Last issue, I talked about my ten favorite games. I first listed ten that didn't quite make the list. About these almost-made-it games, I gave no details. Of the top ten, because of space limitations, I only went into detail about five games. This month, I'll fill in the details of the other five; but first, I want to cover a bit more ground on how I made my selections.
I have read so many top-ten game lists that I've become wary of them. One of the fundamental flaws that I find is that they too often cover games that are far too recent.
Next Generation magazine recently rated Mario 64 as the number-one game of all time on their top-100 list. While I have to admit that the game is playable, fun, and a landmark, I disagree that it is the best game ever made, for the simple reason that it hadn't even been released when the list was published.
Here are some criteria for the ten games that I chose. They are basic rules that I would like to follow as closely and often as possible. They are:
Now that we have my primary rules straightened out, let me begin by listing one last "game" that didn't quite make the cut and wasn't mentioned last issue: BASIC, the programming language that nearly every home computer was shipped with.
The very first thought that you have about BASIC is that it isn't a game at all! But if it isn't, then why does it follow my rules so closely? BASIC has had more time to mature than any other game I can think of. There are many very powerful versions that have been used to write commercial games. In fact, I believe very strongly that some versions of BASIC helped to shape the games we play today. Just look at BASIC on the C64 and Atari as examples. How many game programmers got hooked using these machines?
The graphics available via BASIC have improved dramatically over the years, as well. They were once completely text. BASIC, like all games, evolved along with the hardware to take full control of what was available at any given time. For example, BASIC was built into nearly all of the early 8-bits (many of them used Microsoft BASIC). In order to access the graphics, you were required to poke specific memory locations with the data that needed to be there. In time, however, BASIC evolved to include powerful commands that even a novice can use.
I can think of no other game that has as much to offer as BASIC. Its potential is unlimited. Many programmers in the modern era had their first experiences programming in BASIC. For them, the fun that it gave usually made them dive deeper and learn machine language, which enabled them to make games for us all. So in some way, you are still playing games that are results of BASIC programming.
Here is the rest of my top ten. It is important to note that the descriptions are not to be considered reviews, but comments about some of my favorite games. Some of these may not be familiar to everyone. In such cases, I try to give at least a sweeping overview of the game, or compare it with a game that is familiar to most players. Lastly, these are once again listed in no particular order; I'd just as soon as play Megaball 3 as Tetris.
The last five games on my top-ten list are:
The full title for this game is Megaball AGA 3, although I've always simply referred to it as Megaball. "AGA" refers to the last, most advanced, chipset available for the Commodore Amiga. The AGA chipset is able to use more colors on-screen than the previous Amiga computers. Megaball 3 will use the extra color palette that is provided, but this doesn't improve gameplay. Don't let the "AGA" in the game's title fool you. The game will also work, and be just as fun to play, on the earlier Amiga computers. To help reduce confusion, version 3.0 is the unregistered version of this Megaball AGA game. Version 3.1 was available only to registered users.
If you were to work hard enough, you could probably trace every game ever made back to Pong, but the lineage might well be a page long. Megaball's heritage is easy to ascertain. It is an update of Arkanoid, which is an advanced version of Super Breakout. Now, we have to remember that Super Breakout is actually the sequel to the original Breakout, which is based heavily on Pong. There. That was easy! When the tree doesn't have too many branches, then it isn't hard to follow the family tree from the beginning to the end. Starting out with such a simple premise as Pong doesn't seem to hold much promise these days, but beware of Megaball! It will grab hold and never let go!
In games that I enjoy I must be able to master the rules within five to ten minutes, but the game itself must take much longer to master. Megaball fulfills this very well. The mouse feels more natural than paddles -- something I never thought I would say.
The game is different in other ways as well. For instance, it is very smooth. I searched for an equivalent to this game for my Pentium, and there was nothing that came close! The smooth game-play can even be enjoyed on the earliest 512K Amiga 1000. (If you close every window, it leaves something like 10K free!)
You can spend as much time as you like playing the game; you don't have to stop to run another program. Although many Amiga games excel at graphics prowess, they often take over the system to do this. This is against the grain for a computer that is such a brilliant multitasking beast. Megaball is an exception. I once had the habit of playing whenever I was printing, which is probably how this game won my heart.
A great aspect of this game is designing your own levels. The level designer is so easy to use that a four year old can use it. That's no exaggeration. My son would design his own levels and play them. He did need a little help saving them, and I wouldn't exactly call the levels creative genius, but he had no troubles at all. It is also fun to play levels designed by other people. These other levels are usually designed around two principles: creating pretty pictures with the blocks or making levels that are nearly impossible to finish. I like the middle ground: levels that look nice and don't make me curse. These sorts of levels are relaxing and a wonderful way to pass the time.
I have lost minutes, hours and even afternoons to this gem. Now, you can too! If you have an Amiga of any kind then you should download this game (the unregistered version is available from most Amiga file resources). For ease of use, here is Megaball AGA in an easy-to-use format for use with an Amiga emulator:
It's true about registering shareware that you like: You should do it and unlock the extra features. Megaball 3 is one of the two shareware games that I have registered. This registered version is not my personal copy, it is one that I found on the Internet. I am making a link to it for easy access. Megaball 4 went on to become a commercial product, but it's nearly identical to the registered version of Megaball 3.1.
Complication is an element of gaming that I can't stand! It breaks my golden rule of learning time. Neither Doom nor Quake is a terribly complicated game to learn. You know: You just shoot stuff and run. Nothing to it.
Quake is Doom with a few extra elements, such as underwater game-play. But with them comes a bit more complication as well -- just enough to make the game not as fun as Doom or the superior Doom II. Many Quake players look at Doom as an obsolete fossil, when in game-play value, I feel that Doom has the edge.
The biggest reason why I prefer Doom II over Quake is that you don't have to aim vertically. I know that might sound inconsequential, but it is very important. It adds a bit of realism to Quake, but takes away from the game-play. It may be difficult to understand what I am talking about unless you have played these games.
As any Doom player knows, the real reason to play is the Deathmatch mode. If it had never been a feature, the game would have been like the earlier id title, Wolfenstein 3-D -- a popular game, but one of fading play value. Doom wasn't the first multiplayer game (not by a long shot), but it was the game that brought it to the forefront of the industry.
Wandering around the Doom II levels with a friend is great fun. There are several ways to do this, and they all work pretty well. Are you the type that lurks behind corners just waiting to take a cheap shot? Or do you go in with all guns blazing? No matter how you play this game, there is no better way to pass some time than killing off some of your best friends in Doom II! Delightful!
Scorched Tanks is your basic artillery game that has been released on every platform made. You know the drill. It's the game in which you enter the amount of powder and the angle of the cannon. This game was inspired by the PC version, Scorched Earth, which had a different author. The latter doesn't work properly on anything but a 286 or maybe 386. (Actually, it does work, but it is not playable, as it runs way too fast!)
Scorched Tanks can be played by 1-4 players. Nothing unusual there. What separates it from other artillery games is that there are so many choices available to the player. You can purchase forty different weapons, and many shields as well. This makes the depth of game-play just a bit greater. It's just enough to make the game quite fun in two-player mode, really neat in three-player, and incredible in four-player! You may also save the game in progress. This is of great value if you are playing 100 rounds!
For ease of use, here is Megaball AGA in an easy-to-use format for use with an Amiga emulator:
You can also download the last freely available version of this game from Aminet or other Internet resources The latest unregistered version is 1.85. Download it! I do recommend that you have at least a 68020 CPU with Fast RAM, though. To play it on anything less is like playing Doom in a little window on a 386: possible, but not much fun.
Even when this game was released the graphics were simple for the time. Fire-up an Amiga emulator and see just how complex (and fun!) an artillery-type game can be with four players. You won't regret it.
Everybody knows Tetris. Everyone has played it, or at least seen someone glued to the screen. You may have heard about its strange, espionage-esque history.
This game is somehow universally fun. And why? Because... well, hell! If I could explain why, I'd be able to tap into the power that has made this game enjoyable in any culture speaking any language. I'd probably understand more about life. I'd be a Buddhist monk that people would come to for advice. I'm not a monk, nor do I know why I like Tetris. I've read that it fills the human need for completion. I don't believe that hokey theory.
Whatever the reason, it is addictive, and people compare it with crack. I'm not a crack smoker, so I really couldn't tell you if that's true. All of these crack comparisons must mean that a lot of people have tried smoking crack and not gotten addicted. Therefore, I say that Tetris must be more addictive than crack.
Around the time Tetris was released for the NES, I received it as a gift. I already loved the game, so this was great. I played it. A lot. That's not surprising. What surprised me was that my mom and her boyfriend would stay up late, playing it. Yes, my mom played it, too. I knew then that there was just something mysterious about the game -- an element that I would not be able to understand or pin down.
Any version of Tetris, on any platform, is fun to play. I've played bad PD versions of the game on various platforms that are each missing some element of playability. Maybe the control is just not there. Yet somehow, I still need to get one row completed. Actually, who am I kidding? I've got to get myself four rows; I need a Tetris, and nothing else will do -- poor play control be damned!
The Game Boy version wins out above all others. The play control is perfect. Even the monochrome graphics work well; they prevent some possible color distraction. You would find me with an original Game Boy and Tetris in my pocket, if the original Game Boy could fit, which it can't, damn it! I guess that's why Nintendo released the Game Boy Pocket!
Archon is often compared to chess, albeit with medieval pieces that battle each other during joystick-controlled action sequences. The comparison is only appropriate in the most superficial sense. Yes, there are territorial squares that the players' pieces (called "icons") fight over. But in chess, the King is the most important piece, and he must be captured ("checkmated"). In Archon, no piece is more important than any other. The player's goal isn't to capture his opponent's King-like piece, but rather to capture five power points (by occupying the squares that they reside in) or completely destroy the other army.
There is a strategy to this game that doesn't take long to grasp. While the game can be played against the computer, it truly shines in two-player mode, which is where the strategy comes into play. In fact, if Archon were one-player only, then it probably wouldn't be such a fondly remembered game. It is the screaming, screeching and taunting from the other player that keeps this game fresh. Even new players soon catch on to the true greatness of this game, and begin barking at the screen: "No, don't fire that way!" (as though the joystick isn't following the player's exact control) or "What?!? I can't believe your lowly Knight just killed my Dragon, my Shapeshifter, three Orcs and my Sorceress! Give me another joystick to use!"
As a Commodore 64 owner, I naturally played that version of the game while growing up. Over time, I've played many other versions. The great-looking and wonderful-sounding Amiga version is a letdown, in that no matter which Amiga OS or Amiga computer I've tried it on, any icon's shot will sometimes pass through his enemy. That is unacceptable, and it completely ruins the game. The NES version also updates the graphics, but it seems to also add a bit of lag, and the icons just don't seem as responsive as in other versions. Also, on the NES, you're playing with a control pad, which just doesn't feel as natural. While I know that pushing a joystick harder in a particular direction doesn't really work, part of my brain thinks that it does something useful. Thus, playing without a joystick just about spoils the game for me.
The Atari 8-Bit version is certainly the least colorful that I've played. In fact, the Phoenix's explosion looks sort of pathetic. For all this, the game-play in the Atari version is just perfect. It's fast, and I never feel as though an icon is doing anything that I didn't do myself.
For ease of use, here is Archon in an easy-to-use format for use with an Atari 8-bit computer emulator:
On the C64, if the other player were to shout at his icon, "That's not what you're supposed to be doing!", I might be prone to believing him. Not so with the Atari. Those icons do exactly as told. When you lose to me, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Unsolicited Archon postscript from Chris: I'm glad that Adam finally wrote something about Archon. That game and we go way back. And for years, I was the King. While there's no such piece on the board itself, it was the actual player, in my case. Adam would beat me once in a while, but for the most part, I ruled our disputed, checkered kingdom. This represented more of an inside joke between us than anything serious; I can assure you that I went easy on him in the bragging department. For instance, instead of asking him a rhetorical question that would come naturally to anyone less considerate ("How do you even find the self-esteem to leave the house, knowing that you can't aim a spear?"), I'd tone it down a bit ("Tell me: Does it keep you up at night, knowing that you're responsible for the deaths of so many Dragons? They're almost extinct as it is!").
That kindness must have been what led to my downfall. Working together, Adam and his son Dominic -- who admittedly can beat a game with his eyes closed that Adam and I need a week to even figure out how to play -- toppled the King last year. I couldn't blame the controller, the icons' responsiveness, or even distracting events in the room. And I still haven't regained my throne. Adam himself beat me so many times that I felt like taking up actual chess instead of continuing to play computer games. But I've calmed down, and I'm not worried. I see what must be done. Clearly, I need to escalate my taunting. -- C.F.
That wraps up this top-ten list. Maybe someday, Chris and I will try to list our top 100 games. Or perhaps we'll take a stab at the best import games. Or the best games on platform X. Or the best game with a ninja (Bruce Lee!). The number of possible "top" lists is endless. And the number of people that will always disagree on the choices is endless, too. -- A.T.