The Game Room: Chasing Cheap Thrills

My life is nearly perfect. Heck–what could be better than getting paid to play computer games? I'll admit there is one wee insect in the unguent, however: Because I do spend an inordinate amount of time dinking around with computer games, I suffer from a common gamer's malady–I don't get out much. And when I say I don't get out much I specifically mean that I go to the movies about as often as Steve Jobs and his vegan buddies trip down to Billy Bob's Barbecue Bungalow for a slab o' ribs and a side of scrapple.

Which might explain why, when I finally succumbed to The Force and stood in a seemingly endless movie line, I burbled " How much!?" when the ticket seller requested that I fork over eight-point-seven-five simoleons.

"Eight seventy-five," she patiently repeated while giving me a look I recognized as the same one I issue when friends of mine gripe about the cost of computer games. Roughly translated, that look means: "This is high-quality entertainment, buster, and if you want to partake you'll pony up and shut your yap."

And so I did, but not without revisiting my friends' complaints. It dawned on me that forty to fifty bucks is a lot of money, and although I maintain that there are several games worth the price, there are less expensive ways to gain a fair dollop of Macintosh gaming goodness. If you're interested in learning how, read on.


The best place to look for games that won't drain your bank account is the Internet. A remarkable variety of high-quality games is available for the price of a download and, perhaps, a shareware fee of $20 or less. Don't let the fact that these games are shareware dissuade you from investigating further. Although you're unlikely to find a shareware shoot-'em-up to rival Unreal or a pay-to-play flight sim as rich and complex as Falcon 4.0, the shareware world does offer commercial-quality arcade, board, and adventure games for the price of a few movie tickets. Here's a rundown of some of the best.

Food of the Gods   Ambrosia's Mars Rising is a terrific--and not terribly expensive--scrolling shoot-'em-up.

I'll start my list of great shareware game publishers with the cream of the crop, Ambrosia Software
( http://www.ambrosiasw.com ). Shareware or no, Ambrosia games are outstanding–Andrew Welch and the rest of the crew are seemingly incapable of turning out schlock. Welch's Maelstrom, an update to the arcade game Asteroids, is a classic, as are the Centipede-like Apeiron, and Swoop, a game that harkens back to Space Invaders and Galaxian. Ambrosia's recent games are just as delightful. Mars Rising is a wonderful scrolling shoot-'em-up, Barrack is a noble update to the old arcade game Qix, and Slithereens is the best Pac-Man variation I've seen. Oh, and then there's Harry the Handsome Executive, a game I'm absolutely goofy about. Harry is mostly a puzzle game that requires a degree of hand-eye coordination. Your job is to destroy the alien invaders who have overrun Harry's office. The hitch is that you're confined to scooting around the game in a six-wheeled office chair and office supplies are your only weapons. (Prices for all of Ambrosia's games are about $15 to $25.)

Your Hearts Desire   Thanks to Freeverse's Hearts Deluxe, you can play hearts anytime--no human opponents required.

Freeverse ( http://www.freeverse.com ) is another fine shareware game publisher, especially if you're into card games. This company produces such noteworthy games as Hearts Deluxe, Spades Deluxe, Classic Gin Rummy, and Burning Monkey Solitaire–a version of the solitaire game Klondike that inexplicably takes place in a theater full of simians. You'll definitely want to pay the shareware fees for Hearts Deluxe and Spades Deluxe. Unless you pay, your opponents are about as bright as a troughful of swamp water, which hardly leads to challenging game play. However, by the time you read this you should be able to eschew computer opponents altogether by playing Cribbage and Spades over the Web via Freeverse's server. Also worth a download are Freeverse's board games: Enigma, a code-breaking game; CrossCards, a poker-Scrabble combination; Reversi: The Eclipse, an Othello clone; and X-Words Deluxe, a Scrabble twin. Prices for all of Freeverse's games range between $15 and $20. By the way, if you're one of the few souls left among us who lacks an Internet connection, dry your tears. Both Ambrosia and Freeverse offer unregistered versions of their games on CD-ROM for $10.

What's Puzzling You?   Those who fondly remember MasterMind, the "match the colors and patterns" puzzle game from the 1970s, will love Freeverse's Enigma.

While you're cruising the Net, don't miss Fantasoft's Web site ( http://www.fantasoft.com ). This is the realm of Realmz, a popular Dungeons and Dragons-style role-playing game. You know the type: you gather a group of oh-so-romantic beings–sorcerers, elves, and so forth–and traipse around the countryside performing deeds of derring-do while giving the boot to ill-tempered, often orthodontically impaired bad guys. Frankly, this style of gaming is as appealing to me as removing plaque from my cat's teeth, but those who like this sort of thing swear that Realmz is The Goods. If you're as willing to believe them as I, you can get your copy of Realmz and the City of Bywater scenario for $20 (additional scenarios are $13 each). I much prefer Fantasoft's arcade and puzzle games. Fans of the old Donkey Kong arcade standard will enjoy the $20 Monkey Shines, and those who fondly remember Glenn Andreas's Blobbo–a puzzle game that requires you to gather the goods and avoid falling objects–will feel right at home with Fantasoft's $20 Bugs Bannis.

And finally, no roundup of Net-based, inexpensive gaming goodies can fail to mention MacMame
( http://www.macmame.org ), a free emulation program that allows your Mac to perform convincing imitations of early 1980s arcade machines. With MacMame you can play such classic games as Asteroids, Defender, Frogger, Battlezone, DigDug, and dozens more.

Note, however, that the developers of this emulation system ask that before you download any games (games come separately, you see), you ensure that you own copies of the original cartridge versions of the games. Apparently there's a hazy legal issue about running these old warhorses without having paid for the license. If you own the old games, you've paid for the license and therefore everything should be hunky-dory. If you don't own the games, then technically you're stealing someone's work, even though that work has been out of print since The Dukes of Hazzard played in prime time.


In good conscience, I should issue this warning: now that you know there are games this good at prices this reasonable, it won't be long before your Macintosh's hard drive is crowded with games and your ability to chip in with the ersatz Eberts around the office watercooler will be vastly diminished. But in the end you'll thank me. Sure, like me, you won't get out to the movies until the next installment of Star Wars comes out, but when it does, you'll have saved enough dough for the $12.75 admission and the small $25 tub of popcorn.

September 1999 page: 65

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