MYST XX: 1-II: The State of the Industry

Gaming was making the shift from the arcade to the home. The majority of home gaming was done on the console. The Brothers Mario were just discovering that the princess is in another castle. Recent releases included Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania, Metal Gear, Street Fighter, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, and Contra. These were the games that would launch a thousand sequels – and, later, a thousand indies.

Considering their hardware limitations, the games produced during this period were exceptional. Limited memory required that the games repeat themselves, leading to explorations of every conceivable variation upon a given theme. The lackluster graphics necessitated a focus on the playing of a game. Developing skill with the game’s mechanics was necessary to advance; it was not enough to *play*, one had to actually *get good*. The worst of these games gave you endless repetition coupled with thumb cramps and the inability to recognize simple shapes and patterns. The best of them remain life-obliteratingly fun to this very day.

PC gaming was by and large focused on a more cerebral experience. The text adventure was just leaving the mainstream, and some of the bestselling titles – such as The Oregon Trail – had at least significant overlap with the educational market. The defining genres were graphical adventures and role-playing games. The jewel in the crowns were the Ultima and the King’s Quest series respectively.

Their graphics were of a standard now associated with MSPaint. Even those who have played these games are mostly familiar with later re-releases that featured graphical upgrades; these ‘classics’ are likely to have been remade 2 or even 3 times in the three decades which have passed since their release.

These games still relied heavily on text input, almost all including a text parser. Maniac Mansion’s introduction of a verb list was seen as revolutionary. Near all of the adventure games were of the “escape the room” oeuvre, wherein the player character was placed in a 2D environment filled with things with which he could interact. The rubbing together of disparate items – often in ways of dubious rationality – would culminate in the player finding some way to make their exit. The reward for which was another constrained environment with a locked door; another series of puzzles, the goal of which was to escape another room.

These hand-drawn environments were little more than low-res pictures, pixelated mosaics that would have been quite at home on the floors of a lesser Roman whorehouse. The inclusion of interactable hot spots – levers to pull, unattended items to steal – was essentially a superimposition; one could have shown a picture of the Mona Lisa, and declared her left eyebrow a hotspot, and a level in an adventure game would have been born.

The stories of these games were most always based upon inserting the player character into a traditional narrative archetype: the medieval, the fantasy, the science fiction, the teasing erotic parody. Many were based directly on existing media franchises, such as The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or the Indiana Jones films. Their existance as computer games was not relevant to the game itself; in fact the games worked hard to hide the fact that they were games, hoping thereby to increase user immersion. The media had not yet become the message.

The games – particularly those created by genre hegemon Sierra – are infamous in the enthusiast community for establishing the sins of the genre. Puzzle solutions ranged from the unconventional to the entirely irrational, prompting the creation of the term “adventure game logic” (or, more pejoratively, “moon logic”) to describe their dubious relationship with the rules of the world. Some games could place one, through no real fault of one’s own, into unwinnable situations, requiring a clean restart of the game. In a world where head-scratching was the basis of gameplay, an unwinnable scenario would not necessarily be distinguished from the player simply not trying hard enough.

As a result, outside assistance was often perfectly reasonable, if not required. The makers of these games were also the writers of expensive hint guides, and even the providers of pay-by-the-minute hint lines. In the days before the internet these were the only options available, however costly. It is therefore considered by many that the games were designed in such a way as to encourage reliance on paid assistance – that they were designed poorly *on purpose* in order to get more of your money.

This is the definition of a monopolistic abuse. In retrospect, these game-houses were doomed to fall, just as upstarts of higher aesthetic (and ethical) standards were destined to take their place.


~ by davekov on 22 July 2013.

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