Top 10 Zero Player Games

Manan Singh

“Engage and Entertain them” — the motto drives almost every video game. Gamer competes against computer or humans, make or break records, win the play — that is the usual format. But some video games are strange and require no player at all! Just do some initial setting, and the game plays and progresses, and the virtual world evolves — all on its own. Such games are called Zero Player Games, games that play by themselves, and the list enumerates 10 of the most popular ones. Some are simple, and some are serious.

Items (Brief index):

10. Progress Quest

9. Godville

8. Mountain

7. Dreeps

6. 3DVCE

5. Clickpocalypse 2

4. Cookie Clicker

3. Idle Oil Tycoon

2. 4 Minutes 33 seconds of Uniqueness

1. Conway’s Game of Life

Progress Quest

Setup the initial character, and the game progresses on its own. A set of progress bars is accompanied with lines of text describing the character activity. First a prolog, and then combat acts. The artificial character goes on a monster hunt. In time, some loot is accumulated and the character goes to a market to sell it. The earned money is used to buy equipment, and then the hunting continues again.

It was developed by Eric Fredricksen as a parody of fantasy-themed massively multiplayer online role-playing games like EverQuest, and released in 2002. It has been upgraded many times since then and is available for all platforms today. [1]

Despite the automatic progress, critics have found it enjoyable and addictive [2]. It has also been described as an “unexpected influence” for the 2015 simulation game by Bethesda Softwares — Fallout Shelter. [3] Progress Quest is indeed well-known as the progenitor of idle games — games with simple and minimal interactions.

Godville

Taglined “a game without a player”, Godville is a massively multiplayer zero-player game. The game lets you play God, the omnipotent spectator who just watches the game character live an adventurous life. The hero slays monsters, collects pieces and loot, and even swindle sometimes. You as god can either encourage or punish your hero, or just do nothing at all.

It’s a passive game, meaning it continues even when you close it. You can return to the game anytime (even after months) and find your hero engaged in weird quests. Gradually, the hero can level up, start learning specialized skills and even join a guild. In the worst case, your hero can also die in battle, but even then, it will live on for eternity in the afterlife, mumbling to itself that you never came to help!

All the gameplay progresses on its own, but still, it is amusing to vicariously live through the randomized adventures of the hero. [4] It is available on all mobile platforms and the web. Recently, it has also been launched for Apple Watch. [5]

Mountain

In 2014, David OReilly, the man behind the video game animations in Spike Jonze’s Academy Award-winning film Her, released a strangely beautiful game titled “Mountain”. Billed as a simulator, it provides a surreal experience that sits somewhere between a screensaver and a traditional video game. As initial setup, you are asked a few questions like “What does love look like?”. As an answer, you are required to draw something on a blank canvas. The game uses that information somehow to generate a mountain unique to you — a mountain floating in an atmosphere suspended in a starry galaxy. And then, you watch the world of Mountain evolve in time. Days and night pass by. Seasons change. Plants and trees grow and die. Snow falls and melts. Cloud aggregates and disperses. Sometimes, Soft music notes play and lines of feedback appears at screen top. As time passes more, things become strange. The mountain starts receiving occasional impacts — sometimes meteorites, and sometimes worldly objects like a pie, a clock, a padlock, a streetlamp! And eventually, there is a surprising conclusion. [6]

Critics have loved it, describing it as hypnotizing [7], philosophical [8] and even emotional. [9]

Dreeps

Dreeps is described as an Alarm Playing game “for you don’t have the time to play RPG anymore”. And indeed, the setting of alarm is actually the only thing that you have to do. Then on, it plays on its own. There is a little robot boy traveling through various landscapes, defeating enemies and meeting elves. The game continues whether you pay attention or not. Most of the time, the little boy is calmly walking across the screen. With pixelated graphics, cute characters, and super simple gameplay, Dreeps is charming as well as compelling.[9]

According to the official website, it was ranked №1 in 21 countries like France, Netherland, Spain and others on App Store in paid RPG category, and won “Best of Art” and “Best of Game Design” award at Indie Stream Fes 2015. [10]

With games pervading our digital and physical lives, this alarm playing game sets a new benchmark in gamifying our routine in the most innovative and interesting way.

3DVCE

3DVCE stands for “3D Virtual Creature Evolution”. It has been developed by Lee Graham, a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario. The purpose was to simulate and study the development of virtual creatures. The game first generates random initial conditions building simple creatures made up of connected blocks. Then, based on restrictions set by the user, the “parents” are determined and the virtual creatures evolve and populate, conforming to the algorithmic rules of natural selection and obeying the laws of physics. Many environments are available — flat ground to bumpy hills for the creatures to move around. There are also objects such as various blocks, trees, and grenades. Artificial gravity can also be manipulated and random creatures respawned, the key purpose being observing and studying the evolution of virtual creatures. The game was also featured in the Seed Magazine in 2008, as one of those effective “video games that are reshaping how we perform and promote science”. [11]

Unfortunately, Lee Graham and his website have mysteriously disappeared since 2012, but the game and related tutorials are still available online.[12]

Clickpocalypse 2

The land of Clickpocalypse has been cursed by eternal winter, and you must save it. Create a team of up to four heroes, and let them travel the land to conquer castles and dungeon farms. Your heroes will find animals, warriors, and many weird beings; but let them fight on their own, and they will turn all adversaries to skeletons with their excellent teamwork and combat skills. In time, they will level up, earn items like gold, jewels, and weapons. Clearing rooms, levels, and dungeons; conquering castles and purchasing farms; summoning minions; and finding treasure chests along the way, your heroes will fight and persevere until they conquer the land and end the curse of perpetual winter. That is their destiny if you choose to play Clickpocalypse 2. [13]

The Clickpocalypse 2 is a long-form RPG. The dungeons are generated procedurally, and the entire activities and achievements of your heroes are recorded statistically. The game also has a very active subreddit [14]. Even with only 389-odd readers, there is still a new post almost every day.

Cookie Clicker

See that picture of a cookie? Click on it. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Click enough cookies and you can buy grandmas, farms, factories and mines to bake cookies for you. Continue clicking or leave the job to your grandmas and farms. This is the world of cookie clicker, where you chase the monotonous but paradoxically addictive task of generating billions of cookies.

Created by French programmer Julien Thiennot, better known as “Orteil”, the game was released in 2013 on a 4chan video gaming forum. In just a few hours, the game registered over 50,000 plays; and only a few months after its launch, it has racked over 86 million hits [15].

How can such a simple game be a big hit and addictive? According to psychologists, it’s the incremental reward that makes the game psychologically satisfying. [15]

The game established a whole new subgenre of incremental games which inspired later successful titles like Clicker Heroes and Adventure Capitalist.

Idle Oil Tycoon

The game lets you build a virtual oil empire. The game is an incremental game and it performs most of the work itself. You only make some simple managerial decisions in the beginning, and then the game progresses on its own. You buy more things, sell more things, increase your investments, invest in new technologies and level up. At some higher level, you can hire experts to do most of the work for you so there will come a point where you will have to just sit and watch your oil empire growing. When you are done, you can even retire and pass on the business to your protege. [16]

There are a lot of progress bars, numbers, and stats, but the interface is simple and gameplay is fun if you enjoy watching a screen of big financial numbers increase on its own.

4 minutes 33 seconds of Uniqueness

You open the game and find a full-screen white progress bar slowly increasing. You wait for 4 minutes 33 seconds. The progress bar has now reached to the extreme right of the screen (which is completely white now). And the game is over! No interaction! No user input! Is this really a game? “It’s an exploration to what actually defines a game”, Purho wrote on his blog [17].

It’s an experimental game created by Crayon Physics designer Petri Purho at the 2009 Nordic Game Jam, in a couple of hours. The uniqueness lies in its winning. You can win only if you are the only person playing the game at that moment in the world. The game checks over the Internet and kills the game if it finds someone else playing the game. Otherwise, you wait 4 minutes 33 seconds and win.

The title was inspired by a musical composition by American experimental composer John Cage, in which the performance consisted of NOT playing any musical instrument but listening only the environment noise.

Conway’s Game of Life

Probably the oldest, strangest and most popular zero player game is the Game of Life, or simply Life. It was invented by John H. Conway and popularized in Martin Gardner’s Scientific American column in October 1970.

It is a cellular automation game played on an infinite two-dimensional grid of square cells. There is no winning or losing, but just evolving based on the initial setting. The initial setup with some basic rules of death, birth, and survival create patterns over time.

Ever since its publication, the game has attracted wide attention because of the surprising ways in which complex patterns [18] can evolve from simple rules.Various life forms or objects can appear — block, tub, snake, ship, aircraft carrier, Python, fishhook, barge, beehive, etc in the game [19] with examples of emergence and self-organization.

Even Google has dedicated an easter egg to it. Search for “Conway’s Game of Life” and you’ll find several small blueish-grey boxes spreading over the page.


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