2008

("Not on the map" in this case meaning the in-game map item. Up until this point, every essential room in every dungeon lights up on the radar map when that dungeons map is found. Not so in level 7, where the "eye" of the dungeon layout is the only way to get to the boss.)
posted by JHarris at 8:24 PM on September 30, 2008

Jharris, the sheer sadism of Zelda keeps me coming back, anything could be a secret! If you're good about finding heart containers and weapons, ducking in and out of dungeons, you can get pretty powerful early on, which is what I liked. For most of the areas, nothing stopped you from entering them, and if you where totally underpowered, you could still duck in and raid and escape. Made it feel like you beat something rather than moving up a scale of powerfullness.
posted by The Whelk at 8:26 PM on September 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

The Whelk, you'd probably really enjoy La-Mulana. The sense of exploration and danger never lets up. (I've never beaten either it or the original Zelda, but count myself as a great fan of both.)
posted by lumensimus at 8:46 PM on September 30, 2008

JHarris, I'm so, so very glad you're here to discuss this stuff. Also, good show, old chap.

While I'm a pretty experienced gamer, your articles made me realize just how much I've only scratched the surface of what's available out there. Either that or your gaming has just taken you on generally different paths than mine (you've got eight years on me, which means a world of difference on the old-school stuff.)

For one thing, I've somehow never played a Metroid game, but now I've got to scrounge up my pennies to buy one on Wii-ware. I'm hoping they have Super Metroid (I imagine they do) because by all accounts I understand that's the one that matters most. So thanks for finally pushing me over the edge. Maybe I'll blog about it for a Projects post or something.

First of all - for the mysterious games, I totally agree with your inclusion of Mario 3, and I've always wondered how anyone knew about the white block trick, but for me Mario 2 was always the one that made me feel like I'd never find everything there was to find.I'm an absolute freak for Mario, and excepting the Gamecube and Gameboy variations, have made it a point to explore every last hidden depth of the Mario universe. I played through every level in Mario World with the weird pumpkin-head autumnal color scheme and spent forever trying to figure a way into the weird blue fortress thing in World (IIRC) 5-1 in Mario 3 (it takes a Tanuki suit and isn't really worthwhile.)

Still, there is at least one part of Mario 2 that I think was added in just to make the game seem bigger than you could imagine. In one of the last worlds, you have to run down a corridor with a number of open shafts above you, which each have a single row of blocks half-way up them. On one of these block ceilings, there is a toadstool-canister thing. As far as I've ever been able to discern, there is no way to get to it. It's completely unnecessary, and I might be missing something obvious, but I swear it's just there to give you something within reach but exceeding grasp, and if so, what a brilliant touch.

Also, I know that your lists aren't designed to be comprehensive, but I'd add a series to the "Open World" group: Sly Cooper. In truth, the games are quite linear, but by presenting a series of some of the craziest and most compelling worlds in gaming history, giving you a story but also optional sidequests, and not forcing you to get back to the main-quest, Sucker Punch encouraged exploration. What really capped it off, though, was that the game mechanics were built around figuring out ways to make it fun just to move the characters. You could get to anywhere you could see, but only if you figured out the puzzles of how to get there, and these puzzles were intricately constructed.

Additionally, the fact that the rooftops and other high places were designed to be safer then surface streets gives the gamer the feeling of knowing the whole world from an unusual angle, and then diving briefly down into the guard-invested "normal" world in order to suss out any secrets from it. Truly a series (and I'm really talking about 2 and 3 here) where the Graphics (beautiful, whimsical, and cell-shaded) and the Mechanics came seamlessly together to form unforgettable atmosphere, which to me is truly the chief element of "Open World" Games. If you feel lost in a world, in my book, then the open-world concept has succeeded.

I'm sure I'll have more thoughts, but thanks for the articles!
posted by Navelgazer at 9:45 PM on September 30, 2008

Hey wow, mefoid JHarris is John H. from r.g.r.n.?
posted by fleacircus at 9:48 PM on September 30, 2008

Lovely articles, John. One thing I must know... there were Japan-only Ultima games? I thought I was a huge Ultima geek but I had no idea.
posted by Kattullus at 10:56 PM on September 30, 2008

On the topic of not-quite-perfect pointless challenges, I decided to try an 'ironman environmentalist' approach to Star Control 2. That is, kill no creatures on and take no minerals from any planet. And, with exactly one exception, it's possible. The exception? The radioactives the base needs at the start of the game.

And, yes, I've always assumed they did that deliberately, because there are a couple of details that seem random when you're willing to denude entire star systems.
posted by MadDog Bob at 12:13 AM on October 1, 2008

The Whelk: You really should check out BS Zelda, I think you'd have a lot of fun with it. They're games that were made in Japan for the Satellaview SNES peripheral, a device that could download games from a special satellite TV channel. They're basically reworked versions of the original Zelda, complete with new secrets. Some people have gotten ROM images of them and hacked them into being playable either as a "traditional" Zelda, or combined with the funky time-based system the original games used (which were made to be played during a special hour-long TV show that featured voice actors giving hints).

The thing about The Legend of Zelda is that it took the experience gaining aspect of roleplaying games and replaced it with raw exploration and secret finding. In other words, they took out the part where just grinding and killing monsters makes the player stronger, and replaced it with something entertaining enough that people would do it anyway. To think, rewarding players for doing something that's already fun! And nearly every Zelda game gets much easier if you spend time at the beginning poking around finding things, to the point where I tend to find the hardest dungeon in the more recent games is the first one, when the player hasn't had the chance to explore much of the world finding heart pieces and extra equipment.

lumensimus: Repeating the recommendation for La-Mulana. Come to think of it, I've posted about it to the blue before. It's certainly a challenging game, of an order of magnitude greater than even Zelda. Some of the secrets in it seem a little too obscure, in fact, but it's a lot of fun to explore.

Navelgazer: I've made it a point to try to play as wide a variety of games as I can stomach. There are some games I find annoying: most any sports game for example, and ordinary games that are completely by-the-numbers productions made to cash in on something, without any spark of creativity. (Actually, these two conditions are probably related to each other. I'd love to try Sensible Soccer.) The problem is that there really are a lot of boring games out there. Lately, I've found an excellent place to look for new games to play, outside of the burgeoning indie scene, is Romhacking.net. It now hosts HUNDREDS of translation patches for old Japanese 8- and 16-bit games, and translating a game is so difficult to do that generally the only translations that get finished are the ones about a game that someone really cares about, so the percentage of gems there is surprisingly high.

Both Metroid and Super Metroid are on WiiWare. Another good game to look for is Metroid: Zero Mission, for GBA, which is a "remake" of the first one in the style of Super, but with an amazing gimmick (which I may or may not have mentioned in an article). Metroid style games tend to present an illusion of freedom, with the player being about to pick the direction he explores in, but are usually quite linear despite this, since the player can't get to a place without the item that lets him get through the roadblock that guards it, and the player won't be able to get the item unless he's ready for it. The original Metroid wasn't like this, though: the game really was mostly wide-open, with only a handful of roadblocks. Metroid: Zero Mission found a way to take both approaches at once. To a beginner, it looks like Super Metroid, which is very road-blocky, but experienced players who make canny use of their equipment can find very-well-hidden secret passages, and get beyond nearly any block before they're "supposed" to. As a result, the game can be won with less than 15% of all the items collected, and there are even special ending screens for players who accomplish this!

World 5-1 in Mario 3: I remember that area. The reward was a Music Box. Yeah, for the effort involved it's a really sucky prize! I don't remember the thing from Mario 2 though. The game isn't really well-remembered for having lots of secrets, but there are a good number of shortcuts in the levels to reward nosy players. My own favorite was the third level in one of the worlds (4-3, I think?). The Japanese game that Mario 2 was adapted from, Doki-Doki Panic, was similar in many ways, but one feature that was added when the game was made into Mario 2 was Mario's trademark "B-button run" move. Except the game wasn't designed taking that into account. In 4-3, there's a place at the beginning where the player must ride a Birdo egg across an ocean, but if I remember right, with a perfect, B-button-run-assisted jump, it's possible for the two longest jumpers, Luigi and Princess, to make the jump without the egg. And from there, instead of entering the door, the player can make ANOTHER jump, a leap-of-faith, off the next edge, and go right to the boss room for that level.

Yes, everything I know about Sly Cooper suggests that it is awesome, although I've not really been able to play any of them. I respect the company behind them; I was a big fan of Rocket: Robot on Wheels.

fleacircus: Yep, that's me.

Katullus: The Runes of Virtue games are probably what I meant. Two of them (of three I think) did get U.S. ports. There may even have been an Ultima anime, of which this may a relic. I don't know much about these games, or the cartoon if any, but this kind of thing doesn't seem to have been rare. There are also a number of side Wizardry games in Japan, which Sir-Tech had little to do with.

After Googling, I found a page on The Collectable Ultima that says:
When Origin rolled out the coversion of Ultima III for the Nintendo Entertainment System, FCI launched a media blitz in Japan. There was apparently a bit of a craze over the games, and several sideline items appeared. According to Shay Addams in the Official Book of Ultima, these included Ultima comic books, an Ultima album on compact disc (could this be the mysterious genesis of the first Origin soundtrack?), two kinds of wrist watches, a tape dispenser, a pencil holder, a board game, a jacket, a beach towel, and animated cartoons. Other Origin employees have recalled seeing many of these items as well, particularly the comics and cartoons. But other than the comics (which have turned up! See the entries on the manga page) I don't have any of these items, and nobody I've heard from has ever been able to find any of them either. Richard Garriott doesn't have a copy of the cartoon pilot, so it may be lost. If anyone ever runs across any of these items, please let me know.

Collectable Ultima is a treasure trove of information! There I read that the Runes of Virtue games (for Gameboy and SNES) were not programmed in Japan, even though they appear as badly-translated as many other games from the time, but were actually made by Origin. Anyway, on that site they have boxshots of each of the games, and they're all U.S. boxes, so it's probable that I was mistaken about them being "Japanese only."

MadDog Bob: This may be true, but remember that a person going through on his first play will have to trade creatures to the Melnorme to get the information he needs to win, and to travel around getting other info he'll need to do a lot of resource harvesting for fuel. It's possible, but you basically have to already know everything you need. (Which is an additional strength of the game, if anything.) Starflight and Star Control II were both designed by Greg Johnson, and he was also one of the two guys behind ToeJam & Earl. I've communicated with him a couple of times by email. He may not be the most awesome guy imaginable, but comes in slightly ahead of the man made entirely of candy who gives people he has never met five-hundred-dollar bills.
posted by JHarris at 2:35 AM on October 1, 2008 [4 favorites]

As this is sort of my field, I had the luxury of reading all of these at length, at work, while being paid to do so -- thanks very much JHarris! -- but for those of you who can't dig through these 100+ pages, can I recommend the fourth linked article, 20 Mysterious Games , as the real cream of the crop here. It combines great analysis and mind-blowing trivia.

Also, there's no "metafilter's own" tag yet? :P
posted by rokusan at 2:44 AM on October 1, 2008

What the heck? What am I doing on Metafilter?!

What were you doing in my browser?

By the way, have you ever played Fallout 2?
posted by ersatz at 4:02 AM on October 1, 2008

I've always wondered how anyone knew about the white block trick

I'm sure a lot of people figured it out just play screwing around with the levels, but I know about the white block thing thanks to The Wizard. Best promotional movie ever.
posted by graventy at 5:53 AM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

"BS Zelda"

This is so cool.
posted by The Whelk at 6:12 AM on October 1, 2008

I remember playing through the first Zelda map and getting to the second and boggling over how tough it was, but that was nothing compared to the true noodle-baker of discovering that the layouts of the first few dungeons spelled Z-E-L-D-A.

Holy cats!
posted by Spatch at 6:21 AM on October 1, 2008

JHarris, funny you mention beating Zelda with no sword - have you seen this? No-Sword Zelda walkthrough.
posted by lubujackson at 6:58 AM on October 1, 2008


It's hard to really say, because I played it conventionally first, but I'm pretty sure I as a player don't need any foreknowledge from earlier passes to make it possible, though that certainly makes it more convenient. The pieces are all there, many of them are interconnected, and yet the game is remarkably non-linear.

I suspect that hearing some of the info from the melnorme is required, since it appears to change the dialog choices you're given later when dealing with other races, but you can get all of it, and all the tech, without harvesting any "biodata" from the planets. <SPOILER>The umgah help</SPOILER>, and finding 3 or 4 rainbow worlds, which is almost easier when you're exploring widely the first time through, gets you the rest of it.

Getting your fuel exclusively from earth has shades of Schlemiel the painter, but means that you can get it from the spoils of combat. Of course, your enemies can't be counted upon to be building their ships from renewable resources, so you're basically despoiling planets by proxy, but that might be overthinking the thing just a bit :)
posted by MadDog Bob at 9:16 AM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

An interesting challenge, to be sure, but isn't the mining in Star Control II really more foraging than anything else? That's a pretty hard environmentalist line! Do those planets really need their indigenous cobalt? ;)
posted by lumensimus at 9:38 AM on October 1, 2008

I enjoyed that article on 20 Difficult Games, if only because it reminded me of what outrages I was willing to put up with in gaming, back when I had more time. For a while I was actually ranked on Zed Two's webpage for Wetrix, which is probably my greatest achievement in difficult gaming. I never got close to a billion points, though. (Later on I also unlocked the Extra levels for the medium difficulty of Super Monkey Ball, but lots of people did that, comparatively speaking.)

Re: Bard's Tale II--I never played that one, but in Bard's Tale I, in addition to the listed obstacles for accurate mapping (anti-magic, darkness, spinners, teleports, etc.), some of the dungeon levels wrapped from left to right and from top to bottom: that is, they were all 16x16 grids, but in some levels, if you exited the right side of the map you'd re-enter on the left side. (IIRC it was a level in Kylearan's Tower in Bard's Tale I that threw everything at you at once.) Drawing all those maps on quadrille paper, carefully notated with invented symbols representing spinners and teleports, took me one long summer, playing for several hours each day. Good times. Good, horrible times.

Re: whether there are actually difficult modern RPGs--yes, they've gotten a lot easier and tend to privilege storytelling over gameplay, but see Etrian Odyssey for the DS (which is an old-school mapping RPG that's way too hardcore for me, being a person who has to hold down a job). See also Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne for the PS2 (if you can find it), and for a tactical RPG that's plenty hard, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn for the Wii.
posted by Prospero at 11:33 AM on October 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ersatz: Haven't been able to play Fallout 2 yet. I keep putting it off until I finally manage to play Wasteland....

graventy: After I wrote that article, after a tip from a comment on it, I discovered/remembered (dismembered?) that beating one of the late worlds does make a reference to "a white block in the third world" upon beating it in a letter from the Princess. It's not precise, and "third world" seems in indicate all of world 3, and not 1-3, but it would be enough to tip off an obsessive player enough that they'd eventually discover the trick. Back then, there were lots of obsessive Mario 3 players. It's still fairly arbitrary though.

Spatch: Zelda's second quest dungeons do this, yes. But even cooler, I recently read somewhere on the internet (forget where, may have been the BS Zelda page) that the first quest dungeons fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

lubujackson: That walkthrough makes for interesting reading (and I think I ran into it a couple years ago). To me, it's amazing that the guy has deciphered how to use the bomb glitch against Darknuts to his advantage, yet doesn't know how to kill a Dodongo using only one bomb, which is surprisingly obscure knowledge for such an obsessed-over game. The trick is to have it explode close enough to stun it (it stops walking around and animates slowly) then hit it with your sword. This causes it to die immediately, and it always leaves behind bombs. The bomb has to explode within a few pixels of it without getting swallowed, so it's best to drop it between-tiles.

Prospero: It's nice to hear from someone else who remembers Wetrix's leaderboard. Alas, it seems gone for good these days.

Bard's Tale II does have wrap-around dungeon levels, in fact it probably uses them more than the first game. But compared to mapping a magically dark area filled with spinners and teleports, merely wrapping around is a fairly minor difficulty. (And I had a summer similar to the one you describe mapping out Bard's Tale II. I still have my maps around here somewhere, I believe.)

Etrian Odyssey I've been meaning to play, but it's not been in the cards yet.
posted by JHarris at 2:34 PM on October 1, 2008

So I just picked up Mega Man 9 today, if you want to talk about difficult games.

It absolutely deserves all the acclaim it's getting. I've played through Mega Man 1-8 a number of times (and 2 probably hundreds of times - I can beat the 8 robot masters in 24 minutes now) and this, so far, is the only one to truly hold its own with the first two installments. It's also sadistically hard. Where the original Mega Man is notoriously tough, that always came off to me like a lack of full QA making the game more unforgiving than it needed to be. 9 feels like someone is cackling behind the scenes.

But the balls-out difficulty of it is a selling point, rather than frustrating. As a throwback to the old 8-bit games, it is necessarily short, and so the designers upped the replay value by making beating it a true accomplishment. Then they added other little crowning achievements you can pick up by, for instance, beating the whole game without dying, without getting hit, without ever missing with the megabuster, etc.

I personally think the music is a bit of a disappointment, but most people seem to love it. If you want to spend ten bucks on an astounding study in what made NES-era games awesome, give it a shot.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:43 PM on October 1, 2008

So I just picked up Mega Man 9 today, if you want to talk about difficult games.

Yeah, I wanted to post in this thread just to say the 20 hard games list must have been written before MM9 came out, because it's the perfect example of an incredibly hard game that's hard in a fun, challenging way, unlike many of the hardest NES era games which were usually hard because they were poorly done and had crappy controls. I can't beat or even GET to a single robot master, and I never had that much trouble with 1-8. I still try, though. When I looked on the GameFAQs message board for the order of boss weaknesses on the day it came out, there were people posting that they had already beat it in an hour. I just... way to make me feel totally inadequate.
posted by DecemberBoy at 3:58 PM on October 1, 2008

He doesn't seem to know much about DDR, or other rythm games. Bemani had Guitar Freaks and Drummania/Percussion freaks for years before guitar hero or rock band existed, and I still think that drummania is a better treatment of virtual drumming. Also, DDR is not a "millisecond twitch game".
posted by tehloki at 4:07 PM on October 1, 2008

Etrian Odyssey is absolutely worth playing. Fiendish difficulty, but quite rewarding. Also seconding any of the Shin Megami Tensei games, Nocturne and Digital Devil Saga (1 and 2) especially.
posted by lumensimus at 4:55 PM on October 1, 2008

Mega Man 9:
I've got it, have played the hell out of it, and lurve it. I just got the Daily Dose challenge (beating it three days in a row), and those were complete playthroughs, not reloads to the last level.

I dispute that it's harder than the old games. I'll defend the original Mega Man all day if need be, it's still one of my favorites.

One of my favorite things about MM9 is that the weapons are a lot more like general-purpose tools than just guns. Splash Woman's weapon can destroy blocks, Concrete Man's can make platforms and freeze beams, Hornet Man's can get powerups out of walls and retrieve items from hard-to-reach places, Tornado Man's lifts those platforms in the Wily stage and can also blow out flames, etc. Most of the weapons seem to have a special function, and I'm still discovering them. In that respect, Mega Man 9 is better than the old games.

But anyway, it's a bit harder than Mega Man 2, and a little easier than MM1, which game has those damn footholders, Guts Man's dropping platforms, a boss gauntlet without energy pickups between fights, and worst of all, the Yellow Devil, which has ended many a player's hopes for victory (unless they use the Elec Beam glitch).

tehloki: "He" knows more about such games than you might think. I may have mistermed them twitch games, but there is definitely a twitch aspect to them, in coordinating your moves with the music and arrows, and in restoring rhythm once lost. And if I give GH as an example before DDR, it's because Guitar Hero is mainstream popular, which trumps the more-insular popularity of DDR.

Yeah, I went there.

...although really, after beating MM9 three days in a row, I shouldn't speak in that regard.
posted by JHarris at 5:57 PM on October 1, 2008

I just paged through the unusual control scheme article and thought I'd bring up the byzantine setup that is the Steel Battalion control scheme. I've never used it myself, and it's shockingly obscure, but as far as footnotes to the Battlezone scheme go, it's one of the most extravagant. (I kind of want one.)
posted by lumensimus at 7:36 PM on October 1, 2008

lumensimus: ?!

I have enough problems with arcade Defender.
posted by JHarris at 7:43 PM on October 1, 2008

With regards to mech piloting games with novel control schemes, Robot Alchemic Drive bears mentioning. This video, which picks up around 5 minutes, shows the tutorial level breaking down the controls -- arms, legs, and torso are all controlled independently by the player, who can and often must disengage control of the robot to move his human character to a safer or more tactically appropriate position.

It's certainly flawed (dialogue really drags, and some non-robotic goals take way too long to accomplish), but it's also a singular achievement in terms of control and experience. Standing on your robot's shoulder as it plods, step by step (R2...L2...R2...), down a city street in pursuit of an invading alien is an experience I've yet to see surpassed in the genre.
posted by lumensimus at 8:09 PM on October 1, 2008

For some reason the complexity of the controls in mech-combat games seems like part of the appeal.

Hmm... I wonder what the controls were like in a Battletech Center?
posted by JHarris at 8:20 PM on October 1, 2008

Why wonder JHarris?
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:31 PM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Ah, neat! Thanks BC! I considered having Battletech Center as one of the controls games, but I really don't know that much about it. I feel iffy if I write about a game that I haven't played extensively, let alone haven't ever seen with my own eyes.
posted by JHarris at 3:33 AM on October 2, 2008

Haven't been able to play Fallout 2 yet. I keep putting it off until I finally manage to play Wasteland....

The beauty of FO2 is that after the introductory sequence there are no obligatory actions right till the quest that allows you to reach the final area. The game allows for multiple playing styles -you can walk around carrying the heaviest weapons you can get your hands on, beat the game without dirtying your arms with combat, play as a guy with a spear surviving in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, play solo or form a group of followers, be a boy scout or go on slaving trips (unfortunately, doing good rewards you more, but one can play the "evil walkthrough" without having to resort to senseless slaughter).

Oh, and it's humorous too. I hope Bethesda can rise to the occasion with Fallout 3.
posted by ersatz at 4:13 AM on October 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

ersatz: It's nice to see that open-ended games are surviving. Of course Bethesda makes the Elder Scrolls games, and if anyone knows how to make a good open-ended design, it's them. (So long as the foes don't get stronger due to the player gaining levels. That bit bites.)
posted by JHarris at 3:12 PM on October 2, 2008

I'm not worried at all about the open-ended aspect. I actually expect that to be even more developed than the original games. I'd like to see colorful characters and meaningful quests, which seemed a bit lacking in Morrowind, but I'm generally optimistic. If they've managed to put up with the batshitinsane Fallout community, designing the games should be a piece of cake.

Yeah, open-ended=good.
posted by ersatz at 5:52 AM on October 3, 2008

I think rhythm games are the skill games of today.

Also, Kaboom does have a slight bit of strategy to it. It's in your favor to drop one bomb just before crossing any thousand point threshhold. See this thread for some documentation of my own 10,000+ point run on a simulator.

Finally, My VCS still operates (though it did have to be sent in to be refurbed in the late '70s /early '80s) and it's still hooked up to TV. I don't know if I still have my Kaboom cartridge, though.
posted by NortonDC at 9:07 AM on October 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wow. My hat's off to you NortonDC!
posted by JHarris at 12:47 PM on October 6, 2008

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