Inspired by a post a couple weeks ago on The Ancient Gaming Noob, we decided to use this week’s podcast to talk about some of the most influential games in each our lives. Because of the format of the show only really allowed for 5 each, I had to narrow the selection criteria down quite a bit. I felt a bit like John Cusack in High Fidelity, having to put all sorts of caveats on my game selection. Plus, it was sad to have to leave out some particularly interesting/nostalgia-provoking games.
Well, no more! I will not be confined by the bourgeoisie’s shackles here on my blog! And so, I will present an expanded list! Please don’t take the list as any kind of order. I’m not nearly that organized.
For completeness’ sake, I will start with a quick rundown of the games that I already discussed on the podcast, just for completeness sake. If you want to hear more about them, please do listen to the episode. These were chosen because they were each important to me in different ways, and at different stages of my gaming life. Even if the timeframe was a bit heavy in the “college” era.
- Contra (NES) – I played the hell out of this with my brother, and it was one of the earliest games that I remember upping the difficulty on myself by imposing additional restrictions (no continues! no Konami code!).
- GemStone III/IV (AOL/PC) – This game. It’s a MUD-style game, but it is SO MUCH MORE than that. GemStone taught me how to roleplay, it taught me what it was like to spend days and weeks and months playing the same character. And it taught me what it was like to really want to optimize something – even something that I would never realistically complete. It’s also where I came up with ThatAngryDwarf, which has followed me ever since!
- CounterStrike (PC) – So very many hours were spent playing CS. I eventually started playing semi-competitively (in the bottom-rung CAL Open leagues), and helped build/run a team.
- Super Smash Bros (N64) – This is the game that really, truly solidified several long-lasting friendships in college. There were other things, of course, but the hours that we sat around on couches together have been the basis of several life-long friendships. The anguish when the first cartridge got stolen was incredible. But we still come back to this every chance we get.
- WoW (PC) – WoW is the foundation of my modern gaming life. It was not my first MMO (I’d argue that GS qualifies and SWG definitely does), but it is the one that really set the tone for the last decade. I’ve met a ton of great friends, and been able to get into podcasting and blogging – none of which would have happened without WoW. Hard to think of a bigger impact than that.
And now for some of the other games that I wasn’t able to talk about on the podcast!
- Apple IIe Games
This is a conglomeration, since the things I remember learning from them all sort of blend together. The Apple IIe was the first computer in my house, sometime in the mid-80s. I’m honestly not even sure why we got one – I assume that it was because my parents wanted to use some software from their school while at home – but what I do know is that this is where I first learned to tinker with computers. I remember having to puzzle out how to even start a game, let alone play it. It’s where I first learned how to write BASIC programs (including my personal standard “Hello World” game which is “Guess what number I’m thinking of?”). Specific games that I remember playing (and for which the floppies may still be in my parents’ basement closet) include: Hard Hat Mack – basically Donkey Kong in the Construction universe; Swashbuckler – Pirate fencing!; and Death in the Carribbean – text adventure game, but with sweet, sweet graphics!
- Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?
I expect that a lot of us spent hours upon hours learning tracking that notorious criminal through the world and unwittingly picking up lots of geography and world history knowledge. I can definitely remember flipping through my encyclopedias looking for the answers to a question, or calling down the stairs to my parents about some random answer that clearly only they would know. I also spent hours playing this series, and of course, watching the TV show. Plus, that theme song…
- Nibbles/Gorillas (DOS)
These were a pair of games that shipped with Qbasic, which I found out about on my first Windows 3 machine in ~1994. Not only did I spend a bunch of time playing these games, but they were actually part of the first exercise in my first “real” programming class. The teacher essentially said “the source code is right there, start modifying it to see what happens”, and let us loose. I can’t remember if I’d done that previously or not, but it certainly made me love that class. And it shaped the way that I would approach coding going forward – being able to actually see your results immediately is a great way to gauge whether what you intended to happen actually did. Likewise, you could have some hilarious unintended consequences (also a useful lesson)!
- SimCity (SNES)
I have to say, I don’t really play that many city-builders anymore. I have a lot of trouble getting into them for whatever reason. But SimCity on the SNES (and various other platforms of the time)? Hells yes! Even separate from the hours I spent on these games individually, the parts I remember the most were playing cities cooperatively with friends. But how did you do that before consoles had modems? Well, you’d start the game together (possibly at a sleep-over, because then you have SO MUCH TIME), and then you’d just pass the cartridge back and forth every couple days. It was always really fun to see what happened in your time away, and terrifying to think that somehow your save game might get erased… But, regardless, this game showed me what was possible in gaming when you dedicated yourself to a task. (The answer is that Bowser would show up and rampage across your city and ruin all your hard work. Asshole.)
- Doom (DOS)
Doom! This was a good way to really get into FPSes – I probably played Wolfenstein before this, but Doom was my game on my PC and, by god, I needed a better sound card. So then I had to learn how to install one. And then I needed to learn about IRQ tables. And OH MY GOD I JUST WANT TO PLAY DOOM. I always loved this game as a game, but what I appreciate most of all, looking back, is that it was an entryway into the wonderful world of PC gaming and hardware tinkering. I’m glad I got to learn these things, and I still enjoy them now!
- Myst (Apple IIGS)
Myst was a gorgeous game. It really made me understand that graphics could be a thing that I cared about. It was also a ton of fun to figure out all the puzzles! Or, when you got stuck, ask around at school for who had figured out which parts you were stuck on and trade information from memory. Or, in some cases, like when my friend and I first finished the game, draw out entire maps of mazes on large art paper, just so that you could navigate a maze efficiently!
- TI-81/82/83/85 Games
All those graphing calculators that our parents bought us were really amazing. For school work, I mean. (Hi Mom!) Right? Okay, but also for gaming and related hobby activities. I think, for a lot of people, it was their first “real” introduction to handheld gaming, and it was oddly similar to the current mobile app situation we have today. This is another place where I played a lot of Nibbles, but also Tetris, Chess (via the direct-link cable!), and a relatively notorious version of Drugwars (there was also a spinoff where you were a male prostitute that went around my high school for a while…). But the capstone, for me, were the games I wrote and distributed myself. Most notably the super hero game where one stage had you driving the Batmobile through a crowded street of oncoming traffic, and another was a pretty terrible beat-em-up side scroller. I even had a friend that made (really good) pixel-art of Wolverine that I was able to add to the TI-85 version (my TI-82 could handle that much memory).
- Final Fantasy VII
I’m not even sure if this is my favorite Final Fantasy game, but it was my first. It came along at the perfect time for me, and is a large part of the reason that I spent a good chunk of my summer job money on a Playstation that year. And, honestly, it was worth it. I think it was one of the first console games I’d played with a really engaging story, and that was awesome.
- Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3
While not the first Tony Hawk game that I played heavily, this was the first one that I participated in the launch-day rush for with my friends. There were about seven or eight of us, and we each took a character and passed the controller around taking turns running at a level/objective/whatever. This game really brought out the completionist/achiever in me, and I am fairly sure that the PS2 did not turn off from the moment that the game went in until the moment the game was 100% complete. We prided ourselves on the fact that we had figured everything out and completed the game well before the internet’s best Tony Hawk guide site of the time had their walkthrough up. It was also awesome to be one of the two people that could consistently get the Tokyo S-K-A-T-E line down, since that was what was holding some people up from moving on to character #2 or whatever. Plus, we played lots of multiplayer skate-offs.
- Heavy Rain
I know that Heavy Rain sparked a lot of controversy in terms of its quicktime event nature, but I loved it. It really proved to me that the medium of “video game” can be cinematic, and that I am perfectly okay with interactive fiction. I’d definitely played other heavily story-driven games before, but this one just sort of pushes most of the “game” elements out of the way and uses what does exist to further draw you into the narrative. It’s also allowed me to really step back and look past gameplay flaws when evaluating how I feel about a game, which is cool. Sometimes, of course, gameplay is important. But other times, I’m happy to let it take a back seat to the core piece in front of me.
So that’s that. I’m sure there are plenty more that I’m missing (and I realize I’m fairly thin on certain time periods), but those are some of the more important video games that have helped influence my outlook on the genre. What about yours?