The Game Room: It's a Wrap

Attempting to set a proper example, I've taken no special precautions for the flip of the millennial odometer–no crates of Costco goods shoved into the crawl space beneath my dwelling, no stacks of cash sewn into my mattress, and no extra trips to my Chosen Place of Worship in case it turns out that the All Knowing operates on the Gregorian (rather than the Julian, Mayan, Chinese, or fiscal) calendar. I have made one concession to the year double-aught, however. In the tradition of journalists everywhere, I feel it's my duty to offer a summing up–not of the past year, but rather of the past thousand years.

Admittedly, the first 983 years of the passing millennium offered little in the way of Mac gaming. I prefer to think of those years as the Preparation Age–a period in which the fates conspired to create history interesting enough to form the basis of computer games. After all, without the Renaissance, the entire DaVinci's-studio puzzle would be missing from Presto Studios' Journeyman Project II. Where would Sid Meier and his many world-building sims be without Gettysburg and the Age of Exploration? And could id Software possibly exist without the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition?

So, without further ado, allow me to present this, my first and–unless those multivitamins I've been swallowing work remarkably well–last Top 10 Mac Gaming Thingies of the Millennium.

I'd like to say that I was there at the very beginning–buying Finder coauthor Steve Capps's Alice (later included in a sumptuously packaged collection called Through the Looking Glass), the first Mac game and the only game ever sold under the Apple label. I wasn't. Like many early Mac gamers, I first played text adventures created by Infocom. Members of MIT's Dynamic Modeling Group launched Infocom in the late 1970s and created such marvelous interactive tales as the Zork series; Planetfall; and my personal favorite, Leather Goddesses of Phobos. There was absolutely nothing Mac-like about their interfaces, of course, but these games clearly demonstrated that I could waste a colossal amount of time with my Mac and regret nary a second of it.

This detective adventure from Mindscape was one of the first games to effectively combine the best elements of interactive fiction with the graphical components of the Mac's unique user interface. To use the items found scattered throughout the game's environment, you clicked and dragged them to an inventory window, where a simple double-click revealed their contents. This concept may sound hackneyed now, but at the time it was revolutionary–certainly something that was impossible on a PC.

Dark Castle   Its graphics crushed anything the PC could offer. .

Speaking of impossible PC tricks, many have forgotten that for over a decade, the Mac's graphics absolutely crushed anything the PC could offer. And no game more clearly demonstrated this disparity than Silicon Beach's Dark Castle. Not only was this achingly addictive, leap-about-and-oh-dammit-there's-another-rabid-rat-and-arrow-flinging-robot arcade game beautiful, but it was also a kick to play. As a matter of fact, the game was so good that Delta Tao brought it back and colorized it a few years ago. Old-timers and new gamers alike should head for Delta Tao's Web site ( http://www.deltatao.com ) to check it out.

In an interview for a book I cowrote a couple of years ago, The Macintosh Bible Guide to Games (Peachpit Press, 1996), veteran game programmer Chris Crawford remarked, " Macworld magazine never ran a story on Balance of Power, even though it was a huge seller and very strong on the Mac." Better late than never. Mr. Crawford's Balance of Power demonstrated that the Mac's computational muscle and GUI could be used to create a compelling, thinking person's game. Set in the Cold War era of the time, Balance of Power placed you in the hot seat of international diplomacy, letting you negotiate among nations in an effort to avoid the ultimate endgame–nuclear annihilation.

The Colony   In its day, this adventure seemed terrifyingly real.

Long before id Software's John Carmack ever dreamed of owning a family of Ferraris, a first-person action-adventure game appeared for Mac–David Smith's The Colony. This wire-frame game placed you in an off-world laboratory taken over by menacing eyeball creatures. Sure, it may sound laughable, but back then in the era of hardware-accelerated 3-D action games The Colony was scarily real. And unlike today's shooters, it required more than a deft trigger finger to complete.

New Mac gamers are likely to be confused by my inclusion of a company that's currently known for its highly regarded extensions manager and MP3 utility. But at one time Casady & Greene produced the most "Mac-ish" games on the Mac. These games, written mostly by Patrick Buckland and john calhoun, celebrated the oddball spirit of the Mac by including hysterical sound effects, goofy graphics, and a slew of bizarre characters. Buckland's Crystal Quest and Sky Shadow and calhoun's paper-airplane puzzle game, Glider, were among the best games of their time. Another C&G game, Mission: Thunderbolt, a dungeon-exploration adventure, will always hold a special place in my heart.

Myst   The first CD-ROM game to get it right.

The introduction of the CD-ROM was supposed to catapult gaming into the stratosphere. What we quickly learned was that although many of these disc-based products were attractive, they were dreadful games. It took a Mac-only CD-ROM title to show the rest of the gaming world the potential of these newfangled, silvery discs. That title was, of course, Cyan's Myst, a CD-ROM game that–quite simply–got it right. The graphics were opulent, the music was properly atmospheric, the puzzles were challenging without being unfair, and the story line enticed. For many players, Myst became their world.

A company devoted to making PC games, id Software has had a huge influence on every aspect of computer gaming–for the Mac as well. The company's first-person shooters, Wolfenstein 3-D and the Doom series, opened the bloodgates, and scores of game publishers have since joined in the grisly good times.

Pathways into Darkness   This first-person shooter was ahead of its time.

id may have launched the craze for first-person shooters, but many will argue that Bungie made these games better. Though primitive by today's standards, Bungie's first shooter, Pathways into Darkness, offered lighting effects not found in other games of the time. And the Marathons combined spectacular action with engaging story lines–something id has never attempted. In these early titles, Bungie danced the "we've seen it and can do it better" two-step, taking a genre that had been tried–and found wanting–and polishing it to a fine gloss. With the Myths, Oni, and the upcoming Halo, Bungie is setting the pace–establishing awesomely high standards for other game publishers to follow.

For much of its short history, computer gaming has been a solitary affair. The explosion of the Internet has changed all that. In the past few years, thousands of computer gamers have banded together across the Web, mostly to blow the bejesus out of each other. Granted, shedding other gamers' virtual blood and dancing over their prostrate carcasses is fairly antisocial behavior, but with cooperative gaming coming to the fore and the introduction of gentler forms of multiplayer Internet play, there's a very real possibility that computer gaming will finally bring people together rather than drive them apart.

And, honestly, is that such a bad way to start the next thousand years?

January 2000 page: 63

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
Shop Tech Products at Amazon