I was having a think about this last night.
If you had to pick a limited selection of the most important games made, a sort of "essential gaming list" for the uninitiated, what would you put on it?
Some rules, first:
1) Up to 4 games per platform, absolute maximum. For PC, make it 4 for the MS-DOS era, 4 for the Win9x era, 4 for the XP era.
2) Don't just name names, say WHY - especially your reasons for a particular game in a series.
3) If you have no experience of games for a given platform, don't bother. I never played on an amiga, so I won't embarass myself with an amiga list.
4) Only mention a particular series *once* - though paradigm shifts are allowed. e.g. Duke Nukem 2 and Duke Nukem 3D are conceptually different games - but Half Life and Half Life 2 are straight sequels.
So: my pick list.
PC - when gamers knew what emm386 did
Playing games in the MS-DOS era wasn't just rewarding - getting them working was part of the fun. Boot disks, editing config files, ah, those were the days. Remember, kids, DEVICEHIGH= is better than DEVICE=!
- Doom II: Hell on Earth. Absolutely no doubt, Doom is an absolutely vital piece of games history - and more to the point, it also rocks. Doom 2 added nothing by way of gameplay over the first game (and to be honest, hardly deserves to be called a full sequel), but the level design was absoutely divine.
- Command and Conquer. This isn't the first RTS, but it's probably the first really polished one. More importantly, it's also probably the best in the series, where the units were still relatively balanced.
- Sid Meier's Civilization 2. Civ2 was little more than a graphical update to Civ, all things considered, but the improved Windows 3.1-based GUI made the management of your empire FAR simpler
- The Secret of Monkey Island. My, how far LucasArts have fallen. Back in the early-mid ninties, they made some of the most original, innovative and funny games around. Now? Star wars tripe. Monkey Island is a prime example of the most important in the "point & click" genre, with a witty and funny story, and puzzles to keep you entertained for hours. MI2 was also a fine production, but MI introduced the three-headed monkey.
NES - when gamers couldn't give a **** what emm386 did
Actually, I couldn't think of any games on the NES that really, truly warranted icnlusion more than their sequels. And this from a man with a (working) NES in the living room, hooked up to his 26" HDTV.
SNES - when gamers had no reason to care what emm386 did
The SNES was host to a great many games - some of them were even good. Not quite as "cool" as Sega's Megadrive, often home to stupidly censored versions of games (Shadowrun and Mortal Kombat, for example), it is still a worthy machine today, with some of the most exciting & interesting titles about
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. The Zelda franchise is one of the most deserving of inclusion in this list, and Zelda 3 stands as the finest title in the series. For a 2D top-down game, the atmosphere is incredible - thanks largely to the expertly crafted soundtrack. I can't get enoguh of this game - and I keep my cart, autographed by Miyamoto himself, proudly on a shelf.
- Chrono Trigger. Squaresoft have released a lot of role-playing games to console owners. And, my confession is: I've played about four Final Fantasy games, and hated them all. Chrono Trigger, on the other hand, is Square's finest hour. A Japanese-style RPG of the finest calibre, with an emotive, twisty, turny storyline, multiple endings, and spiky ginger hair. Do yourself a favour, and track this down!
- Super Metroid. Super metroid is an odd game to pigeonhole into a genre. Is it a platform game? It's got lots of platforms, after all. Is it a shooter? After all, you shoot lots. RPG? Adventure game? Let's just settle on "brilliant". Crafted by Gunpei Yokoi (one of the lead designers of the Game Boy), this side-scrolling platform-rpg-adventure saw you exploring a mysterious alien planet as an armour-suit-clad bounty hunter, attempting to track down a kidnapped Metroid parasitic alien. Making superb use of sound, and all the hardware grunt of the SNES, this game helped define games with big guns in as more than straight blasters - and is again an essential play for any serious gamer.
- Donkey Kong Country. Rareware, once a Nintendo second-party developer, did the unthinkable with DKC - they took an established, popular Nintendo franchise, and made something better. For the time, DKC's graphics were incredible - instead of hand-drawn sprites, it featured (2D) characters captured from detailed 3D models. The levels were detailed, varied, fun to play, and full of secrets to discover. These have recently been re-released on GBA, if you feel like a play.
PC - when gamers stopped caring what emm386 did
Windows 95 promised to make all that config file fiddling history. It didn't, of course, but it was a nice idea - and eventually, games were pretty simple to install and get working, even with 3D once 3dFX and Glide sorted their act out.
- Blade Runner. What Monkey Island started, BR finished - the last great point and click game of our era. At the time requiring an unfathomable system to run (over a Gig of space? ), Blade Runner had some of the most detailed characters imaginable - with about thirteen endings (I've done about seven of them) based entirely on how you play. Good cop? Bad cop? Your call!
- Half Life. What Half-Life added to the FPS genre, when you boil it down, is three things - it eliminated the concept of "levels", allowing you to move smoothly between areas and revisiting existing areas where needed; it added fairly detailed (for its day) AI, where enemies would retreat, hide, or whatever; and it added a detailed scripting system, allowing for cool effects like enemies knocking down doors. Just remember to stop playing as soon as you see the word "Xen" on the screen, and it's all good!
- System Shock 2. SS2 is probably the best "scary" game on the PC. What makes it scary isn't the zombies, per se, it's the ship itself - the idea of tiptoeing around the Von Braun, bodies strewn everywhere, with a mechanical, unthinking, yet very menacing ship AI aware of your very footstep - It's really creepy! A fine action-RPG.
- Deus Ex. Deus Ex is fairly similar in play style to SS2 - and not by accident. An incredibly detailed and engrossing action-RPG, DX sees you fighting terrorists, governments, the illuminati, and everyone in between - armed often only with an electric cattle prod. Perhaps more interesting than multiple endings (which it has), DX focused hard on different middles - you could play through the game in your own style. Sneaking, hacking, blasting, it was all there. Personally, I'm big fan of reprogramming enemy turrets.
Part 2 to follow...