A while back I picked up the book Game Design Workshop, which is quite good. One of the most interesting features of the book are interviews with professionals in the industry. Most of the time they ask them what their favorite games are, and it's interesting to hear their answers.
I thought I'd answer the question myself. Of course I love to play games...doesn't everyone? So it's no surprise that I've gotten sucked into developing them as a sideline.
Originally I planned to write a single blog talking about all of my favorite games, especially ones that have stuck in my mind over the years, ones that I've played for decades, ones that I don't play anymore but which had a big impact on my life. But that turned out to just be too damned long. So this is the first in a series of posts talking about my favorite games.
Here's the list:
Settlers of Catan
Collectible Card Games:
Magic The Gathering
World of Warcraft
Peggle and Peggle Nights
Zelda: Twilight Princess
Text-based computer games:
Zork I, II, and III
Enchanter, Sorcerer, and Spellbreaker
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Again, this isn't meant to be some comprehensive list of games. These are games that influenced me in some way. I'm not sure I'll get to all of them, but we'll see.
One particular video game that I'm going to inaugurate this series with is one that's stuck in my head for decades, and that's Robot Odyssey. The graphics were pretty bad, even for the time period (early 80's), and I didn't even own the game. I ended up pulling all-nighters with a friend of mine who owned the Apple II that ran it.
What makes this game so memorable? Well, the basic setup is that you are a person in an underground city and you're trying to get home. To do so, you have to solve a series of puzzles. The catch is that these puzzles most often have to be solved by programming the robots and having them solve the task. You did this by actually entering the robots and wiring up their various sensors and thrusters with logic circuits (you had a little toolbox of these). For example, you might wire the robot's right bumper to its bottom thruster, so that if it hits the right wall, it goes up. Puzzles usually involved having robots navigate simple maze configurations and get items for you. I may be making it sound dry, but it was amazingly fun and addictive.
The key element of the game is the ability to program robots, something very few games allow you to do. Games like Lemmings have a very crude form of this, where you can assign simple roles to agents, but it's much more limiting. Games that are fun as hell, but still make you think are extremely rare, and this was one of the best. There have been a few ports and similar games, though I haven't checked them out.
At some point I will definitely do my own take on the general concept. I think the idea of gently introducing programming and logic problems to kids is enormously important, and I found the experience of wiring up agents and then watching them act out my programs enormously fun, even when they didn't work (which was most of the time), and especially when they did unexpected things.
In my idea folder are plans for a game that abstracts away the computer/hardware/robot elements but leaves the core game play intact. My video game design uses cards as programming elements. The player assembles a sequence of cards that summon an agent (such as a magical bird, fish, or tiger) and determine its decision policies based on what it encounters in the environment (e.g., a given card might compel the animal to climb a tree if it comes near one). The effects of some cards might be dependent upon adjacent cards in the summoning deck, and others might be independent of order. But the basic idea is that players will solve puzzles by building programs to execute in simple environments in order to solve goals. Hopefully players will be programming, without even knowing that's what they're doing. :)
Anyway, Robot Odyssey has stuck in my head for 25 years, even though I played it less than a month on somebody else's machine. It's a great game, and a model for what a designer can achieve by not dumbing material down and trying to create an innovative experience.