Do you have a computer game that you played when you were a kid, that you still think back to every now and then? Perhaps something that you really struggled though, but eventually beat, giving you a sense of great achievement? Or didn’t beat, giving an eternal sense of unrequited ambition.
I grew up with a ZX Spectrum 48K, and for me, the games to beat were Manic Miner, Jet Set Willy, and Halls of the Things. I fear that I’ll never be able to hear In the Hall of the Mountain King without envisioning oscillating Amoebatrons, while If I Were a Rich Man still transports me to a fantasy world where a flying pig is desperately trying (and yet predeterminately failing) to tuck in its tail and snout simultaneously*. Not to mention that conquering the Forgotten Abbey through dogged analysis and ragged perseverance once ranked among my greatest achievements.
It was Halls of the Things, though, that I came back to in later years – once Intel computers had caught up with the Sinclair technology, and could cope with the demands of an emulator. And I was a little disappointed – it was just too easy. The addition of a save game feature, and the allocation of more standard keys meant that what was an impossible task of navigating 7 levels of ever-increasing dastardliness became a bit of a doddle. Was I really that inept as a youngster?
The next game I came back to was Prince of Persia. Playing this as a pimply teenager took me weeks. I finished it with a sense of triumph. The poetry of motion that could be obtained – particularly in the sword-fighting scenes against the stronger opponents – imprinted this as a legendary game at the time. And yet, ten years later when I went back to it, I finished it in just a little longer than a single afternoon. It appears I really was useless back then.
After that, I discovered The Incredible Machine. This had about a hundred levels of pure physics fun. Getting various balls into various places, using conveyor belts, see-saws, ropes, balloons and plenty of gravity took endless ingenuity and just a dash of mad scientist. I last worked my way through this about 13 years ago, but found that my skill levels hadn’t increased here – it was still a challenge, and still enjoyable.
And since then, I’ve never really engrossed myself in a game – there have been a few first-person shooters (Half-life), Age of Empires (and the multitudinous clones thereof), and Civilisation. And they all got a bit boring after a while.
And so, having stumbled across Clever Contraptions on my Android, I’m really enjoying a game for the first time in years. It’s very similar to The Incredible Machine, but unfortunately, the white mice have left the building. You’re now able to place objects with more precision, and rotate just about anything, which gives added flexibility. And there’s a free mode, which allows you to set up the most other-worldly Heath Robinson affair you can imagine.
Now, if only I can get the kids to allow me to play with it…
* See this movie, at 34:50 onwards to see what I mean….