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Desert Island Games – Episode 1 part 1

Welcome to the first edition of the new Desert Island Games series. This series was initially inspired by a combination of the famous BBC radio 4 show, Desert Island Discs and a section that was in the Digital Cowboys podcast several years. I’d been considering something like this for a while and then I stumbled across the very excellent Final Games podcast by Liam Edwards (which I would recommend everyone listens to). Liam’s format works very well on a podcast and I wondered whether something similar could work as an article.

Each episode will take a member of the GR community and strand them on a desert island forever more. But I’m not completely heartless so they’ll be able to take along their favourite 8 games to play for the rest of their days. There are a couple of rules in place though, any game with an online component is fine but any kind of voice or text chat is banned (we can’t have you calling out for help). Also, availability of DLC is completely at my own whim.

So who is the first (un)lucky fella to take the long journey to isolation? They’ve been a member of GRcade since the very start, back in 2008, having jumped ship from the old home at Future. Aside from gaming, it looks like they’re GRs unofficial NFL cheerleader. This episode’s contributor is Rax.

So Rax, what was your thinking behind the choices? Was it picking games that would last a long time or be replayable or was it games that you just couldn’t bear to be without? Or a mix of both?
Initially, I focused more on the games I love to play and had the fondest memories of so I had games like Ocarina of Time and Halo on the list but, while I love those games, I realised that I wouldn’t want to play them forever. They’re great games and I do enjoy going back to them from time to time but they have a defined start and end with not a huge amount to do once the story is over. If I’m going to be on a desert island, I want to be able to play for hours and hours at a time.

That’s when I looked at the genres of games, I wanted a good range of games because I like to jump around, I can’t go from shooter to shooter, I need that variety in my games. So I started to add games from different genres, including games I don’t play that often anymore and in the end, I think I got a pretty good range on there. I didn’t want to double up on a genre of game and while I do have 2 very similar management sims on there, to me they’re very different games and I love them both for different reasons and I kept them both on the list. Everything on the list is a unique thing that gives me a different kind of experience than the other games.

I also tried to get a range of complexities on the list, I didn’t want everything to be a big world with loads of systems to interact with, sometimes a simple game to unwind with is all I want. For this reason, I originally had mobile games on the list, Threes and BigBigBig 2 (it’s a kind of Chinese poker game) were both on the list at one stage but they both scratch the same itch. Then I realised that something else scratched that itch way better so both of them could go.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the list.

Game 1 on the list is the business sim which has players attempting to become a virtual Richard Branson. It’s an open source remake of the incredibly engaging Chris Sawyer game, Transport Tycoon Deluxe which was originally released back in 1995. This was a pseudo-sequel to the 1994 original Transport Tycoon. So Rax’s first choice is OpenTTD and if you’ve an interest then you can play it now for absolutely no pence!

Did you play the original Transport Tycoon?
I didn’t play the original release, I got on board with Transport Tycoon Deluxe (TTD) which was like a GOTY edition released a year or so later, but I was late to that party too. Back then there was nowhere in my town to buy games, I used to save up and go on a trip to Cork City to pick up the last few months releases. Along with the games I planned to get I’d pick up the odd impulse buy, TTD was one of these. I had played and loved Rollercoaster Tycoon and I was mad for some more Tycoon goodness, when I saw TTD had Chris Sawyers name on the box I had to get it.

But I was disappointed, I didn’t actually like it at first, I had no idea what I was supposed to do so I was on the verge of dumping it and never playing it again when I decided to actually give the included tutorial levels a go. They did a great job of explaining things and I was able to actually play the game properly. From there I fell in love with it, there’s a certain charm to Sawyer’s Tycoon games that really resonates with me for some reason and I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d play it obsessively for a week or two and then forget about it for months before going back to the obsession again later.

A few years back I came across OpenTTD, which started as an unofficial expansion for TTD but is now it’s own a self-contained game available for free. It’s made some major improvements to TTD, from nerdy stuff like adding better train signals and better routeing to things like allowing bigger maps, long bridges and different AI settings. I still play it as regularly as I used to, obsess over it for a week or two, leave it for months and come right back, usually picking up where I left off. I can’t really explain the appeal of it, I just love the mechanics of the game, connect up a transport route, make it more efficient, upgrade it, integrate to your wider network, expand it, it’s not heart pounding stuff but it’s the kind of game you can lose hours to, “I’ll just improve this next section of track then I’ll go to bed”.

My problem with TTD (and probably by extension OpenTTD and probably one of your later choices) is I get my business to a certain level and then just get bored, give up and start again, is that something you find yourself doing or are you constantly adding to the same save file?
A little bit of both really, I sometimes want the challenge of starting from scratch and seeing a new map but other times I want to have a pile of cash to try and improve my network. For this reason I have multiple save files on the go, sometimes I’ll add to an existing empire, sometimes I’ll be the small fry and start from scratch.

One thing that I do in every game is focus on trains, they’re the deepest and most interesting part of the game. They’re also the part that needs the most optimisation and upgrading, just when I get bored of having diesel trains I can use electric, then monorail and finally maglev. Sometimes I’ll skip the middle 2 phases and do one huge conversion job as soon as maglev arrives, doing it that way gives me a few in-game years of upgrade work to do and once that is done I’m itching to expand and optimise again.

I will admit to reading up on how to optimise the track layout in different situations, it’s magnificently nerdy I know, but getting every little bit of efficiency out of a virtual train network is a weirdly entertaining thing for me. The satisfaction of reconfiguring your stations and track layout to prevent trains having to wait to enter a station is a real guilty pleasure of mine.

I also try out the other tile sets from time to time, temperate is the original and definitely the best but I know where everything needs to go there so I don’t need to actually put much thought into how the industries fit together. A new tileset changes all that so while it’s still trains and cargo and things, where everything goes and the value of each is all changed so strategies need adjusting and I can’t just use the same early game strategy I always use. Toyland will always be shit though. :P

Much like another of my choices it has scope for foul play if you are willing to put the effort in. Park trains across roads your competitors use to slow them down, snake a train over and back the road to destroy his buses, bribe a town council to let you bulldoze the town and replace it with train tracks. I don’t do it that often but if I have the cash and have taken a dislike to a particular opponent then I’ll do what I feel needs to be done!

Originally created and designed by Swedish game designer Markus “Notch” Persson, and later fully developed and published by the studio he co-founded, Mojang. Mojang was subsequently acquired by Microsoft for $2.5 billion. Released on just about every platform under the sun and having sold an estimated 120 million copies, it’s the digital lego box known as Minecraft.

The whole minecraft thing seems to have passed me by but having seen my kids get addicted then I can easily understand the attraction. Is there a particular aspect of it that keeps you playing?
I think it’s the freedom of the whole thing that I love, it’s really only bounded by your own imagination. I dread to think how many hours I’ve actually put into it, I have a number of copies of the game and multiple worlds on each, I have a main one that I’ve been working on for years but lately I find myself preferring to play new worlds rather than adding to existing ones.

I wasn’t sure I would like it at first, everyone on here had been raving about it for ages but I was hesitant, I didn’t jump in until it got its official 1.0 release but I loved it. Looking back I’m actually not sure how I did fall in love with it as my first world was terrible, it spawned me in a desert so I had no wood and nothing to do, I had to pick a direction and walk until I found somewhere interesting. The lure of the unknown was a big deal in the early days, not knowing what I would find the other side of the mountain or a little deeper in the cave was pretty exciting. I think knowing that others loved it so much kept me going in that first world to try and get a handle on how things worked.

These days I don’t go in so much for the exploration stuff, I’ve “beaten” the game and seen all the stuff there is to see really, now when I play I play to build, or to survive. I’ll either set it to creative and make some crazy stuff or set it to survival hard mode and see how long I can survive without dying, the fact I can do both and get so much joy out of them both is one of the great appeals of the game to me.

What about other similar games such as Dragon Quest Builders or Terraria? Do they have the same hook with you?
I tried Terraria but it just didn’t click with me, I think part of that was that it felt like a Minecraft ripoff to me. I know since then it has grown and is now very much it’s own thing but the controls didn’t feel right and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was playing the inferior product. Maybe I should give it another go some day but for now I’m happy to stick with Minecraft.

Dragon Quest Builders is something I’ve been interested in trying but I don’t have the time right now, I’ve had my finger hovering over the buy button more than once but I know deep down I won’t have the time for it. I did dismiss it when I first heard about it but the reaction to it had been positive and it sounds like it brings something new to the table instead of just trying to be like Minecraft. If I do ever run out of things to play it will be near the top of the list for me.

I’ve also tried Lego Worlds, it seems perfect, Lego and Minecraft in one, but again the controls just aren’t right. I do still have Lego Worlds installed on my PC though and I will give it a proper try soon, I really want to like it and I don’t want to be turned away by a negative first impression, especially with something like controls which can just take some getting used to.

Some excellent choices by Rax in part one with a real emphasis on games that are open ended with masses of content. Will the rest of his list continue this trend?

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