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The 15 games that shaped me

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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

I was much better at ski jumping than this dude, hah!

I was much better at ski jumping than this dude, hah!

My first computer was a VC20, but I don’t have a lot of recollection of the games I played on it. Nothing really stands out all these years later. But then I got my C64 and everything changed. The quality of the games changed immensely. Famous and popular with everyone I knew at the time were the sports games by Epyx based on the Olympics. Unlike previous sports games like Decathlon that required joystick-breaking movements, they were far more relaxed, yet fun. My favorite sport was clearly Biathlon, it was awesome. My brother and I would battle it out quite often. We also enjoyed World Games with its over-the-top events like Acapulco cliff diving. Insane amounts of fun. It wasn’t until California Games that those games lost their shine on me. If I were to use an emulator now, Winter Games would be at the top of the list of must play titles.

2. Ultima V
Ultima VThis 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
Ah, the good old Last Home Inn, home of Otik's famous Spiced PotatoesThis 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.

4. Civilization
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
Fate_of_Atlantis_artworkWhat 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

Yay, no more note paper by the desk to play a dungeon crawl!

Yay, no more note paper by the desk to play a dungeon crawl!

After the gold box games, SSI switched to the immensely successful Eye of the Beholder games, dungeon crawls much like the Wizardry games. I tried to love them, but the story felt dull compared to the gold boxes, and I admittedly wasn’t good at them either. The studio that made the Beholder games eventually created their own IP, and alas, the Lands of Lore were born, making me fall in love with dungeon crawling. It had a sprawling game world with various different locations, voice acting by Sir Patrick Stewart, and the wonderful auto-mapping that made it easy and fluid to play this game.

7. Warcraft II
Box art for Warcraft III 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.

8. Starcraft

Yeaah, love the zerg creep.

Yeaah, love the zerg creep.

On the heels of WCII comes Starcraft. I know it was RTS-defining as a multiplayer game, with its amazing success as e-sport in South Korea, e.g. But to me it stands out as the game that brought great story telling to the RTS genre. My favorite race were the zerg, and the reveal at the end of their campaign was most excellent. I am still not the best RTS player and actually had to use a money cheat to make it through some tough levels, but it was a fantastic game.

9. You don’t know Jack

Jack was always kind of an asshole

Jack was always kind of an asshole

Almost all of the above mentioned games were single player for me. Even the *craft ones as I didn’t do LAN or battle.net play. At this stage of my PC gaming, I had very few RL friends who were into gaming. YDKJ however was the game, that even got all the non-gamers to my PC, for hours of hilarious fun. YDKJ was a quiz game, like a television quiz show on steroids. Loads of pop culture questions. It was just good ol’ hilarious fun, and I loved it, because it was one of the most accessible games ever. Even for non-nerds.

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

The original, pre-expansion characters of Diablo 2

The original, pre-expansion characters of Diablo 2

The godfather of all point and click action adventures. It was a huge step up from the original Diablo. I never made it far past the Butcher in old Tristram, but I completed Diablo 2 on multiple characters. I loved the expansion, my assassin was the best. Neither the monk nor the demon hunter from D3 appeal as much as my assassin did. Story- and atmosphere-wise it was far ahead of D3 for me as well, regardless of how slick D3 looks and plays. It was a fantastic game, and it was the game I played for months on end until another Blizzard title came into my life.

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.

13. KotOR
KotoR Box artMy 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.

14. DA2

FemHawke, you were the best, even with that ridiculous red smear on your nose.

FemHawke, you were the best, even with that ridiculous red smear on your nose.

To continue my Bioware accolades, here comes Dragon Age 2, one of the most underrated games ever. It also introduced me to something about games that I had not quite noticed before: vitriolic hatred. It’s not a popular game. It re-uses locations consistently. Instead of roaming across the map of Ferelden, involved in a large-scale, high fantasy story as in Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age 2 is a highly personal story in a much smaller location, the city of Kirkwall. And yet, for me, it was the better game. I enjoyed both games, but DA2’s characters were better written, I enjoyed all romances, and I felt the impact of the storyline through the course of many years far more gripping. It inspired me to write fiction, and to this day, I still get kudos and feedback on those fan fiction stories of mine. So, go away, haters. I hope that Dragon Age: Inquisition will not disappoint me by catering to the Skyrim lovers of the world who find that world and sandbox are more important than characters and story.

15. Mass Effect series

Or maybe you were the best, Fem Shep. Kicking ass and taking names since 2007

Or maybe you were the best, Fem Shep. Kicking ass and taking names since 2007

Last but not least, we have the Mass Effect trilogy. I think everyone who considers playing those games, needs to play all three, and ideally one after the other. I really need to replay ME2 and 3. What can I say? I find the story as highly personal as Dragon Age 2, and there were many moving moments across all games. It introduced me to Jennifer Hale, who is a kickass person all around. Also, Yvonne Strahovski. It’s a 3rd person shooter with RPG elements that diminish across the games. Which I never found problematic because ME1’s inventory management was frickin’ tedious. If I hadn’t enjoyed this game so much, I would never have ventured into trying other shooters, like e.g. Bioshock. The Mass Effect games take all the major elements of a post KotOR Bioware game, and deliver a highly dramatic, sweeping story with twists and turns and wonderful characters. Yes, the original ending sucked, but they fixed the worst of the suck, and so I consider it a milestone in gaming history.

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.

Update:

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!

12 Comments

  1. Awesome list, and some real classics there

    • I just read your list, and you had some great stuff too. Pitfall! Aw man, I played the heck out of Pitfall 2 back in the day. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Picking My 15 Most Influential Games | The Ancient Gaming Noob

  3. I love this list. It brought up some titles lost to memory like Indiana Jones and You Don’t Know Jack (I got the latter after D2 introduced me to the glory of computer games; loved it). I also loved the Assassin in the LoD expansion for D2. Was thoroughly disappointed they went with the demon hunter instead, though I think its a good class. I doubt they’ll put it in later too, but it sure would be nice.

    Also, youre too kind with your kind words about me. Me thinks you must want something! An obligatory blog topic? Phat loot? A round of gaming? There must be something …but Im deeply appreciative of the compliment.

    • I haven’t really put much time into the demon hunter, and have only really played monk and wizard in D3. Monk seemed the closest to assassin to me, but it wasn’t, really.

      As for my kind words, I have no expectations, other than you continuing to write your insightful topics. 🙂

  4. Oh man. Talk about nostalgia! I really want to play some of the old gold box games now. Gog.com here I come!

    • I don’t think gold box games aged very well, but I might be wrong. They were so much fun. I loved the stories and the turn-based combat. Which one was your favorite? I think Curse of the Azure Bonds was my second favorite after Champions of Krynn.

      • I’d have to go with Neverwinter Nights. I spent too many hours (and too much of my parents’ money) playing that on AOL back in the day. 😛

  5. Great list! It’s really similar to what would be on mine.

    • I bet yours would include Thief! Which I have never played. The above Chris gave me Thief Gold for my birthday, so that’s on my to-do list. 🙂

  6. I love these lists! Every time I read a new list I find a couple gems I had forgotten about. Your #1, Winter Games, was AMAZING. The hardest was bob-sledding from what I remember. Champions of Krynn as well. Those are some classics!

    Thanks for sharing, and thanks for the link!

    • Yeah, bob-sledding was brutal! It was such an all-around good game with great events. Yay, people who played Champions of Krynn. I think most people went for the Forgotten Realms games instead.

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