At first glance, this may look like any of the dozens of post-Tetris puzzle games. There's a pit that you drop stuff into, and you move back and forth over the top if it. Stuff piles up at the bottom, and the primary gameplay is in deciding where to drop the next randomly-determined item. It's all very familiar, and except that the goal is reversed--to fill the pit instead preventing it from filling--there's nothing remarkable here.
Except that Tetris wasn't released in the United States until 1987 and Uncle Henry's Nuclear Waste Dump was published in 1986. I didn't even know what Tetris was until a few years later.
Was Uncle Henry's as good as Tetris? No. Not a chance. I missed the obvious idea of guiding each piece as it fell and instead used the heavy-handed mechanic of releasing the piece before a timer expired (that's the number in the upper right corner). And keeping three waste types separated wasn't nearly as addictive as fitting irregular shapes together. Overall the game wasn't what it could have been, and yet it's interesting that it's instantly recognizable as having elements of a genre that didn't exist at the time.
(While looking for the above screenshot, I found that someone wrote a clone in 2006. The part about the game ending when the pile gets too high sounds like the gameplay isn't exactly the same, but the countdown timer for dropping a can is still there.)
permalink February 19, 2011
I'm James Hague, a recovering programmer who has been designing video games since the 1980s. Programming Without Being Obsessed With Programming and Organizational Skills Beat Algorithmic Wizardry are good starting points. For the older stuff, try the 2012 Retrospective.
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