From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random games back into the light. This week, as another year draws slowly to a close, it's time for a little nostalgia about the greatest games nobody seems to remember.
Another year nearly over, another year that just wouldn't be complete without some GOTY nominations to reward the best. What are mine, you ask? Oh, I'm far too lazy to have given it any real thought. I know! Let's take the time to give this 1990 compilation, publisher Live Studios' Future Classics Collection, its long overdue dues on the grounds that it's pretty confident it's onto a set of winners, and I see no reason why it should lie about something that important. So, here we are! The Games of the Year. I'm almost positive my faith in human nature will be rewarded.
Strategy: Block Alanche
How does one improve upon perfection? Many years ago, there was a game called Tetris in which you were asked to build a wall, only due to an unfortunate bug, every line would just vanish when you were done. Canny players soon worked out this could be bypassed by leaving a single column unfilled, which worked reasonably well until it became obvious that this shoddy workmanship would lead to an incredibly annoying whistling sound when the wind got up, and also a game over. Probably because the game's limited memory could not handle that degree of bricklaying skill. They were simpler times.
Block Alanche takes this interesting concept and brings it into the future with a number of excellent additions, starting with a new three-dimensional view. Three dimensions is more than two dimensions, therefore it is better. Unlike other forms of 3D, you don't need glasses to enjoy it. Where Tetris annoyed by simply giving you a block to use whether or not it was any use, Block Alanche offers a choice of three. This makes it much easier, as well as adding to the simulation element that was so painfully lacking in the original. Would the builder of a real-life wall simply be thrown geometric shapes and have to make the best of it? No! They would choose the right block for the right job.
Admittedly, the choices here are still somewhat unusual, offering multiple colours and a variety of non-standard brick shapes, and it feels like simply using standard rectangular blocks of the same hue would result in a far more sensible result. Of course, things aren't perfect. Yes, you can now build far more ambitious projects than the classic Tetris 'wall', though Block Alanche does share that game's critical flaw in that completing lines will force them to vanish. The additional space and clumsier controls does however make this less likely, giving Block Alanche far more longevity.
Other innovations include a lack of Russian folk music, presumably on the grounds that bricks are and should remain silent at all times, though it is possible to both play your own music or simply hum/whistle as you work. The nature of the puzzle pieces also presents the distinct possibility that at some point, somebody will mod Minecraft into it. This will only extend its life, with the additional benefit that the smaller play area is unlikely to force anyone to waste their lives trying to construct the Starship Enterprise out blocks. The Borg Cube remains a possibility. As does the TARDIS.
For now, however, this grid should be all that anybody requires, up to and including current Starcraft 2 champion SoS, who it is claimed only began playing the up-and-coming Blizzard game as a way to unwind after a couple of hours of Block Alanche and its far more mentally taxing challenges. It is also claimed that the bees will rise and destroy us all, so definitely watch for that.
Adventure: Disk Man
Finally, an adventure game all of us can play! None of those stupid verbs, no inventory except for keys, no long-winded conversation trees or dialogues, and no boring cutscenes to get in the way. Otherwise, this is precisely like Day of the Tentacle, with a welcome additional roleplaying element: in Disk Man, you play the role of Disk Man. In an era of increasingly padded videogames, this is the kind of focus we can all appreciate. Hopefully this will remain true for the inevitable CD-based sequel Disc Man, and its forthcoming million-dollar Kickstarter revival, Hopefully Digital Distribution On Steam But If That Doesn't Work Out Then Settling For GOG Or Something I Guess Man.
Your job as the Disk Man is to enter computer systems that have been infected by Pac-Men and filled with dynamite for no apparent reason, but are still doing better than most machines infested with Windows 8. [This joke was topical at the time of writing. Pretend it's a reference to Windows 11, or whatever is current when you're reading this. - Ed.] Like all the best games, you press keys and things happen. Sometimes, those things involve collecting diamonds: a girl's best friend, making this a game that everybody can enjoy, unless they're a former slave pressed into service mining diamonds for a brutal dictator or corporation, in which case perhaps not. It is also not the ideal game for people without hands, as hands are needed to play.
Provided you have hands, Disk man starts out extremely easy. This quickly changes as you progress through the levels, or even faster if you have an accident that causes you to lose your hands. Sadly, there is no option to reconfigure the controls to make them more conducive to playing via precision nose taps on the keyboard, though this does greatly reduce the chances of accidentally poking your 'I'. In conclusion, Maniac Mansion, Grim Fandango, Broken Sword and friends can all go home, as can Gone Home, whose services to gaming are no longer required. This is the greatest adventure since Bert Higgins: The Man From HELL. I have yet to beat the first level.
Action: Diet Riot
Are you hungry... for action? Hopefully not, because it turns out that action has more calories than four cakes glued together with caramel. Other things with calories in them include pizza and beer, and as a modestly pudgy hero, it's your job to gather them up. Here's the genius of Diet, Riot though—its emergent gameplay system.
You get to choose how you want to play. On the good path, that means gathering up crates so that they can be disposed off and your fellow citizens will have no choice but to eat celery and other such rabbit food. Alternatively, take a brave stand against the health Nazis by gobbling all the pizza and beer in sight, bloating up until you can't move any more and therefore win. Your prize is diabetes, and the chance to watch the game's lead programmer and creative designer, Governor Phatt from Monkey Island 2, eat lunch.
You will not get any of the lunch. We advise you not to complain about this.
Finally, a game that dares put the self-reviewing "Huh?" into "War. Huh? What is it good for? Absolutely nothing." Tankbattle understands what games like Arma never will—how to convey the sheer futility of war. It does this by placing you, a single tank driver, in a sealed-off area where the peaceful world you seek to save (apparently) is never permitted to intrude. It is merely you, four walls, and some hostile gun turrets, rather begging the question of a) who thought it was a good idea to place a base here, or b) what the hell the night shift was up to. It is not easy to put up huge honking gun turrets. Nor indeed, huge metal flippy things straight out of Robot Wars, capable of hurling your tank into oblivion should you be on top of them when they ascend in to the sky like a great big finger raised to God.
The parable continues. What is your purpose? You'd think it would be to win the war, but no. The lack of narrative means that any battle that must be fought must be against yourself, internally. Every level is another step that you actively choose to take, even knowing that at any moment you could turn your back on the conflict and walk away. Possibly into another, better conflict. Either way, your only goal is a small sigil, representing the patriotism that drives us to answer the call of duty and titanfall alike, before returning to the womb-like origin point to resupply in terms of ammunition and spiritual fortitude and return to the cycle of life and death.
When you reach the final levels, Tankbattle also has a tendency to break down, symbolising that even the greatest of us has a point beyond which we can go no further, and its name is Level 13. Few games dare to paint such a bleak picture of service and courage, though on the plus side it's pretty easy to get onto the high score table. This is a game that will make you think. Or at least, let you daydream. What more can we ask for? Perhaps better controls. Perhaps.
RPG: Lost 'n Maze
Eat it, Diablo. You may have your army of fans and your expansion packs and your online action and your millions upon millions of dollars. But you know what you'll never be? A Future Classic, that's what. That high honour is taken by this, your predecessor and apparently your better. Don't look at me. I didn't make the decision, I merely credulously report it, while sitting back and sipping my delicious glass of homeopathic orange squash.
Lost 'n Maze is the epic underground adventure of a person lost 'n a maze who would very much like to get out of the maze, ideally with lots and lots of treasure to go and spend on cake. Unfortunately that won't happen, since the star of Diet Riot has confiscated it, but that's the problem with being trapped 'n a maze—you quickly fall behind on the news.
What makes Lost 'n Maze particularly terrifying is the knowledge that should a monster attack, you're absolutely defenceless. No weapons. No armour. No health potions. True, there aren't actually any monsters, but then there's no such things as ghosts and people are still afraid of those, so that hardly seems a problem. This game is also three times as scary and as good as anything with Slender in it, simply by dint of not having Slender in it.
Anyone who didn't like Diablo 3's real money auction house can also take solace in the fact that it is not a problem here! Nor will you ever die due to an internet connection outage. Its random generation also means that you'll be able to play for ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever, without ever getting bored until you inevitably do.
Truly, all five of these games deserve their status as Classics of PC gaming, Future or not. They stand as testament to the power of the platform, and a symbol for all others to aspire to in this otherwise tedious genre full of imagination, technological achievement and artistic merit. Which deserves to be Game of the Year? In the end, they are all game of the year, whichever year it happens to be. For now. For you. Forever.
PC gaming is dead now, isn't it? It just died.