Computer Games

2nd April 2000

I really enjoy playing computer games. I don't spend vast amounts of time doing it, but I spend a few hours a week. Occasionally I spend a few hours a night. I have been known to start a game of Civilisation and play non-stop till 6:00am. I'm not quite as addicted these days. I have learnt to save the game and resume it later.

I don't like all games, just certain types. At this stage, god games are my primary interest. Arcade games used to interest me, but I'm probably too old for them now and can't maintain the concentration.

My Gaming History

See here for my history of hardware.

The first computer game I played was at home, in the late 1960s. It was a console that attached to the TV. It was Pong. This has to be the simplest computer game in existence, but it was the first. I played with my brothers. We each had a handheld wheel, and we moved a white rectangle up and down the screen. Only up and down, no sideways movements. And this large white dot would bounce around and we would tried to deflect it. Sounds boring, but it gave us weeks and weeks of fun.

Sometime after that we got an Exidy Sorcerer, and there were some games available for it. We could type in games and save them to cassette, and later attempt to retrieve them. Or we could buy cassettes with games already on them. Nothing memorable comes to mind. Hangman, simplistic version of wumpus, that sort of thing.

Arcades began to spring up with more complex games than Pong, and flat screen rather than pinball. In the late 1970s, I used to visit the arcades in Townsville with Derek, a good friend. We had our favourites. There was a big double level pinball game called Black Knight. It was fairly complex (after Pong, anything was complex). Lots of sound and fury, especially when the ball went down and it had a loud gravelly voice that laughed at you. Derek was very good at these games, so there was constant competition to beat each other. It never used to cost much either, because we could keep the games going for very long times. We played Galaxians and Space Invaders lots, and we tried most of the games to see what we liked. My all-time favourite from this period was a game based on that ancient English pub game Whack-A-Mole. I forget the name of the arcade game. It was called Mouse-Whack, or Belt-A-Mouse, or Mouse, or something like that. You had to protect your horde of cheese from the mice. They would pop out through holes, run for the cheese, grab some and run back. You had a large hammer. You had to whack the mouse. It would squish, run a bit of bit of red and emit heart-rending squeaks. Shades of Monty Python. I loved this game, and played it lots. I got very good at it. Every time we hit the arcade, we would leave with a handful of the game showing us as high scorers. The cheapskates who ran the arcades would turn the machines off at night, so each new days saw new high scorers. We never got preserved for posterity.

In the early 1980s, I discovered Apples. They came with heaps of games. The salesman who sold me my Apple was Alf Gillespie. Alf was into games too. He introduced me to most of the games I played. There are a number that I still remember very fondly. There was an text-based adventure game. All the adventure games were text-based in those days. This one was called Soft Porn Adventure. You guided this sex-crazed loser about the town, trying to seduce three women. The puzzles were complicated, and I managed to solve it before Alf did. Interestingly, about five years later, the game was ported to the IBM, lost the text based approach and gained graphics. The exact same story line and puzzles were used and the game had a new name - Leisure Suit Larry. I still have my original disk for Soft-Porn Adventure.

The next game Alf found for the Apples that we both took to, was Crossfire. This was a simplistic arcade style game. It was fast and had set patterns. I did fairly well, but my scores fell behind Alf's. Then I discovered that my firing piece could not only move from side to side, it could move up and down as well. Amazing. My scores rocketed after that. One of the things the game required was stopping movement by hitting the space bar with the thumb. We played that game so much, and hit the space bar so often that we both developed Crossfire-thumb. The left side of the right thumbnail got pounded into the flesh so often, it became red and infected and developed a healthy ball of pus. Even with Crossfire-thumb we couldn't stop playing. I printed and preserved my final score - something like 150,000. I still have an Apple IIc, and until it went into storage in 1999, I still enjoyed pulling out Crossfire and pounding away. And yes, it still causes a mild version of Crossfire-thumb.

There were heaps of games for the Apples. Another big favourite of mine was Loderunner. This was a hard game, mostly because you couldn't save it mid-game. Once you started, you had to continue non-stop, and to reach the higher levels, that meant playing for 6 to 8 hours non-stop. At one stage I bought a "debugging" card for the Apple, which was a disguised device for game piracy. You could take a snapshot of memory, save it disk, then restore it later and continue playing. This didn't help much. I played Loderunner a lot. Later, when I switched to the IBMs, I tried some of the Loderunner ports but they never felt the same. There have been 3D IBM versions lately, but they don't appeal to me. I did fairly well at Loderunner, but ran out of time over the years to reach the final level. I got to level 140, I think. Something like that.

Other games on the Apple that took my fancy for a while, were PacMan and a variant of Snake, where you had to move blocks to hold the snakes, then crush them. That was fun, but hard. The Infocom text-based adventure games started. I tried the 3 Zork adventures, but couldn't solve them. Did Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and solved it with a bit of competition and help from Alf. Did Leather Goddesses of Phobos all on my ownsome. I enjoyed the offbeat adventure games they wrote. I have all the Infocom text-based adventure games now, for the IBMs. The complete collection came out on two CDROMs in the mid 1990s, with the maps and clues and paraphernalia. One year, probably when I retire, I will settle down and play the lot and solve them all.

Part of the fun with the Apple games was breaking the protection schemes. This was when games makers tried to protect their markets and they introduced lots of different schemes to stop copying of the disks. It sparked a new industry. There were programs to help you break the protection, like Copy II+. Magazines that told how to crack the games as they were released with new schemes. The fun was less with playing the games, than in breaking the protection and giving out copies. I wasn't very good at it. I let others do the cracking and I just got the cracked games. I had a huge library of games and other Apple software.

In the mid 1980s, I switched to IBM computers. At first, there weren't as many games as on the Apples. Then the games started to come thick and fast. I was doing bulletin boards in those days, so I was picking up mostly the shareware type games. I had a lot of fun with these shareware games. At first there were little games, like Taipan and Yahtzee and Mahjong Patience and card games like Hearts and Solitaire. Also some pirate versions of board games like Scrabble and Monopoly. These were static and just plain good fun.

In the early 1990s, came a wave of more adventurous shareware games, like Paganitzu and Catacomb. They were all-graphic, and you moved around and solved puzzles. Then came the wave of first person type adventure games with all graphics and computer opponents. Captain Comic, Dangerous Dave, Duke Nukem, Commander Keen. I played these lots and had a great deal of fun. Then came the catalyst game, the one that sparked all the violent killing games of today - Castle Wolfenstein. I can still remember the first time I played this. I came face to face with a Nazi and I froze. He shot me dead. It took a while before I would shoot back. It took longer before I shot back at the dogs and killed them. But once I overcame those inhibitions, I took to that game. I played it and played it. I made it right to the very end of all the scenarios, but I could never make it through the final round. Hitler was too good for me.

Shortly after Wolfenstein, was Doom. No inhibitions to overcome with this game, the opponents were zombies and aliens. So just blast away and have fun. I did. Then Doom 2, and I blasted away some more. Heretic was released and I had a lot of fun with that too. By the late 1990s, I was able to play Doom 2 deathmatches. I was able to beat kids who were just starting out, but I was never good enough to beat serious players. The biggest problem was that I hated using the mouse. Ten or more years of using the keyboard to play games, and I could never adapt to the mouse and the keyboard. Old age had made me too rigid. So I used the keyboard only, and I did okay, but I never did really well. Usually I played deathmatch games against single opponents. Once, I played against 3 young guys, Mike's sons. At first I got clobbered, but then the adrenaline bit in and I blasted them. I had an absolute ball, but when I stopped playing, my heart was racing and I was really pumped with adrenaline.

I never really took to the killing games that came afterwards. Quake didn't really get my interest, nor any of the others. I played them a bit, but they never grabbed me. Probably age had something to do with it. I ended up preferring the god games to the killing games.

In the early 1990s, while playing the shareware games that led to the killing games, I discovered another style of game that really took my fancy. God games. The first one of these was a Bullfrog game called Populous, where you played one god, and your opponent, human or computer, played another god. Hence, god games. I mostly played the computer, but occasionally I would play Anne. She was also very taken with Populous, and got very good at it. Then came another Bullfrog game, Powermonger. This was good but didn't give me as pleasure as Populous. Other god games came thick and fast. SimCity was one that I played a lot and really enjoyed. I moved up to SimCity 2000, but didn't play it very much, and I bought SimCity 3000 and played it once or twice. I think the best version was the first, although the second was fun for a short while.

Then one day, I saw a demo of a game on a bulletin board. It was called Warlords. I downloaded the demo and played it. The demo let you play 40 turns, and only play as the Greens. I was hooked. Anne was hooked. As soon as the final version of the game was available in the store, Napoleon's Bookstore as it turned out, I was in there buying it. It even cost me a parking ticket but I didn't mind. We played Warlords again and again. We loved that game. Then came a big jump in the game to Warlords II I upgraded and we played it to death. Then came the Warlords II Scenario Builder with more battles and more enhancements. We bought two copies of that on CD so we could both play legally. Then came Warlords II Deluxe. Another two CDs. We were hooked. We played Warlords a lot. Anne had her own computer by this time, so she would play for hours. Up to this point, the game was DOS based. Playing it side-by-side with Win 3.x was no problems. Playing it with Win95 became a struggle. So SSG made the shift to Windows programming and released Warlords III. We bought the game, and Anne played it bit, and I played it a bit, but the new version lost it's appeal. Too much time spent on the graphics and the Windows stuff, and it wasn't as much fun as the older DOS version. I continued to play the previous version, and Anne persevered with the new version. Ten years after we first discovered Warlords, I still occasionally play Warlords II Deluxe, usually the ancient Britain scenario, and Anne doesn't play. That was the only game that both of us really liked, and played consistently for such a long period of time.

There were other commercial games that took our fancy, and I bought some of them and played them. One type of game caught my attention in the early 1990s, and that was the Lucas Arts graphical adventure game. I started with Loom, and Anne picked up on it too. We solved that one. And then we found The Secret of Monkey Island and The Secret of Monkey Island 2. We solved the first one, but never finished the second one. I transferred all my games to a single CDROM in 1998, so every now and then, I pull out Loom or Monkey Island and give them a spin for old time's sake.

Occasional quirky games appealed to me, and one was Gods. A friend of mine, Russell, recommended the game and gave me a copy to try. I tried it and loved it and bought my own legal copy.

In the last few years, My time has been abused with a number of wargames and god games. Warlords still gets a twirl. Civilisation became a big favourite, and an even bigger one with Civilisation 2. I tried Civilisation: Call to Power but found it boring and I deleted it. Warcraft 2 is a favourite, and I am still playing that off and on, and I have just bought a CDROM with 200 more levels to fight. Settlers 2 also took my fancy, and I occasionally still play it, although it can get a bit monotonous on the bigger levels. There's a new version out, but I probably won't bother with it. The games that I play the most today are Caesar 3 and Age of Empires. This probably ties in with my reading fascination of ancient times. I have also just bought Pharaoh for Anne, a civilisation building game like Caesar, from the same authors. We are both slowly getting into it. Age of Empires is like Warcraft with the fantasy removed, and a bit of history added, but it's a great deal of fun. I'm considering buying the sequel Age of Kings. That looks like a lot of fun. I am also experimenting with a real wargame, Civil War 2, because of living here in Virginia where the Civil War has left a huge number of mementos.

I don't bother with pirate copies of games. I wait till the games hit the market, people get bored with them, and then I either buy them on sale or buy them second hand. I always have legal copies of the games I play.

Types of Computer Games

There are a limited number of types of computer games. I like some, don't like others, and am only really fascinated with one or two.

Arcade Games

These are games modelled after the old arcade video games. Games like PacMan and Space Invaders. They aren't very popular today, because they can get rather monotonous. I don't mind playing the occasional arcade game in a fit of nostalgia. The Mame project is pretty good. This is a way of providing an emulator for the various games so they run on the modern PCs. It's great for me because it gives me a chance to relive old memories with those wonderful old arcade games.

Card Games

Mostly versions of solitaire, even Mahjong solitaire. My favourite is Spider. Some real card games have successfully made the transition to computers. Euchre is good, and Hearts. I have these on the Palm Pilot and play them more on the Palm than on the desktop.

Simulators

These are games where you can pretend to fly various sorts of planes, or drive a tank, or captain a submarine, or race cars. Microsoft Flight Simulator comes to mind, as does NASCAR. These games completely leave me flat. I don't have any interest in them.

Board Games

These are simulations of board games like Monopoly. They aren't very successful. It's usually more fun to play these games with the boards and with other people. The only one that I ever really liked, was Hong Kong Mahjong, a really tough version of the real tile game. Chess made the transition to computers extremely well. I rarely play chess with the computers because it takes too long and my mind hurts and I don't want to think that hard any more.

Adventure Games

These were the early text based adventure games. I never got to see the early versions that appeared in the Unix networks. The first one I ever saw was a small game for the Apple II+ in the late 1970s. It was called Soft Porn Adventure. This later got ported to the IBM PC, turned into a graphic game, and re-labelled Leisure Suit Larry. The set of Infocom games was about the best. Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, Leather Goddesses of Phobos. Zork, 1, 2 and 3. I spent a lot of time playing these games, but I only ever got out the Hitch-Hikers Guide on my own. I solved Leather Goddesses with some help. In the 90s, these games stopped being text and were turned into cartoon type games. Presumably this was to help the next generation of illiterates add to the sales. Some of the good ones were Loom and the Monkey Island series.

God Games

These are the long games where you usually control an entire planet or civilisation. Populous and Powermonger were early versions of these games. Then Civilisation, Caesar, Settlers, Age of Empires. This is my favourite type of game. I have played Civilisation in its various forms for many, many years.

War Games

These are the oldest types of games. I haven't played many of the serious ones, but I have played Warlords, a fantasy war game, for about 8 years. I still play the occasional game. I am currently experimenting with Civil War 2, to get the feel of a real war game.

Killing Games

These are the games that raise the adrenaline levels, set the heart pumping, and lock one into a concentrated trance. Castle Wolfenstein was the first. Then came Doom, Doom 2, Heretic and Quake. There have been others, but I've listed the ones that I have played and still occasionally play. They are pretty good when played alone, but when you can play against other humans in deathmatch games, that is extreme excitement.

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