Lazy Luddite Log

12.9.11

Village Of Solitar

For a self-professed nerd some are surprised by my lack of interest in computer games. This is an extension of my lack of interest in many games whatever the media. Many are too abstract or strategic or just too bloody combative for my liking. However there have been exceptions and in this post I will describe my all-time favourite arcade game. I was on a bus passing Forest Hill Shopping Centre recently and it reminded me of a past visit there and the last time I played the most immersive game ever - the fabulous and whimsical Prop Cycle!

Prop Cycle was introduced by Namco in 1996 and they stuck one in the then games arcade at Monash Uni in the late 90s. The hardware demanded attention by looking like the lovechild of an arcade game machine and an exercise bike. The user could sit on it and pedal to determine speed. One could steer in three dimensions. One even could feel wind blown in ones face courtesy of some fans set into the machine. Amazing!

Then there was the game itself. The story concept was charmingly quirky. Your village of Solitar has magically been sent into the sky and is suspended there by glowing spheres of energy which need to be destroyed for Solitar to safely waft back to land. In order to do this you have to ride a winged propeller-driven bicycle round to pop all those spheres but to do that you must develop your skills of riding and popping! Most of the game therefore involves you riding round your pretty three-dimensional homeland popping hot air balloons!

A bunch of us in Korner became fixated with this game and fed it much coin. We also devised a strategy for completing the three missions which would allow us to then complete the final mission of saving Solitar. Rather than take the three missions in order of course difficulty we chose them in reverse order. The thing we had noticed was that each successive scene (whatever order taken) would have a larger number of balloons so we were averaging the difficulty by starting the more complex mission with fewer balloons to pop! Genius!

This is possibly the most immersive game I have ever played given that ones whole body was involved in the process of riding a winged bike round an imaginary three dimensional world. It also necessitated exercise - anyone who completed the game would find themselves puffing and panting by the end. It was also refreshingly non-violent in an era in which the dominant arcade games were Mortal Kombat and the like.

Anyway here are some screen captures of Prop Cycle in action. Watching this I suddenly remember all the twists and turns necessary to get to all those balloons! Pop those balloons! Yippee!

Cross-posted here

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