Not playing any major game recently (besides the occasional Fifa Soccer 05), I wondered which games define the current state of the gaming industry. Obviously, it’s ID’s Quake series that mark what can (and cannot) be done on the latest available PC hardware (or console, whichever you fancy). Content-wise, there’s nothing really new to 3D first-person shooters anymore: the average storyline of these games always ends up to be that you (the player) accidentally end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I ended up compiling a list of games, I thought marked the beginning of a new area of games programming. Besides being fun to play, the following 10 made the most impact from a programmer’s point of view. Make your own list and compare it with the ones after the fold.
1. Wing Commander. Before Wing Commander there were only 2D, birds-view adventures: games generally mimicked the adventure board games everybody used to be playing. Oh, there were 3D flight simulators too. Plenty too. So what is the next step in gaming? A space combat simulator.. Brilliant. Who’d thought of it (except for maybe LucasArts). Forget about actual physics of movement in space or other unrealistic things portraited in the game, like the extra thin spacesuits. Forget about the corny storyline. Forget about pushing a 286 10MHZ AT PC to the limit. The combined experience of having an Adlib-soundcard and a SCC-1 working together while ‘cruising’ around in space, hunting Kilrathi, was just spectacular. No game company had done this before. There were successors too to this game, which were slightly out of tune. Hey, and nobody likes to see the hero of Starwars play in a videogame…
2. Half-Life. Built on the Quake engine, Valve’s ‘Half Life’ first person shooter was released in 1998. It was the first game that actually had an indepth storyline plus it sported a good and strong A.I. for a change. The introduction of the game, where the player is guided through a complex (and remote) research facility, still stuns. Half Life (in my opinion) is a story, one I hope is never going to make it to the cinema. That would spoil the fun.
3. Civilization. Microprose’s grandslam was literally the release of
‘Civilization’, a game in which the player guides his/her selected tribe to the other end of the galaxy. Or simply yet, defeat the other (computer) players in a random generated world. This sounds like a boring idea, but if you add that all players have the same goal it makes an interesting watch to see your civilization brought to the knees by a computer-opponent who just discovered nuclear technology. Civilization is not a wargame though (as newer versions clearly show): it’s a game that offers a balanced gameplay of diplomacy and war. For a change, it was replayable too. And it definitely set the standard for ‘god’s view’ games. Where’s my multiplayer Civilization?
4. Quake. What can you say about ID’s ‘Quake’. It’s the game that set the standard for the First Person Shooters mentioned on this list. All of them. It set the standard for graphic cards. It set the standard for customizable games (mods, as they’re called in the gaming world). It set the standard for multiplayer games, allowing gamers to play and hunt others in a quake world over the network. It’s the only game that actually ran good enough on general business desktop machines too, witness the many games I played with colleagues on the company’s network. Quake? It’s the start of multi-player first person shooters.
5. Silent Service II. In my opinion, Silent Service (another classic from the designer that rolled out Civilization) was the definitive submarine simulator in the 90s. While not overly realistic in some areas (mapping for example), hunting down famous Japanese battleships and carriers could be pretty exciting. Having patience is another thing. Luckily the keyboard overlay revealed all the shortcut keys and Boss key.
6. Master Of Orion. Another Microprose hit, Master Of Orion, spearheaded the development of ‘4X’ games (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) , a game where the player is kept in charge of a species with the aim of winning the galaxy. Sort of like Civilization, except for with more action and more SciFi.
7. Medal Of Honor. Based on the Quake engine, Medal of Honor, features a scripted game environment that puts the user in a WW2 scenario (instead of a Sci-Fi environment). Nothing spectacular, except for that the the game itself features great scripts (storylines) and amazing (original) music. While feeling a bit unreal so once in a while (when confronted with massive enemy fire), it feels like taking part in a movie, thanks to the (earlier mentioned) music.
8. Privateer or Vegastrike. I mention both here, because they’re both so alike. Privateer features the Wing Commander engine, putting the player in a ‘free for all’ situation a la Elite (the classic game, which should have mentioned here if this was all about 8 bits computers). You trade, you fight and you fly. While Privateer is somewhat bound to its internal storyline, Vegastrike (the open source simulator) literally allows you to go ‘where noman have gone before’. I’ve seen the maps of that game and it’s a giant universe out there. It’s amazing and allows for quite some nights of mindlessly flying around.
9. Ultima 7. A game of morals and choices, as designer Richard Garriott once described the game. The Ultima series, those are games you need to experience. Top of the notch (but hard to get it to run on DOS!) adventures. I personally think Ultima 7 was the last (and best) of the whole set just because it pits the Avatar against a religious group who have taken over Brittannia by storm. Frequently, the game hints at similar Earthly matters and to no surprise, the game caused quite an outrage in America. If I’m not wrong it was the first game that started the call to start rating videogames. The Ultima series, love it or not, clearly opened the gates for games like Everquest and others.
10. Falcon 3.0 The release of Falcon 3.0 literally ended the days of ‘arcade flight simulators’. It was (for sure) the ultimate flight simulator: real physics engine and amazing (vector-based) terrain maps. Warfare simulation can be boring too. Since everything was set in realtime, some of the missions in Falcon could be boring. Despite of that, dropping a bomb on Baghdad during night runs and getting the hell out of there could be quite rewarding. FOX ONE!
Games that should be mentioned but wouldn’t make the cut: Unreal Tournament, X-Wing, M1 Tank Platoon II, Strike Commander, Eye of the Beholder, Gunship 2000, SimCity, Knights of the Old Republic and Soldier of Fortune.