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The game within the game

One of the first games on got on my PC was SimCity. I got a copy from a friend and it was one of the few games my 486/25 could actually play – off the floppy. SimCity is a game that needs no introduction and we all know that it’s come a long way since it’s humble beginnings as a simple city management simulator. There was a “game” within SimCity, the goal being to just expand your city as much as possible, but SimCity did more than that. SimCity brought the enjoyment of order and aesthetics into our gaming lives.

I don't see any room for the City Hall!
I don't see any room for the City Hall!

The joys of planning

Not long after playing SimCity I would start to plan my city more carefully. I’d plan for intersections, plan for where the fire department was going to be, how to isolate the jail and power plant…all the stuff that you think goes into planning a real city. And once SimCity 2000 came along it got even worse (or better). Now you had to worry about power lines, sewers and highways. Not to mention SimCity 2000 was beautiful so you actually took time looking at things, noticing the little details. All of that stuff suddenly had to be considered for your game to be a success. Any dope can make a large, successful, unorganized city…but can it be done with a sense of style and efficiency?

There’s something very soothing about the games that serve your sense of somewhat higher thinking. I love arcade games as much as the next guy, but I really enjoy games that challenge my sense of organization even if they’re not difficult otherwise. Lets jump ahead from SimCity a few decades and look at games like Minecraft and The Sims. All of these are extremely easy to play and enjoy but you can spend hours pruning your creations into works of art that may only satisfy an audience of one – you.

When I started playing The Sims my goal was to make a beautiful house that was easy to walk around in and look at. It had to be cool and stylish but also serve the purpose of my little Sim people. Along the same lines we find Minecraft, which requires you build your own world with shelters, bridges and other structures…all self-apposed for the most part, but again, I spent time looking at how to construct things to be efficient while also easy on the eyes. These titles obviously have common game elements but that’s not where most of the fun lies.

Looks simple, challenges hard.
Looks simple, challenges hard.

The fun in digging

The game I’m playing now, Miner Dig Deep, is an Xbox Indie game that serves the same purpose as all of these others. Yes, there’s an end goal but the fun and challenge lies in your planning and execution. Miner Dig Deep may not look like much but once you start playing you might find yourself playing non-stop for hours  like I did. The grind is pretty straight forward: you dig trying to find precious gems to sell. And as you would expect, you use that money to upgrade your tools and so on. Before too long I found myself thinking about the best and most efficient way to dig tunnels and add elevators. Then as I got deeper into the game (literally) I became disgusted by the tunnels I dug  when I started and was learning the game. They were ugly, unorganized and made no sense. They were a logistical nightmare that I was ashamed to have to deal with. It was as if I had put a school next to the jail in SimCity. Technically it would work but it just didn’t look or feel correct. I then made a mental note that when I started a new game in the future I would address these issues, finally having a system of tunnels I could be proud of.

Simple to start, complex to finish

The one thing all these games have in common besides their brain challenges is their low barrier of entry. They’re all easy to pick up. They don’t require thick manuals or require you micromanage if you don’t want to. The complexity (and fun) in these games is all self-apposed…and that’s what makes them great. They’re only as a difficult as you make them. The only way games like these can fail is if they don’t provide you with enough to serve your sense of organization and order. These flaws are usually visual (it doesn’t have the color I want, or I wish I could put that there) and often get corrected in the next versions, and I hope Miner Dig Deep gets a sequel. I have this urge to want to label things in my deep, complex mine. All I want is a sign post or something to denote where things are so I can navigate better. These little things are not necessary, but it’s the details that will ultimately keep you playing a game.

Maybe it’s just me with all of this thinking. Maybe I’m the only one that cares about how pretty my city looks and how efficient my mine shafts are. No matter, though, as long as games like Miner Dig Deep follow the formula that games like SimCity created long ago, we will always be able to enjoy games that challenge our sense of order and style.

4 Comments

  1. Will Will February 23, 2011

    I enjoy these kinds of games. I remember a few times where I’ve blinked while playing SimCity 4 or The Sims and 8 hours had gone by. I made the mistake of buying Civ IV on sale from Steam last week. Probably going to lose a day in the near future.

  2. SergeDavid SergeDavid March 11, 2011

    I always ended up failing horribly when playing The Sims 2, not sure why but I blame the tv, they always want to watch it instead of eat or sleep.

  3. Chris Chris March 31, 2011

    I remember going to the Gehrisch’s basement and spending a lot of time playing Sim City. I spent many hours in that basement, and consider those my “formative years” as far as computing is concerned!

  4. Brian Brian Post author | April 1, 2011

    Too many of us spent way too much time in G’s basement. That house is responsible for a lot my love for gaming and computers. They had all the toys before the rest of us.

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