Chess — it’s one of the most enduring games of all time. I enjoy playing, but I’m always better at it when I have plenty of time to think. If I have to play fast, my game falls apart. The people who play speed chess well are the ones who study the game when they have time to think and analyze. They know the lines they want to play, they’ve already explored the traps and pitfalls inherent in the positions that develop, and so when the clock starts ticking, they explode into action based on what they learned beforehand. They did their thinking off the clock; now they’re playing by rote and reflex, and it’s an impressive display.
Competitions like the Ludum Dare remind me of speed chess. For those who choose to play, the clock starts in just a couple of weeks. It pays to be thinking about game design now, while we’re more or less off that clock. No panic inducing pressure now, just a day here and there to study the elements and see what we can glean.
What exactly goes into making a good game? There are the obvious answers: proper game balance, interesting details, fun rule variations. But then there’s that nebulous… something… that’s harder to define. Some games take the world by storm, and we may not even know why they’re so fun to play. But we know one thing: we’re hooked. We can’t stop playing. And when we do manage that incredible feat, we find ourselves thinking about the game and looking forward to playing it again.
So let’s think about this most elusive of qualities while we have the time to study our game design. We all know by now what kind of games we enjoy playing ourselves. But what kind of games make the biggest splash? To answer this, I went back to the days when video games were coming into our homes, before it was technically possible to have pixel perfect graphics with cinematic effects. I’m talking about the days of the Atari 2600. Sure, the pixels looked like bricks, but let’s face it: we game designers are still borrowing concepts from some of the awesome games made for this system. Why do you suppose that is?
It all boils down to one thing: either a game is fun, and we waste hours of our lives playing it, or a game isn’t fun and we put it away and find something better to do. There’s a reason so many collective hours were spent playing on game systems that are technically inferior to our modern day calculators.
To consider this in greater depth, I polled The Internet informally (scoured it for top ten lists and related commentary, mostly) to find out what a Top 15 Atari 2600 Games of All Time list would look like. It took longer than you might think to compile enough information to make one, but here it is:
The Internet’s Top 15 Atari 2600 Games of All Time
1. River Raid
3. Space Invaders
11. Yars’ Revenge
13. Spider Fighter
14. Missile Command
15. Demon Attack
Runners-up include Joust, Keystone Kapers, H.E.R.O., Dig-Dug, and Berzerk.
I’ll be taking a closer look at why each of these games was good enough to get on this list. But for now, read over it again and see if you can answer the questions: Why do people remember these games? What kinds of games do people enjoy the most?