Best of 2013: The Game That Ate Christmas

First Published: January 15, 2013
Voted For By: Ed
Reason(s) for Vote:
Lorna’s plight is one I can easily sympathise with, as I’m forever trying to make my way through my pile of shame, only to be held up by getting obsessed with something else for a while and then drop it further down the line. Hell, the temptation to pack in the latest AAA fare for another jaunt around Monkey Island is one that calls to me on a regular basis, and I even found myself making my way through the Ace Attorney series from scratch despite having hundreds more pressing things to be doing, so this is an article that speaks to me in a way that few others do. Also, it’d be a great time to plug her absolute masterpiece of a book, which is probably the best comedy book I’ve read since I first finished The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy twelve or so years ago.


If I had to steal a nursery rhyme to describe my gaming habits, it would be Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary. While other gamers are playing with the latest shiny baubles from behemoth publishers, there I am, sat in the corner, bathed in the glow of games long since shunned or forgotten. By the time everyone had given Alan Wake a cursory glance and moved on, I was still treading the pathways through mills, mines, and the sinister pines of Elderwood Forest, my rusty brain cogs click-clicking over the plot and possibilities, over the theories that arose from the story and characters, slowly building my latest obsession.

When everyone else was charging around in Red Dead Redemption, shoving sticks of dynamite up one another’s arses, or whatever it is you do in multiplayer, I was idly poodling around the White Mountains in Burnout Paradise, listening to Beethoven. When the new Truly Honestly Ultra Super Mario Bros. 3000 Kart was released for the 3DSXXL38DD, I was shouting at the sadistic shipwreck-em-up and teenage death simulator that is Lost In Blue 2.

Call it behind the times, hopelessly lost, or simply contrary, it has never bothered me. When I find a game I like, with replayability (at least, as suits me), I stick to it. This, I suspect, is the body of the problem. On the Speccy it was endless rounds of Skool Daze, Jack the Nipper, and Chuckie Egg, alongside semi-regulars like Back 2 Skool, Firelord, and Feud, to name but a few. On the Amiga, the centre of my universe lay in the arms of The Settlers, Colonization, and Worms. Latterly, on the PC, it was Commandos and Dungeon Keeper. Perhaps I’m just set in my ways. When I find a gem that truly captivates me, I want to spend forever playing with it, admiring all those tiny facets and odd quirks. This leaves me little time for anything else and pretty much ensures that my to-play pile could reach Cydonia and back. Speaking of which, the original XCOM (UFO: Enemy Unknown) still occupies my time, even now that the new one has been on release (untouched by me, I shouldn’t need to add) for some time.

This Christmas underlined this contrary trend. It even added a fancy typeface and bolded it for good measure. While I was full of plans to play ‘new stuff’ i.e. 2007′s BioShock, 2009′s Assassin’s Creed II, and the five-plus year old Mass Effect, I ended up playing… yes, Colonization, published by MicroProse in 1994. No, not the old/newish Civilization 4: Colonization. The old one. The one that was released way back on the Amiga (mayitrestinpeace). The one that has long been jostling for top place on the podium of games that have devoured more of my time than any others. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t do it to deliberately be different – I’m not that attention seeking type of neurotic personality who has cultivated ways in which to appear different and cool. I wasn’t doing it protest at the year’s releases, or as a middle finger to unfavourable publishers, the coalition, DRM, or dolphin-unfriendly tuna. I wanted to. I needed to.

Through the years the game has existed on one hard drive or other, the disc working – in spite of the odds – on most OS that I have had. To save the faff of installing it on my laptop – something that I have neglected to do up until this point – I opted to spend a new notes buying it from retro-heaven And then it ate my Christmas.

When I had a million other things to do this holiday, that I desperately wanted to have checked off my ‘Must Do’ list, from writing to more writing, to ploughing through a stack of books I’ve been meaning to read for a while, it was folly to start it. Although nostalgia is always a powerful factor in the desire to play old games, the fact that it was such a good one is important and the thought of a ‘quick game’ was more than enough for me to have thrown caution to the wind.

I loaded up, picked from one of four nations – yes, no matter how crap the English advantage is, do you really think I would have picked French? – and set sail for the New World, with the intent to build a kick-arse network of colonies, nurture a solid economic infrastructure, raise a suitable army and stick two fingers up to the tax-raising dandified money-grubbing King, eventually declaring independence and fighting for the body, heart, and soul of the New World.

Days, even weeks, later, I was still tinkering around, steadily looting sacred indian burial grounds, paving over the countryside like I was Jeremy Clarkson at the wheel of a cement mixer, and denying knowledge of the privateers, which were preying on other nations’ shipping. Take that, Johnny Foreigner, don’t mind if I do help myself to this handsome cargo of… 17 units of furs… are you shitting me? Do you know how much this ship cost?! If it was my ship, of course, which it totally isn’t. But we’re still on for you pitching in and helping when I declare independence against the King, aren’t we? Great. Suckers.

Of course, the game dragged on for various reasons. I could have declared independence days earlier than I did, but I have a private goal that has driven my obsession over the years. You see, you win the game when the Crown surrenders and cedes the New World to you. However, you then get scored. Not in the obnoxious C&VG way, but as a percentage out of 100. Back on the Amiga, when I would ‘accidentally’ use the Charlotte cheat to gain tons of free cash, I would regularly max out my units and the cash counter and get scores well over 100%. So it is possible. However, it then became my goal to do this legitimately on the PC. No cheating. The fact that the Charlotte cheat didn’t work on the PC platform had nothing to do with it (there is actually a cheat panel that can be accessed, but in the spirit of self-challenge and purity, I have forsaken it). Not only was it my goal to get 100% or more, but to do that on every difficulty level, of which there are five.

To date, I haven’t even managed this on the easiest setting of Discoverer. I came close a few years ago, with an eyewateringly close 98%, but no cigar. This Christmas, as I settled down for a ‘quick game’ (as ridiculous as a recovering alcoholic having a ‘small drink’), I told myself this would be it. This would be the time that I knocked the 100% goal out of the park and into the cup of a small man sitting in a café in Soho. So, not long before the bells rang in the new year, I won the battle of independence and prepared to be judged. 66%. Fuck you. Just… what the hell? My whole Christmas, the precious moments of spare time that I could scrape together between eating and sleeping, or while The Kid was sleeping or shredding the TV guide, had been for nothing.

Have I learned my lesson and given up? Nope. I’m still chasing that elusive goal of five one hundred (or more) percent scores. So, the monster will return. I don’t know when, but this time, having polished off Christmas, it will likely be looking to devour weekends, evenings, days off and maybe Easter, too. I can’t pacify it with a packet of Chewits or reason with it, I can either ignore it or give in while my other important pursuits wilt on the sidelines, giving me a nasty case of guilt-fed indigestion. Perhaps that’s the solution then, the magic sword, the Avada Kedavra, the Royal Flush. Send a thief to catch a thief and an even bigger monster to slay a big monster. And there are few bigger monsters than guilt.

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