Thursday, August 29, 2013
Blips: Death From Above
Source: The creation of Missile Command and the haunting of its creator, David Theurer
Author: Alex Rubens
We talk about "expressive games" like they're a new thing, evolved from the simple time-wasting past of the early years of video games. In a recent profile of Missile Command creator, David Theurer by Alex Rubens for Polygon, this perception is given a counter argument. Missile Command is not a complicated game to understand: bombs rain from the sky, intent on destroying the cities and military bases at the bottom of the screen, and players must launch their own missiles to destroy the bombs in mid-air before they hit the ground. As Rubens points out, this is a game about defense, where most games, even today, are about taking the offensive. Also, ultimately the game ends when players fail to protect their cities and everything blows up. The destruction is inevitable, which was meant to reflect the prescient notion that once nuclear war had been initiated, there were no real winners.
Missile Command was produced in the 80s during the Cold War, and, as a sidebar in the article mentions, was originally titled Armageddon. While Missile Command was built to be a fun game, Theurer also speaks of its "message" –a cautionary tale about the then-constant doomsday threat. Theurer's nightmares about nuclear war actually inspired the game. Fear, then, was a driving emotion in its creation. For Missile Command, Theurer even substituted the typical "game over" message for "the end," as a means of drawing more parallels to the real world conflict and the finality of nuclear destruction.
I love hearing new perspective on older games like this, since I can better appreciate where they're coming from. It's amazing how much some of the earliest video games have in common with more recent titles, with similarly small teams.