(Originally published on Rogue Ramblings)
My first ever video game was on an 8k ROM cartridge that cost (this was back in 1983) £30, just think about that, 8k, my VBA scripts are typically bigger than that. I wouldn’t call myself a serious gamer and this list is not a history of games in the way that Charlie Brooker recently did (rather brilliantly too) but rather these are the games that for various reasons have stayed with me long after playing them and that others get compared to. You’ll probably notice a recurring theme with some of them but I never said I was that original. To start with then, we do indeed go back to 1983 and that 8k ROM cartridge..
Star Raiders, Published by Atari in 1979
Taking some obvious inspiration from the likes of “Star Wars” and “Battlestar Galactica”, “Star Raiders” is a 3D space combat game where you must defeat the evil “Zylon” forces. It plays as a first person space shooter with you looking out of your cockpit as you travel from sector to sector defeating the enemies before they can destroy your star bases. This was effectively “Elite” without the trading aspect and looking at the layout of the cockpit displays it’s not hard to see the early beginnings of either “Wing Commander” or “X-Wing”. The game had levels of difficulty and depending on how you did you then got a ranking at the end. This was incredibly influential on me and this style of gameplay (with its obvious movie overtones) has always been attractive. It was released onto the Atari VCS and the ST and was recently re-released for both the X-Box and PS3 but to me none of those versions ever captured the simplicity and grace of the original. The last best space combat game I played was probably 2003’s “Freelancer”, I have never really been able to get into “EVE Online” despite several attempts to do so.
Alternate Reality, Published by DataSoft, 1985
Carrying on my trend of playing from a first person perspective comes this ambitious project developed by Paradise Programming. Looking to be heavily influenced by “Dungeon & Dragons”, the opening cinematic shows you, the player, being kidnapped by an Alien spacecraft and then transported to another world and left to fend for yourself. What makes this game stand out for me was the concept and what was planned. Planned as the first of seven games, the first part is just the city and is mainly a game of exploration, no quests, no upgrade path. If you find doors or the city gates you would be prompted to enter a disk for the “Arena” or “Wilderness”. Ultimately, only one further expansion came out, “The Dungeon”, but the packaging gave some tantalising hints as to what was planned. This game came on four double-sided 5.25 inch floppy disks and there could be a lot of disk flipping depended on your path through the city. Changing weather effects, atmospheric music and an unforgiving save system (when your character died, you had to start again) all combined to give a unique game and dangerous game world. What struck me about this and, to my mind anyway, what sets it apart from similar games of the era was the sense of freedom and the ability to explore. Ultimately a bold concept that was probably too ahead of its time.
Dungeon Master, Published by FTL Games, 1987
Whilst appearing not too dissimilar from previously. Mentioned “Alternate Reality”, “Dungeon Master” is different in style in that there is a definite quest to complete in addition to puzzles to solve and a whole host of creatures to overcome. You play as a guiding force for four adventures venturing into a dungeon to find the “Firestaff” and defeat “Lord Chaos”. All relatively simple so far but what sets this apart was the atmosphere the game generated, in no small part to the excellent sound design. This was probably the first game I had to play with the sound down at various points, the noise coming from the Worms and the Skeletons used to freak me out, and the number of times I would turn a corner and suddenly find an adversary would see me jumping in my seat also. As you beat more opponents your adventurers get more experiance, which increases your levels of relevant skills, use a sword you get better at combat, cast spells you get better at magic. The puzzles also could be quite hard and don’t forget this was before the age of the internet so there was no game FAQs you could interrogate. This spawned a host of imitators, including two sequels but, like “Star Raiders”, to me they never quite achieved the same heights that this did.
Carrier Command, Published by Rainbird, 1988
This was the game at stole my last long summer holiday. I woke up, I played this and carried on playing, only breaking for food and sleep and it was glorious. You are in command of a futuristic Aircraft Carrier and you have to stop an opposite number that has been take over by a rogue AI. Your carrier has aircraft, amphibious vehicles and multiple weapon options. You equip and then deploy your vehicles in support of capturing islands, performing reconnaissance or even defending your carrier from attack. Your arena is an archipelago of Islands that you can build automated facilities to either mine resources, build equipment or are pure defensive in nature. The enemy carrier is faster than you so strategy is critical, you need to build and protect your own supply lines whilst trying to cut off your opponents. The multiple assault options, coupled with a well designed interface gives a lot of breadth to this.
X-Wing, Published by LucasArts, 1993
So what happens if you take elements from games like the afore mentioned “Star Raiders”, “Wing Commander” and “Elite”, include elements from one of the most famous movie franchises of all time and make it a great game to boot? “X-Wing” happens. “Star Wars” based games had always been popular but don’t forget, this was 10 years after “Return of the Jedi” and the prequels were still some time off even being announced. “X-Wing” is a great game in its own right, the “Star Wars” elements only add to the atmosphere. The game features relatively recognisable elements, there’s a tutorial level, the training missions before beginning one of three actual “tours of duty”, the third one of which culminates in the battle of Yavin as featured at the end of the original “Star Wars” movie. Missions leading up weave in story elements which only adds to the overall atmosphere of the game. Initially you can fly either an “X-Wing”, “Y-Wing” or “A-Wing” with the chance to fly a “B-Wing” coming with a mini expansion later on after the main game. The three tours of duty feature a punishing learning curve with some earlier missions being harder to complete than some later ones, an issue that would be addressed by the sequel, entitled “TIE-Fighter”. Like other games in this list, the sequels that followed never quite captured the magic that this one brought.
The 7th Guest, Published by Virgin Interactive, 1993
The year was 1994, I was working full time in my first IT job and walking into a Virgin Games Centre (remember those kids?) I bought my first dual-speed CD-ROM reader for £180 (this was a bone fide bargain at this time), and with it two games, “Dune” and “The 7th Guest”. The latter was arguably one of the first games to take advantage of the additional storage potential afforded by CD and it made good use of it featuring a lot of specially shot video that adds to the game as you progress through it. The game is essentially a series of puzzles that need to be solved to venture further into a creepy old mansion, you play from a first person perspective and one of the first questions you ask yourself is “who am I and what am I doing here?”. The game revolves a dinner party thrown by an old toy maker who has made some nefarious deals with supernatural forces, each guest also has their reason for bring there and their stories unfold over the course of the game. The game lulls you into a false sense of security with some of the earlier puzzles being quite simple but the difficulty quickly ramps up in difficulty. Again, it’s the atmosphere that makes this game so memorable, from the video segments to the sound design to the design of the puzzles themselves. Followed by a lacklustre, bug ridden sequel, this game was recently released for iOS devices and it’s as good as I remember it.
Unreal Tournament, Published by GT Interactive, 1999
Like probably every games of that generation, I played Doom to destruction, some of my very first networking experiance was fitting two PC’s with ISA network cards, 10 metres of co-ax cable with T-Pieces and Terminators, all to play Doom across IPX/SPX (yes kids, there was a time before TCP/IP). This would be followed by games such as the inevitable sequel, the “Quake” series and the ” Unreal”. Whereas “Unreal” was a story based game, “Unreal Tournament” was all about multiplayer (with some single player support thrown in). The game was fast, energetic and with what felt like a wide choice of firepower. I can still remember four of us taking our PC’s into the office, plugging into a seperate LAN and then the joys of seeing your opponents faces when you take them out. Of all the games of this ilk, this is still the one I come back to. It’s fast frenetic and fun which is something I think some modern day shooters forget about.
World of Warcraft, Published by Blizzard, 2005 (Europe)
I’d not played an MMO before having missed out on the “Everquest” series but a friend of mine had been following this game since it’s US release and urged me to pre-order. I did and my gaming life for the next 8 or so years would change. It’s a Massive Multiplayer Online game which means as you are playing it so are thousands of people around the world, each “player” you see in the game is being controlled by someone like you sitting in front of a PC. It came with a very lengthy manual but realistically, when creating a character, you choose your race, class. And a couple of other things and then your off into the game. The tutorial levels do a good job of introducing many of the key concepts (and these have been refined over the years) but this is very much about exploring the world. In some ways like “Alternate Reality” earlier in my list, it was this sense that was one of my joys of playing, going somewhere and getting a bit more of the map to uncover, but be careful, if you wonder into an area your not ready for then prepare to die a lot! The game has continued to grow and evolve as new expansions and updates are issued. I haven’t logged for nearly a year as I felt recent changes dumbed down the interface too much and there was a growing focus on “grinding” (performing repetitive tasks for rewards towards better gear) but a fifth expansion was recently announced and I am wondering about going back.
Heavy Rain, Published by Quantic Dream, 2010
There’s a scene in the sci-fi classic “Fahrenheit 451”, where one of the characters is watching a TV series and every now and again the TV stops and directly asks the viewer a question, their answer then directly influences what happens next in the TV series. “Heavy Rain” tells the story of four characters and how they interact with each other as they become entangled in the case of the “Origami Murderer”. Each has a vested interest and the game composes of segments where you are one of those characters. What sets this game apart is the complete lack of control structure, you may move a character through a building but you only interact with your environment when you are given the option too on screen. Like a lot of games on this list, the atmosphere the game generated can be intense and it throws some harsh decisions your way as the game builds to a climax and then giving you a twist. There’s a lot of different endings depending on the disposition of the various characters as the final chapter begins and choices made earlier on can and will come back to haunt you. This is a serious adult game with mature themes and, for me, was an incredible experiance to play through.
Mass Effect 2, Published by Electronic Arts, 2011 (PS3 Version)
Starting a new role and talking to your colleagues can be a challenging experiance, will you fit in, will there be common ground to talk about? One such colleague was a big gamer and seemed genuinely shocked I had not played any of the “Mass Effect” series, such was his hurting that I bought the first game, equally enjoyed it and the tracked down the second. The game is the story of Commander Shepherd as he travels the galaxy fighting an alien invasion force. Now this is all fairly standard scifi fare, but what makes this stand out is the story that develops through a series of cut scenes that give you a choice to respond, make too harsh a comment and the character might get hostile towards you, be nicer and maybe romance will blossom. This is all interspersed with plenty of third person viewpoint as you battle various hostile forces all the while trying to make the rest of the universe believe as you do. Like “Heavy Rain” before it choices you make will continue to have and effect and ability to import characters from game to game mean choices you made in thefi rest game will impact the third. For me, this is the best of series as it balances story, interface elements, combat, etc the best of the three.