There are three games that inspired my game-in-progress in one way or another. Each of these three games are nearly 30 years old (thus the silly title to this post), and worth a little time in the remembering. This post is entirely about those three games. But read between the lines and maybe you’ll get an idea or two about what I’m working on.
Friday the 13th
This game pits you as one of the teens being stalked by the horror movie character Jason Voorhees. Let’s look at a screen shot.
In the game, there are several outdoor and indoor areas you can visit. There are 10 other people at the camp with you besides Jason, but in the shot above we can see one person is already dead. Your task is to kill Jason as quickly as possible. Every person who survives nets you bonus points — which encourages you to move quickly. To find Jason, you can wander around and hope to spot him killing someone, or, silliest of all, you can hit everyone you see. If you hit someone with a weapon they’ll either be momentarily stunned and take some damage or they’ll be revealed as Jason in disguise.
I remember thinking that the game felt “broken” from a game design perspective, but I kept coming back to it. I think that says that there were some really good things about the game. In fact, I remember my younger self being quite impressed that you never knew who Jason was disguised as. And I liked the idea of wandering around a few maps with other strangers (almost like a multiplayer game) never quite knowing when he would pop up.
This is a game I struggled to understand, as a kid, but I loved to play it. In fact, I’d call it one of my favorite childhood video games. Here’s what it looked like:
Like Friday the 13th, the player had a lot of maps to explore, and there were a lot of other people throughout these maps, too. Unlike Friday the 13th, you could actually interact with these people. In the shot above, there is a list of tools running the length of the bottom of the window that you used to interact — including the option to take, give, trade, examine, speak, and fight — as well as a few other options. From memory, you were competing to become Shogun against all the other random people. You could find gifts and money and use them to acquire followers, or even receive them from other people. To end the game you had to gather some specific items and enough followers.
What I liked about this game was the sense of forming relationships with specific people. I’d see someone getting picked on, and jump in to help them out. After the fight (which consisted of running away while trying to keep someone barely overlapping your back edge, strange as that sounds), I’d give my new follower a gift or some money to secure his loyalty, then cry when someone else killed him or stole him from me.
Both Shogun and Friday the 13th were relatively short, and the-same-but-different each time you played, reminiscent of games such as FTL, The Binding of Isaac, and Don’t Starve (as well as all the rogue-likes).
The fifth installment in the Ultima RPG series may not seem to fit with the aforementioned short-and-replayable titles, but it’s really one specific element of Ultima V that I wanted to talk about. But first, here’s a shot.
Ultima V was a lengthy RPG in a huge world that I finished three or four (III or IV, ha) times. One of the things I loved about it was the keyword-based conversation system. You could initiate a conversation with anyone, and then say whatever you liked. True, people had no response to most words you might offer up, but as you played and got used to it you figured out how to get people talking and who was worth talking with. Additionally, people wandered around and had their own schedules. They would wake in the morning, go to their job, stop at the tavern at the end of the day, and then return home to sleep. Most of the schedules were simple, but occasionally you’d spot strange patterns which made the game, and the people, suddenly feel more alive.
One night I entered a town around midnight and spotted a few people who had been standing out in the woods, but were now returning to their homes. I was very curious about what they had been up to, having been out so late, but no one would spill any beans. My memory is a little hazy, but I think I finally met someone else, later on, who clued me in that a small group met on the outskirts of a town at midnight. He gave me a password and I went back to that spot just before midnight. I met the group, told them the password, and suddenly found myself on a new mission.
Now-a-days, in games like these, people have exclamation points over their head if they have a mission, or if they’ve got what you need to complete the mission. It makes it all quite easy, and to be honest I’d consider that an advancement in game design. However, I found it so exciting to peel layers away from this world and discovering the secrets within, as if I’d solved a puzzle.
That’s it for this look at some games from the past. Take from what I wrote whatever you’d like, but after you’ve played my game (when it’s done, and hopefully you will), maybe you’ll come back to this post and have some thoughts on it.