Odd-gust: Weirdness in Games

Say hello to the month of Odd-gust! Bizarre games are par for the course as we take a look at some of the most off-the-wall ideas that have ever graced our screens.

10) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Apple II/MS-DOS 1984)

Oh, freddled gruntbuggly…

Grab your towel and try not to panic! If you thought games like Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island were hard, imagine trying to play a game where you can only use your words and all of the visuals are created solely by the images in your head. Text-based adventure games started players off by describing a scene, and then it is up to you to use various input commands like “look”, “go [direction]”, “inventory”, or “take [item]” to navigate your environment. With each new input, the game either progresses by describing the result of that action, or you are told that your move is not allowed.

In the early 80’s, Software company, Infocom, was brought on to develop a text-based adventure game of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Up until then, the Zork series was their best-known franchise. Hitchhiker’s author, Douglas Adams, worked alongside developer Steve Meretzky to create the project, and it was released in 1984. One quirky aspect about Infocom games is that they would often come packaged with real life objects to help enhance your gaming experience. For Hitchhiker, these “feelies,” as they were known, included objects like a “Don’t Panic!” button, a paper authorizing the destruction of Arthur Dent’s house, and a fictional brochure entitled “How Many Times Has This Happened to You?”

Gamers who were unfamiliar with the source material were prone to struggle with the more difficult puzzles as the plot, apart from a few select sections, literally followed the sequence of events from the story. When I tried this game awhile back having not read the book in years, I was unable to get past even the very first room to meet up with my friend Ford Prefect from Betelgeuse V for a drink at the local pub. The game has since been updated with a new hub to give players a better sense of their surroundings. If you want to give it a shot yourself, it can be played on BBC’s website here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/1g84m0sXpnNCv84GpN2PLZG/the-game-30th-anniversary-edition.

9) Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy (Mac/PC 2017)

If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning.

When an Australian game developer grew nostalgic for the limited, challenging video games that came to his country in his youth, he decided to make a game that, should you make one tiny mistake, would crush your soul into oblivion – just like the good old days. In Getting Over It, you control a man named Diogenes who utilizes a rock climbing hammer and, akin to his Greek counterpart, is eternally stuck inside a large metal pot. With the inability to use his legs, Diogenes must use his hammer to pull himself forward and climb a seemingly endless mountain of rocks and other obstacles in hopes of eventually reaching outer space itself. If you slip, you risk falling hopelessly back to the bottom of the mountain, forcing you to repeat the process all over again without the comfort of the checkpoints that we’ve grown accustomed to in contemporary gaming. All the while, Bennett Foddy, the game’s creator, fills the airwaves with philosophical advice as he provides a constant stream of narration during your trials and tribulations.

Foddy is no stranger to weird projects. He is also credited with creating QWOP, a game where you control the legs and limbs of a track runner with a keyboard using just the four letters in the game’s title. (Check out his website for more info on his wild creations: http://www.foddy.net/). If you’re looking for a challenge that almost certainly ends in tears, Getting Over It is for you!

8) The Manhole (Mac OS 1988)

Smaug loves retirement.

You enter the tower and a pig, who is dressed up in renaissance clothes, sporting an eyepatch, and holding a scepter, recites this poem to you:

Made with clams and moldy jelly,
Buy your tires from Pirelli.
They’re always best with French Vanilli.
It’s wet, so take your pink umbrelli.

The pig goes on to ask your thoughts. If you select the “thumbs up” (predating YouTube by decades), you can hear an applause. Then the pig tells you that “you can pass – only because you recognize my poetic genius.”

Later, you help an elephant navigate a tiny boat through watery tunnels. Then, a jive-talkin’ dragon in sunglasses welcomes you to his “cool pad” and accidentally burns a biscuit using his fiery breath. “Woah, baby, what a shame!” he exclaims.

The Manhole was the first game created by brothers Rand and Robyn Miller who would, just a few years later, go on to develop their wildly successful adventure puzzle game Myst. Gameplay between the two games are incredibly similar as they both feature point-and-click play to navigate your strange surroundings. When exploring The Manhole, you come across a book that lets you travel to a new destination when you touch an image shown on the right page. This game mechanic became the main inspiration for the story of Myst where the player travels to new worlds using books.

Take a look, it’s in a book.

As a kid, whenever I went to my friend’s house, I would always find an excuse to play The Manhole on their computer. No matter how many times I climbed a giant beanstalk, met a Walrus who talked like a pirate, or created stars in the sky, I never got tired of exploring its environment.

7) Uniracers (Super Nintendo 1994)

“Not cool enough.”

What if I told you that Pixar is the reason we now have a series of violent video games? Well, that’s only MOSTLY true! In 1995, Pixar sued the makers of Uniracers, DMA Design, for allegedly copying their unicycle design from their 1987 short film Red’s Dream. Despite the design team’s defense that there are literally only so many ways one can make an animated unicycle, the judge sided with Pixar. In a 2010 NintendoLife interview with Mike Dailly, the designer attested that the judge “should have looked at the game as a whole. If he had, then he would have noticed that the game was a completely different environment, and the ‘character’ of the unicycle just wasn’t the same.” Because of the ruling, Nintendo was forced to stop making cartridges of the game, and Uniracers was only able to sell 300,000 copies of their initial run. Two years later, DMA Design would release the first Grand Theft Auto game for the original Playstation. I really want to believe that the team was so upset by the lawsuit that they decided to take out their anger by stealing cars and and beating up pedestrians – virtually, of course.

As an aside, the same company that gave us Uniracers also gifted the world, just a few years earlier, with the cutesy, puzzle-platformer Lemmings. Now, I’m wondering when we will see a game where Lemmings ride unicycles to go on crime sprees.

6) Q*Bert (Arcade 1982)

@!#?@!

Have you ever been browsing an art museum and thought to yourself, “Gosh, that drawing would make an excellent video game!” Inspiration for Q*bert struck after Jeff Lee of the developer Gottlieb drew a picture that resembled an M.C. Escher piece. He then drew an armless, orange character who shot projectiles from a long snout. Together with Warren Davis, they worked to craft a quirky game, then under the title of Cubes, where the protagonist jumped from block to block defeating enemies with “mucus bombs.” Davis eventually removed the shooting mechanic to help simplify the controls as the 45° perspective was unique to arcade games at the time. When the Vice President of engineering, Ron Waxman, saw the project, he suggested that the tile colors changed after landing on them. And thus the primary objective for Q*bert was born.

Peace up, A-Town down. Yeah! Okay. (Escher, Escher, Escher).

Because of the “mucus bombs,” Lee originally wanted to name the game Snots and Boogers. That idea was rejected. For a time, the game was simply called “@!#?@!” named after the dialogue box of “swearing” that appears when the protagonist is defeated by an enemy. Again, the idea seemed impractical. Later, “Hubert” became a viable suggestion. Wanting to incorporate the “cubes” idea from the working title, “Hubert” became “Cubert,” then “Cubert” became “Q-bert,” and, finally, the hyphen was exchanged for an asterisk to give us the spelling that we have today. In a 2008 article of Retro Gamer, “The Making of Q*Bert” by Kim Wild, Warren Davis admitted that he wished they stuck with the hyphen because the asterisk “prevented the name from becoming a common crossword term and it is a wildcard character for search engines.”

Q*bert is still recognizable even today. He appeared in Walt Disney’s Wreck It Ralph in 2012, and he also played a part in the 2015 film Pixels featuring Adam Sandler and Kevin James. I’m sort of glad they went with the name change. I don’t think Hubert from Snots and Boogers would have been quite as iconic.

5) Baby Boomer (NES 1989)

Boomer will live!

One of the few Nintendo games that used the NES Zapper, Baby Boomer is like a weird cross between Lemmings and the whacky plot of Baby’s Day Out released in theaters a few years later. In the game, it is your job to protect Baby Boomer (yes, that’s his name) as he crawls carelessly forward unaware of the dangers that surround him. How do you protect him? Do you just walk over there and pick him up so you can bring him to safety? NO! You watch from afar and shoot at anything that approaches him! Additionally, you’re responsible for building bridges or freezing fire so the baby may continue forward. How do you build bridges? You fire at clouds so they can release snowflakes that create ice bridges below them. Obviously.

At first, stages are typical as you escort the child through a park, but the game takes a sudden dark turn when you’re blasting at ghouls while the baby navigates a graveyard. Other settings include caves and mines. Still pretty normal… until… the baby lands in HELL! No, it’s not just a typical fire stage like you see in other video games. It is actually Hell. Suddenly, you are Virgil and the baby is Dante – except this time you are shooting demons with a gun. When you succeed, the baby is transported to Heaven, and now you must prevent it from falling from the clouds. Eventually, it makes its way back to its mother only, in a WiLd twist, we learn that the baby doesn’t belong to this mother. *This* woman was looking for HUBERT – not Baby Boomer! Maybe she should check over at Snots and Boogers.

Stranger yet, Baby Boomer is one of the few unlicensed NES games that were developed for the system. It was made by one man, Jim Meuer, of Color Dreams who were known for their colored cartridges. In particular, Baby Boomer came in a light blue casing. Two years later, Colors Dreams became Wisdom Tree, Inc. which was an American developer that specialized in Christian video games (the very same company that brought us Bible Adventures!). One would think that using a gun to protect a baby as it traverses Heaven and Hell goes against their message….

However, there were two unfinished projects from the Color Dreams era that were totally in touch with this line of thinking. First, Hellraiser was a first person shooter that used the game engine from Wolfenstein 3D. The second game involved a character that was trapped inside a human corpse that must escape before being consumed by insects. It was aptly titled Maggots. Now that I think of it, these games might be perfect for 2020.

4) Katamari Damacy (PS2 2004)

Walkin’ Mr. Sunshine!

Whoops! The King of All Cosmos accidentally destroyed the stars and the moon! As the prince, you are tasked with rebuilding the universe by using an adhesive ball known as a katamari to roll up objects until it’s large enough to create a new star. At first, the ball is tiny and you may find yourself rolling up items like thumbtacks, matchsticks, and dice. But before you know it, you’re picking up small fruit, then animals, then trees, then people, then cars, then buildings…. and so on and so on until you can eventually pluck ships from the ocean and clouds from the sky. I was amazed at the scope of this game. Every time my katamari (which literally means “clump”) grew larger, I’d think that there’s no way it could possibly get any bigger. Then the game would zoom out even further and take me completely by surprise. I found myself wanting to replay levels again and again to see if there was a limit to the size of my clump. I think, at one point, my katamari was so large that I could easily roll across the entire Earth in seconds while catching stray asteroids that flew by me.

Keita Takahashi, the game’s creator, originally had much different plans for his characters. Initially calling his idea Action Drive, Takahashi wanted a plot where the Prince, at the behest of the King, sought to rescue the Queen who was kidnapped by agents on Earth. To accomplish this goal, the Prince would use his hammer-shaped head to strike humans. While they were fazed, the Prince would then attach a steering wheel to the back of their head so he could drive them around their environments. A driving game, Crazy Taxi, was actually the inspiration for this type of gameplay. Action Drive, however, was cancelled. Searching for new ideas, he turned to a Japanese school game called Tamakorogashi which has the objective of pushing a large ball into a goal. With the help of students from the Namco Digital Hollywood Program, Takahashi revived his royal characters and began work on what would eventually become Katamari Damacy. I am thankful we got the game we did and not some weird B-movie plot where steering wheels are jammed into the back of our heads. Get out!

3) Push Me Pull You (PS4/Computer 2016)

Alone in the world was a little CatDog.

Push Me Pull You is a game for 2-4 players where a set of CatDog-like humans crawl around a circular arena and fight for control of a ball. The pattering of hands is prominent as they rush towards the center of the circle, and upon colliding your sausage bodies together, it sounds as if you’re in a room full of balloons being vigorously rubbed together. Cleverly, the game’s name comes from the pushmi-pullyu llama who appeared in the 1967 Doctor Dolittle film starring Rex Harrison. Push Me Pull You was the first game made by the four-person Australian development team of House House. When someone at the company posted a stock photograph of a goose in their internal communications, they got an idea for their next game… The trailer for the Untitled Goose Game was released a year after the completion of their first project. One fun fact about the Untitled Goose Game is that they originally had it in mind to name it Some Like It Honk, an obvious play on the 1959 film title, Some Like It Hot, directed by Bette Midler and starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, and George Raft. I guess the developers really liked movies from that era!

Meanwhile, here’s the trailer for Push Me Pull You. You have to see it for yourself!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kqZgVWbw_aE

2) Goat Simulator (PC/Mac 2014)

Greatest of all time.

What will be the next big thing on the internet after cats? Well, back in 2014, the lead developer at Coffee Stain Studios, Armin Ibrisagic, was banking on goats. If you were big into Vine, you’ll find that he wasn’t too far off. Goat Simulator was created as a joke prototype for a “game jam” where developers would have 24 to 72 hours to build a game from start to finish. The game has been compared to skateboarding games like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, but, according to Ibrisagic, “instead of being a skater, you’re a goat, and instead of doing tricks, you wreck stuff.” A video of the project made it’s way to YouTube and garnered over a million views in just two days. Enamored by the multitude of glitches that were intentionally left in the alpha version, fans of the footage clamored for a full release of the game. After receiving this type of attention, the company decided to finish the project but wished to retain the whacky glitches that sparked some entertaining antics. Steam, a digital distribution service, was their top choice for selling the title, but they were concerned that the parent company, Valve, wouldn’t allow a game that was seemingly so broken. They decided to fix anything that would crash the game completely but left in the rest of the quirks. Corresponding with Valve yielded positive results, and Valve is even quoted as saying, in jest, that “[Valve’s marketing manager DJ Power] has started wearing a goat costume to work he’s so excited about this game.”

Some of the weirder aspects of the game include sacrificing humans to earn an ability ripped straight from Katamari, commanding a castle of goat warriors, and flying through space after being abducted by a flying saucer. Beyond that, you are basically free to do anything you want using your exceptionally long, sticky tongue to tote objects around the world. Pop culture references are rampant, and there’s even a secret that pays homage to our #10 game (it involves whales). Furthermore, a cross-promotional update involves our #1 game… Read on to find out more! Goat Simulator is perfect for someone looking for a few hours of mindless entertainment.

Honorable Mentions:

Hello Neighbor (Various 2018)

He’s a man of peace in a savage land… Suburbia.

PaRappa the Rappa (Playstation 1997)

Kick, punch, it’s all in the mind!

Day of the Tentacle (Mac OS/MS-DOS 1993)

I feel like I could TAKE ON THE WORLD!

Pepsiman (PS1 1999)

Pepsi for TV game! Ha ha ha Ha!

1) I Am Bread (Various 2015)

The best thing since sliced bread.

You are bread. You want to be toast. And that’s the game. Similar to QWOP controls, you get just four buttons to navigate a slice of sentient bread through rooms of a house while searching for a heat source to warm your floury figure. Extra points are given if you can cover yourself in things like jam or butter. If you touch anything unsanitary, like the floor, then your “edibility” meter decreases. If the meter reaches 0%, you fail the game and have to restart from the beginning of the stage. Doing a quick search on YouTube, you’ll find that a common theme resonates amongst Let’s Players who attempt to sizzle their slice: pure rage.

Amusingly, I Am Bread is in the same universe as Surgeon Simulator 2013 which was made by the same company. Over the course of the game’s events, you learn that the owner of the house, Mr. Murton, is becoming increasingly paranoid that someone is breaking into their home and taunting them with slices of toasted bread. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that things get a wee bit crazy.

As mentioned before, I Am Bread also did a cross-promotional update with Goat Simulator which adds a RAMpage mode to the game (and conversely allows players in Goat Simulator to play as a piece of bread). Another mode has players traversing a room with a sleeping Heavy from Team Fortress 2 while trying to complete a sandwich. Finally, one last mode adds Starch Wars to the experience where you control a bread spaceship that flies through the cosmos and engages in dogfights with oncoming enemy yeast-crafts. To finish things out, I will leave with the opening sprawl:

EPISODE IV A NEW LOAF

After the destruction of the Petrol
station, the remaining crumbs of
the rebellious fleet have been
intercepted on route to
All-dough-naan.

In their time of knead the rebel distress
signal is picked up by a lone freedom
fighter known as Bread Leader.

To protect the fleet, Bread Leader
has engaged the pursuing forces of
Dough Baker.

The future of the galaxy rests on
the success of this confrontation…


Making all of this content takes a lot of energy and work! If you’re feeling generous and would like to support my projects, consider “buying me a coffee” or two or ten from the following website: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/erichagmann

Thanks for reading! What are some other weird games that would fit the theme for this month? Be sure to check back in September for my next list!

Published by erichagmann

Arranger / Pianist / Vocalist / Educator / Gamer

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