Video games, unlike other forms of creative arts, have a bit of a preservation problem. While you can listen to symphony, watch a play or look at a painting today and the experience is, if not exactly the same as when the work was first revealed, certainly pretty similar and authentic. Due to video games’ reliance on technology, though, it’s a bit harder to experience things as originally intended — and the outright disappearance of some games means that sometimes it’s worth contemplating your “lost gamer” score.
Early in June of 2022, video game historian Chris Chapman posed this question to Twitter, following a number of recent similar informal “surveys” on gaming that had been posted by other retro enthusiasts over the prior few days. Give it a go for yourself! Here’s the full list — give yourself one point for each game on the list that you’ve played, and bear in mind that none of these are officially available for purchase anywhere any more, even though some are still possible to actually play via various means.
I was actually quite surprised how low my own lost gamer score was, given that my own tastes tend to favour more obscure games — but then it occurred to me that my own tastes also tend to favour single-player games that don’t have an inherent “expiry date” on them other than the hardware on which to run them not being so readily available any more. And that’s by no means an insurmountable problem thanks to the number of retro rereleases we get today — plus specialist platforms such as the Evercade and, if you’re willing to dive into slightly murkier waters, emulation.
Here’s the makeup of my final lost gamer score of 26, if you were curious:
For the most part, it wasn’t a surprise that any of the entries on my lost gamer score list were dead — though it’s worth noting Chapman later clarified that it’s Puzzle Quest 2 you can’t get any more, not the first one — but that doesn’t stop it being immensely disappointing in more than a few cases, particularly when the games in question were single-player with no online component.
So I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk a bit about a few of them today. Be sure to share some of your own stories down in the comments, too — it’d be great to hear some memories of these departed titles!
1 vs 100
The first one from my lost gamer score list I want to talk about was one of the most interesting things that Microsoft ever did: a massively multiplayer online quiz show that ran on a schedule like a TV show, and which allowed both the main players of the game and those who were technically “in the audience” to participate and have a great time. Because of its online nature and complete lack of single-player component, 1 vs. 100 was only ever going to be available for as long as Microsoft and the game’s production team continued to run it as a service.
1 vs 100 was an adaptation of the TV show of the same name, but the Xbox Live adaptation for Xbox 360 developed very much into its own thing. There were two main ways to play: live shows where players could win Microsoft Points (the virtual currency used to purchase games and DLC on Xbox Live at the time) or downloadable games from the Xbox Live Arcade lineup; and “extended play” shows, which were just for fun, but in which success would make you more likely to be picked as one of the main participants for the live shows.
The format is simple. A single player — “The One” — competes against a “Mob” of 100 people, plus a “Crowd” of unlimited size. Multiple-choice questions are posed to everyone at the same time, and if The One gets it right, everyone from The Mob who got it wrong is eliminated, with the prize increasing as more Mob members are eliminated. Conversely, if The One gets it wrong, the winnings are split among The Mob.
In practice, it was little different to previous digital adaptations of TV game shows — but the online, social aspect made this kind of remarkable. It’s a game where my friends and I would regularly jump on to play together, and being able to trash-talk through private voice chat while competing both against each other and the other participants really added to the experience.
Towards the end of last year, rumours started circulating that Microsoft is considering resurrecting 1 vs. 100 in some form or another, but we’ve heard absolutely nothing that suggests this is actually happening as yet.
After Burner Climax
This is one of those games whose absence is easily explained, but no less frustrating: it’s “lost gamer” status is simply down to licensing. Since the game made use of the real-life F-14 Tomcat, F/A-18 Hornet and F-15 Strike Eagle aircraft, it would only ever be available until Sega’s licenses with the aircraft’s manufacturers expired — and since it was a digital-only game, that means when that license expired, there would be no physical copies out there in the wild to pick up second-hand, either.
What’s doubly frustrating about this is that had After Burner Climax released a few years later, doubtless it could have jumped on the limited-press physical print run train and got some archivable physical copies out there into the wild so that the game could continue to “exist” after it had been digitally delisted. Sadly, the only copies that remain now are those which are still downloaded to ageing console hard drives — and those which have been ripped from said hard drives and “preserved” by, shall we say, resourceful individuals.
After Burner Climax was a great game. It took the somewhat chaotic gameplay of the original arcade classic and brought it right up to date with more interesting mechanics, gorgeous graphics and the sense of fun that old-school Sega had always been known for. Given the resurgence in classic arcade-style gameplay in recent years, After Burner Climax would fit right in to today’s gaming landscape — but without Sega being willing to pay up for those aircraft licenses, we’re never going to see it again.
City of Heroes
City of Heroes is an interesting example in that it’s one of those formerly online-only games that is still being maintained by various fan groups today. That means despite it technically being dead and delisted — and thus worthy of inclusion on the lost gamer score list — there are still ways to play it. It can be complex to do so, though — and you can’t necessarily count on the experience being what it was back when it was being run “officially” via a single, centralised service.
I loved City of Heroes because, after trying and bouncing off numerous other relatively early MMOs, City of Heroes was the first to truly “click” with me. Its incredible (for the time) character creator allowed me to actually live out the fantasies of stories I’d had rattling around in my head for years, the way it was designed to scale to whether you were playing solo or in a party is something I wish more MMOs would do — and in its latter years, the ability to create your own missions provided some of the most fun I’ve ever had in a video game.
I’ve considered jumping back into the game via those fan servers on numerous occasions — but the reality is if I’m going to spend time with an MMO today, it’s going to be Final Fantasy XIV. I’ll always have my fond memories of City of Heroes, though — and if it was still available in a more official capacity today, my feelings may well be a bit different!
This one saddens me greatly, because for me Flight Control is symbolic of a truly lost age: a time when mobile phone gaming was not ruled by free-to-play and in-app purchases. It was a time when you could pay a couple of quid for a game and never have to pay anything else or watch any ads any time you wanted to enjoy it. It was a time when mobile games were just games rather than monetisation or advertising platforms — and dear Lord, I miss that time.
It helps that Flight Control was a great game that worked extremely well with the touchscreen of the iPhone, also. Rather than attempting to ape a console-style experience with clumsy virtual controls, all you had to do was draw lines on the screen with your finger. Simple, addictive, massively enjoyable — and sadly missed.
I doubt many people will remember this one, but I have quite vivid memories of it because at the time of its release, my job was writing about mobile and social games — and as the creation of Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of photo website Flickr and co-author of workplace messaging service Slack, Glitch was seen as a big deal in those circles.
For sure, it was an interesting idea: it was a non-violent, web-based, side-scrolling MMO that emphasised exploration, crafting and cooperation above all else. The intention behind it was to provide a virtual world where people worked together to make things and complete projects — the actual result was kind of boring, dull and directionless, but at least the intentions were good, and there’s probably an argument to be made for it laying the groundwork for other sandbox-style online games.
Unlike the other games on this list, I do not mourn the death of Mafia Wars. Rather, I curse its name, spit on its grave and salt the earth around it, because its inexplicable popularity is the source of many of today’s gaming woes — particularly in the mobile sector.
For the unfamiliar, Mafia Wars was ostensibly an “MMO” in which you ran your own crime gang. The gameplay consisted of tapping on menu options until your energy ran out or your experience meter filled up (which refilled your energy bar) — and that was pretty much it. It was an absolute travesty of a video game, and yet not only was it immensely popular for reasons that baffle me to this day, it spawned myriad clones from both eastern and western developers.
Indeed, many of today’s popular gacha titles can trace their origins back to Mafia Wars — early examples like Rage of Bahamut were pretty much just Mafia Wars reskins. While a lot of today’s titles do a good job of making it look like they have some actual gameplay beyond pressing a “consume energy, get experience” button, at heart they’re all the same shallow, repetitive, mindless grind — only now they have images of hot anime girls in them, so people spend astronomically stupid amounts of money on them because the boner is apparently stronger than the wallet.
Ahem. Sorry, got a bit carried away there. Anyway, fuck Mafia Wars.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars
Finally, one of the most recent entries on this list is probably the one most worthy of criticism. While Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a great package, featuring three all-time classic games in a single bundle, Nintendo taking the “Disney Vault” approach to the game by only making it available for a limited time is a little troubling, to say the least.
There’s no reasonable justification for them doing so, aside from attempting to create a sense of artificial scarcity and “fear of missing out” — which, let’s face it, is something Nintendo has done numerous times over the years. One would hope that the negative response to the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection would give them pause before trying this trick again — but somehow I suspect that the sales figures it likely garnered despite the criticism will make it look more like a worthwhile strategy than something that will piss off long-term fans.
And yes, I bought it.
There’s a lesson to be learned here: you can’t necessarily rely on your favourite games being around forever, so in many cases it’s worth experiencing them while you can, particularly if they have any sort of online component.
On top of that, this situation just highlights how the games sector as a whole really needs to step up when it comes to preservation — because while we’re doing pretty well with archiving classic home computer and console titles at this point, download-only games for consoles, browser-based experiences and mobile phone games are doubtless going to provide a bit of a challenge to overcome before we can truly say the history of our favourite medium is in safe hands.
So what’s your lost gamer score? Let us know down in the comments, or tell us more about your experiences on the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page!
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