Nomen Ludi

If you’re a fan of both mysteries and old school video game nostalgia, then you’ll love this story by Rob Beschizza.  Nomen Ludi explores a mystery born in the dawn of the digital age:  the long-lost ending to an indie 8-bit video game.  Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:

“From the sleep of childhood and all its aimless memories, an old computer game returned to haunt me.

My first recollection was a flashback at the airport, triggered by a scent: the same carpet deodorizer my mother used to use when I was a kid. Transported away from the echoes of Heathrow’s PA system and the hubbub of waiting travelers, I found myself back in my old bedroom. A child sat at at the machine, intent on the controls. Deja vu crept over me.

Pixels shone like gemstones in darkness. Phosphors moved over the face of the deep and formed into random landscapes. Every play was different, a 64Kb window onto a universe of iterations. Music, naked square waves, rang out. I’d forgotten that place for a decade, but it had not forgotten me.”

The feelings in this story reflect the feelings of a generation that grew up at the same time that the video game industry was growing up.  We have to wonder if children growing up today will have the same nostalgia for the next-gen console games as we have for the 8-bit.  Or did the newness and rawness and quirkiness of those games play some role in developing our fascination with them all these years later?

For me, this story falls into the same strange vein as the story of how Doki Doki Panic became Super Mario Bros. 2.  My imagination paints the early days of video game programming as a romantic pioneering age, when rules and standards didn’t exist yet, companies were kind of making things up as they went along, and certain bugs or remnants of abandoned tasks could fall forgotten and buried under the code until someone dug them up again.  A time when some games simply glitched out at level 256 (leaving rumors flying about the possibility of reaching 257),  when a game could do so very poorly as to inspire legends that the extra copies had been buried in the desert, or when a bootleg copy of  a programming prodigy’s unpublished indie game might find its way into the hands of a young boy, only to haunt him years later.

If you have your own fond, hazy memories of playing games like Zork or Maniac Mansion, or if you just like the romantic way nostalgic memories, even the foggiest ones, can grow into near-obsessive quests for more memory-inducing bits of information, then I definitely recommend giving this one a read.