ERROR ON ROUTE 96

[Schakelaar]

Earthquake?

It must have been about fifteen years ago that I went to visit my London relatives. My cousin, of my age, had just swapped his old Sinclair ZX-81 for a ZX Spectrum. Remember it? It was of a brand called ‘hobby computer’, and became famous for its chewing gum keyboard.

That was of no concern to us then. Here was a relatively cheap machine that you could program and play games on. My little brother was the proud owner of a watch that had a little game of PacMan, but this was something of another dimension.

My cousin had typed in a game from a computer magazine (another novelty for us Dutch peasants). You had to guide a frog across a busy road, with only three little frogs to do the trick. My cousin had ‘upgraded’ the game all by himself, so you could have an infinity of little frogs to cross the road and get run over by little cars. He also had a game called TicMan, which looked suspiciously like PacMan, and again it featured infinite lives. Yes, my cousin knew his way around at the front. He foresaw that in no matter of time every household would have its computer (the word PC still had to be coined) and he was right after all—although he may never have guessed the explosion of memory and storage capacity, not to mention clock speed. How we envied 40 kilobytes of RAM on 4MHz and games that could load and run within five minutes

Fifteen years went by, and everything multiplied by 100 to 10000, except booting times and prices. And except the intellectual level of the games. Let’s not deny it: during those fifteen years, our culture made a quantum leap from WordPerfect 1.0 to WP7 for Windows, we broke through the 640K boundary imposed by Billy G. and a mouse is no longer a loathed visitor to our bedrooms. But those games… Okay, to keep track of things—I do make a living from working with a computer—I tried one out. I tried Quake.

What a nonsense! What a load of crap! Everyone talks about it, it is supposed to be better than Doom (which I don’t know and do not want to get acquainted with), it allegedly has better graphics and runs smoother and so on.

Well, for one thing, the graphics of my screen saver are better. And for all the rest, it reminds me mostly of PacMan. Let’s face it. All you had to do in PacMan was run around some corridors, pick up a little parcel here and there, and avoid the little monsters unless you had gobbled up a little pill. Not much has changed. Admittedly the corridors have become a little more complex and a little less surveyable, and the little monsters have grown more diverse, as have the pills and parcels. But essentially Quake is PacMan, and essentially PacMan is a game for very stupid people. You say it’s meant for entertainment? Up my ass. Things that are so annoyingly stupid cannot be entertaining.

I hereby challenge all Quake lovers to convince me of the opposite. At the same time I would like to ask intelligent people to help me find an intelligent computer game. I haven’t seen one so far. You can reach me via mail: ruules@phys.uu.nl .

ERROR

…games
Okay, I admit this is my everlasting pet annoyance, but it doesn’t hurt to write it off every once in a while.
 
…I haven’t seen one so far
As of January, 2000, I have seen a lot of games. And I’m happy to say some were quite intelligent. The best one I have seen so far was Riven: a game that really makes you think, and in which nothing is done without purpose.
But it is no rich harvest…

This text was previously published in the Vakidioot, volume 3 (1996/97)

© Roelof Ruules