When video games got so complex that it became unreasonable to ask players to just dive right into the main experience, designers started to put together quick, low-stakes introductory levels to school newcomers on the controls and basic mechanics of the game. Some tutorial levels are fun, but most end up being boring, frustrating or even entirely unnecessary. Many who picked up a copy of Driver for the Sony Playstation, for example, never got to play the actual game because of the unreasonably difficult and utterly mandatory tutorial garage. It's also rare to find a first-person shooter war game that doesn't start in an abridged bootcamp scenario. Good tutorials are hard to come by, but they can end up transcending their purely functional roles to become an essential part of a game.
Those who deny the educational potential of video games have obviously never played Oregon Trail. Several generations of bored elementary schoolers learned to love that buffalo-hunting, wagon-axle-breaking and dysentery-suffering simulator because it represented a break from the doldrums of a normal history lesson, but they also came away with an impressively visceral understanding of the westward expansion of America. Oregon Trail teaches players that life in a wagon train was a struggle against disease, resource scarcity and the great unknown. Though it's just a video game and can't be expected to portray the experience with complete accuracy, it does a lot better job than one might expect. I doubt any modern schools have computers than can even run Oregon Trail (unless some cheeky admin installed DOSbox), but maybe there's a different game that can be used for history class. I would suggest Sid Meier's one-of-a-kind Civilization series.
A new year, a new set of browser games. 2009 was a pretty stunning year for the medium and I have high hopes for 2010. Now that art games are a significant part of the industry, a lot more creativity and style have started popping up in Internet-based titles. This has made the field considerably more crowded, but hopefully this competition will encourage innovation. It's still early in the year, so we'll have to wait to see if 2010 will be as strong a year for the browser game.
All told, January was something of a light month for browser games. I suppose the work-averse holiday season had something to do with that. Still, a few truly interesting offerings hit the usual channels. The thin stack of exemplary games means that several different genres get represented this month. There's a unique puzzle game, a simple and balanced shooter and a clever strategy title on the slab. Let's dive right in.