Exploration games; interactive electronic voyages of discovery attract armchair adventurers. (The Brave New World of Electronic Games)
The impulse to explore is as old as the human race. It's an impulse that's been eagerly adopted by developers of entertainment software.
Take a video or computer monitor. Place a character or a vehicle on it. Let the player know there's an electronic world awaiting discovery, and watch what happens. That old human impulse comes into play, and via keyboard, joystick, or mouse, the exploration begins.
Some of the earliest computer and video games were built around the explorative urge. Fantasy role-playing games such as Origin's Ultima or Nintendo's Zelda draw as much on the desire to see what's around the next corner as they do on the desire to face dreadful monsters or cast powerful spells. Just as much of the most popular fantasy literature is quest based--heroes on a journey through unfamiliar territory--so does much of electronic fantasy take the quest as its theme.
Some quests are more realistic. Seven Cities of Gold, an early title from Electronic Arts, re-created the Spanish exploration of the New World. A couple of years later, MicroProse broke new ground with Pirates! which took as its universe the Caribbean during the great days of fighting sail, of buccaneers and colonial governments, shifting alliances and intrigues. Pirates! appealed to that exploring impulse, providing players with the tools--ships and crews, maps and winds--to set sail in search of treasure and danger.
Empire, a classic war game, combines military strategy and confrontation with world exploration. Upon beginning the game you are confronted with a screen completely blackened, save for a single square. From that square you dispatch ground, air, and sea forces, uncovering a bit more of the world's nature at each turn. Continents and islands reveal themselves gradually, as does, eventually, the location of the enemy.
Exploration need not take place in a huge world or on a global stage. Maniac Mansion, from Lucasfilm Games on disc and Jaleco on Nintendo cartridge, presents players with a mysterious old house filled with slightly dotty, slightly dangerous residents. Poke around the mansion and discover secret passages, dreary dungeons, and startlingly interactive rooms.
In its most recent releases, Lucasfilm continues to mine exploration. Loom is a simple fantasy, set in a world where the very nature of reality must be woven--or unraveled. The Secret of Monkey Island is more lighthearted.
Players assume the role of Guybrush Threepwood, an earnest if somewhat foolish young man out to seek his fortune in a world filled with puns, sight gags, and silliness.
Among the most unusual exploring games is one currently under development by Infogrames in France. This is a haunted house game, one that takes place in the dark. As currently planned, the game will present players with a blank screen, challenging them to navigate through the haunted house by way of sound effects.
As computer and video game technology grows, we can expect much more complex and sophisticated exploration games. Imagine, if you will, re-creating the voyages of Drake, the Antarctic journeys of Scott, the flights of Lindbergh.
Other explorers, real and imaginary, call out to our imaginations. Who knows what we might find? Before long, you may face a character deep in an unexplored region of your computer and say, "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"