Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Reindeer Games

Holiday music usually sends me into a bit of a state. Don’t get me wrong; I love this season, filled to the brim as it is with good will, holiday cheer, and rampant consumerism. The thing that gets me – what really makes me twitch – is the repetitiveness of it. How many times can you listen to “White Christmas”? How many badly sung and poorly arranged pop-girl versions of “Frosty the Snowman” can one season take? And the radio stations and malls have been playing this stuff since the middle of November, without pause. Which is why I tend to retreat into the obscure back aisles of holiday music. If I must recognize the season through song (and I must), at least I try to do it via underplayed, unrecognized, and unusually odd jingles.

Without further ado: 5 Obscure Christmas Songs Games

5) The Same Christmas Cake (The Arrogant Worms)

Christmas makes me realize how greatly things do change
Friends lose touch, people age, and family moves away
But it is what had stayed the same that gives me the most tears
For I've had the same Christmas cake for almost thirty years

Granny made it back in sixty-eight and gave it to my mom
Who gave it to her uncle who gave it to her son
Who then gave it to me and that is where it stuck
For I was only three months old and clearly out of luck

Here’s your basic Match-3 rip-off, casual game. You have to escape the curse of the Christmas Cake, and to do so must match and remove the festive coloured candied fruit pieces. Not much here, except a theme, a thin back story, and a really odd song.

4) I Want an Alien for Christmas (Fountains of Wayne)

I don't need any ugly sweaters
And I don't play much basketball
But there's something kinda special
That I want most of all...

I want an alien for Christmas
Bring me an alien this year
I want a little green guy
About three feet high
With seventeen eyes
Who knows how to fly
I want an alien for Christmas this year

I have two pictures that pop into my head here. One is of the crappy two-minute flash games where you are either dodging or catching something that is falling from the top of the screen. The second is a 2-D platformer where you go on a mission to get an alien for Christmas, then have to take care of him, and play with him. I think that the two could be combined into a short Flash-based game where you have to jump dodge and fetch various items while avoiding bad presents, federal agents, and angry alien parents (but perhaps not all at once). Again, not the deepest of stories or gameplay – just something fun for a holiday break.

3) Chiron Beta Prime (Jonathan Coulton) [Bonus Link]

Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime,
where we’re working in a mine for our robot overlords.
Did I say overlords? I meant protectors.
Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime.

On every corner there’s a giant metal Santa Claus
who watches over us with glowing red eyes.
They carry weapons and they know if you’ve been bad or good.
Not everybody’s good but everyone tries.
And the rocks outside the airlock exude ammonia-scented snow.
It’s like a Winter wonderland.

I think that this song has only one place to go: Christmas ‘Shmup. Start as a Christmas convoy from Earth, carrying presents past the defenses of the Asteroid Mining Company to the indentured workers on the surface of Chiron Beta Prime. Levels could include: Open Space, Asteroid Field, Ammonia Winter Wonderland, Mine Shafts, and Escape from Chiron. Swoop in, drop of the holiday cheer, and escape with your life (and maybe a few freed slaves – I mean volunteer workers).

2) Oh, Santa! (Veggie Tales, Silly Songs with Larry)

Umm… this one needs a video.

This is a social game, involving the sharing and passing of cookies. Something like a cross between Lost (the game, not the show – invite here), and the Zune commercial with the never-ending DRM-infected cookie. Only without the icky DRM. You start with a few cookies to share, but you need to hurry or they can be stolen. Share them and you’ll get more as your friends share theirs. Or steal cookies from already invited friends to keep your stock up. The game could run as a special promotion in the weeks running up to Christmas. You need to finish the week with at least two friends and one cookie to get a special “gift” from Santa. Incentives go to the sharers, and while the game seems easier if you steal, it winds up being easier to lose (I think that you’d become a bigger target for other thieves).

Basically a light, social game to promote sharing and community during the holiday season.

1) Elf’s Lament (Barenaked Ladies)

I'm a man of reason, and they say "'Tis the season to be jolly"
But it's folly when you volley for position

Never in existence has there been such a resistance
To ideas meant to free us
If you could see us, then you'd listen

Toiling through the ages, making toys on garnished wages
There's no union
We're only through when we outdo the competition

I make toys, but I've got aspirations
Make some noise
Use your imagination
Girls and boys, before you wish for what you wish for
There's a list for who's been
Naughty or nice, but consider the price to an elf

This song (and if you haven’t heard it, I’d encourage you to find it and have a listen) has the most depth, and as such has the most potential to inspire gameplay. I could see this being enacted as a full-sized economic sim and construction game. Cross the building and management play from a Tycoon game, with a deeper economic strategy (to manage the work force and changing product demands), and then give it the visual styling of the later Santa Clause movies.

Build the North Pole from a tiny little one-room workshop into a bustling hidden city of candy-coloured buildings and toy manufacturing machinery. Deal with all sorts of obstacles of progress including unionization of the elves, outsourcing of production, time and resource management, campaigning and funding to support the internal economy, and more. Create whimsical production devices by combining simpler assembly gadgets into larger contraptions. Micromanage by assigning work shifts and duty rosters, or let the elves manage themselves and reassign as factories become automated.

Delivery’s a snap, it’s making the toys that’s the challenge.

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