Anchorhead makes PC Gamer's list of 100 Best Games Ever

You can see the list here:

Anchorhead clocks in at #97, right between Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory. They have this to say about it:

I have to admit that I was pretty surprised that they not only had an IF title on the list, but that it wasn’t an Infocom game (just in terms of mainstream gaming press and IF visibility). :slight_smile: Way to go, Michael Gentry!


Where’s the “like” button?

I’m very pleased they chose to honor an IF game; perhaps its distribution on smartphone was a factor in the choosing? Plus, I think that horror is really big right now in all media; zombie books and Cthulhu dolls and etc., yes?

But if they had to pick just one IF game, I’m not surprised it was “not Infocom.” Infocom games were good (yes, perhaps even great) for their day, but leaving out the huge nostalgia factor, they’re weak compared to a well-written modern game. Both computers and IF software have come so far since then; today’s parsers are way smarter and less frustrating, and memory limits now are as neutron stars to the dim fireflies of last century.

1980s games are cult classics, but with emphasis on the “cult.” Most people under age 30 who play “Zork” et al will likely wonder what all the fuss was about. (I know I would, if I didn’t have a soft spot for “retro” stuff and an MIT geek in the family.) But play a really good IF title post-1995 or so, and you won’t have to wonder. We have seen the future and it is awesome.

If you don’t rate them as highly, that’s fine. We all have our own tastes. But this cliche of dismissing any Infocom love as “nostalgia” is tiresome. Some of us (raises hand) never started playing through the Infocom library until after Anchorhead drew us into IF (raises hand again), and our love of Infocom isn’t nostalgia-based, but rather a love of a particular style of wit and approach to game design (raises hand again).

In the 90s, I had nostalgia for Zork. But when I rediscovered IF, I kinda lost interest in Zork. That didn’t stop me from loving Ballyhoo and The Lurking Horror.

I wallow in nostalgia for old IF games all the time, but there’s a reason for it. Some of the old games were damn good.

For every awful one with a maze, or random death, or being placed in an unfinishable position because of factors outside of your control, there were others that are rightly regarded as classics.

Saying that people only like old IF games for nostalgia value is a bit like saying that
people only like Citizen Kane, Casablanca and other old films for nostalgia value. Or that all those people only sing the praises of the Beatles due to nostalgia.

Yup, good to hear IF being in the top 100. Congrats

It was roundly beaten (forgive the pun) by GTA, a game where players get points for beating up and killing prostitutes. I’m sorry, but I don’t see the honour of Anchorhead being mentioned on the same list as GTA, much less being beaten by it.

Game reviewers like to name-drop an IF title every now and then, to foster the illusion that they aren’t completely in thrall to their industry paymasters.

Cynical, yes, but not compared to the cynicism needed to write a list like that in the first place, and then to divide it into five parts to maximize the ad views.

Not blatantly cynical enough for the groundlings, apparently. They took the bait without so much as blinking. There sure is no scarcity of stupid people in this community.

Sorry, Irfon-Kim. I didn’t mean what I said as a personal attack, and I hope you didn’t take it that way.

The difference often (not always) seems to be a form of techno-fetishism. The tech-fetish thing touches film a little … I’ve known folks who flat-out refuse to watch a black and white movie, for example, and (more extremely) who regard a full-color remake as obviously and automatically superior. Fortunately for all of us, there aren’t a lot of full-color Casablanca remakes prancing around. It’s much more difficult, though, to categorize the IF “nostalgia” accusations as a tech-fetish thing, since they often come from within the IF fan-community, a fan-community which, by definition, ought to be detached somewhat from that sort of filter, at least where IF is concerned. :frowning:

I’ve worked as a video-game reviewer (for Strategy Plus and Interactive Entertainment), and as a full-time staff editor in the same biz (for the latter), and neither I nor anyone in my bullpen ever did any such thing. We had a guy who rattled on about IF, because he loved IF (he went out of his way to make sure we interviewed Meretsky for the magazine, and conducted the interview; you can find a video floating around). We also didn’t have “industry paymasters” keeping us in thrall. The one time there was an ethical conflict of interest between our editorial content and the profits of the publisher (who also ran a retail videogame mail-order business and who started to make demands that crossed ethical boundaries), that was the day I stopped working there, for exactly that reason.

I’m sure there are, somewhere, reviewers of the kind you’re describing. Maybe one even wrote this top-100 thing. But it’s a little disturbing that you’d characterize “game reviewers” with such a broad and negative brush.

I was surprised that they picked something non-Infocom not necessarily because I think the Infocom titles are superior per se, but because I was pleasantly surprised to not only see some indication that the author knew that post-Infocom interactive fiction existed at all (in my experience, an awful lot of people think that the genre died with Infocom), but also to see a completely freeware game with no major distribution on the list (many people wouldn’t consider a title for such a list if it never appeared in a store). I really wasn’t intended to set up any sort of superiority or inferiority comparison there at all. (Personally, Anchorhead is one of my all-time favourite games, so I certainly don’t think it’s undeserving.)

Not at all. :slight_smile:

I want to preface this by saying I have a lot of respect for you and your work. That’s not the delicious bread on top of a compliment sandwich, it’s the plain truth. I did not mean to offend you and regret making such a broad and sweeping statement.

At the same time, I feel like most if not all game reviews essentially serve as an extension of the game publisher’s marketing efforts. Even if the review is entirely negative, the fact that someone is writing about it at all validates the game’s existence and widens its audience. Or, if not that game precisely, at least the overall efforts of that publisher, or the industry as a whole. They are making games worth paying attention to, that review says, and even if this one is not worth paying for, the next one might be.

That’s not a question of ethics and I didn’t mean to impugn yours. But there is a reason that the videogame industry pays for ads in magazines. (Not in all magazines, and perhaps not in the ones you worked for.) There may be such a thing as bad publicity, but even bad publicity is better than none at all.

I grant that it’s unreasonable to speak of thralls and paymasters. I recognize that a magazine which persisted in ignoring mainstream releases and focused on IF titles would likely lose its audience. But goddammit, Michael Gentry and Anchorhead deserve more than a passing nod at the tail end of a top 100 list. Five years ago it was Steve Meretzky and A Mind Forever Voyaging. Five years from now, maybe it will be S. John Ross and Treasures of a Slaver’s Kingdom.

And I will be just as indignant that these great games are coming out, games that everyone should play and know and love, and at the end of the day they get less attention than the latest installment in a moribund franchise like Mario, or Sonic, or Zelda.

Games should be better than that. They are better than that. And if reviewers and critics are not getting that message out there, they are part of the problem.

No harm done. And as I said, I’m sure such folk exist. Only the … inclusiveness of your phrasing inspired my response.

Well, from the publisher’s standpoint, that’s the majority of the point, of course. For the game-player, though, the trick (and it’s unfortunate that there has to be a trick) is separating the magazines/sites/blogs that draw the ethical lines where we’d like them, and those who let videogame publishers buy them lap-dances after CES, and the spectra in-between :slight_smile: Maybe it’s not even worth the effort to examine them closely enough to separate them (I don’t bother, myself) but there are some of this, and some of that, and some mixes.

I would amend this to say there are reasons, rather than there is a reason.

Fifty-fifty. Strategy Plus ran industry ads, IIRC. IE ran none, though we did other sorts of promotions with companies we personally liked, because we personally liked them (typically of the form “free game with this issue: complete game we liked from four years ago to promote game coming out next year”). I hated the necessity of leaving that job; they were, with one critical exception (the yuppie scum who owned the joint) wonderful folks (and I keep in touch with most of them; one is doing an awesome point-and-click adventure title right now using his own panoramic photography of a funky island; it’s pretty effing sweet).

Without Anchorhead I wouldn’t be here at all, and that’s the simple truth. But in fairness, Anchorhead does get a lot more than this passing nod, and will continue to do so, I’m sure. I wish all these games got more attention as well.

And to be fairer still, the problem scales downward, and backwards along the timeline. The instant we elevate Anchorhead into some kind of IF canon (which has, really, already happened) it begins to draw attention away from, perhaps, some little game released last week that none of us have noticed yet, which is maybe better, and yet may never be fully recognized as such.

And what a sad and twisted world that would be.

Well, the jazz club in the basement of my building makes a pretty decent burger on a real grill with real meat (the bread’s not tops, but welcome to America, right?), and it doesn’t get one millionth the kind of attention that the McRib does when McDonald’s trots it back out of the freezer every couple of years. This is the shape of the culture. To be fair, they’re consistently listed in Top-100 Jazz Club lists, presumably by journalists who don’t have to live right over it.

S. John, I get the impression that the problem people tend to have with Infocom games isn’t so much technophilia as that – from what I hear – Infocom games were designed for an age when there weren’t as many games to play, so you had more time to experiment (or bang your head against the wall) looking for answers, and it wasn’t so bad if when you finally discovered the answer to one puzzle you realized that you’d done something to make the game unwinnable five hundred turns back and had to start three save files ago. Though something similar seems to be true in some of the late-90s games I’ve played anyway.

Also, I hear the McRib’s availability depends on the fluctuating price of miscellaneous pork bits, where the fluctuations are driven partly by whether McDonald’s is buying them up to make McRibs.

(BTW, the list that started this discussion is two years old, in case anyone else is getting deja vu from Victor’s old blog post on it.)

Sure,* but again, I’m not puzzled by, or even concerned with, why some folks don’t love Infocom. I’ve heard many, many reasons (for some it’s tech-fetish, for some it’s design “cruelty,” for some it’s the humor, for some it’s the use of the docs as copy protection, for some its the leanness of the prose, et multiple cetera). I recognize that there are lots of reasons to dislike Infocom (the tech-fetish thing seems most common well outside the IF community).

My puzzlement and concern is on the opposite topic: of being accused of “nostalgia” for loving the games, especially within the IF community, where people should (obviously) know of all the other reasons to love them, even if they’re also aware of the reasons to not-love them.


  • Though the idea that in some fabled golden 1980s we “had more time” to play games is … well, that’s real nostalgia.

I’ve beaten up and killed quite a few hookers in GTA but never got any points… I’m doing it wrong? :-/