In my previous post, I have explored some of the technical aspects of how Windows games are different from others. Before we turn to the gameplay aspects, let’s be aware of some things.
A specific Windows game culture exists approximately from the beginning till the release of Diablo. It was not Windows 95 that brought the change, but DirectX. DirectX allowed a Windows game to behave just like a DOS game, or any other game on any other platform. Since then, it makes little sense to regard Windows games separately.
But that still means that for practical purposes the era we are exploring mostly overlaps with the Windows 3.x era and
typical Windows game not always, but usually means
Windows 3.x game. As I am writing this, MobyGames lists less than a thousand Windows 3.x games. As a comparison, the Commodore 64 gamebase has 21,000 entries. Just keep this in mind whenever numbers turn up.
Windows was, in the relevant era, mainly the realm of freeware and shareware authors. There are very few commercial games that are true Windows games. SimCity is an example, and the ICOM Simulations adventures: Shadowgate, Deja Vu, Uninvited. This probably explains the lack of adventures and RPGs. Still it’s astonishing that none of the open-source roguelikes were ported.
But even when looking only at those types of games that have always been popular with shareware and freeware authors, you will find that the popularity in general and the popularity on Windows are inversely related, if they are related at all. You will find few implementations of ever-popular arcade concepts like Breakout or Pac-Man. But on the other hand, a good many classic as well as obscure arcade machines have been remade on Windows at least once. There are at least two or three Centipede clones, and the only remake of Head-On I ever came across is the Windows game Killer Cars. But the arcade game that was most popular with Windows programmers, the only one that could be called a typical Windows game, was, for some reason, Missile Command.
One type of game that has been hugely popular on Windows and very little elsewhere are card games. I’ve written about possible reasons in an earlier post and won’t repeat them here. Suffice to say that I wouldn’t be astonished if about 10–20% of all Windows 3.x games ever written were card games. It’s similar, though less extreme, with casino games. But I haven’t really looked into this yet, I just notice how often I come across them.
A lot of Windows games were based on very simple concepts. Sometimes these were old board or pen-and-paper games like peg solitaire or battleship, but very often they were commercial games like Mastermind (a Windows favorite) or, more remarkable Black Box. The popularity of the latter seems to me so remarkable because I don’t think the board game is all that well known, as is the case with Mastermind. There are very few implementations on other platforms, a few BASIC games, a few C64 games, but a relatively astonishing number of Windows games.
Mazes of all kinds turn up very often too. Top-down mazes, occasionally with bridges. 3D mazes you walk around in, in one case (WinWayout) even populated with some monsters, but in most cases it’s just a maze with no real gameplay.
Sometimes the simplicity of the concept is almost embarrassing—there are actually a few Tic-Tac-Toes with no opponent.
This popularity of simple concepts probably has technical reasons as well. Programming environments for GUI systems give you a lot of tools. To create a window with several buttons and assign them some simple functions is almost no work at all, and a Yahtzee is little more.
The way these programming environments are built, I always found it tempting to create the software equivalent of Franz Gsellmann’s Weltmaschine—a program with lots of buttons and menus and configuration options that really doesn’t do anything at all.