Monday, December 25, 2006

Playing the old games

In the last few days I've been playing an old Gamecube game I bought about three years ago. It's called F-Zero and it's an absolute blast, one of the fastese games I've ever seen, but very very difficult to play right. Over the years it's been a game I've played hard for a few weeks then hit a wall where I just couldn't get any further and set it aside, but somehow each time I've come back to it, I've improved. What a great design this game has, that it actually teaches you to get better over time, while still keeping some parts of itself just out of reach, enough to keep you trying to accomplish all the goals you can.

I think it is rare to find a game that does this. I own, or have seen, many games that "feature" hidden items/levels/characters and turn into a "collect them all" splurge that is usually boring. Wiser game designers than me have spent a lot of time and money trying to find what keeps people playing certain games over and over again (F-Zero, Advance Wars, Mario Kart DS) and getting bored with others, but there's no formula that guarantees an interesting experience.

I think what I most enjoy is games where you are NOT forced to replay long sections of the game (where long means > 1 minute of content) if you've made some mistake, or lost a life. If I make a mistake in any of the games I've mentioned above, I have a feeling that if I try really hard on the next few turns, I might be able to make up the time I lost. It's a small point, but clearly it has worked on me. Actually F-Zero is a bit of a counter-point to that, because when you are racing unfamiliar tracks, or racing on higher difficulty levels, it can really kick you in the teeth.

So, after three years of playing it on and off, I've finally beaten all four grand-prixs on "master" difficulty, and unlocked the final set of hidden tracks. I also raced several of the tracks in "time attack" mode where you just try and go round faster than your previous best time, and set a whole lot of new record times, including some tracks I've been trying to improve on for over a year - suddenly tonight it all seemed quite easy. It's twitch-racing at its finest.

All that is left is the absolutely terrifying "story" mode, where you have to accomplish several seemingly impossible tasks in a pre-built ship (in the rest of the game you can build your own). I'm playing these on the easiest difficulty level and they are still kicking the crap out of me! The real kicker is you just know there's raftloads of 14 year olds out there that can do these missions blindfolded!

I hope everyone had a good Xmas day. Patch and I went over to a friend's house for lunch and to let his daughter's see what it is like to have a real dog in the house. Apparently this was a test for them to see if they'd handle it well, and I think they were very good to him. He got a lot of attention from all the guests, some nice leftovers and a couple of "doggie icecreams".