Deeper and deeper stretch the marbled hallways and galleries of the Game Hall of Fame. At this writing it is the start of autumn, and Chris and I, as trustees and board members of the Hall, are accustomed to the rituals that accompany the turning of the leaves in the courtyard outside.
With the fall come new throngs of people to gaze upon the gaming industry's past and current glories. The elementary-school kids here on field trips seek only basic amusement and a change from the daily drudgery of class. The grad students are little better - take that young man in the Foo Fighters T-shirt examining the Zork Trilogy diorama, for instance: he stands in front of one of the most influential immersive realities in the history of the genre. But I can tell by his posture that he's just desperately trying to come up with a thesis project and to avoid flunking out of his master's program.
Of course, such people are a valued source of sustaining revenue, but we don't operate the Hall for them . We do it for the Cub Scout who gets separated from his troop because he can't tear himself away from the Galaxian fresco, which puts him in mind of the Duke Nukem historical reenactment he earlier saw staged in the atrium.
Chris and I smile every time we see it happen, whether it's once a week or once a year. For we know that we're witnessing merely the first step in a process that will end a few years later, as we're shaking that Webelo's hand and inducting his groundbreaking new game into the Hall.
Fall is also, of course, the time when we induct the year's greatest games into the honor roll, but some games we hoped to see this year - games that have been bowling people over in beta form - are missing.
We are as proud of 2000's inductees as we are of any others. But with little exception, the 2000 games' accomplishments were evolutionary ones: great games made greater, or familiar ideas with modern execution. However, 2001 promises to shake things up: revolution is coming (see "Next Year's Contenders" for details).
Contributing Editor CHRISTOPHER BREEN recently passed the Game Room joystick to ANDY IHNATKO and now pens Macworld's Mac 911. ANDY IHNATKO can be found in the Chicago Sun-Times, MacCentral, Playboy, and rummaging through back alleys searching for Atari 2600 cartridges.
ANDY: The phone rings at 9:30 a.m. The only people who phone me at that ungodly hour are dental assistants reminding me of an appointment or friends at work whose computers are acting naughty. I pick up and I hear, "Andy! It's John!
I got a crisis here! I finished my Three's Company Sims house, and just as I finally got Jack Tripper a restaurant job, my Mac froze up on me! What do I do ?"
I am tempted to say "Get a real life instead of a Simmed one," but instead I advise him that if the mouse still works, he should just wait it out. Ignoring John's excited blabbering about creating a house for the Ropers next, I hang up and go back to sleep.
It's real life, only fake. Control the life of a semi-autonomous Simmed human - how he lives, socializes, eats, works, plays, and everything else - with success or failure metered by your Sim's overall happiness and sense of self-worth. It's finally out for the Mac and infecting player after player.
CHRIS: Count me among the infected whose Sim leads a far more fascinating and productive life than his creator.
What's Cool: Indifferently wielding the power to control the basic happiness of another human. Who It's For: Folks being "Simmed" by their bosses. From: Aspyr Media, 888/212-7797, www.aspyr.com; $50.
CHRIS: Many years ago, within the pages of The Macintosh Bible Guide to Games (Peachpit Press, 1996), I made the bold pronouncement that Brian Sheppard's Maven was the best Scrabble simulation available on the Mac. My mistake.
I should have suggested that Maven was the best Scrabble simulation available on any computer platform. If not, why would Hasbro Entertainment incorporate Mr. Sheppard's Maven engine into its own outstanding version of the traditional word game?
Now that version of Scrabble has been brought to the Macintosh by MacSoft, and it's a winner. All the elements you'd expect from Scrabble on a Mac are here: the crosshatched board, the salmon-pink Double Word Score squares, seating for as many as four players (comprising both computer and human opponents), a cagey computer adversary, "mini-games" to hone your wordplay, and the ability to dabble at Scrabble with others over a LAN or the Internet.
If you're seeking a great gift for someone with a new iMac, look no further than Scrabble.
ANDY: It's easy to laugh at the idea of applying graphics, sound, and animation to a board game as static as Scrabble - at least in Monopoly you can go " vroom-vroom !" when you move the little car around the board - but this Scrabble takes play to another level.
What's Cool: A great-looking Scrabble simulation that even the most seasoned wordsmith will find difficult to beat. Who It's For: Scrabble and traditional-games enthusiasts. From: MacSoft, 800/229-2714, www.wizworks.com/macsoft; $30.
ANDY: What could possibly be superlative about a new edition of a Reagan Era game?
Well, sure, it's been kicked up with Y2K sensibilities. While the original was a model of vector-based minimalism, this one has an audio track, fully rendered scenes between levels, and 3-D animation.
But it's still Asteroids - which is to say, though they've expanded the game play with more-sophisticated higher levels, they haven't ruined the chimplike simplicity that's the hallmark of any great arcade game.
I don't want problem-solving, characters that I'm meant to truly feel for, or the same old Highly Experimental Powerful Weapons whose origins are shrouded in mystery. Just gimme a very basic premise: Your ship skates in two dimensions around the screen. Shoot asteroids and other ships. Die when you are shot or collide with something. I like the mechanisms for play to be so simple that it's chiefly a question of how fast I can route signals from my brain stem to my fingers, without getting them hung up in the tar pits of my cerebrum.
CHRIS: If only MacSoft had found a way to import the hilarious sound effects from Ambrosia's wonderful homage to Asteroids, Maelstrom. . . .
What's Cool: It's like the Foo Fighters covering a Police song from the early eighties. There's nostalgia, sure, but enough modern credibility to make it fly. Who It's For: Parents who want to be beat by their nine-year-old kids at something . From: MacSoft, 800/229-2714, www.wizardworks.com/macsoft/; $30.
CHRIS: Because we engrave the Game Hall of Fame statuettes in bulk, it would be helpful if Blizzard, makers of Diablo II, released a new Mac game each year. Then we could save a few dollars by ordering an extra ten awards and scrawling "Blizzard" and an upcoming year across the bottom of each, and be done with it. Blizzard's games are that good.
Alas, it takes the company more than a year to give birth to games as remarkable as Diablo II. This third-person-perspective game combines many of the best elements of traditional role-playing, adventure, and hack-and-slash games. As with other Blizzard titles, Diablo II is a visual and aural treat, with dramatic lighting and environmental effects and an evocative sound track. You'll appreciate that Diablo II is so easy on the eyes and ears; with the ability to choose between five different protagonists and challenge Diablo's hellish minions across four vast realms, you can easily get lost in the game for weeks on end.
ANDY: Yeah, it's like Dungeons & Dragons, only targeted at people who actually like to have fun. The original left me a bit cold, but Diablo II has me hooked.
What's Cool: Addictive hack-and-slash adventure. Who It's For: The barbarian within us all. From: Blizzard Entertainment, 800/953-7669, www.blizzard.com; $60.
ANDY: Man alive, there are a lot of walk-around-a-3-D-environment-and-shoot-things games out there. But when Deus Ex shipped, it was a sign that the glut was officially over, that from this point onward developers were not invited to ship a product unless they were willing to do something new with this category.
Deus Ex looks like other games, but beneath the surface it's more like reality. You work with a team and you learn as you go. For one, you wouldn't just pick up a weapon and instantly know how to work it or be a crack shot with it. In Deus Ex, experience counts; but if experience isn't doing it for you, modifying the weapon might work. Here there are choices: some folks like to shoot, shoot, shoot. Others see a guard toting a shoulder-mounted Patriot missile and think, What the heck, let's just sneak around him and say we killed him, OK? Either option might work.
You have to shoot, but you have to think and learn and work with the other people in the scenario. What a concept. Before, you just had to look at the protagonist's cleavage.
CHRIS: As much as I enjoy beautifully rendered shooting galleries such as Quake III and Unreal Tournament, it is refreshing to exercise both mind and trigger finger in a 3-D shooter.
What's Cool: Freedom of choice and the fact that every decision matters. Who It's For: Shooters who want to think more, and thinkers who want to shoot more. From: Aspyr Media, 888/212-7797, www.aspyr.com; $40.
CHRIS: Just when we thought Advanced Dungeons & Dragons-style role playing games would never again grace a Mac's hard drive, Graphic Simulations brings to the Mac one of the most popular elves-spells-and-magic adventure games found on the PC: Baldur's Gate.
Baldur's Gate remains faithful enough to the old pen-and-paper Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D) games of yore to earn the grudging respect of traditional players. Still, it's not so choked with gothic arcana that it's likely to turn off the uninitiated. You'll find the requisite jumble of races (including human, elf, gnome, dwarf, halfling, and half-elf), classes, spells, and quests in this expansive adventure. But the inter-face and rules are approachable enough that players entering the game's Forgotten Realms for the first time won't feel as if they'd been suddenly plunked down in Irkutsk without a phrasebook or a taste for omul .
Baldur's Gate is good, but not perfect. Missing from the game as we go to press is network play and an update to squash its most obnoxious bugs.
ANDY: Well, to me, role-playing games take already dull and highly technical games and remove the possibility for social interaction. If it were my kid, I'd rather he spent his time trying to become a rock drummer.
What's Cool: The finest RPG to hit the Mac in years. Who It's For: AD&D fans and those who enjoy computer questing. From: Graphic Simulations, 972/386-7575, www.graphsim.com; $50.
ANDY: Why is Fly 2K the year's Best Flight Simulation? It's just more flight-simmy than its predecessor. Sim jocks will understand the significance of that development.
Terminal Reality hit it out of the park with its initial release, but now the sim has a certain obsessive-compulsive quality that endears. You've got a working cockpit radio that lets you talk to other pilots in real time, via network. The instrumentation has also been vastly upgraded, allowing realistic simming of fly-by-instrument - which you'll need, thanks to the new engine providing realistic weather and cover conditions.
Why do people stick with flight sims? Particularly those that lack the fun of cannons and missiles? Easy: to feed the fantasy that when a hysterical flight attendant asks if there are any passengers on board who know how to fly, they can push aside the ones with actual flight experience and bring that sucker in. With Fly's new upgrades, this sim moves into the realm of credible flight training.
CHRIS: Fly 2K is a wonderful flight-simulation game, but I can't help wishing that Terminal Reality would market an AMRAAM/Unguided Ordnance add-on.
What's Cool: Detail, detail, detail . You're not playing . . . you're training . Who It's For: Air wonks who are thrilled by staring at dials for 98 minutes. From: Terminal Reality, 877/463-4263, www.terminalreality.com; $20.
Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer
CHRIS: With any luck, this will mark the last year we fling the garland for the Best Racing Simulation award at a game based on a nonexistent mode of transportation. Don't get me wrong, Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer - with its careening pod racers, varied tracks, and imaginative opponents - is worthy of induction to the Hall. It's just that I'd like to see more bona fide, at-least-two-wheels-on-the-ground, kedaddle-your-fuel-starved-tail-into-the-pits auto-racing games come to the Mac.
That said, Racer offers nearly everything a racing-simulation fan could desire. The game includes 25 distinct tracks scattered across eight different worlds, outrageous speeds that often exceed 400 mph, outstanding graphics, and three modes of play. In Tournament Play you tackle the courses in succession. In Free Play you can race on any course you've unlocked in Tournament Play. And in the networked Multiplayer Mode you race against up to eight players on a LAN.
Whether you're a Star Wars fan or not, if you have a need for speed, Pod Racer delivers the goods.
ANDY: What's wrong with fantasy vehicles? When I want reality, I've got Boston's Southeast Expressway and my Dukes of Hazzard sound track. Still, here's to many new racing sims next year.
What's Cool: Fast and furious racing action in a year largely devoid of racing of any kind. Who It's For: Racing fans and Star Wars devotees. From: LucasArts, 888/532-4263, www.lucasarts.com; $20.
Sid Meier'sAlpha Centauri
CHRIS: Sid Meier is to world-building simulations what Ray Kroc was to artery-clogging-fast-food outlets - the creator of the Civilization franchise has either built or indirectly influenced the design of dozens of these explore-colonize-build-and-bend-your-neighbors-to-your-will games.
Alpha Centauri, this year's winner for best world-builder, is the sequel to Meier's Civilization II. In this game, the colonists who left their terrestrial home at the conclusion of Civ II have arrived on an alien planet. During the journey the erstwhile earthlings have split into seven groups with differing ideologies. Your job is to lead the exploration and domination of your newfound home.
While Alpha Centauri maintains many of the elements of a typical Civilization franchise, it's a more refined and flexible game than its predecessors. For example, if you'd rather not micromanage every move in the game, you can prioritize and delegate tasks to governors, who then automatically do your bidding.
Alpha Centauri is a terrific game, but if it doesn't satisfy your desire for domination, you have some options. You can buy Aspyr's $20 Alien Crossfire add-on pack from the company's Web site.
ANDY: It's actually the first such game I ever got into playing. I respected the others but was put off by the long time it took to get spun up for the game. I think Alpha Centauri puts you in the mood for destroying your fellow man over mineral rights with little fuss.Meddle in Every Detail The Sims will help you prepare for the day when you have an adult daughter. Triple Word Score What's an eight-letter word for "family fun"? S-c-r-a-b-b-l-e ! Blow Up Everything Asteroids is just as you remember it, except the colors aren't hallucinatory. The Devil Made Me Do It Mow down the forces of darkness in Blizzard's Diablo II. Feel Better about Ultraviolence Violating humanity's highest law needn't turn you into an animal . Aspyr Media's Deus Ex adds intellect to injury. Quality Quests Role-playing games return to the Mac with Baldur's Gate, inspired by Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Go Up-Diddley-Up-Up Fly 2K's small-aircraft sim is so realistic, up-and-coming rock groups are advised not to play it. Use the G-Force Rib-crushing speeds and outlandish vehicles characterize LucasArts' Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer. Spaceward Ho! Explore, colonize, and dominate another world in Aspyr's Alpha Centauri.