Desert Island Games: the hypothetical stranding of a beloved video game or industry personality, and which games they would choose to keep themselves sane. This time, it’s Raigan Burns of Metanet Software.
Raigan Burns is one half of Metanet Software, the independent game developer behind the hugely successful (and hugely infuriating) N, N+, and N++. Taking a few precious moments away from his busy schedule, porting N++ to Xbox One and working on a currently unannounced project (our money is on N+++), Raigan took a little time to think about which video games he would choose to keep him company if he were stranded on a desert island.
Raigan offered a short explainer for his choices, which we’d like to share with you before the list proper:
I eventually realised that these are mostly games which are essentially endless! I didn’t do this on purpose (although, it would seem useful in a desert island context); I just think that these sorts of games are bit more “pure” in terms of capturing what I find so magical and special about games as a medium.
Now we’d like to point out that there are very few rules to Desert Island Games. Basically you can’t pick an emulator or emulation platform – the equivalent of wishing for infinite wishes from the genie – but other than that? It’s an entirely free choice.
We didn’t stipulate that you should pick games based on their longevity or replayability – though that might be prudent, since we’re stranding you forever – so it perhaps speaks to the games that Metanet Software creates that Raigan’s list is chock-full of near-perpetual games, with wonderfully simple gameplay loops and often no real ‘ending’ to speak of.
Tetris is maybe the purest, most beautiful game ever created.
I would have actually preferred to pick Lumines, which to me is a more modern puzzle/action game that’s equally brilliant and IMO even more interesting than Tetris (if not quite as elegant).
Sadly it seems that every version of Lumines has its own tragic flaw: the first one runs great but has an inexplicable low score cap that’s easy to reach (and leads to a killscreen rather than looping forever); the second one loops nicely but also has a lot of slow-down thanks to some IMO gratuitous and garish full-screen video playback; later versions run smoothly and loop, but also introduce gimmicks like shuffling blocks and touch controls which sort of dilute/pollute the experience.
Another beautifully elegant game; somewhat less stripped-down than Tetris but still doing a lot with a little.
The two phases shared by both player and enemies (flee and chase) introduce not only a pleasing symmetry but also a truly inspired dynamic twist; the ability to turn the tables on your attackers adds so much drama and excitement.
The very simple ghost behaviours which combine to produce fairly complex ’emergent’ AI are a thing of beauty and truly fun to play against.
The original Pac-Man deserves credit for laying the groundwork, but IMO it’s strictly inferior to Ms. Pac-Man, which does an amazing job of tweaking the original formula to solve most of its problems (mainly that it can be memorized, undermining the true joy of this game: improvisation under pressure).
The most fun-feeling, modernised roguelike out there – an actual roguelike (i.e a game in the same genre as Rogue and Nethack), not whatever most people are now calling ‘roguelike’ (which is usually roguelike-like at best).
Somehow much simpler than most roguelikes without out being any less deep; endless replayability, endless mounting challenges… there’s always something just beyond your current skill, which makes it perfect for infinite play.
The name is a perfect fit, as is the literally-infinite game design; but much more than that, this game is an incredibly beautiful and pure distillation of what makes games so engaging for me: the ability to learn and develop in a way that’s palpable.
Sinking seemingly-impossible hole-in-ones based on intuition and feel alone is one of the most powerfully fun and rewarding gaming experiences I can think of.
Getting Over It with Bennet Fody
There may be no such thing as the perfect game, but Getting Over It is almost certainly a perfect game. It is an incredibly engaging interactive performative experience, and a richly layered metaphor; rarely does one game hit such disparate heights simultaneously.
The fact that there is no perceptible skill ceiling, combined with its paradoxical tendency to produce a profound feeling of serenity and relaxation when I play, makes it a great desert island game.
Very few games inspire this range of true emotion, from ecstatic elation through to excruciating loss and sorrow.
It is drama, tragedy, comedy, and meditation all in one – a perfect desert island game.
I know it’s probably a bit rude to pick your own game, but honestly I still really enjoy playing N++ – and I haven’t actually had a chance yet to properly play through it yet!
Since it was designed for near-infinite hours of play, being stuck on a desert island would be the perfect context to finally get around to playing it ‘for real’.
Plus, the soundtrack alone will give me 6 hours of great techno to chill to, even when I don’t feel like playing.
Bonus entertainment/luxury item: OP-1 synthesizer by Teenage Engineering
This is maybe not strictly ‘entertainment’, but you can make music on it that you then enjoy – it’s nice to produce instead of only consuming.
Plus, it has a built-in radio that might come in handy.
More Desert Island Games on Thumbsticks
- Raigan is first out the blocks, but watch this space for more Desert Island Games.