What we now know as open-world gaming took on a more definite shape this same year on the BBC Micro and its cheaper sibling the Acorn Electron (then later on nearly every other system). Elite changed everything. It was the home computer game to have in the mid-1980s—an open-ended spacefaring romp through eight 256-planet galaxies, which were fixed in their composition but cleverly generated on the fly by an algorithm in order to save on storage space. Its abstract 3D wireframe planets and spacecraft provided just enough detail to instil the appropriate sense of scale, with the rest left to your imagination. And there was so much possibility wrapped around that imagination.
Buckminster Fuller foresaw the consequences of American intervention in Vietnam without the help of a military simulation. A professional visionary, Fuller was a self-made engineer-architect-inventor whose interests spanned from mathematics to philosophy. Born in Massachusetts in 1895, Fuller devoted his life to making “the world work for 100 percent of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”
This is one of the first times that a video game’s plot and characters were designed before the programming. [Miyamoto:] “Well, early on, the people who made video games, they were technologists, they were programmers, they were hardware designers. But I wasn’t. I was a designer, I studied industrial design, I was an artist, I drew pictures. And so I think that it was in my generation that people who made video games really became designers rather than technologists.”
City management has long been a core pillar of the Civilization franchise. As the building blocks of your empire, cities provide all the resources and tools required for it to flourish, from gold and science to the military and religious units that propagate your culture. Previous iterations have largely automated city management: players would pick a nice area, preferably near the coast or on a river and with a handful of natural resources nearby, and plop down their urban centers without further thought.
The process is not wholly unlike archaeology. Sometimes engineers even stumble upon hidden messages within a game’s code. For instance, while restoring Dungeon Keeper, GOG employees found a note written by the game’s original creator and lost for nearly twenty years, which thanked his employees for their many sleepless nights building the game: “This game has been written with a passion I am proud to be a part of. I do not just hope you like it, I also hope you are aware of the huge amount of work we have all done.”
One of the greatest hurdles in archiving games is that there is no surefire way to archive digital media across the board. Cinema is having its own crisis on how to properly archive video. Tape degrades quickly, and colors and sound wear out as the years go by. DVDs eventually stop playing from use. Hard drives, thought to be infallible, can dry up and spin their last, become aging, enormous bricks left in the wake of technological progress’ march.
From the game, I understood the Normans, the Saxons, and the Vikings to be distinct cultural entities, with unique and idiosyncratic manners of dressing and speech. For instance, the Normans spoke with snooty French accents, while the Vikings spoke with vaguely Norwegian ones. Empire Earth taught me what a trebuchet was. Most importantly, I understood that the dates and names that my history teacher asked us to commit to memory in my history class were not just arbitrary, but details of a great and epic narrative.
Serious games — whether they be hobby games, boutique games or Euro games — are having a moment. Over the past five years, their market has grown an average of 15 percent a year, to $700 million in 2013. The Settlers of Catan and Ticket to Ride — popular gateway drugs of the genre — are the third- and fourth-best selling board games on Amazon.1 There’s more to these games than “roll the dice, move your mice.” Games in this broad category are typically characterized by deep strategy, an emphasis on skill and the lack of player elimination. In other words, they’re not Monopoly.
On BoardGameGeek, Twilight Struggle is ranked No. 1. Settlers of Catan: 138th. Monopoly: 10,441st.
What accounts for the success and longevity of certain board games? “These cross-generational games typically are enjoyed by those who are young and old,” says Mary Pilon, author of the recently published The Monopolists – a book about the history of Monopoly. Popular board games “have an element of role-playing involved and give us a context to do things that we can’t typically do in real life. ”
She also cites the game-design mantra of techno-pioneer Nolan Bushnell, “which I think applies to board games, as well … good games must be easy to play, but difficult to master.”
Ur (aka: “The Game of Twenty Squares”) has been around since at least 3000 BCE and took hold in ancient societies from Egypt to India. Try it out for yourself with the British Museum’s free shockwave version. Fair warning: it’s way more addictive than solitaire!