OK, M.E. inspired me to take a stab at a top ten. About half of these are easy, but here it goes:
Top Ten Video Games I’ve loved the most:
- Star Control II, PC: Just beautiful. The exploration of the unknown, the humor, the surprises, the living world, the creative ship design. From the first surprise encounters with the Earth and the Moon to the inspired credits sequence. What first showed me that game design itself could be beautiful, although I didn’t realize it at the time. Me and my childhood friends played the 2 player ship combat for months, and played the single player co-op together, and then compared our stories, and then played it again. A complete masterpiece, whose only failing is our failing to repeat it.
- Chrono Trigger, SNES: Where Star Control II is beautiful, Chrono Trigger is, but defiantly. It grabs the reins of a genre that is supposed to tell stories and says “this is how it should be done!” The vibrant manga graphics, the court scene that shows your actions matter, being able to avoid battles, the first time I’d seen co-op attacks and team tactics, the new game+ to the innumerable endings that I had to find every one. I can’t say who I played this with, I know there were many, but only because I was so enraptured every time I turned it on.
- Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Gamecube: Ocarina made me believe. For it’s time, it told an immersive and grand tale, something that me and my friends started and just couldn’t put down. Yes, it’s not perfect. The beginning, like all the 3D Zelda games, is a bit rough. But it makes up for it with inspiration throughout, at a time when there was nothing to compare it to. Interestingly, though I’ve beaten it at least 3 times and watched it through twice, this is the only game on this list that I’d have trouble playing again. While it’s quite possibly the greatest game of its era, it hasn’t stood up to the test of time as well.
- Diablo II, PC: Our family game, and the game I’ve probably played the most with friends. I think this is the only game I’ve ever played with my Dad and brother, here almost from start to finish. I never really played online, just with 2-4 friends. The design here was so simple and yet well-done, and the 7 different classes meant there were tons of strategies for me to explore and still match my friend’s playing style.
- Starcraft, PC: The longest runner. I’ve been playing this game off and on again for almost 10 years. The depth of strategic learning is just unique, and it exemplifies the best of both multiplayer play and tutorial training (for its era). Of this list, it’s the only game I still play regularly. It’s that good.
- Halo, XBox: Co-op tactical play. I’ve beaten the single-player co-op at least 6 times with 6 different people, and would happily do so again. While widely disparaged, I still find the tactical cover-shooting gameplay genius, the running story since Marathon fantastic, and the art choices inspired.
- Deus Ex, PC: The game that inspired a generation of game designers. Unprecedented interactivity. I think I played the demo level more times then I’ve played any other level. It’s combination of interactive storytelling, player character growth, and large set of interaction verbs heralded the future of its genre even more then its dystopian setting.
- Planescape: Torment, PC: The best writing in a game I can recall. The willingness to throw off the design tropes D&D RPGs had been shackled with and commit fully to their setting are outstanding. The characters had meaning and the player’s actions were significant. And they did comedy!
- Wing Commander II, PC: The Character drama. From the opening missions with Spirit to Angel and Hobbes, WC2 took what was a staid and simple genre and made it dramatic. In a genre that hasn’t been able to stand, WC2 made people care. We played WC2 in huge groups, 4 or 5 of us having sleepovers just to all take turns at success and revel in the difficult branching story. Massive fun. WC2 was both the pinnacle of its time and a foreshadower of what was to come. While many games, including its sequels, tried full motion video, WC2’s in-game scripted cutscenes spanning many relationships and environments is the standard today.
- Pokemon, nDS: The other way to play. I struggled a lot with this pick. Believe it or not, I play more consoles these days then anything else, and I love my DS. What put Polemon on this is not that it’s been a pinnacle game, although I think it’s well designed. It’s that Pokemon reminds me that there is more then one way to play. It is a slow game, likely too slow. But that makes it perfect for all those other times, when I want to do something with my hands but not think about it. On the train, watching TV, or in the car, it’s a small bundle of satisfaction without being demanding. Games fill up all sections of our lives, and while Pokemon may not be the best game ever made, it’s one of the best games ever made for those between times, when otherwise there would be nothing.
- Portal, PC: The Hope. Portal was perfect in so many ways: simple, well written, tightly paced and tuned, a sublime and smart dark comedy, and yet still an interesting game filled with flow. But what was so important to me was its source: 2 people out of college, with the help of a small company, selling it for $20 over the internet. I was awed. For me, it was what games should strive to be – accessible, fun, immersive, and simple. For me, this is the future.
Yes yes, whose your favorite-ist explorer story-game designer. What I didn’t realize is how much my experience was driven by multi-player. I recall showing the games to others because I liked them. I remember a lot of shared play. It’s likely why I remember them so well, and why many of these games made my top ten of all time.
It got me thinking though. Most of these games are pretty old, from when I really was a kid, and that likely clouds my memory. I’m trying my hand at a more recent variety. I’ll let you know how it goes.