Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Games: The Best Game Ever?

On Wednesday's the topic is games. Including sports, video games, and games people play.

For those of you who play video games I have a question. What is the best video game ever?

Maybe you like Civilization because of how it draws you in to build an empire and conquer the world? Maybe a game that changed the face of gaming. How about Doom or Quake? A best seller perhaps? Such as Super Mario Brothers or Tetris? Or a darling of the critics like Portal? (And if you know the game and the ending I dare you not to be humming Still Alive right now.)

How about a game that doesn't have the graphics to change the face of gaming? The graphics are just text characters re-purposed into walls and creatures? How about a game that will never be a best seller because it isn't for sale? This one is available for free so you couldn't buy it if you wanted to. As for being a darling of the critics....

Slate magazine made the case for a game called nethack back in 2000. Nethack is a descendant of rogue and other dungeon crawlers that were first written back in the days of text screens and terminals.

No graphics, no theme song, and no marketing. A text based dungeon crawl that's difficult from the beginning. If you play video games and want a true challenge... try nethack. Be warned. It's been known to take up a lot of time. The goal of nethack is to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor from the bottom of a dungeon and sacrifice it to your god. Doing so grants your character immortality. When you do this you are said to have ascended. Nethack is such so well known that in many geek circles having ascended is either a requirement or a badge of honour.

Nethack is a descendant of rogue. Rogue is the game that first turned a text screen into a dungeon crawl. Every game that has used roughly the same idea has been classified as a roguelike game. There are several lists of roguelike games available in case you want to explore other similar games for any number of different computers.

In terms of games that pack lots of information into a text screen and fully use the imagination of the player to fill in the blanks the roguelikes have had the upper hand for the longest time. (I'm leaving text adventures that don't use letters on the screens as symbols for another time). In recent years there is a new contender for the most complicated and involving game that works in text. The game is Dwarf Fortress.

Dwarf Fortress' programmers have not spent the time to add graphics or make the interface more user-friendly. Instead they've concentrated on increasing the games' scope and adding feature after feature. All within a text window. While you can play Dwarf Fortress as a hero or an adventurer the more popular mode is one in which you build a fortress from scratch in a world constructed before hand just on your computer. Dwarf Fortress is vast, hard to master, and apparently addictive. So far I've decided not to give into the temptation to get too involved.

In case you want to get involved here's a pointer to the Dwarf Fortress wiki to get you started.

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