The thrill of the hunt

The Bambi jokes and the barracking began back in 1998. That was the year Deer Hunter, a $20 title created in eleven hectic weeks by a trio of greenhorns from Sunstorm Interactive, bounded straight to the top of the charts.

Players chose equipment, selected a tract of American wilderness and then lost themselves in the patient locating, luring and liquidating of virtual venison. Compared to period FPS games it was all rather pedestrian and ugly. You had to step back a few paces to appreciate the originality. While everyone else was doing “frantic” and “fantastical,” Sunstorm had gone “stealthy,” “slow” and “realistic.”

Today, that genre is studiously ignored by game critics. But not by the public. Millions of sales later, hunt sims remain an enigma. To what do they owe their success? What can other genres learn from their approach? And why on Earth would you want to play them?