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Most Important Video Games Ever (Part I)

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[First in a two part series on what I think are the most important video games ever. Why? Why not?]

Each platform and each genre have their own heroes, legends and forerunners. My first two choices certainly were leaders in the industry.

When it comes to reading a book that has been made into a movie, I always prefer the book, no matter how well made the movie is. The reason is simple – I like to use my imagination. I prefer to conjure up the scenery, the look of the characters. I have a definite vision in my mind of the world that exists within the story I’m reading and no cinematographer will ever match what I envision.

I thinnk this is why I fell in love with text adventure games. From the first time I loaded up Zork on my Vic 20, I was obsessed. It was a story, but with choices. I could direct which way a scene would play out. The hero’s life was in my hands. No, I was the hero!

There is a small mailbox here.

> look in mailbox

That mailbox probably looked different to everyone who played Zork. For some, it was made of wood, for others it was gold, or silver, or just a shabby, rusted box by the side of the road. I read the leaflet that was in the mailbox. I was on my way. I stood in the open field, west of the big white house with the boarded front door.

And thus my adventure began. And it was my adventure, nobody’s else’s. No matter how many people were playing Zork at that exact moment, no one was having the same adventure as me. I had a set vision in my mind of the way things looked in the house and in the cellar and underground. In fact, I dreamed about these places – in a precursor to the days when I would dream about falling Tetris blocks – and thought about them even when I wasn’t playing the game (yes, I did stop to sleep and eat once in a while).

I never wanted the game to end. I wanted an endless array of puzzles to solve. Yet I did want it to end because I had to prove I could do it. Once I finally solved it, it was like a piece of my life was missing. Pathetic, I know. But there were sequels to Zork and many other adventure games to keep me going once I finally got back to the mailbox and found the barrow.

You are in a twisty maze of passageways, all alike.

>

Colossal Cave Adventure was made before even Zork; it was the first known interactive fiction game, created by Will Crowther originally to simulate his cave exploring experiences. I played “Adventure” so often that sometimes I would fall asleep at the computer. So many days and nights meeting dwarfs and saying plugh, catching the bird and falling into a pit because I forgot to turn my lamp on. Again, I got lost in a world that existed solely between my head and my keyboard. There were other text adventures I played endlessly, but Zork and Adventure are the ones that I can still reenact in my head; every detail I gave to those worlds still exist for me (Later on, Level 9 would add graphics to Adventure).

Eventually, graphics were added to the adventures. I thought I wouldn’t like it, but I was amazed by the pictures that appeared on the screen before me (Hey, I hear you young whippersnappers laughing. Those pixilated graphics were amazing for that time!). Pirates convinced me that I could get used to having pictures to go with my games. Once you got into the gameplay, you were only concerned with getting to the end.

Some of my favorite graphic adventures came from Windham Classics. Sure, I felt a little odd sitting there playing games based on children’s books, but the puzzles were hard and the authors of the games kept them interesting enough so that you never felt like you were in a child’s world; there was something very adult about Alice’s adventures in this Wonderland. Same for Below the Root; the story was fascinating and the gameplay pretty hard.

Colossal Cave Adventure and the Infocom games paved the way for future generations of amazing role playing and adventures. From Zelda to Metal Gear Solid, they all owe a debt of gratitude to the simple command choice of north, south, east or west.

Of all the games we geeks played, of all the nights we never went to sleep because we had to find our way out of the chasm, for all the grues we met and treasure we found and all the times we had to say xyzzy, for the trolls and dragons, for the drafty room and for the trial and error way of getting that last point in Caves, I claim Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork: The Great Underground Empire as two of the Most Important Games Ever.

[Part II tomorrow]
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About Michele Catalano

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    Great post, Michele. I too loved Zork though I was always pretty sucky at it (impatient lad that I am). I did manage to learn that typing the command “Kill Zork” was not the smartest thing in the world to do.

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text-based game was my favorite as a kid. Just getting the fellas off the planet before the bulldozing was a major accomplishment of my childhood.

  • alienboy

    strange how old and dull text games seem now though…

  • http://jerz.setonhill.edu/weblog Dennis G. Jerz

    Old text games seem dull? Try some of the new ones. I’ve posted more on the subject at http://jerz.setonhill.edu/if/index.html

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