All Geek to Me

March 5, 2008

A Short History of Computer Games – The Puzzling

Filed under: Geek Stuff — britinla @ 3:57 pm

I have played video games almost since the moment that I was introduced to early computers. I thought about writing a post listing my top ten games, but as technology improved and the internet became pervasive, comparison does not seem possible. Instead I plan to write a set of posts on different styles of games that I have enjoyed and look at how they changed.

I shall start with a genre that, in general, I do not enjoy. There have been three puzzle games that I have played with enthusiasm. The first of these was Lemmings, on the Amiga. I remember getting home from work at about 6pm, finding the game had arrived in the post taking it upstairs and started playing. After playing it for a while, I thought that maybe I should take a break to eat; I looked at my watch it was 2am.

The Lemmings in the game were little green-haired creatures that would walk until they hit an obstacle, at which point they turned round, or reached an edge that they would walk off. If the ground below the edge was too far down, the fall would kill them. The idea of the game was to rescue a certain percentage, which varied by level, by getting them to walk out of the door at the bottom of the screen. To accomplish the task, you could make some of the Lemmings perform certain tasks, such as standing still to create an obstacle that caused other Lemmings to turn round, making them dig holes that would allow a safe drop, or giving them umbrellas to glide down a fall that would otherwise kill them. Most screens had a limited number of these options available, so the puzzle was to figure out how to use the resources available to get them home. It started off easy and got progressively harder. The game was ported to virtually every computer platform and is now available to play for free in a web browser.

It was over fifteen years before I next found a puzzle game that was as addictive as Lemmings. This was actually a simpler game, clearly inspired by Tetris, which never intrigued me. However, it was its availability on my mobile phone that gave the game appeal. The game was there when I had spare moments. The screen had a collection of coloured gems. Selecting a gem would remove it and all adjacent gems of the same colour and cause the other gems to fall into place. The score for removing a block increased exponentially depending on the number of gems, so removing a block of six gems scored a lot more than three times a block of two. The skill was in removing blocks to cause larger blocks to form. Simple, but very addictive.

The final game is a modern PC game. It is called Portal. The idea of the game is that you must get through a set of rooms. These rooms are in a lab and you being tested by a computer, whose comments are heard at the start and end of each room. To get through these rooms, you have a Portal Gun. The Portal gun allows you to create inter-dimensional holes in the walls, floor, and ceiling of the rooms. You can create up two holes at a time. If you walk through one hole, you will emerge through the other. You can also push objects through these portals allowing you to knock over items one the other side. Like Lemmings, this game is about using a fairly limited set of options to overcome obstacles. The added bonus in the game is the dark humour exhibited by the computer voice and that of the AI equipped gun turrets. I have not yet got to the end of the game, so I do not understand the graffiti on the wall that states “The Cake is a Lie”


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