30 More Days: 10 Recommended Games

This is part of a series in which I try to write a post every day on silly video game topics.  For the list of topics, click here.

Let’s get old-school.  TFG provided no stipulations on time frame but given the word “past”, but I’d like to highlight 10 games that aren’t only significant in my gaming past, but also games that you could go out and play right now and actually enjoy.

This is a tricky thing, of course.  Graphically speaking, for instance, older games often feel dated in a way that can detract from the experience. Let’s discuss one of these right now: Myst.  Myst is an amazing game, really more of an “Event” within the gaming world.  Personally, though, I always felt its thrill came from the incredible leap forward that game took graphically, drawing you into the world like no other game had done. Now, I tend to judge it a bit harshly, turned off by the too-clean lines and too-shiny reflections.  You’re going to read later though that I am going to break this very rule which goes to show: I really have no fucking clue what I am talking about.

Also not on this list; MMOs.  There is without a doubt that EverQuest was one of the most significant games in that genre’s history, and (for better or worse) a part of my own gaming past, but let’s be honest here; all MMOs are more or less the same game with new features added on and old features further refined and improved.  Thus, the best MMOs are going to be the most recent ones, and I don’t think you gain any real appreciation for them by playing the older, less graphically engaging, and less user friendly games.  I’m not a fan of telling someone to slog through endless hours of EverQuest just you can enjoy The Secret World for what it is not.

So let’s get to the list:

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003) -Yes, the graphics are a bit dated, but being in the middle of a replay now (as shown yesterday), they still hold up.  What holds up even better is the story (still great after all of these years!) the voice acting, the play itself (even if you have to look up some of the old D&D 3rd edition rules) and of course the lightsabers.  KotOR really set the bar for Bioware and one only needs to look to this game to really appreciate their amazing run in the last decade.

Age of Empires II (1999) – Microsoft has always carved out a tiny niche for video games, but Age of Empires and its even better sequel might have been their greatest effort, and a step out of their then usual place of flight simulators.  Still it offers a very simple yet richly detailed tech tree, solid graphics that hold up even today, and a fun, repeatable game play.  The original is one of the games that introduced me to PC gaming, but the sequel was always better.

Total Annihilation (1997) – We’ve got a little genre group here with this and its bookends, but TA stood out on its own as a dark horse game with unlimited potential.  Starcraft & AoE were a bit more polished, a bit more thought through, but TA brought amazing graphics, beautiful explosions, coordinated chaos on the battlefield and a true feeling of unleashing the title’s fervor.

Starcraft: Brood War (1998) – The gold medal and pinnacle of all real-time strategy games.  Much like AoEII, the original was a fine game, but Brood War added on to it without upsetting the nearly perfect balance of the game.  So much so, it’s hard to even imagine StarCraft without Brood War.

Civilization III (2001) – Yes, Civ 4 is better.  Yes, there are ways to cheese the ever loving hell out of it.  But much like KotOR raised the bar for Bioware, Civ 3 raised the bar for Firaxis.  The only issue about going back to this version?  Much like going back to 4 after playing 5, you might not be used to rule changes!

Gauntlet (1985) – Despite my love for the remakes, the original is still the best.  Even better? Finding a way to play it on your PC where you don’t have to put in $5 in quarters just to play.

The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) – Sierra might have paved the way, but LucasArts nailed the adventure genre with the absolutely hilarious Monkey Island series.  The graphics here might be quite dated, though.  But I had to include it.

SimCity 3000 (1999) – For me, the most beloved of the franchise.  SC3K brought fantastic graphic and game-play improvements but even on today’s computers can run a bit slow and sluggish when it comes to re-drawing buildings.  There are some problems with the model as well, freeways are ugly and unsightly, non-standard zones don’t always get developed, and there was no scenario editor like there was in SC2K, but still, by far my favorite SimCity.

Dragon Warrior (1986) – Going way back here, but of all the early RPGs I ever played, Dragon Warrior was easily my favorite.  The graphics still hold up even today, despite the 8-bit platform, thanks to a very simple and colorful art style.  Being able to play it might require a bit of inventiveness if you don’t have your old NES, though.

Shadow of the Colossus (2005) – The youngest entry on my list, Shadow is a truly remarkable and breathtaking game.  I do fear that it may ultimately suffer the same fate that I decreed upon Myst, and perhaps that makes me a bit of hypocrite.  The difference for me here is the art style.  Myst broke a lot of barriers in graphic presentations, showing off not only what video games could do, but what computers could do: I would be shocked to hear that few animators my age or younger do not list Myst as an influence on their craft.  SotC simply took an amazing simplistic concept artistically and executed it beautifully.  For that, I’ve included it on this list over Myst.

And that, as they say, gentle reader is that.  30 days of video games (with a bit of a break for the holiday in between, yes) and 30 posts.  What’s next?  Probably nothing to do with video games, I think I am gamed out!

30 More Days: Post Your Game Setup

This is part of a series in which I try to write a post every day on silly video game topics.  For the list of topics, click here.

It’s not much, and it’s a bit cluttered with some of my running gear (ipod, gloves – cold in Oregon don’t you know), but I had to show off my headline of the Giants’ World Series win from 2010.

My Desk

30 More Days: Minor Character

This is part of a series in which I try to write a post every day on silly video game topics.  For the list of topics, click here.

I can’t pick HK-47 twice?

Well, he’s not minor nor random, and maybe qualifies as a companion, but since I didn’t get the grumpy guy his due then, I’ll give him his now.  Let’s talk about Garrus Vakarian.


Garrus is perhaps one of the best homages to the buddy cop ever.  A charismatic guy with a dark past, a tendency to operate a bit outside the law (perfect for the Renegade Shep who is going to save this goddamned universe, goddamnit) – he’s Male Shep’s best buddy, a compatriot with a thousand war stories.

But to FemShep (canon, imo), he’s more.  Much, much more.  Sure, he’s willing to sit around all day and “calibrate the guns” but once you crack that hard plated skin of his, he’s a big gooey mess of a lover, so very, very awkward.  But beware of chafing.

So here’s to the best friend a lonely Shep could ever have (outside of Liara, or Tali, or… Jack, I guess, if you’re insane?)

30 More Days: Character Progression

This is part of a series in which I try to write a post every day on silly video game topics.  For the list of topics, click here.

TFG went a surprising direction, stealing my thunder, as it were, with her pick of Link.  Though, in full disclosure, that was never even really considered in my thoughts.

When I think of character progression, the very first thing that comes to mind is the talent system of World of Warcraft.  As with the case with many elements of WOW, the talent system was not an innovation, but rather a refinement of what had proceeded; Diablo II‘s skill trees, Dark Age of Camelot‘s point-a-level progression and even Everquest‘s AA system.  WOW did it well though, for the most part, balancing 3 trees across 9 classes with only a few terrible mistakes.diablo2

It’s hard to pick a progression system that I like the best.  WOW’s talents were easy to understand for the most part, the trees themselves clear in their focus (again, for the most part, not everything works the way a designer might think) and you knew for the most part, what you were getting and could easily reset your talents and try again if it didn’t work out the way you wanted to.

There are games on the other end of the spectrum, though – Anarchy Online infamously comes to mind with their convoluted IP system, though, once mastered, was a joy to abuse with buffs.  The Secret World (also by Funcom) has an open-ended, no-classes system where you build out decks of abilities, both active & passive.  Both are very complicated, though, and daunting to newbies.

So which is the best?  I think I’m going to return the favor (maybe it’s Freaky Fri… Saturday? in blog land) and take a pick that you’d be more surprised to see on TFG’s site: Diablo II.  Why D2?  You can’t respec (bad!), cookie cutter builds abound (bad!) but in the end, nothing felt better than finally getting to level 18, 24 or 30, unlocking the key skill in your target build, and gleefully owning the minions of hell.

30 More Days: Instances

This is part of a series in which I try to write a post every day on silly video game topics.  For the list of topics, click here.

The savvy reader might notice the exclusion of a question within this post’s title.  This is most assuredly on purpose as there is, in my mind at least, no question.  Instances in MMOs are so necessary, so fundamental to the stability and experience of those games that to go without these days is simply unthinkable.  Fans of an older, bygone day can wax nostalgic all they want.  I urge anyone to wax nostalgic about waiting at the entrance of Sebilis with a full group looking for somewhere to set up camp on a busy night.  Recollect fondly upon the lag within The Lake of Ill Omen, or Greater Faydark or Eastern Commons due to the hundreds within the zone.  Cherish those golden times when finally assembled, buffed and ready to engage, another guild engages the very beastie you sought out to slay, that one that’s been on a 2-week respawn that you’ve slept in shifts camping.

Jesus Tapdancing Christ, did I really play that game for 5 years?

My rants aside, the advent of instanced, private dungeons (done first within Anarchy Online, if memory serves, at least first done in a 3D MMO) was a massive step forward for MMOs.  Dungeons really should be experienced all the way through, from start to finish, and in Everquest, they really weren’t (not until Lost Dungeons expansion, I think?).  There were few dungeons left un-violated for a proper dungeon crawl (Najeena, maybe?  Kedge Keep, surely!) and the experience of having a proper go at clearing out a dungeon full of bad guys with out interference, trains or camps is, in my mind, the best of what MMOs have to offer.

So yes, not really a question, but a much beloved addition to MMO design.

30 More Days: Single or Multi-Player?

This is part of a series in which I try to write a post every day on silly video game topics.  For the list of topics, click here.

Being a large fan of MMO’s, I would have to say multi-player, but there are also times when I just want to be on my own, zone out and immerse myself in a game and play it without interruption or distraction.  So – I’m going to say why choose?  Both!

I’m not sure why you would want to choose one or the other anyway.  I did have a great time playing WOW with TFG and our friends but I’ve had equally great times playing single player games.  What’s so wrong with liking both?

No subtext here at all.