When I perused my RSS feeds this morning, I stumbled across a post by the brilliant Doone of XP Chronicles, formerly TR Redskies. He describes in detail the 15 games that ruined him the most, aka turning him into a stalwart gamer. His list is very different from mine, but it made me nostalgic, and also made me ponder which were the defining games for me. The red thread that goes through almost all games for me is story. I want to be immersed in good story-telling. Without further ado, and mostly in a timeline from childhood to today, here goes nothing.
1. Summer Games 2/Winter Games
2. Ultima V
This game deserves its own special award, because it was the first computer game I ever bought myself. It cost the horrendous amount of 80 DM, which was a lot of money for 17-year old me. As C64 gamer in Germany, at least in my circle, you pirated games. We just exchanged cassettes and later floppy disks in the schoolyard. Some boys had amazing collections and so I pretty much managed to play most big titles that were released back in the day. One of the games I played as a pirated copy was Ultima IV. It blew me away. Sure, if you look at it today, the graphics were utter crap, but the world, the cast, the overarching story, it seriously blew me away. When it comes to storytelling, there was nothing amazing going on in C64 days. Sure, the Infocom adventures might have been an exception, but I didn’t speak enough English at the time to fully appreciate it. Ultima IV was my first real story. Unfortunately, with a pirated copy, I was soon at my wit’s end when it came to more advanced stuff. A manual would have been great. I didn’t intend to make this mistake again, and so, I bought this game from my pocket money. I remember unboxing it, with the thick cloth map, a silver coin, a fanciful manual with its own rune alphabet. I loved every bit of it. On top of that, the story in Ultima V was so much grander. It was the first game that had me up til 4 am because I was so hooked. Money well spent. In terms of story, only Ultima VII: Serpent Isle topped it. My hopes are so high for Shroud of the Avatar.
3. Champions of Krynn
This was the first of many many many SSI gold box games that I played, and the game that got me started on my road to playing AD&D. I hadn’t read any of the Dragonlance books, but the game got great reviews and so I bought it. This game had a particular copy protection in that it required you to read journal entries in a specific journal that pirates usually didn’t have access to. After finishing the game, and nearly crapping my pants about the Dragonlance version of Death Knights, I was so hooked on gold box games that I played most of them. Even the Bucks Rogers ones which were actually quite excellent! Some of the best storytelling out there. It inspired me to read all Weis/Hickman Dragonlance books as well, which will always have a fond place in my heart.
It’s earned its place because when I got my very first PC in 1992, a whopping 386 SX-16, the original Civ was my very first game on it. I convinced my ex that I needed a PC for university and such, but let’s be honest, I was more interested in the games. I had skipped the Amiga/Atari ST days for lack of funds, and the days of C64 gaming were over, with PC gaming ever on the rise. Civilization was very interesting, but far too complex for me. I skipped the series until there was a Steam sale of Civ IV, purchased it, highly regretted it and was not won over to the series again until Civ V. Which I really should play far more often than I do.
5. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
What a game! I was a fan of LucasArts adventures since C64 days and played all of them since Maniac Mansion, including the incredibly odd and yet so funny Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders. Of all the LucasArts adventures, Indy wins the challenge though, because it has the most epic story. Plus Nazis with sausages that you can use as bait. This would have made a really excellent movie (back when Harrison Ford was still of Indy age), and I mourn that we never got to see feisty Sophia Hapgood on screen. She was a fantastic character.
6. Lands of Lore
7. Warcraft II
I skipped the first Warcraft and played Command&Conquer instead. At least for a little while. RTS didn’t grab me, or maybe it was just C&C’s setting. Warcraft II on the other hand had me hooked from the start. I remember how much I enjoyed the exotic names, like Lordaeron and Khaz Modan mentioned in the campaign. I loved the orc peons. I still remember most sounds the different units made, including the incredibly effeminate elves. I still get shivers listening to the music and am incredibly thrilled that they’re alive today as music for the WoW pet battles. Love it.
9. You don’t know Jack
10. Planescape: Torment
Black Isle studios made games based on AD&D. Their Baldur’s Gate games were set in the Forgotten Realms, and BG2 in particular is one of the finest computer RPGs of all times. The finest RPG of all times however might be this gem, set in the sadly discontinued campaign setting of Planescape. With its various planes of existence and gates to different worlds, Planescape: Torment was the first RPG where the story was greater than the combat. It requires reading long paragraphs of text. There is so much text that there’s a novelization of this game in various formats, including PDF, epub and mobi for your e-reading pleasure. I dare say that if you enjoy fantasy RPGs and storytelling, you should definitely be playing this game full of unique, quirky characters as you help the main character, The Nameless One, to find out his story. Mort, the insult-flinging skull alone is worth the money you spend for this game at Gog.com these days.
11. Diablo 2
12. World of Warcraft
I bought World of Warcraft in 2005. It was introduced in Germany in February 2005, and was then sold out for a month. I got one of the first boxes in March when it was back in stores. This means I have been playing this game for 9 years. Make that 8 years, because I took a lengthy break between Cataclysm and MoP, and I am taking another break just now. Still, 8 years is a long time. I played next to no other games for long stretches. It was my first MMO, and up until the day Blizzard breaks it, it will continue to be my favorite MMO. Their lack of content between expansions and the long gaps between expansions continue to be a huge issue for me, but when they deliver content, it’s usually solid. MoP was one of the best expansions. WoW turned me into a blogger, it made me follow social media like Twitter, and I met countless amounts of utterly fantastic people. Some of them are now friends outside of WoW as well. It’s a phenomenon.
My list is really heavily biased, but I do love Blizzard games, and I do love Bioware. I know they lost a lot of status because of SWTOR, but before there was SWTOR, there was KotOR, the first game that made me take a WoW break. I like Star Wars, but I was never a huge fan. This new, no, Old Republic though, was so fascinating. The story of the KotOR main character is still fascinating. Sure, playing it today is sometimes cringe-worthy, because the graphics are old, but damn, the story is still awesome. It introduced me to a lot of systems Bioware used in many other games: romances, the light-dark side system, forming a party, team dynamics, etc.
15. Mass Effect series
Maybe my post made you as nostalgic as it made me! If it inspired you too, feel free to link to your own posts in comments. Rock on.
The Ancient Gaming Noob has a nice list of all the published lists so far, and I shall spread around some link love and point to them all. So many interesting choices!