Best Games - Aztec
W- walk, R- run, J- jump, S- stop, C- climb, A- turn Left, D- turn Right, G- crawl(once), P- place and light explosive, T- take, O- opens box or digs in trash pile, L- looks in box, Z- inventory, F- goes into fight mode Control S- toggles main sound on/off
S- spin around, A- move one to the left, D- move one to the right, L- lunge, M- strike down, G- draw gun, Space Bar- shoot, W R or J- move mode.
Games are defined by their verbs. The freedom that the player has to interact with a system of rules, opponents, and environmental obstacles is reduced to a few verbs. Run, jump, throw a ball, roll a die. The contrivance of a game necessarily constrains what we do and when we do it. A players verbs become very important. Look at that bizarre list of nonsense at the top. That wall of text is the collection of verbs presented to the player when you pause the game Aztec for the Apple II. It may not be the cleanest interface, but you have to admit, that’s a lot of verbs.
My friend had an Apple IIgs when we were kids. The gs stood for graphics and sound. It was a beefed up version of the Apple II computer that was ubiquitous in schools through the mid 80s, a computer not really known for either it’s graphics or it’s sound. While the Apple IIgs computer was certainly capable of producing a nice looking version of Tass Times in Tonetown or Winter Games, I always had a fascination with Aztec.
Of course, Aztec is terrible.
Aztec took the graphics and the sound out back and shot them. It was originally written for the vanilla Apple II. I can only assume that when the Apple II was created someone A/B tested the worst colors available with until the entire palette was composed of nothing but visual tragedy. I mean look at this.
That is the most god awful collection of pixels ever drawn to a screen. Even given the limited palette and low resolution, that is a sorry looking presentation. I have thought about it for decades, and I still have no clue what that blue mess on the right half of the opening screen is.
The sound is little more than mechanical squawks and digital farts. It makes sense that they put an option to turn it off completely in the main controls. Shutting off the audio is truly the most humane thing to do.
The controls are a finger contorting travesty. I have played flight sims with a more cleanly laid out interface, and in this game you only have to control a guy. Controlling a guy is something that game developers were actually pretty competent at in 1982. This advancement seems to have sidestepped Aztec. If you did manager to figure out the controls, getting the guy to move in a predictable manner was still close to impossible. Despite the existence of a run command, the guy has one speed, slow. If he collides with anything he will get knocked down and dizzied for a few moments. Fall and he’s knocked out. Hit a wall and he’s knocked out. Be in the room with an explosive and he’s knocked out. Bump into a pixel that the game thinks might be a wall and he’s knocked out. The end of game reward should be a CT scan.
One of the key innovations of Aztec was the procedural generation system. Each time you played, the game would create an entirely new set of maps for you to navigate, with different pathways, and different enemy and trap positions. Unfortunately the artificial intelligence laying out the maps was for real stupid. The system that created that maps didn’t seem to care if it was actually possible to complete the game, it just tossed objects and staircases around inside rectangular rooms until they were all full. Stairs would attach to other stairs with no way to actually climb them. Item boxes would be placed in inaccessible areas. Enemys would spawn inside a wall to remain stuck there for the duration of the game.
You might be thinking that this game sounds awful, and it is.
Games are about verbs. The verbs available to the players and the verbs that are built into the constructed world of a game. In Aztec, the verbs are more important than the game. If you place an explosive it will dutifully destroy entire sections of the level, even if that means the game is no longer winnable. If you shoot a the pistol, it might pass through the wall or hit some stray pixel cruft before striking your target, but it always does something. The game is glitchy and broken in ways that are impossible to predict, but there is always something happening, and the world is always reacting to your inputs. The game is ready for you to mess with it in all sorts of unintended ways. This was the first computer game that I had played that allowed that freeform approach. The rules of the system are really more like guidelines. It was as fascinating and amazing then as Minecraft and Terraria are today.
Aztec is a bad game. It’s also one of the best games.
My son likes to ask me a lot of science questions. I often have an answer for the first few questions, but as the interrogation intensifies, I usually have to offer up either “I don’t know”, “we should look that up”, or both. He likes mathematically precise answers without a lot of ‘sometimes’es and ‘in this case’es. That’s probably a kid thing.
Recently he has been asking a lot of questions about metals and states of matter and the periodic table of elements. It’s good then that a lot of those questions can be answered with numbers, or by pointing at a chemical symbol. I try to answer the questions that I can, but we can always check the table or ask google. That usually spawns dozens more questions. It’s sort of a quiz show hydra, but I’m just glad they wonder about the nature of the world they live in and don’t just find it boring. I’ve always been confounded by people who say science is boring.
The game I am working on has a sciency element to it. It is more fanciful than accurate, which seems the best way to create a fun playable game. I have fake elements, with fake properties, but their interactions border on something that might be called realistic. I’m finding it a tough line to walk. On one hand, I would like it if the game was even slightly educational. Swap out my fake elements for some real ones, and maybe someone would learn something about chemistry. On the other, much more important, hand, I would like the game to be fun and not bogged down in trying to be physically accurate.
It might never happen, but I am already bracing for the responses. I keep trying to address an invisible critic that would hold me to some degree of scientific accuracy, and I haven’t even got my games controls fully implemented. It’s probably something that I shouldn’t really worry about, but it’s a difficult feeling to shake. Maybe I have become so used to trying to answer questions with definitive answers, that I just expect that is what the rest of the world would want too.
Every year, around this time, teachers from one end of this country to the other will ask students to make a list of the things they are thankful for. The amount of students who actually take a moment to reflect is likely in the single digits. Those of a more seasoned vintage will have a list unspooling in in their heads near constantly.
I’m thankful for analog controls, open source software, the return of the indie developer, democratization of high end game engines, capacitive touch screens, societal recognition of the value of play, making and the industrialization of the hippie, renewed interest in science, living in one of the few countries on the planet where you can say that there is almost literally no better place to be, strong black coffee, and the air denial power of the shoryuken.
Most of that list is honestly how I feel. I’ll let you decide which ones I tossed in for fun.
A more serious list would have only one entry. My family, immediate, extended, and chosen.
I thank you and I am thankful for you.
Best Games - Unreal Tournament
Launching at the tail end of 1999, Unreal Tournament became the first in the series to focus exclusively on multiplayer combat. Building on the success and popularity of its predecessors multiplayer mode, this entry in the series opted to make it's single player experience a progression of, tutorial like, battles against AI bots. Defeating waves of bots while mastering the game's unique arsenal of weapons was meant to lead the player into the real meat of the game, competition against real human opponents.
Unreal Tournament included the most popular modes from earlier titles, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag, but also added new variations. More importantly, Unreal Tournament was user moddable. Through built in, and external tools, creating modifications for the main game, or even creating completely new games, was possible. New game genres, and new game studios were born as hobbyists transitioned from amature mod makers to professional game developers.
Unreal Tournament wasn’t just a great game, it launched scores of game industry careers. It is still played today by hardcore devotees, but the real legacy of Unreal Tournament is the impact it has had on the entire game industry.
Unreal Tournament is one of the best games.
Best Game - Quake 3 Arena
Launching at the tail end of 1999, Quake 3 Arena became the first in the series to focus exclusively on multiplayer combat. Building on the success and popularity of its predecessors multiplayer mode, this entry in the series opted to make it's single player experience a progression of, tutorial like, battles against AI bots. Defeating waves of bots while mastering the game's unique arsenal of weapons was meant to lead the player into the real meat of the game, competition against real human opponents.
Quake 3 Arena included the most popular modes from earlier titles, Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag, but also added new variations. More importantly, Quake 3 Arena was user moddable. Through built in, and external tools, creating modifications for the main game, or even creating completely new games, was possible. New game genres, and new game studios were born as hobbyists transitioned from amature mod makers to professional game developers.
Quake 3 Arena wasn’t just a great game, it launched scores of game industry careers. It is still played today by hardcore devotees, but the real legacy of Quake 3 Arena is the impact it has had on the entire game industry.
Quake 3 Arena is one of the best games.