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Games for Non-Gamers

a guide for the rest of us

The "gamer" subculture on the Internet can seem pretty intimidating to those on the outside. It seems that, in order to play video games these days, you must have the latest and greatest hardware, buy new games on a weekly basis, and devote half of your life to playing. The rest of us are stuck with Solitaire and Minesweeper until the end of time...or are they?

This list is dedicated to those of us who want to have a little fun with their computer, without the hassles involved in the gaming scene. These games are easy to learn and easy to play, and you won't break the bank trying to get them running on your computer. In fact, many of the games themselves are completely free!

If you know of a game that you think belongs on this list, email me with a brief description of the game and a URL where it can be downloaded. If I think it's a good game (and if it works on my computer), I'll review it on this site and give you credit for finding it.

Disclaimers
I don't own the copyright on any of these games. Unless otherwise noted, copyright belongs to the individual or company listed below the game's name. No copyright infringement is intended.

Opinions expressed on this page are solely my own, and do not represent those of the game manufacturers or anyone else. If you disagree with any of my evaluations, make your own dang web page.

NEW!
Cave Story
3 in Three
Cave Story
Fish Fillets
Gish
Glider
Head over Heels
Myst series
Oxyd series
Rocks'n'Diamonds
Snood
Tranquility
Zep's Dreamland

3 in Three
Cliff Johnson
Freeware
Mac only

A freak power surge has caused a number 3 to become lost inside of your computer. You must solve a series of word, number, and logic puzzles to repair the system and get the 3 back to the spreadsheet where it belongs. The puzzles include crosswords, anagrams, sliding-block puzzles, "lights-out" style press-the-buttons puzzles, and many more.

In between the puzzles are charming cinematics in which the 3 interacts with various other letters, numbers, and typographic symbols. This is where the real charm of the game lies. Despite being a mere ASCII character, the 3 is a smart, sassy, independent woman who takes no crap from anyone, especially not that wise-acre on the other side of the screen. On top of all that, the game is amazingly stable; my dad first bought 3 in Three for our original-run Macintosh, and it still runs like a dream in the Classic layer of OS X!

3 in Three is just one of several "storytelling metapuzzles" made by Mr. Johnson in the mid-80s. All of his old games are available for download or purchase on his website, and a brand-spanking-new game called "The Fool and His Money" is due out in the near future.

Download 3 in Three
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Cave Story (Doukutsu Monogatari)
Studio Pixel (English translation by ATGP)
Freeware
Mac, PC

"Sue? You there? It's me, Kazuma! I managed to get away somehow, but I've gotten lost... I've found a shelter, but there's nothing here. If you can hear me, please answer! ...Please?"

Upon hearing that enigmatic distress signal, your character awakens in a tiny chamber with a single door and a save point. Outside that door is a cavern through which you must travel to acquire a weapon, and from there...ah, but that would be telling. Suffice it to say that Cave Story is a rambling epic in which half the fun is finding out who you are, where you are, why you're there, and what it is you need to do to save the people you meet along the way. Whatever it is, you can be sure it'll take a fast trigger finger and a willingness to explore every nook and cranny of the game's expansive environments.

There is, however, one major flaw in Cave Story: you only get one slot for saved games. If you want to try out the different paths you can take through the story, you basically have to start over from the beginning each time.

Download Cave Story & English Translation Patch
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Fish Fillets
ALTAR Interactive / Ivo Danihelka et al
Freeware
Mac, PC, Linux, FreeBSD

He's a shark. She's a goldfish. They're secret agents on a mission to save the reef. It sounds like the premise of a Pixar movie, but actually it's the backstory of a very peculiar puzzle game.

In every level of Fish Fillets, your goal is the same: get both fish off the screen. You accomplish this by controlling one fish at a time in order to push, lift, and re-arrange various objects on the screen, thus (hopefully) clearing a path to the exit. Push an object into the wrong place and you're stuck; drop an object on your partner and s/he dies. Either way, expect to restart the level many times before you get it right.

What keeps Fish Fillets interesting is the variety of different objects and environments you encounter. The game's seventy levels include a glittering coral reef filled with pearls and gems; a sunken longboat crewed by singing Vikings; schools of fish which wriggle and squeal as they are pushed around; and even a surprisingly difficult game of Tetris. The two fish provide a running commentary in slightly stilted English (the dialogue was originally written in Czech), which adds to the homespun charm of the game.

Download the original Fish Fillets (for Windows)
Download Fish Fillets NG (Linux/FreeBSD/OSX port)
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Gish
Chronic Logic
Commercial software, $20
Mac, PC, Linux

In Gish, you take on the role of a sentient tarball (no, really) whose girlfriend has been kidnapped. (Don't ask me how a blob of tar ended up with a significant other.) In order to rescue her, you must work your way through a complicated maze of sewers filled with deadly traps, with only an occasional arrow to point you in the right direction. Being made of tar, you can alter your shape and stickiness to cling to walls, squeeze through narrow openings, or squash the occasional bad guy.

The game's makers claim that Gish's movement is based on the physics of actual tar. I can't vouch for that, since I've never worked with tar myself, but Gish is certainly a fascinating--even mesmerizing--ball of goo. It takes a few minutes to get the hang of moving him around, but it's hard to get bored with it since it's such an unusual conceit. Add a cool pseudo-Goth-cartoon aesthetic and a hip soundtrack (when was the last time you heard acid jazz in a video game?), and you've got the most fun you can have with tar without making your clothes smell like asphalt.

Download demo or purchase Gish
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Glider
John Calhoun
Abandonware
Mac, PC (the PC version is out of date, however)

This is another game that's been around since the mid-1980s. I played the first version of Glider on the original Macintosh, and rediscovered it, some fifteen years later, when I was using OS 9. Now that the original distributor, Casady & Greene, has gone under, John Calhoun has released Glider as freeware.

In Glider, you take on the role of a paper airplane exploring a house. Being a glider, you don't have any real propulsion system, so you rely on air vents for lift (hot air rises, remember). Being made of paper, you are fragile, and liable to lose a life if you touch anything. There are a lot of obstacles in your path, ranging from walls and furniture to dripping faucets to leaping goldfish. And if that wasn't enough, there are dozens of "houses" available to download and explore, plus the tools to make your own.

Download Glider
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Head over Heels
Retrospec
Freeware
Mac, PC, Linux

In case you couldn't tell by now, I have something of a fondness for "old-school" games. This is yet another one. It was originally published for the Sinclair Spectrum in 1987, and belongs to a forgotten genre known as the isometric adventure game.

In the game, you play two different characters: Head, who moves slowly but can jump very high, and Heels, who can't jump as high but is super fast. Initially, the two characters are shut up in separate prison cells, but by navigating through a series of rooms you can release them, and combine them together to create Head over Heels, a symbiotic organism with the best traits of both Head and Heels. From there you must maneuver through a complicated 3D maze of rooms, avoiding enemies and environmental hazards, in order to collect 5 different crowns in 5 different worlds.

Download Head over Heels
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Myst series (Myst, Riven, Exile, Uru, Revelation, End of Ages)
Cyan, Broderbund, UbiSoft
Commercial software, $20 - $40 each
Platforms vary from game to game

This...this is the game. The game that changed all the rules. No controls to memorize, no bad guys to fight, no points to score--not even a goal to be met, or so it appears. There's just you, your mouse, and an alien world waiting to be discovered.

The original Myst is still one of the best-selling computer games of all time--second only to The Sims. Many game makers have tried to imitate it, but no one has ever managed to recapture the haunting, dreamlike atmosphere of Myst and its sequels. You will get sucked in. You will look up at some point and realize you've been playing for 6 hours. You'll have dreams, and occasionally nightmares, about the possible outcomes of the game. It's that good.

Unfortunately, the newer games in the series have some pretty heavy system requirements, which limits their playability for some people. However, Myst and Riven are still out there waiting to suck in more and more non-gamers.

Purchase games from the Myst series
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Oxyd, per.Oxyd, and Enigma
Dongleware / Daniel Heck
Abandonware / Freeware
Mac, PC, Linux

In Oxyd (pronounced "oxide," as in "carbon dioxide"), you use your mouse to control a black marble. Your goal is to open up little blocks with colored lights inside of them, called oxyds. If you open two of the same color, they stay open. Opening all the oxyds at once sends you to the next level. Of course, there are a lot of obstacles between you and the oxyds--things like locked doors, giant mazes, bottomless pits, and marble-seeking nasties. Navigating the levels requires a steady mouse hand, a good head for puzzles, and a LOT of patience.

Originally, Oxyd and its sequel Per.Oxyd (get it?) were released as shareware, and only the first ten levels could be played without purchasing a license. However, with Dongleware out of business, the only way to get the full version is to download hacked files from the Web. If quasi-legal software doesn't float your boat, try Enigma, a freeware clone of Oxyd with lots of new levels.

Download Enigma
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Rocks'n'Diamonds
ArtSoft Entertainment
Freeware
Mac, PC, Linux, Unix, and many more

Rocks'n'Diamonds is yet another old game--a group of similar games, actually--given new life through a port to modern systems. The object of the game is to collect jewels strewn throughout a 2-dimensional cave, then get to the exit. Obstacles include boulders which will drop to block paths (or squash you flat), various roving creatures which will eat the gems and/or the player, collapsible walls which must be destroyed with dynamite, and many more oddities that won't fit in this space. Fortunately, the game includes an extensive tutorial which introduces you to new enemies level-by-level. And there are a LOT of levels: more than 400 included with the game, and thousands of fan-created levels available for download. With that much to choose from, you aren't likely to get bored with Rocks'n'Diamonds anytime soon.

Download Rocks'n'Diamonds
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Snood
David M. Dobson
Shareware, $15 registration fee
Mac, PC, Palm

There are a bunch of Snoods (colorful monster faces) at the top of the screen. You use your mouse to aim a gun which shoots more Snoods upward. Get 3 or more of the same type of Snood together, and they disappear. That's it. Incredibly simple and inexplicably addictive.

There are a lot of games out there with a similar premise (including the old arcade classic Bust-A-Move), but Snood gets props for sheer goofiness. The interface includes colorful, endearingly childlike graphics. The Snoods periodically make faces at you. The sound effects are...sproingy. Even the "I'm shareware, register me" screen is cute. Snood also includes a feature that I think every computer game should have: a "Just One More Game" command, which automatically quits the program when the game is over. Anyone who's ever found themselves playing Solitaire for hours on end will appreciate this.

Download Snood
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Tranquility
TQworld
Shareware, $10 membership fee
Mac, PC

You find yourself floating in space, surrounded by stars. Below you lies a square floor suspended in space, and above it, layer upon layer of cascading, swirling shapes of all the colors of the rainbow. Your goal is to find one particular shape, called the "spinner," and touch it to proceed on to the next landscape of abstract polygons. That's Tranquility.

The landscapes are generated randomly based on a set of algorithms and beamed to your computer from the TQWorld server. Even the minimalist New Age-y music is randomly generated, and the sounds the shapes make when you touch them are tuned to match. The constant motion takes some getting used to--if you're prone to motion sickness you should probably avoid this game altogether--but the simple joy of drifting through abstract space is well worth it.

Download Tranquility
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Zep's Dreamland
LoomSoft
Freeware
Mac, PC

Another brand-new game with an old-school flavor. Zep (that's the little aqua-colored dude over there) is trapped in his own Nintendo-esque dream, and you must guide him home by building blocks to carry him across, over, and around various obstacles. Different types of blocks do different things, and there are places where you can't build certain types, or any at all. Navigating the levels is a lot harder than it looks--you'll frequently wind up in a dead end of your own construction. Fortunately, you can save your game and restart levels as many times as necessary. There's even a level editor in case you actually manage to solve everything.

Download Zep's Dreamland
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