As regular readers will know, my interest in computer games doesn’t just extend into the new and current releases, but also into the deepest and darkest of depths of indie, experimental and forgotten computer games.
My love of games is such that it causes my wallet to open up and spew money out whenever it finds a bargain bin, and promptly sends letters requesting games from developers which nobody but me has ever heard of. So, in lieu of anything else to do today, I present to you a brand new list. It’s a top ten, but one unlike any other I’ve ever written.
This isn’t a list of the best games of the year or the best games I’ve ever played. This is something wholly different and deeply personal to me – a list of the games you’ve (probably) never played.
Some of them you may have dabbled with or looked at, others you’ll have disregarded entirely as you scanned the shelves at your local GameStation or international variant. Either way, here it is; my list of underappreciated classics and bargain bin treasures. If you’ve got any cash left over after your Christmas shopping spree or if you just refuse to buy into all that BioShock hype then you could do a lot worse than to pick some of these up. Most of them are entirely free now anyway thanks to the abandonware movement, but we're going to list them chronologically rather than by status.
We’re starting big and way, way back – back in the year my family got their first computer actually. Nethack isn’t so much a game as a gameplay style. Essentially a Roguelike, Nethack is a free open-source game that’s been continually upgraded and expanded since the concept first leapt into the mind of the designers like a Grue diving for a shadow.
Nethack has various mods to improve the graphics, such as this one called Falcon’s Eye
The plot is deliberately basic – players just choose a class and venture off into a randomly generated dungeon. The aim is to get to the bottom and recover the Amulet of Yendor from the obligatory evil wizard. What makes the game so addictive and loved though is that players end up generating stories of their own because of certain gameplay elements. Random levels and items, a lack of saving and very limited graphics that force players to imagine their surroundings in detail – these things go along way to creating a uniquely memorable environment for play.
Nethack is mercilessly unforgiving on anybody who mistakes the simple graphics as an indication that this is a casual game though and the dungeon ruthlessly and constantly punishes players who don’t take the time to learn the basics. A common saying among the Nethack is that ‘the developer has predicted all’ and it’s something that certainly looks to be true. The possibilities for suicide and self-harm in a hardcore Nethack run are so extensive that it’s a reason to try the game in and of itself.
The classic example would be the first time I picked up the game back in the early nineties. I hadn’t bothered to read the manual, just jumped in for a quick taster session as the Samurai class for some rainy day RPGing.
Nethack is a game which is ideally suited to hardcore gamers
I spent the first five minutes kicking my pet cat against a wall (Ed: No actual animals were harmed in the making of this article) until I decided to wander the level properly. I gathered up every single item I could on the assumption it would prove useful, including weighty enemy corpses. Later, I found a coloured potion on the floor, picked it up and, without thinking to identify the potion or establish if it were blessed or cursed, I drank it.
Then I went blind.
All the graphics disappeared from the screen except for the text parser and I, encumbered from all the newt corpses I was carrying, stumbled around until I found the stairs down to the next level of the dungeon. You can probably see where this is going – because I was blind I fell down to the stairs. Then, because I was encumbered, my backpack fell on me and hit me for a medium amount of damage. Then, because I was holding a sword at the time I fell, the game told me I had impaled myself on my own sword.
And the sword was poisoned.
“Do you want your possessions identified?” The game asked me. It’s a bit late now, I thought, as I restarted the game and plunged headlong in again, laughing uproariously.