I’m a gamer.
A pretty hardcore one at that.
From the first time I got my hand on my neighbour’s clumsy plasticky barely portable “Space Invaders”, I was hooked.
I somehow even managed to convince my dad to get an Atari console (second hand, I think, but who cares), which resulted in my hurrying back from school every day to play Pac-Man. At which, back then, I kicked ass. Well, maybe I didn’t, but I remember being pretty damn proud of my 32000 score.
Then came these little portable Nintendo games, but my dad had learned his lesson with my obsession with the Atari console, and this time around, I wasn’t able to fool him into buying me one, so I had to rely on my friends’ generosity with theirs, and also arranged to get invited to the houses of people who both had videogames and children who went to bed early.
Then I discovered boys and rock’n’roll, and videogames took the backseat for quite some years. Obviously, I’d still jump at any opportunity to play Tetris, but the time where I’d stay in and miss a good band on a Saturday night in order to beat level 33 were still quite far away.But eventually, I married Ian, a guy whose geekiness matches mine, so it was natural for us to ask for a Nintendo 64 console as a weeding present,.
Shortly after we got the console, I threw my back and could barely move for three weeks; an excellent reason to stay in and play Banjo-Tooie (one of the best adventure games, if not the best, I’ve played so far). It took us 80 hours to finish the bloody thing, in case you were wondering.
Back then, we didn’t own a computer yet (it was only a matter of months until we would), so we didn’t yet have Google’s help for a clue whenever we were stuck in a game. So whenever we were really stuck and could not progress in the game anymore, Ian would put on his coat, his boots, and take a 15 minutes walk in the snow to the bookstore to take a peek at the Prima game guide (they cost like 30 bucks, screw that!) and find out the solution. Then he’d come back and we’d jump right back on the game.
But at the time, my gaming was still fairly in control, considering the price of the game cartridges, and the fact that we didn’t own any games, we just rented them from the videoclub.But then, in November 2001, the Computer and the Internet made their entrance in my life, and things changed forever.
Being a pretty fast learner, it didn’t take too long for my nerdiness to figure out that the web was like the Mecca of gaming. Between my own N64 and the Gameboys I managed to pinch from my friends’ kids after they were put to bed, I already had clocked in a respectable number of hours aligning virtual little blocks into vanishing lines, or getting Mario to trick the boss into jumping in the fire, but I wouldn’t yet have called myself a gamer back then.
Now, I do. My online gaming venture started with Yahoo.com. They have a large collection of games, many of which can be played online for free.
There, I discovered JT’ blocks, where you have to group together blocks of the same colour, subsequently making them disappear. Not unlike Tetris.
Then I discovered Collapse, which is based on the same principle, gathering blocks the same colour, but unlike JT’s blocks, where new blocks only appear when you get rid of the old ones, or Tetris, where new blocks constantly fall from the top, in Collapse, they appear at the bottom of the screen.
Then, I found Zuma; in Zuma, it’s not blocks, it’s balls, which you have to shoot in groups of three or more of the same colour in order to make them disappear. A mix of Tetris, match 3 and a shooter game.And I have to say, all the games I’ve mentioned up there, JT’s Blocks, Tetris, Collapse, Zuma, are all very good. I don’t play them constantly, but every so often, I go back to them. They’re classics. It’s like Solitaire or Mahjong, you never get fed up with them.
It’s essentially different takes of the same game, with elements of other types of games (like the shooting of the balls in Zuma).
But I quickly realized that the world of arcade games was made out of a hell of a lot of clones of other games. Once I started venturing beyond the Most Popular Games category, I started to notice a lot of repetition. Collapse and Zuma, although strongly influenced by Tetris, still offer a different game experience; their creators took a already well-known idea, but added to it a good, clever twist, turning what could be just a clone into a game in its own right.
But for every Zuma, how many unimaginative, shameless rip-offs of classic games will you find yourself yawning through?
Answer: many. Very very many.
That’s why I got bored. Five years ago, casual gaming was still, from what I remember, centered around aligning coloured blocks, shooting stuff, going through labyrinths avoiding traps and matching tiles in threes. I don’t recall yet seeing any of the time managements games which are obsessing me these days and are the ultimate reason of the present entry. But I’m jumping ahead of myself.I eventually got fed up with matching colours and aligning stuff, so I gave in to the big trend of the time: the Sims. Simulation and Role-Playing-Games became my reason for spending a beautiful sunny day in a dark bedroom staring at a 15 inches monitor while getting a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome. I’m not gonna delve deeply into what the Sims are, it’d take too long, and there is a ton of info about that and other similar games out there, but basically, they are little virtual people that you control, you build them a house, buy them furniture, get them a job, from which they can get promoted, make them cook dinner, go to the toilet, socialize, etc. Your Sims have basic “emotions”, they get hungry, uncomfortable, angry, jealous, lonely, tired, etc.
There is no object to the “game” really, besides keeping your Sims happy, so that they’re efficient at work, get promoted, bring in more money, with which you can improve your house, hence making your Sim happier, and so on.
Eventually, my Sim reached the upper echelons of her profession, I built her a house the size of Arizona, and that was the end of it. Then what? Create a new Sim then start over. Boring.
Although Ian and I did find a few more ways to have fun with the game. For a while, I was enjoying just building houses. I found a money cheat on the web (”Rosebud”, anyone?), and just spent hours building massive, crazy, outrageous houses, round houses, houses with pools and indoor gardens and all that jazz.
As for Ian, he kept amused himself by killing Sims. Yes, Sims can die. When they do, they turn into ghosts, which then haunt the new property owners. So he murdered a bunch of Sims, in more or less creative ways He’d get them into the pool, and then remove the ladder, or get them in a room, and take out the door. Sadistic, I know.
Sensing the money cow, the Sims creators started to come up with a whole bunch of expansion packs, which allowed your Sims to own pets, or leave the house to go to the city, to get married or become rockstars, but the expansion pack showed to be little more than essentially more of the same thing, only with a few new elements added. I do own a few expansion packs, but I got bored with them much quicker than I did with the original game.
So I moved on to the Tycoon games. Roller Coaster Tycoon, to be more precise. I had good fun with the original one, I have to say. Although it took me a ridiculous number of hours, I did manage to complete it, at the cost of many frustrations, bloodshot eyes and sleepless nights, but I did.
And the ending was strangely anti-climatic, I must say. The trip is the fun part, with Sim games, the ending is pretty much irrelevant, unlike an adventure game, where the ending is the ultimate goal; and when you do get to the end of an adventure game, after you killed the final boss, and you watch the little scene where everything is finally tied together and you have your cute little characters telling you how much of a great job you did, you have this sense of satisfaction, and this “Phew, did it, finally!” thing.
In Sim games, there are no fireworks, no one tells you “You’re my hero”, there are no credits, nothing. You can just go back to any of your Sims, your houses, your amusement parks, and tweak them some more, or destroy and rebuild them, it’s like it never ends. No pats on the back for you with Sim games.
However, when I got the chance to get my hands on the Roller Coaster 3 game, I wasn’t so snotty about Sim games. In fact, I was damn excited. 3D? With a Roller Coaster simulator, and crazy visuals? Bring it on!
Turned out to be really frustrating, in my opinion. First, there were some glitches with the game, which made it impossible to complete certain levels, and I never found a patch that worked to fix it. So why bother playing a game you know you can’t win. Plus there was a ton of micro-management to do in RCT3, which made the gameplay very tedious after a while. In spite of many great visual improvements, I enjoyed the first installment a lot more. I think I replayed it, actually.
But in spite of all that, I have fond memories of RCT, I’ve had good fun playing it, in spite of many impulses to throw my monitor over my balcony, when I realized, after spending three hours on a park, that I wouldn’t reach the objective and would have to start all over.
Eventually, I went back to adventure games. The old point-and-click type. I was messing around in the web one afternoon, and randomly found one of these P&C games, and I had really good fun with it. So I looked for more, and it eventually led me to AGS (Adventure Game Studio), which is a large community of amateur adventure games creator, players, lovers. AGS would really deserve it’s own entry; in spite of the fact that I haven’t been for quite a while, I’ve played some absolutely awesome games there (and they’re amateur, remember, so big kudos for that). Anyway, if you like old fashioned point-and-click adventure, pay them a visit, go straight to their Award Winners category, and download anything that has been created by Yahtzee. This guy’s fantastic (rumour has it that his ego’s a tad inflated, but he certainly is very talented and clever).
So I hung around AGS for a while, found some real gems, but also played many so-so games. The problem with amateur games, is that they’re very uneven. The problem with P&C, is that the gameplay gets very repetitive; click on everything, pick up every object, try it on every hotspot, talk to everyone, exhaust all topics of conversation.
So I eventually got bored with P&C too, although I still pay AGS a visit once in a while, just to see what they’re up to. I owe them many many hours of fun, headache, frustration, suspense, even fear sometimes (some of their horror games were pretty damn creepy!), and I’m sure that I’ll check out more of their games in the future, but I sort of needed a break from that sort of gameplay.
When I do need a break from those big long involving games, I usually go back to arcade, Tetris, Zuma, Collapse, my classics. I hadn’t played arcade for a while, so I checked the new releases, and got intrigued by this Diner Dash game. So I tried the online version, and got instantly hooked.
In Diner Dash, you’re Flo, a waitress, and restaurant owner.
You start off in a decrepit diner with two tables, and your job is essentially to serve patrons; you take their order, serve them their meal, bring them the check and clear the tables. As you progress through the levels, you get more tables, more food items, like appetizers and dessert, and different kinds of patrons, like cell phone addicts, who are constantly yapping and buzzing, and bookworms who hate sitting beside them because they dislike noise; you have babies who spill and throw tantrums, and businesswomen who are in a rush rush rush, and Flo has to deal with all these people and serve them before they leave without paying. They money you earn at the end of each shift (level) is used to improve your restaurant, buy flowers, decorations, do repairs, etc.
Part action, part strategy, I instantly fell in love with Flo and her diners and bistros, simply because I’d never played anything like it before.
Although after a while, the gameplay becomes quite predictable (once you figure out how to beat your first couple of hard level, you pretty much blaze through the game). But still, I really enjoyed Diner Dash. Well, actually, the first one I played was Diner Dash 2. There had been another one before, and there would two more after, and given their success, I predict there will be many more. I hope they get a bit more inventive though.
Diner Dash creators, I believe, are credited for inventing the Diner Game.
Since I immediately was hooked on DD, I started searching for similar games, and boy, are there many! Seems like half of the casual gaming industry jumped on that bandwagon, and started to come up with their own take on Diner Dash: the diner turned into a beauty salon, a clothes shop, an assembly line, a bar, a pet shop, Flo turned into a babysitter, a hotel owner, a hairdresser, a designer, a beautician, and again, I started to get bored. Seemed like every new game was some kind of DD rip-off.
Although they’re not exactly recent, I had a lot of fun (and frustration, but frustration is part of the fun, isn’t it?) playing these three games, and I really find them to be outstanding, so I will be reviewing them in the near future, for the gamers among you.
Wow, that was one hell of long intro! Why do I always have to be so long-winded?!