Over the weekend I was surprised with a gift I didn’t think I would ever get: New ports of a bunch of my favorite games from when I was in my impressionable tweenaged years. First among these games was “Sam and Max Hit the Road.” Closely following this cultural touchstone were “Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis” and the “Legend of Kyrandia” trilogy.
I became acquainted with the point and click adventure game genre through my brother. When I was in junior high my dad bought my brother a computer for Christmas and bought me a wooden chess set. I am not bitter about this. Much…
Anyway, he was working through Day of the Tentacle. I would walk by and wonder what the hell it was he was playing. It looked weird and creepy. It is weird and creepy, but at the time it didn’t look weird and creepy in an endearing way.
One day I got curious and started asking him about what was going on. He was stuck on a puzzle in the game but he couldn’t explain to me what had happened up until then, so I went on the computer and started my own game.
Holy crap, this game was amazing! There are so many weird and surreal things going on this game that it may have irreparably warped my sense of humor. Possibly more so than it was warped before. A game with time traveling port-o-potties, a valley dude hanging out with George Washington, and a plot point that requires you to freeze and microwave a hamster is more than a little sick and twisted.
We worked in parallel on our game. One of us would make progress and we would share it with the other person. It took us a really long time to get through that game. It feels like it took months. It might have, I really don’t remember.
After polishing off Day of the Tentacle, we worked through Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. We thought there was only one path through the game and we had screwed it up by ditching Sofia halfway through the game. After working through the game a few times we realized that there were actually three successful paths through the game. That got us really excited to go through the game and replay it a few times to figure out how many different ways the game could be won.
I did want to make a brief mention of my bewilderment about the death of the Indiana Jones franchise. Fate of Atlantis proved that Indiana Jones could be a great franchise where you have a nice formula that is infinitely customizable without getting overly stale. I am saddened that the last few films felt like they had to do like character development or something. Indiana Jones totally could have been James Bond with archaeology. Such a missed opportunity.
It took us a lot longer to get through Sam and Max. There was a point in the game where you had to go into the Tunnel of Love and hit a specific place on the wall at exactly the right moment in order to find the Mole Boy who wanted pecan flavored candies. We went crazy trying to get past this point in the game. We knew something was there, but we never hit the wall at the right moment. I think we worked on this game on and off for months. I think we restarted the game just to be able to play the game up until that point because we enjoyed the twisted sense of humor so much. In fact, we replayed up until that point so many times that there is a full two thirds of the game I barely remember because I played it all the way through just once or twice.
I don’t remember which one of us got past that point or if we did it together. I do remember we were both elated that we could finally continue on with the game and we celebrated that moment together.
The summer between seventh and eighth grade I encountered two games: Myst and Legend of Kyrandia. Legend of Kyrandia was another SCUMM-based adventure game created by a company other than LucasArts. Our school had a summer enrichment program that many of us quickly realized meant that we could hang out at school and play computer games all day.
I don’t remember who found Legend of Kyrandia, but it very quickly became a favorite of everyone in the group of about ten of us. We were obsessed with this game. There is a point in the game where you get lost in these caves and if you don’t light them properly you get eaten by animals. We all worked together to piece together a map of the entire cave, along with all the objects that are hidden that you needed. When someone would make progress in the game we would quickly spread that new information to everyone else in the group. It took us a few weeks to work through the game and it worked as something of a bonding experience for all of us that immediately was forgotten when school started up again.
My experience with Legend of Kyrandia was vastly different than my experience with Myst. I had to work through that game alone. I played it a lot because I thought the graphics were pretty. Myst is in fact one of the things that got me interested in 3D graphics and texture mapping. I really wanted to know how the worlds were made. Unfortunately, I didn’t get as far into the game as I would have liked. I didn’t realize you could leave the island until I bought a strategy guide. I thought you were just supposed to wander around and look at all the pretty scenery. I couldn’t understand why everyone thought the game was so amazing. After figuring out you could leave, I was far more excited about the game.
At this point, you may be wondering why I am rambling on about my lost childhood gaming experiences. I have a point. If you read through this spiel, you will notice that not once did anyone ever check the Internet to see what to do when we got stuck. If we got stuck, we just didn’t progress in the game.
The only games I was able to get all the way through were ones that I worked on with at least one other person. I found a simulated version of Legend of Kyrandia and I tried working through it on my own, but I quickly got stuck in the caves, got bored, and just downloaded a map off the internet.
I find it mind boggling that my brother and I literally spent YEARS when I was a teenager working through these games. We would be stuck on puzzles for months. Yet we would sit there and just keep trying anything we could think of to get through the game.
When was the last time anyone ever spent a month working through a game? The last game my husband bought was Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. He spent about a week playing through the game, beat it, then threw it in a box and forgot about it.
Back when I used to work at Target I would bring my Nintendo DS to work. I had Lego Harry Potter to play on my breaks to blow off steam. I would only play that game when I was at work as something to help me get through my day without going insane. After I had been working on it for a month one of the back room guys came over and said, “Wait, you’re still working on playing that same game?!” It’s inconceivable that anyone would spend a month playing a game without either giving up or beating it.
I don’t pretend to be any kind of gamer, but are games easier than they used to be? It seems to me like people used to spend weeks or months working through games. I read a blog post by a guy talking about working through one of the first Zelda games by coming home from school and being glued to the TV for weeks.
I am kind of sad that I don’t really see games out anymore that take months to get through. I am also really sad that I don’t get to work through a game with other people anymore. That summer working through that game was a really awesome experience. I have felt rather isolated from my classmates in school. I always did group projects on my own. Having an experience where we all worked together on something that we were excited about was a gift.
I don’t have this experience of working through games anymore, but I have found that I can get something like it when I talk to people about code. Right now my boss is working through functional Swift programming using Haskell design patterns and syntax. Sitting with him looking at the stuff he is doing and trying to catch up so that I can help out is surprisingly emotionally fulfilling.
I wonder if people who grew up with the internet will ever get a chance to work through a problem with someone where the answer isn’t instantly available online. One reason I am finding working on the Swift problem so exhilarating is that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to do things yet. Coming from a school background, I’m used to the idea that the person who knows more than I do has a right answer to the problem we are supposed to solve for class. Being in a situation where that answer isn’t known yet is somewhat freeing. It gives these things we are doing meaning. We aren’t just doing mind games or mental exercises. This is it. This is why I learned to code, to solve a problem.
Working through those silly adventure games really gave me tenacity to keep working at something that I knew there had to be an answer to, even if it wasn’t immediately available. It also taught me how important sharing knowledge and collaborating is. None of us would have gotten through the game in the time we did if we hadn’t worked together and pooled our knowledge.
Giving information to someone who doesn’t have it costs us nothing. Working together we can do things we couldn’t do separately.
I haven’t opened any of my games yet. I am afraid I won’t remember how to do anything and I won’t have anyone to play them with. Maybe I’ll find someone to play with. Maybe not. Either way, I’m sure they will be harder than I remember them being.