Mastering Two Elusive Windows Entertainment Pack Games: Spider Solitaire and Minesweeper

In the mid-90s, I was very much a console gamer. OG Nintendo, to be more precise. I was knee-deep into games like The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. 3. My folks bought a second-hand 286 DOS machine when I entered middle school so I would have access to a computer, but in 1995, it was already woefully outdated with the only real games available being the handful of titles that were already installed (shout out to Mixed-Up Mother Goose) or whatever might be found in the bargain bin at the local computer store (Street Rod 2 FTW!). With Windows 3.11 and 95 being adopted across the market, I was enamored with games like Chip’s Challenge and SkiFree on the occasions that I got to play around on a relative’s machine. When I got my first “modern” computer in high school (a Pentium 75 from Micro Center running Windows 95), I took little time attempting to “catch up” with my PC gaming peers: Quake, Duke Nukem, and Command & Conquer became my lingua franca for a couple of years. When America Online and The Internet came along in the late 1990s (my AOL journey is a story for another day), I would tie up the phone line for hours trying to download a 30-second RealMedia video clip over 56kbps. Unfortunately, attempting to kill time by playing some of the “better” PC games would necessitate severing the connection due to the RAM requirements, so I became intimately familiar with the built-in Windows games like Freecell, Minesweeper, and–my favorite–Spider Solitaire.

Thirty-five minutes of careful planning, testing, and undoing to get it right.
For great justice!

Spider was always a fun diversion for me, but I never really played higher than the easy level with one suit. This was a diversion, after all, so I only really needed to steer my attention away for 5-10 minutes at a time, and the easy level could allow me a quick game while still being able to catch The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn while downloading the latest video weirdness from Consumption Junction or loading that week’s SomethingAwful Photoshop Phriday post. Spider is one of those interesting solitaire games that evolves in complexity as you add more suits to the deck, culminating in an extremely difficult 4-suit deck that causes dead ends at nearly every turn of a card. It’s a challenging game, and I nearly forgot about it for years until I rediscovered it on Android. For a time, I would play during any spare minutes I had–usually before bed–until I finally worked my way up to a 4-suit game. It’s a great challenge, and after an unusual hot streak, I finally managed to win a game at this hardest difficulty!

Slow and steady wins the race. Think of the children that could've stepped on a mine you missed!

Like Spider, Minesweeper was another Windows game that I would dig into while I was waiting on documents to load during those bygone days of the early Internet. Minesweeper was a strategy game for those times when I felt like I needed a little more tension. It’s not as difficult a game as Spider considering that it (usually) gives you all the information you need to locate the mines in the form of those colorful numbers that populate the board. Again, I usually only played at the easy level because I was lazy and because I only needed to kill so much time (my long-term gaming sessions were populated by favorites such as C&C Red Alert and X-Wing). Also again, I rediscovered the game on Android after a years-long hiatus due to my concentrating on aspects of life outside of video games (2006-2016 found me in the throes of what I would refer to as “Survival Mode” wherein I would not have much in the way of gaming time) and I made it a point to dig in and complete a game on the hardest available setting. I actually forgot how much I enjoyed great puzzle games like Minesweeper, and I’ve been enjoying diving into others that I have in my collection like BoxyBoy and Donkey Kong ’94.

I know that both Spider and Minesweeper seem to be fairly easy games to program, and I’ve been on a kick to sharpen my coding tools. As such, I’m going to add developing my own versions of these games to my project list. I’ve always learned programming languages best by following models and learning the mechanics of the code as I go, so I’ll be using an iterative format to develop my own applications over time. My goal is to document the development of both applications as I go so that I’ll be able to reinforce the skills I learn as well as provide a reference to anyone else that may want to learn how to develop their own versions of these classic games. It’s a little exciting to finally learn the mechanics behind these pieces of my own history, and I hope to gain some practical knowledge that I can use on later projects that I have planned!