There is no worse way to start a conversation or, for that matter, a blog post with words along the lines of “back in the good old days…” or “do you remember when…” yet here I am doing it regardless. I guess I’m a rebel. Back in the good old days there were a lot of great little ideas in games that somehow lost their zest and have all but disappeared. This post is a recap of some fond memories of specific game-related elements that I’d gladly see make a comeback.
Of course the boring ones had you periodically refer to word how many on page whatever of the manual, but a game like Leisure Suit Larry 2 replaced that with looking up the phone number of the girl pictured on screen in your little black book, i.e. the manual; ostensibly the same ting but completely in keeping with the spirit of the game.
The most inventive one I remember was the one for “The Colonel’s Bequest”, in itself an excellent game, inspired by Christie and Hitchcock, which saw a young Laura Bow trying to unmask a murderer who is slowly working his way through all the guests at the colonel’s mansion. Before you could start the game you were shown a fingerprint. Using a little paper loupe with a red filter in it you had to scan the manual for the same print and identify who it belonged to. This was not an easy task, as the fingerprints were all very similar, but it was in keeping with the spirit of the game, set the mood, a fun little activity and, above all, impossible to photocopy.
All these items added so much to the overall enjoyment of the product it’s a little sad that these days, in order to push the margins and which ever decreasing box sizes, publishers don’t bother anymore. No longer will players experience the joy of sitting down behind their computers with specially created notebooks or a map draped over their desks. Sure, there are now things called “special editions” or “collectors editions” that include a lot of extra stuff, but usually at a higher price, essentially making them purchased goods rather than excellent freebies that would make you think you were getting real value for money and fostered a real fan loyalty.
The sadly short-lived but extremely excellent Worlds of Ultima series took it one step further, with especially Martian Dreams pushing the boundaries. In stead of asking me if I wanted to play a male or female character, Sigmund Freud wanted to test some of his theories on me. “Do you feel closer to your mother or your father?” ultimately decided the sex of your avatar.
More recently Animal Crossing had a similar random but relevant questions system to create your in-game character, but other than that the art is sadly lost. However immersive many RPGs are, I can’ help but wonder if they could have been better if the character creation element was better disguised, rather than having me assign skill points.
I also vaguely remember a small game called “Hunt the Wumpus” on PC which had, as its boss screen, a static image of a paused game of Tetris. In those days everyone was obviously busy at work playing Tetris. Class!
Obviously games have progressed far beyond what was possible in the early days, and despite the rose-tinted nostalgia many of us old folk have, games are generally much better now. Okay, I have fewer fond memories of playing games these days, but that’s mostly because my childhood was formative, and the games I played then influenced me, rather than them being superior to anything out now.
That said, there are a lot of great ideas to mine from these old deposits, a lot of neat little touches that can help today’s games get even better. Instead of making the same, avoidable mistakes we always make, maybe we should study the successes more and see what they can teach us or what we can steal.