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Altum Videtur's blog

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Altum Videtur avatar 9:58 PM on 04.27.2012  (server time)
Hey, Who Remembers Hover?

I do! Packaged with shiny new copies of Windows 95 along with a Weezer music video, Hover is a shallow, ugly, bare-bones tech demo with three short levels, moronic AI, highly luck-based design, and a paltry selection of mechanics - most of which are irrelevant toward the central goal of running over flags.

Hover is also a game that I love.

85% of this is nostalgia. But it is nostalgia that - when I booted up the game a couple of days ago for the first time in years - sprayed out of every orifice, dripped down every limb, clogged my nose, blocked my ears, and forced me to change into a new pair of pants. Hover was my first 3-D game, and the first game in which I was able to reach up and scrape some flaky chips off my parents' high scores (remember those?).

It's a very personal kind of feeling that's different from going back and playing, say, Pac-Man, because unlike the yellow ubiquity, I feel as if Hover was this amazing little secret I and only I had unearthed - none of the few acquaintances I had at the time ever thought about which part of the Windows 95 Install CD-ROM you're supposed to eat first, much less what lay within its digital contents. I was surprised to find that the trippy, quirky music and grainy, out-of-place sound effects had imprinted themselves so heavily that I was actually doing my utmost to hit every power-up and every tile, just to feel another wave of pleasant recognition.

Speaking of trippy, check out this level art

But the other 15%? This is one of the things I love about rediscovering old games I only played as a kid - now armed to the teeth with the knowledge and experience to analyze and break down even most joyful, delightful, and earnest titles into a dull, grey listing of component parts, I can pick out just what it was that enraptured my young mind so easily and completely.

In this case, it was the feeling of isolation in a hostile and indistinct world (which, probably not coincidentally, is something core to the Metroid series I devoutly worship). The nature of the game is as innocuous as it gets - drive around in bumper cars and capture three to six flags before the AI can do the same. But where are those flags? I don't know. So I search around - what's that powerup? It's too blurry - I can't make it out. Closer and closer - oh crap, I just got stuck in a sink tile! Even though I quickly memorized the layout of its few maps, the flag spawns were randomized just enough (and the level design was poor enough) that I could never just sail across a few set places and call it a level - there was always uncertainty, always exploration needing to be done; always the feeling that I was lost in a hazy, passive-aggressive labyrinth.

Key to all this was the AI, referred to quite ominously as "the Drones." There were three on each map - one to seek the flags, one to sail around and do nothing of importance, and one whose mission is simply to track you. Today, of course, I realize that the threat of being pushed slightly in a direction I didn't intend to go in is probably the least threatening thing in the game, what with tiles that vaporize flags you've captured, trap you for several precious seconds, or abruptly spin and launch you to the other side of the level; but at the time, hearing the soft, brief, airy tone that announced a Drone's intent to ram into me at full speed elicited the kind of startled gasp and frantic maneuvering that I wouldn't rediscover until Ocarina of Time's Shadow Temple.


All of this was surely unintentional, of course; the awesome feeling of being lost in a hostile maze was due to confusing and unintuitive level design, the tension of being in an indistinctly claustrophobic world was thanks to the blurry and poorly filtered visuals, and the sense of isolation was brought on by the lack of friendly AI or any multiplayer option. But did the fact that the crack team of Microsoft engineers probably never gave a single consideration toward making Hover anything but a short, mindless half-advertisement stop it from acting on me in such a significant manner?

Certainly not. Perhaps the pools of nostalgia I haven't yet managed to towel out of my eyes are coloring my viewpoint somewhat, but Hover, completely unintentionally, manages to hit a kind of atmosphere that many modern games can't do when they're trying their very best, and I can't help but find that to be incredibly neat. Now, if you'll allow me, I have to pop out the door for a second - there's still a six-year-old high score to beat.

(If you want to try Hover yourself, you can download it for free off of Microsoft's FTP server! Check out the "External Links" section at the bottom of the Wikipedia page I just linked)

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