Game Zero

Posted on 30th Nov 2012 at 07:06 by David Hing with 14 comments

David Hing
The pie level was what got me hooked on gaming. I probably only saw it twice, but the first time on a quiet Saturday morning actually made me jump out of my seat and run to wake up my parents up in excitement to tell them about it.

At three years old, I was introduced to Donkey Kong on the Dragon 32, or at least a home computer port of Donkey Kong called “The King” that was apparently so similar to the original arcade version that it invoked a lawsuit from the fledgling Nintendo of the day to strip it from its original copycat name of Donkey Kong.

Game Zero
For the longest possible time, I distrusted any game that did not come on a cassette.

Donkey Kong introduced me to games. It introduced instructing a sprite on the screen to walk and jump, pattern recognition, trial and error and more than anything else patience. However, once I was happy that I knew and understood games, this proto-Mario threw a surprise at me.

The structure of Donkey Kong is thus: Level 1 – the iconic ramps and ladders with barrels rolling down towards you followed by level 2: trying to collapse the structure that the gorilla is standing on top of. Then it loops around again and makes you play level 1 again, then moves on to a level with moving platforms and springs before getting you to do the structure collapsing bit again. Collapse your second structure, and you’re back to level one, back to the lifts and springs, and then...Then comes the pie level.

Game Zero
It looks nowhere near as ugly as this picture would lead you to believe.

I’m aware of what you might be thinking because I’m thinking it as I’m writing this: that’s only effectively the eighth level you play. why is something new at that point such a surprise? It does after all follow a consistent pattern.

Well, first of all I was three-years-old which excuses a lot of what I would like to excuse now that I’m a lot older than three-years-old. Secondly, controlling this game was not strictly speaking easy. Our Dragon 32 had a very rudimentary set of controllers that had been constructed by my dad out of three assorted switches he had lying around the garage, housed in a chunky grey plastic electronics project box. One switch controlled movement to the left and right, one up and down and a push button mounted on the top of the device was mapped to jump. This was far from an ergonomically pleasing Playstation controller and in hindsight definitely added an extra layer of difficulty over anything it controlled. With this excuse firmly in place, even getting to the level with the springs and the lifts was not exactly guaranteed.

Game Zero
They don't make them like they used to.

The pie level wasn't anything particularly special. It had conveyor belts which was pretty cool and two of the hammers that had featured in the first level, but its real strength was merely that it was new and unexpected. It was the first time I became acutely aware of a game holding something back from me until I'd played it for a bit longer. These late game revelations and surprises are still what truly sell a game to me today and it was this element of discovery that got me hooked in the first place.

It’s the surprises and the unexpected that keep me coming back to video games. A lot of people bemoan the lack of innovation in triple A titles and state that a lot of things follow a repetitive formula, but really, even outside the indie scene there's always something in a title that you haven't seen before, even if it is hidden behind yet another sewer level and turret sequence. It’s the small pieces of emergent gameplay, the inadvertent stories I end up making for myself or sometimes just something really creative and unanticipated that the developers have thrown in that get me to remember an experience.

Can you think of any surprises in games that have provoked an ear-to-ear smile from you long after you thought you'd clocked a title?


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sstteevveenn 30th November 2012, 08:43 Quote
Well I guess hl2's blue gravity gun qualifies.

Carmageddon 2 when they suddenly started throwing trucks and combine harvesters into the mix. Then you can save up and buy the totally impractical yellow dump truck thing that doesn't even fit under the checkpoints.

The helicopters in gta vice city and again with the apache. Jet planes, skydiving, jetpacks etc in san andreas.
Guinevere 30th November 2012, 08:52 Quote
Griffter 30th November 2012, 09:58 Quote
COD 4 - modern warfare, the sniper level... oh my god!
MGS4 - the split screen scenes Oh my hat!

********* spoiler *********
special thought to black ops 1 - right at the end when u find out u the other personality... just becos i never ever thought since COD4 that there was ever a story trying to be made in the COD crap series of single player campaigns.
Hustler 30th November 2012, 10:04 Quote
Lolz, the memories..

this was the game one of my schoolmates used to take the piss out of me and my 48k ZX Spectrum, given how utterly terrible ALL donkey kong clones were on the ZX.
Phalanx 30th November 2012, 10:32 Quote
The first time I was involved in a 500+ player combat in Planetside. I stood solid still for a full minute watching everyone pour past me towards the target, guns blazing.

Perhaps not what the game had hidden, but possibly one of the most organic "surprises" I've ever had in a game.
decosse 30th November 2012, 12:20 Quote
When the dogs jumped through the window in Resident Evil 1 (still the best one), I nearly actually cr**ed myself in RL.

Or trying to play more than 30 minutes of Doom 3 in the dark, equally as scary......
Maki role 30th November 2012, 12:28 Quote
Probably when the flood first show up in Halo:CE. Up till then you were fighting the flamboyant covenant who really didn't seem scary or menacing at all (just hard to kill on legendary). Suddenly the flood arrive and it's like playing a survival horror game, especially with the really creepy Jenkins helmet cam cutscene, that set the mood perfectly.
lacuna 30th November 2012, 12:34 Quote
"Would you kindly..."

'nuff said
tad2008 30th November 2012, 13:09 Quote
Originally Posted by lacuna
"Would you kindly..."

'nuff said

Indeed :D

My all time favourite has to be the original Metal Gear Solid. I saw the demo on a playstation mag and was drawn in immediately. I played that demo and struggled at first with the whole stealth concept or being able to lean up against anything and peer around corners and still be able to pan the camera to look around.

MGS became an obsession and I played on the normal difficulty with my first run taking me almost 18 hours in total. I eventually got to play at the hardest level with a play time of just over 3 hours and narrowly missing out on the highest ranking achievement.

MGS had interesting characters from the go, great voice actors, atmosphere, seemless armed and unarmed combat, some fun with Meryl, torture and escape, BIG boss fights and a fine twist with Snake and Liquid as well as a sense of morality with the ending.

Sadly I've missed out on the later MGS series due to sticking with the PC platform and have come close to buying a PS just for that one game alone let alone any other prospectively good titles.

Oh and a film in currently in post production... Guess I am still obsessed with it :)
Griffter 30th November 2012, 13:36 Quote
ai.. how can i forget my MGS1

was my favourite game of all time (nd in some sense still is) to find out masterchief was actually liquid all along in that Japanese way thats not corny, then came COD4 MW1 with that final boss of 3sec in slow mo, so creative, that became number 1 and toppled again by MGS4...

now waiting for the next game to be number 1... aliens colonial marines... pls oh pls be great.
Roskoken 30th November 2012, 16:35 Quote
Docking a cobra MK III without a docking computer, good times.
flibblesan 30th November 2012, 18:16 Quote
TIL: Somebody actually owned a Dragon 32.

For me it has to be Treasure Island Dizzy on the ZX Spectrum. Full of little in-jokes like the copy of Sinclair Abuser magazine that serves no purpose than to poke fun at a similarly titled Sinclair magazine of it's day. That game got me hooked on gaming bigtime. I owe it a lot of thanks in a way.
Bhuvsta 30th November 2012, 18:55 Quote
That moment in Tie Fighter when you see your flying with Darth Vader.
LordPyrinc 30th November 2012, 19:45 Quote
The original NES version of Legend of Zelda. Realizing there was a second difficulty with labrynths in different areas after beating the game the first time through.
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