Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Question of the Week: One-Trick Pony

Okay, “One-Trick Pony” is not even a fair title for this post. To call something a one-trick pony is to imply that it only DOES ONE THING, and then does it over and over and over again, like Dead Rising. THAT’S RIGHT I SAID IT.

This week, we’re joined by friend of the show Mitch Krpata (/colbert) of the amazing Insult Swordfighting. So maybe a better title for this post would be:

Question of the Week: Coffee with Mitch Edition

There, that’s better. Without further ado:

Jay: If we’re talking point-and-click adventure games, one need look no further for my choice than the first entry on the sidebar under my favorite games. The Longest Journey is probably my favorite game of all time.

But I can’t shake the feeling that a one-button game kind of implies something more... casual? Maybe games that place a heavier emphasis on reflexes than rationale? That may be a misguided assumption, but Android, iPhone and iPad screens sorta serve as one BIG button. I’m not much of a casual gamer, but I like Cat Print. It’s not a game in the traditional sense, but more of a surreal interactive experience—with cats. If Dali had designed the I Can Has Cheezburger site, it probably would have looked something like CP. Basically, you tap the screen and pics of different cats pop up over a candy-colored nature or fantasy landscape (the moon scene being my personal fave). They also meow as they appear. Annoying or amazing, you can be the judge, but my actual cat loves it as much as I do. +2 for Cat Print.

Mitch: If I didn’t have to worry about cred, I’d be more comfortable admitting that I’ve never played any game as much as I’ve played FreeCell. That’s right, one of the freebie games—“games”—that come pre-installed with every copy of Windows is the one I’ve devoted more time to than any other. If I went back and added up all the FreeCell games I’ve played since my family got our first Windows box in the early 1990s, I’d probably cross six figures. And also cry.

But is it so surprising? This is no button-mashing slot machine. FreeCell is to solitaire what chess is to checkers. The way the cards are dealt varies, but doesn’t determine how the game plays out. Each round takes planning, strategy, improvisation, even resource management—and, yes, sometimes a bit of luck. And there’s no end to it. With a million unique gameboards, I may have repeated some by now, but I’d never be able to tell. AAA devs try to reach this level of complexity all the time without success, and usually with way more than a one-button-interface.

I can’t stop playing it. Every time I get a new computer, the thing I’m most excited about is the chance to achieve an even higher winning percentage (sitting pretty at 85% on my newest machine!). Heck, if I were to be honest, I might even say FreeCell is my favorite game ever.

Um… don’t tell anybody I said that.

Dan: We’re telling everybody.

This is hard, because so many games out there that I want to include are actually no-button games, or just barely two (and for the record, Qix, whose best versions fall into the “barely two” camp, broke my heart).

Try as I might, when I think of single-button games, I can’t help but get away from thinking about the single-button Atari joysticks of old. I had a few favorites: Centipede (particularly the classic arcade version with the rotating-ball controller), Space Invaders, Missle Command... But I think my all time favorite was Berzerk. I recently picked up Halo: Reach—my first of the series—and I can’t help but feel like Berzerk was kind of an ancient Halo ancestor: electrified walls, robots with lasers, and a deadly, disembodied smiley face that materialized if you were overly hesitant about killing everything in site.

You know, I could say more but nothing that would leave a bigger impression than this:

Kirk: I guess that all of my responses are recent games. I want to say Robot Unicorn Attack, but that game has a whopping TWO buttons, so it doesn’t count. So I guess I’ll go with Canabalt, which is probably the most rockingly awesome one-button game I’ve played. An endless sprint across a collapsing city’s rooftops, all accompanied by a killin’ electro-jam (or your own far-less appropriate George Michael collection, should you chose). An indicator of Canabalt’s badass-ness: it is the only game that’s convinced me to use its integrated Twitter functionality: “I ran 4735m before missing another window.”

Annie: In the interest both of cheekiness and because it’s not a bad little game, I’m going to go with One Button Bob, a pixeltastic side scroller. The function of the button-push is different on every screen. Sometimes the button makes you go, sometimes it makes you jump, stop, fight, duck or any number of other things. It’s a magical surprise. Most of the time, the screens contain some element of platform puzzle, so in a weird way, this game is a good way to familiarize yourself to the concept without necessarily investing in something like Braid or Limbo, even though you absolutely should play those games, if for no other reason than they are incredibly thought provoking in very different ways.

One Button Bob was also one of the very first things that I ever wrote about for Gamer Melodico, back while I was nomadic and had naught but my laptop, an Internet connection, and a restless spirit. In this respect, it will always hold a soft spot in my heart (even if some people say that One Button Arthur is cooler).

Sam: I guess the best one-button game I’ve played would be Pitfall for the Atari 2600. It was simple and straightforward and introduced me to the idea of playing videogames.

Then again, you also have “one button” games like Duck Hunt. I remember Kirk and I spending many a quarter on Lethal Enforcers back in the old days, and it was a pretty straightforward on-the-rails shooter that was a lot of fun at the time.

David: ZAXXON 3D. I think. Zaxxon in the arcades was amazing and when they ported it over to the Colecovision and I played the hell out of it! I don’t recall if it had more than one button. Maybe it had two. I don’t care, I don’t want to rewrite this.

[Editor’s note: It bears mentioning here that David’s Question of the Week response was thumbed in from his honeymoon in Belgium, immediately after telling us some convincing things about the quality of Belgian beer. One particular passage of note: “I am full of waffles and frites!” He continues…]

The wife says her favorite was Adventure on the 2600, but even back then I thought it looked like crap. It had a magical bean or something didn’t it?
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