Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 135 / NOVEMBER 1991 / PAGE 112

Recreational and redeeming: games. (computer games) (The World of Electronic Games)
by Howard Millman

You didn't learn everything you needed to know in kindergarten or sixth grade or even college. Until computer games were invented, where else, for instance, could you learn to slay drug-crazed zombies, pilot death-dealing antigravity fighters, or see truth and justice triumph over greed? Only in the storied world of silicon. Lock at the statistics. Since the introduction of computer games, we have had 68 percent fewer wars, 35 percent less brawls at hockey games, and an amazing 28-percent increase in the number of plastic Valentine hearts sold. Why? Because recreational software provides a safe, socially acceptable outlet for repressed hostility while teaching valuable survival skills.

Hit the Streets

Take, for example, Accolade's Hoverforce. Equipped with superhuman powers conferred on all test-tube cops in the year 2050, you fly around the city defying gravity, fate, and common sense by blasting heavily armed drug dealers, thugs, and brain-dead drug zombies. Gratuitous violence? Rage inducing antisocial behavior? A monomaniacal lust for power? No way! Simply wise preparations for a weekend visit to Manhattan.

Instead of packing routine big-city tourist items such as Mace and a screech whistle, your arsenal includes laser-guided slide missiles, belly-pumping machine guns, and other devices guaranteed to end unwanted conversations. Granted, Manhattan's not yet ruled by drug-crazed slimelords, but Hoverforce is, after all, a futuristic fantasy. That's somewhat unfortunate, since the Hovercraft's Quick Pulse Cannon would be just dandy to open a path through rush-hour traffic.

Access Software's Mean Streets provides additiona big-city survival skills. It's 2033 in San Francisco, and you're the death-defying private investigator Tex Murphy. Sylvia Linksy, the beautiful daughter of a very dead college professor, hires you to investigate her father's suspicious demise. As you sort out the convoluted case, you uncover a conspiracy to rule the world. Now, guess what. Right! You single-handedly must save everyone from ruthless domination by bringing to justice an unholy assortment of murderous mutants, cyborg crooks, and titans of industry. The first challenge is for you to distinguish one group from the other.

Mean Streets' realistic digitized graphics and audio add intrigue to Murphy's and Linsky's misadventures. Hopefully, Access combined legal advice with technical wizardry when designing the "look and feel" of Murphy's Lotus-class speeder.

Both Hoverforce and Mean Streets paitn a bleak picture of a future society where technology's advances result in improved drugs and weapons (which indirectly translate into more downtown parking spaces). With the future looking so gloomy, maybe the past is preferable.

Set in Stones

DSD (Dank Smelly Dungeon) computer games provide the chance to safely battle demons drawn from your worst nightmares or best blind dates. Accolade's Elvira, Mistress of the Dark elevates silicon sorcery to a black art as you battle nether world ghouls and ghosts from hell accidentally loosed in Elvira's favorite castle. Complete with slashing, hacking, and blood-curdling howsl of heart-wrenching agony, this game will prepare any student of politics for a visit to Washington during budget hearings.

While male and female demon destroyers who strive to rid Elvira's DSD of its denizens require both strong stomachs and nose clips, guys in particular will need to exercise self-control. Based on the revealing package photo of Elvira, some men could unconscionably choose to let the demons run amok and happily spend the last of their days fervently guarding Elvira's personal assets.

If Elvira can own a castle, why can't you? After all, computer gaming is a world built of dreams and fantasies. Interplay's recently released Castles enables you to build the castle of your dreams. In addition to playing surveyor, architect, and byilder, you get to parry paranoia and persecute the peasants (great for relieving boredom).

Castles' action takes place 700 years ago, predating pesky present-day concerns like planning boards and building inspectors. Indeed, if your neighbors objected to your castle, they leveled it, scattered the workers, ripped you to pieces, and ate your horses. When they got really angry, they did even meaner things like making you bathe between rainstorms. Several historians claim these murderous rampages had nothing to do with power, gluttony, and greed but were incited by Stone Age Software's futuristic adventure game, Saddam in the Eye of the Storm.

But Seriously, Folks

Would you rather preserve life than destroy it? No matter how much the vicious drug-dealing, flag-burning, opera-loving thugs deserve annihilation? Computer games resolve that dilemma, too. Software Toolworks' Life & Death provides an introduction to do-it-yourself medicine that far surpasses the typically shallow home study course in surgery hawked on matchbook covers. Striving for realism (including vivid graphics of non-gender-specific anatomy), Life & Death prepares you for that inevitable midnight call from Smalltown General pleading for you to perform emergency surgery. As one of its first lessons, Life & Death explains when you should rush the patient into the operating room (appendicitis) or outside (intestinal gas).

Gamers who successfully complete their software residency face an unparalleled challenge in completing the forthcoming addition to the Life & Death line. Reportedly named Managing Your Shekels, the sequel takes realism to the limits and focuses exclusively on learning how to drive a five-speed Jaguar, pilot a Cessna, and lower your golf handicap.

Scientific Breakdowns

Recreational software provides diversions beyond the visceral with games that demand as fast an intellect as a scalpel or trigger finger. Heading this cerebral genre are two programs from Autodesk, Chaos and Cellular Automata Lab. Both programs masquerade as eye-catching sources of mesmerizing graphics while actually illustrating the mysterious order underlying seemingly random events such as the shape of clouds, raindrop patterns, or the origin of Chicken McNuggets. Chaos, as the name promises, concerns itself withfinding free-form, forever-changing behavior patterns in an uncharted universe lying beyond the limits of present-day science. Now, finally, you will understand that no matter which line you're in at the toll booth or the supermarket, the other one always moves faster. I recommend Chaos as a required survival technique for anyone who works for the military, directs traffic, or books airline flights.

CA Lab, also employing eye-popping graphics, appears better suited for creating computer animations of strictly real world events such as the complex interactions between chemical, thermal, and biological processes. One typical application might be modeling the exotic life forms unearthed by janitors in college dormitories. Aside from its significance to researchers, CA Lab's implied educational value holds considerable appeal to science-minded computerists. Capable of unlimited visualizations, it will reportedly provide the graphics in a upcoming juvenile TV science special, "How to Decode a Frog's DNA Using Your Mom's Blender." Unquestionably, this special promises to be an example of computer-aided learning at its finest.

Get Down, Get Funky

Should you overdose on cerebral software, Sir-Tech offers a superb remedy--Freakin' Funky Fuzzballs. Particularly recommended for players who suffer from rampant self-assurance, this if-the-shoe-fits game has you play the part of a dirtball. Strictly for arcade game players, Freakin' Funky Fuzzballs will provide valuable field training should you ever need to survive getting sucked through a vacuum cleaner. Possessing this sort of skill, while it's not in great demand, would certainly distinguish you from mainstream America. Boast about it to your friends and the mental health authorities will cheerfully separate you from the rest of society.

You have heard people accused of being two-faced. Well, how about 60-faced? Spectrum HoloByte's Faces challenges you to assemble horizontal slices of 60 famous and not so famous faces as they drift (Tetris-like) down the screen. If you accidentally create a face that's a hybrid between a plow horse and a beauty queen, remember we all make mistakes (Noah even took mosquitoes on the ark).

Wrap It Up; I'll Take It

After cleansing city streets of slimelords, ridding dungeons of demons, building castles in the past, and satisfying intellectual curiosity, what's left? SEX! In what truly deserves the designation "fantasy role-playing" software, so-called adult-oriented games range from naughty to lewd. Unlike other simulations that encourage the pursuit of power, truth, or magic crystals, sex-oriented gamed capitalize on the world's oldest pastime.

One of the best known in this category is Sierra On-Line's Leisure Suit Larry series. Featuring a choose-your-own level of ribald humor, enduring dork Larry Laffer continues to spnd eight days a week measuring the appeal of every women he sees. Alas, Larry never learns. He still wonders why the women he approaches immediately pretent they're comatose. Studying Larry's techniques will provide you with skills in superficial small talk, feigning interest, and controlling drool.

>From practicing safe sex to slaying slimelords, dodging demons, or coping with chaos, the endless variety of computer games transport you to mythical worlds peopled with sorcerers, heroes, herds, and geniuses. And in these imaginary worlds you can practice exoitc skills--skills that you will hopefully never have to use in the real world. Best of all though, these carefully nutured talents and hard-won abilities will make you more than a match for the next generation of computer games.