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The Golden Age of PC Gaming

By Shamus
on Friday Sep 5, 2008
Filed under:
Column

 
 

In my earlier rant against the current-gen Frankenstein graphics cards, a couple of people were quick to point out that while modern-day system-specs are indeed impenetrable to most people, the good old days of PC gaming weren’t much better. In the early 90’s, we had to fiddle around with config.sys and autoexec.bat to get games to work, make special boot disks, and know what freaking port and IRQ thingjigger our soundcard was hooked into. It was appalling.

She’s not a 10,000 polygon bump-mapped model, but Cate Archer of No One Lives Forever 2 manages to look pretty dang good.  Okay, her outfit is over-the-top, but that’s the fault of the 60’s spy movie heroines she’s sending up, not the graphics engine.
She’s not a 10,000 polygon bump-mapped model, but Cate Archer of No One Lives Forever 2 manages to look pretty dang good. Okay, her outfit is over-the-top, but that’s the fault of the 60’s spy movie heroines she’s sending up, not the graphics engine.
Those were the rough and tumble years before the new technology settled into place and was packaged and distilled for the average consumer. PC Gaming was a niche back then. And as much as I hate to say it, I think Windows was good for PC Gaming. It handled that stupid memory management / soundcard nonsense and gave developers a “stable” platform on which to build. Once you’ve paid the overhead in memory and performance, having an operating system there is actually pretty nice. It eventually made it possible for non-technical people to play some PC games.

About the time TV commercials for videogames start showing up you can say the hobby has come into its own and it’s time to start acting like responsible producers. If you’re advertising to the Average Joe, then Joe had darn well better be able to use the thing when he gets it home.

And there was a period of time where that was (mostly) true. PC Games peaked somewhere between 1997 and 2002. That was our golden age. It was after the stone age of DOS, but before the four horsemen of bugs, DRM, graphics fixation, and console-itis came in and made a mess of things. We had graphics cards that opened up a new age of 3d, but they were simple to buy and would last for years. (They could arguably outlast your PC. Mine did.)

Check out the games of 1998:

1998

StarCraft, Unreal, Fallout 2, Grim Fandango, Half-Life, Thief: The Dark Project

Four franchises saw their beginning in 1998. The only sequel of note was Fallout 2. (It was, sadly, pretty buggy. But ONE buggy sequel and FIVE incredible new games is a complete inversion of what we’re getting these days.) I played four of those games again this year.

1999

System Shock 2, Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament, Planescape: Torment, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Homeworld, Outcast, Kingpin: Life of Crime, Rollercoaster Tycoon

I own every single one of those. I’d call most of them classics. I could fire up any one of them right now and have a blast. (Okay, maybe not Kingpin, but still.. that was a really good year.)

2000

The Sims, Deus Ex, Diablo II, Escape from Monkey Island, The Operative: No One Lives Forever, The Longest Journey

Another banner year. Again, this is ignoring the lesser games, and expansion packs.

I think what makes the Golden Age of PC Gaming so special is that we were in a sweet spot, visually. Graphics were at the point where games could be immersive and atmospheric, but they didn’t cost a fortune to produce. As development became more complex and costs rose, other aspects of the game had to be cut to pay for the bling-mapping. I can’t imagine ever getting another game as immense as the original Unreal. I can’t imagine getting another game as deep as System Shock 2 or Deus Ex. (Both BioShock and Deus Ex 2 were greatly simplified when compared to their predecessors.) We have less room for risky new ideas like Thief.

pcgames_timeline.jpg

Sure, graphics are better now, but we have sacrificed almost every other aspect of gameplay to get those graphics. A few games manage to get good graphics, and gameplay, and stability, and half-decent backwards compatibility (Half-Life 2 comes to mind) but most fail to deliver on at least two of those.

Sometime around 2002 backwards compatibility began to shrink, so that you needed to stay a little more up-to-date to be able to shop in the “New Releases” section. Graphics cards started to get harder to understand. Release & patch became the common solution to dealing with the expense of playtesting. Games got shorter & shallower.

Every time I bring this up I get people posting helpful suggestions like, “Yeah it sucks buy a console and stop whining.” Which misses the whole point of these posts. I’m not complaining because I can’t figure out where in this great big world I have to go to get more games. I’m talking about this stuff because it needs to be said. Look at titles like Haze, Crysis, and Quake 4. Think of the millions and millions of dollars being wasted on these short, dull tech demos. Think of the games we could be playing with that kind of cash being thrown around.

I played Quake 4 a while back. It was shallow, but amusing. But I’ll bet for the budget of Quake 4 you could (if you dialed back the graphics to 2002 levels) build a breakthrough along the lines of Thief or System Shock 2, with the added bonus that just about every PC out there would be able to run the thing. Imagine, you could spend the same money and make more money and give customers more value.

As always, I’m watching what the indie developers are doing. They don’t have the luxury of making these kinds of mistakes once, much less year after year. Indies don’t quite have access to cheap tools that can give us Golden-Age graphics without a lot of additional work, but the tools are getting better every year, and the gap left by big-name publishers is getting ever-wider.

It’s also worth noting here that Good Old Games is a new site that will be selling DRM-free versions of the classics for cheap. The public beta starts soon. I already own most of those games, but once the place opens up I’m going to go fishing and see if there’s anything I missed. For $5 – $10 USD, you probably can’t go wrong.

Just for fun: Name a few of your favorite games. I’m willing to bet if we collected a list of favorite PC games from people old enough to remember all three ages of PC Gaming, we would see that the games form a Gaussian distribution somewhere around 1997-2002.

Here’s to the Golden Age. May our emulators never fail us.


 
 
Comments (177)

1 2 3

  1. Mike Oldham says:

    Myth II (1998) is still my favorite game. Although the original (1997) was excellent as well.

    I also loved warcraft II. Gonna have to dust it off and play again I think.

  2. Russ says:

    So true, so true. Now if only this hadn’t come during my college years perhaps my GPA would have been better.

  3. Rev.Blacky says:

    Dungeon Keeper 1 & 2, Carmageddon 1 (but not 2 & 3), all of the Monkey Island games, Grim Fandango, Discworld 1 & 2, Discworld Noir (the best of the three!), Phantasmagoria 1 (not 2), 7th Guest, 11th Hour, Clandestiny, Uncle Henry’s Playhouse, Starship Titanic, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, Thrill Kill, Muppets Inside, Monty Python’s Holy Grail, Monty Python’s Complete Waste of Time, Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, MDK 1 & 2, Nethack, Thief 1 and to a lesser extent 2, Blood, ZPC, all the Zork games, and the text based early Infocom games…

    Yep, a lot of oldies there…
    Funny that…
    And yes, I do still play all of them on my XP box.

  4. Matt` says:

    In one sense it feels like I missed out on an era by being born too late for all these classics to ever be new and exciting and cutting edge.

    On the other hand, I can now get them for super-cheap and still enjoy them, while also occasionally enjoying the fruits of the modern industry when they get one right :mrgreen:

  5. theonlymegumegu says:

    “In the early 90's, we had to fiddle around with config.sys and autoexec.bat to get games to work, make special boot disks, and know what freaking port and IRQ thingjigger our soundcard was hooked into. It was appalling.”

    I’ve said in the past, “Everything I know about computers comes from learning to install games.” XD

  6. Tuck says:

    Hmm…some favourite games:

    1985-1994: Ultima IV-Ultima VIII. Yay Richard Garriott!

    1990-1991: Worlds of Ultima: Savage Empire and Martian Dreams. These are my favourite RPGs ever.

    1993: Discworld MUD! Played this one 2002-present, over 250 days gaming time, not planning to quit any time soon! :D

    1994: Colonization — this game has the nicest graphics (14 years old and they don’t look any worse), music, and gameplay of any I’ve ever played. It is the apex of turn-based strategy and every time I go back and look at it again I practically weep with admiration for the designers.

    2002: NWN (well, not really a favourite, but I’ve played it a lot thanks to excellent persistent worlds!)

    2004: Far Cry. I think I’ve spent more time having fun on this shooter than on any other…free roaming (of sorts) FTW!

    2004: City of Heroes: just started playing this with some friends…good fun, a current favourite, won’t last more than a couple of months though — damn subscription fees.

    2005: Guild Wars: when I get Eye of the North I’ll be going back and spending a heap more time on this one…probably not till after I’m done with CoH.

    Tuck

  7. Osvaldo Mandias says:

    X-Com
    Civ1 and Civ2
    MOO1 and MOO2
    Colonization

  8. Osvaldo Mandias says:

    What’s the Golden Age of Science Fiction?

    13.

    What’s the Golden Age of PC Games?

    Well, I hesitate to say this, but the answer probably isn’t 1997-2003. The answer probably is “when I was in high school and college.”

  9. Jim says:

    @Hal #6 – Try DOSBox to run the old Sierra Adventure games. I’ve had a ton of luck with it.

    And the new version of Quest for Glory 2 is nothing short of brilliant. 2 was always my favorite game in the series and AGDI managed to improve it in nearly every possible way.

  10. Jeysie says:

    I can’t believe I forgot to put Sanitarium and Jagged Alliance 2 on my list… consider them added.

  11. Osvaldo Mandias says:

    Oh, and also: Doom. Multiplayer mode. Ethernet cables strung between dorm rooms.

  12. ehlijen says:

    Favourite games:

    Fallout (2, 1 and tactics, in descending order)
    Baldurs Gate 2
    Jagged alliance 2
    XCOM (1 and apoc, in desecending order)
    Master of Orion 2
    Freespace 2
    Tie Fighter

    Lot’s of sequels in there, but most of these were worthy of their predecessors, I think, by virtue of actually improving the concept.

    Also, I miss turn based being an actual genre…

  13. Plasma says:

    I made a list of all my favourite games, and they all fell within a very narrow time span, between 2003 and 2005, so I was going to dispute your claims that the golden age of PC gaming ended in 2002. Then I realized: all but one of my favourite games is a sequel. They take the same game, in some cases the same engine, and improve it. I also find that, once I have played a sequel, I can no longer stand to play the original.

    All the games that I actually still play on a regular basis:
    City of Heroes/Villains (2004/2005, still getting updates)
    Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy (2003; earliest game in the series that I enjoyed: 1997)
    Warlords Battlecry 3 (2004; 1999)
    Age of Empires 3 (2005; 1997)
    The Sims 2 (2004; 2000)
    SimCity 4 (2003; 1989)
    Civilization 4 (2005; 1999) I actually don’t find civ4 particularly enjoyable, I only play it because it’s one of the only games I have in common with some of my friends.

    StarCraft would be on the list, but it is showing its age much too badly (I can no longer stand the dinky little screen that’s zoomed in way too far or the fact that you can select hardly any units at one time), but I expect I’ll pick up StarCraft 2 when it comes out, unless it has onerous DRM or something, and it’ll probably make its way onto my list (so that’ll be a 2009 sequel to a 1998 game).

    The Neverhood (1996) is also an amazingly fun game. I no longer play it simply because there’s only so many times you can play an adventure-puzzle game before you’ve got the whole thing memorized. I also have the soundtrack on CD and in my playlist.

    As a side-note, the only non-PC game I’ve ever enjoyed is Super Smash Brothers Melee, which I used to stay up ’til all hours of the day and night playing with the awesome people in my dorm hall on my roommate’s gamecube. Someone would shout down the hall, “SMASHCUBE!”, and everyone would come running to play. It was great.

  14. Jen says:

    Most of mine have already been said, so I’ll just add the others that I sunk way too much time into as a young ‘un:

    Uncharted Waters: New Horizons (1994)
    Genghis Khan: Clan of the gray wolf (1993)
    Total Annihilation (1997)
    Daggerfall (despite or maybe because of the bugginess.. the patch that fixed or mitigated most of the problems also had a few cheats included like being able to teleport around the ‘quest points’ in a dungeon)

    I also miss, in a weird nostalgic way, messing around with DOS back in the day, and the countless games that were made for DOS and which can’t be found anymore (plus I can’t remember half their names anymore either)

  15. Suzene says:

    If Good Old Games puts up the Dungeon Keeper games on their site, they’ve got my money.

  16. Ericc says:

    I’d say any of the Gold Box Series from SSD. I lost countless days, that’s days where I spent more time at the computer playing those games and not sleeping. Also I’d throw my vote towards Betrayal at Krondor, Civ I and II, Railroad Tycoon, Diablo I & II.

    I switched to consoles and a Mac because I was tired of spending more on my computer every two years than on a new car.

  17. Snook says:

    No one is gonna read this, but…

    TIE Fighter (1995)
    Homeworld (1999)
    Pharaoh (1999)
    Medieval Total War (2002)
    Age of Empires II (1999)
    Battlefield 1942 (2002)
    Freelancer (2003)
    The Sims (2000)
    Civilization III (2001)

    These are all games I played excessively. I loved, and still love, each and every one of these for a variety of reasons. Innovative gameplay is pretty much the defining reason I remember these games so well. Each introduced something new or some novel twist on an old idea.

  18. Meatloaf says:

    Blizzard does seem to know what they are doing though. They make games with a strong stylization, but less over-the-top graphics. The games still look good, and no matter what computer you have, you will be able to run them. It’s very smart.

  19. Ragnos says:

    Geez…now that I think about it, the best games really are from those years! Empire Earth (2001) isn’t a spectacular game, but I love it. The Command & Conquer and Red Alert series were also fabulous, as was Age of Empires.

  20. Allerun says:

    Hunt for Red October (1990)
    Nethack (1987)
    Bard’s Tale (1985)
    Myst (1993)
    Strahd’s Possesion (1994)
    Jagged Alliance (1994)
    Gender Wars (1996)
    Z (1996)
    Command and Conquer (1995)
    7th Guest (1993)
    Master of Magic (1993)
    Master of Orion (1993)
    Warcraft (1994)
    Populous (1989)
    Baldur’s Gate II (2000)
    Doom (1993)
    No One Lives Forever 1 & 2 (2000, 2002)
    Homeworld (1999)
    Sim City 2000 (1995, I played it on Windows)
    Fragile Allegiance (1996)
    Tie Fighter (1995)

    I remember the days of DOS config manipulation and custom boot menus for games. I think half the fun was tweaking the settings so you could run the game. And many times it was more fun to tweak settings on a computer that didn’t meet the minimum requirements and get the game to work on it anyway. I remember many weekends with friends combing over autoexec and config settings to get to that sweet spot so you could get the game running without crashing. It may have not run well, but it ran.

  21. journeyman says:

    Only slightly on topic, but have you seen this yet? Comments?

    http://www.gog.com/en/intro

  22. Allerun says:

    @Osvaldo: Yeah, we used to cram six of us in a small apartment for three days (Friday Saturday and Sunday) and play Doom until we dropped. Coax network cable everywhere, Dr. Pepper consumption through the roof, and food from anyplace that delivered. Those were the good ol’ days.

  23. Allerun says:

    @Journeyman: Not off topic since Shamus mentions the site in the article.

  24. Smileyfax says:

    I think I’ll keep my list short by only listing the games I played when they were new:

    Doom — A true classic. I never played the multiplayer aspect, but I loved getting a ton of WADs and running through them. If only the dudes who had made Invade1 and Invade2 had finished with Invade3 and Invade4.

    Duke Nukem 3D — I had even more fun with this one — I also happened, by chance, to get a signed copy of the official strategy guide. I was also big on the user maps for this game — Betatwo was my favorite.

    Civilization II — I inadvertently pirated it, and when I played it I loved it so much I put down money for a legit copy. (When I first played it I thought I had to be historically accurate or something, and so I was irritated at the computer for messing up and giving cannons to the Sioux.)

    Half-Life — I don’t remember precisely what drew me to Half-Life in the first place…I do remember being irritated that Babbages had lied about having a copy when I asked around the time of its release, though.

    Fallout 2 — I first heard about it from a review in PC Gamer. The reviewer mentioned having to steal from prostitutes and children, and my deranged mind instantly fell in love. There’s a really great fanpatch that was released in recent years which smites sooooo many bugs (but unfortunately removes a beneficial glitch or two).

    Morrowind — I got so addicted to this game just from reading about other people’s adventures playing it. The summer after I graduated from high school, I ordered a computer from Alienware, and it arrived busted. To compensate, Alienware offered me a free game — I chose Morrowind, natch.

    Supreme Commander — Supreme Commander was the first RTS I ever loved. (The only other RTS I’d ever played was Warcraft — yes, the very first one. And I cheated like hell at it, just so I could get a group of wizards to spectacularly fireball a town). The game was so epic and fun and awesome…thank God I played it before I played Command and Conquer 3, otherwise I may have rejected the entire genre forever.

    Dishonorable mention: I hated No One Lives Forever. I recall the stealth mechanic being completely broken/useless, and I stopped playing the game as a result. The only fun I got out of it was when I inadvertently left the soundtrack disc in the drive when I fired up Aliens vs. Predator. Listening to upbeat 60s era-type music as xenomorphs rush to murder me was a hilarious experience.

  25. morpork says:

    I liked Liberation Day from I-Magic. Can’t remember when it was made. I still have the disc but it don’t run no more. It had some bugs but the turn based game was great. Plenty of units, plenty of enemy units, nice tech up system, call in abilities and no dull objectives. And the turn limit per battle is not too few that you can’t win, and not too many you have time to twiddle your thumbs.

  26. Kaeltik says:

    The games that ate my life:
    The Oregon Trail (1985 version)
    Ultima VI: The False Prophet (1990)
    Wolfenstein 3D (1992)
    Doom 1 & 2 (1993 & 1994)
    Colonization (1994)
    Warcraft II (1995)
    MOO2 (1996)
    Quake (1996)
    Sid Meier’s Gettysburg! (1997)
    Heroes of Might and Magic II (1997)
    Starcraft (1998)
    Team Fortress Classic (1999)
    Civ III & IV (2001 & 2005)

    Wow. Guess I’ve been in a drought.

  27. Kevin says:

    Escape from Monkey Island? Never heard of it. Doesn’t exist. The series so far has ended with Curse of Monkey Island (which came out in 1997 and isn’t on your list why?) and there’s no such thing as a fourth game. You’re clearly delusional.

  28. The Lone Duck says:

    Heh, sorry for my “buy a console” statements. That’s the form of gaming I pursue, along with casual flash games. Historically speaking, every society has a “golden age” considered before it. Does that mean that games were better than they are now, or only that nostalgia affects our memories? Or both? For me, the Golden Age was Windows 95. When I bought Grim Fandango back in the day, my computer couldn’t run it.
    Anyway, list in no particular order:
    Dark Forces 2:Jedi Knight
    Sim Tower
    The Dig
    Yukon Trail
    Curse of Monkey Island
    The Neverhood
    The Journeyman Project (1,2,3)
    Torin’s Quest
    Afterlife
    Neverwinter Nights (Obviously later, but equally easy to run.)

  29. The Lone Duck says:

    PS. The Journeyman Project games rocked! I really hope someone will re-release those.

  30. =Dan says:

    Of all the games listed above and probably below the three that I miss the most are:

    1) Betrayal at Krondor: I loved that game. The storyline was great and involved and there was a ton you could do while wandering around. Before all these “open world” games came along BaK allowed you to wander around completing side quests and opening riddle chests.

    2) System Shock 2: Bioshock was crap compared to System Shock 2. Bioshock had a lot of pretty picture moments, but the gameplay and story were gimmicky and boring. I was so excited that I pre-ordered the special edition. I didn’t even finish it. I want SHODAN back!!!

    3) Tie Fighter: I suck at flight sims…But with the fact that there was no horizon I rocked…

    Bonus mention: Mechwarrior 2. I played this game forever..Until my computer could no longer run it..The fact that consoles destroyed the series (Mechassault) and the company (Fasa Studios was bought out by M$) has made me unhappy with the current dreck of games available for my PC.

    When will we get games that are more than merely pretty?

  31. July says:

    My favorite PC game ever? Two words, or one word in the title; StarCraft.

    It’s a great example of what you’re saying. Graphics aren’t good, but the incredible depth of gameplay has kept it alive for ten years, and spawned an extensive professional scene in Korea. The leading complaint about what we’ve seen of SC2 is that the graphics are TOO good, in other words, too many lighting effects between the player and the information they need to see.

  32. kh_hawkes says:

    The games I crave and wish I could find for those trips overseas. Heavy Gear1 2, Battletech Hawks inception and Revenge. Miss those two. Xcom I got thanks to Shamus. That will eat days of deployment up. Homeworld… Got that one. Love that one. TSR gold box series. I don’t know how much time that will eat up. It has been a long time since I did a run. Will find the rest. Must have good games for deployment.

  33. Kalil says:

    Hmm… Myst and Riven both predate your window (myst was ’93, and Riven ’97), but remain among my top games. Schism, another excellent game in the same genre, was released in ’01. As mentioned above, Homeworld (released in ’99) deserves credit as a breathtaking game with some rather unique elements of strategy (to my knowledge, the Homeworld series remains the only true 3d RTS) and an amazingly deep backstory, but also some blame – it was pretty cutting edge, at the time, and sold heavily on its graphics.
    And, of course, StarCraft and DII remain some of my favorite and most beloved games. <3 Blizzard.
    It’s not a PC game (well, sort of – the Eidos PC release was horrendously bad), but FF7 deserves mention as a revolutionary low-graphics game.

  34. Helm says:

    Can’t believe nobody has mentioned Syndicate a game where you could set people alight has to be there

  35. @Strangeite:

    Ian B: That is impressive; but, my G4 running OS 10.4 has not been restarted in almost three years. It is about two months shy of the anniversary. Granted it is now mainly a file and iTunes server.

    Very nice!

    My uptimes generally get broken when I reboot into other operating systems or when I install updates. One thing that I do like about Linux is that you can do just about anything, barring a kernel update (well, technically, you could avoid doing a full reboot by utilizing kexec), without rebooting the system. That is a minor inconvenience in Windows and OS X, but given how the Internet is nowadays it’s a necessary evil.

    @Deoxy:

    Third party stuff should be INCAPABLE of breaking the OS, as the stuff that can break the OS should be inaccessible to them. Windows has never done that.

    Yes, yes it does. That’s the whole point behind UAC.

    You can easily bring a Linux system down if you have root access or a faulty kernel driver. I’ve seen several kernel panics for various reasons on perfectly good hardware.

    Unix, Linux, and Windows systems are all essentially monolithic kernels. As such, anything running in ring 0 (pretty much any driver, barring something that’s specifically run in user space) can take ANY of those systems down.

    A microkernel architecture is pretty much the only way to effectively protect against that from happening.

    The OS should OWN memory. That's one of its primary jobs. Windows leaks, in every version yet put out.

    That's why making it 30+ days without a reboot is so impressive for Windows.

    Then why do some Windows Server machines have uptimes measured in years?

    If all versions of Windows have this “issue” and the home and server editions share the same code base, wouldn’t a memory leak in one adversely affect the other?

    At my previous place of employment the new Windows servers were running 24/7 and were only given a break when we had to physically move them between buildings. Their uptimes were in the hundreds of days and the only reason I didn’t see them hit a full year was because I wasn’t working there when they did.

    High uptimes in Windows, even consumer versions, isn’t really all that uncommon. Google around and you’ll find plenty of people who have uptimes greater than a year on their 2000 or XP machines. If the OS really had that bad of an issue with memory management, don’t you think that there would be significantly fewer people saying things like that?

  36. Danath says:

    The Realm… Kings Quest V (Heir Today, Gone Tommorow!), good old Sierra… Full Throttle, Dark Age of Camelot, EVERY Monkey Island game, Wolfenstein 3d back in the day too, hmmm.

    I dont even remember anything, but these are the oldest I can remember that I really enjoyed, for more modern games, Counter-strike, Half-Life 1/2, Team Fortress 1/2, Starcraft, Warcraft 1/2/3 (ok, 1 isnt modern), C&C, the Age games from microsoft… Stronghold annnnd Diablo 2… I wasnt a fan of #1.

    As for the MOST recent games, Mass Effect (which I hope to god they drop the DRM for… I almost bought it today till I remembered the DRM), The Witcher, and thats it… most of the cutting edge games just make me snort and I ignore em nowadays, noticing a distinct lack of FPS’s in the most recent section (although im looking foreward to Dead Space if that comes to PC).

    Oh yeah.. and Riven, its the only game from the Myst series ive actually played unfortunately and it was INCREDIBLY confusing in its gameplay because it was new to me, also, Myth… go dwarves, blow yourselves up with your dynamite!

  37. Danath says:

    Oh yeah, that Good Old Games is being started up by the same people who made the Witcher, huh, didnt expect that till I was browsing 1up.

    http://www.1up.com/do/feature?cId=3169758

  38. Murphy says:

    My list:

    Neverwinter Nights (1991): Never has the grind of a MUD been so beautifully rendered using Goldbox technology! To this day, I think about my ranger named after a lame fantasy novel character dual-wielding +1 flails and get shivers from how wicked sweet it was. I was on the internet, -killing giant frogs-, with people I’d never met.

    Sam and Max Hit the Road (1993): “I hope no one was on that bus.” “No one we know or care about, anyway.” ‘Nuff said

    Ultima VII Part 1: The Black Gate (1992): The amount of time I spent getting a boot disk that worked on both my mom’s computer and my dad’s computer (woo, broken homes!) and that could carry my save game was… possibly epic. Or possibly depressing. Either way, it rivaled the amount of time I spent baking bread and then murdering specific groups of people in each playthrough (purple clothes! DIE!)

    Wing Commander II (1991): The best story plus space dogfighting game until Freespace 2. The X-Wing/Tie Fighter series are fun, but its impossible to really connect with the missions. When that fucker Jazz needed putting down, every time, I viscerally enjoyed it in a way I haven’t many events in my life, let alone in video games.

    Starsiege: Tribes (1998): The best team based first-person shooter ever created. Forgot about counter strike, or team fortress, or unreal tournament. Just forget them. Nothing can possibly compare to the experience of skiing perfectly down a hill, angling through an enemy base, snagging the flag and nailing two jerks in the face with a thunderhammer as you catapult through the air at mach 2.

    Some Big Dogs that don’t need any explanation:
    Fallout (1997)
    Colonization (1994) and Alpha Centauri (1999)
    Age of Empires 2 (1999)
    Planescape: Torment (1999)

    There is definitely a window in the start of the 90’s that I feel is mis-defined as a dark age of any kind. I was playing more, better, -interesting- games than I was a decade later. It was also in the heyday of Sierra adventures and well, anything Origin made was golden. Don’t dig on the silver age of gaming! (Or is that the golden age, and the 98-00 bubble is the silver age?)

  39. Simplex says:

    It’s amazing that no one mentioned Max Payne 1 (and 2) ;)

  40. TSED says:

    No one will mention this but me, but:

    EverQuest. 1998.

    The game basically stole 7 years of my life, at least. Not saying that bitterly, saying that nostalgicially. After WoW made it big, SOE tried to begin moulding EQ into WoW. This was its downfall – instead of being EverQuest, it became a third rate WoW. No thanks.

    But EQ? Oh man. People complained about the difficulty, but they don’t realise that’s what gave the sense of accomplishment. Sure it could be frustrating but it’s just a game and its difficulty was right where it should be 90% of the time. People complained about the many expansion packs. HELLO? It is just more content. People get bored with MMOs and EQ kept a steady stream of fresh things to do. People complained about it being ‘generic fantasy’ but… They obviously never played it. EQ doesn’t have demons. It does have magic. I challenge you to name another swords and sorcery world with magic but not demons. Do it. I dare you.

    Anyways, some others:

    Might & Magic 4, 5, & 6. NOT heroes of. Might & Magic. It was great, but something went downhill as it approached the “golden age” of gaming. Should be abandonware since the company went under (I know for a fact 1 through 5 is, haven’t seen 6+ around though, for whatever reason).

    Anything by Tim Schafer. Psychonauts? Yes please. (Never played Full Throttle or Day of the Tentacle, watched an LP of FT on the internet though).

    Crusaders of the Dark Savant. I never got far because I was playing it as a kid, but it left its mark.

    Beyond Good & Evil: Along with Psychonauts, a classic example of “this game was amazing and beat all of the current generation blues, but no one bought it.” Maybe the two weren’t the most innovative of games, but does a game have to be innovative to be EXCELLENT? No. If it does, you’re just being a prissy snob (Note how I didn’t mention how EQ was so frigging innovative as one of its good points. Instanced content done first, a 3D MMO done first, etc. etc.)

    I’m not sure how long this will last, but I recently got Disgaea 3 (last thursday actually). I can’t remember the last time I was so engrossed with a game. I think it will become an all time favourite, but 8 days of play time isn’t the best of judges. It’s just a feeling I’ve got.

    Crystalis: my first favourite game. For me, along with M&M 4 + 5, this will always be THE great game. Nothing will ever rival these games in sheer mind blowing ecstacy, just like no MMO will be playable after EQ. (Guild Wars doesn’t count as an MMO. It’s just an MORPG, not an MMORPG).

    As has been mentioned, Pool of Radiance, only for the NES and not the PC version. That was a great game.

    Planescape: Torment. Every one reading this comment knows this game and why it’s great.

    Been gaming since 1990, and out of about 14 only three (no clue when M&M6 came out; too lazy to check, but 5 was from 95 so it could be in there) came from the so called “Golden Age.”

    I certainly agree – the general quality of games during that time period was greater, but a true classic is timeless. I question how much of it was ‘great games’ and how much of it is nostalgia, because I can sit people down to play some of those games and they do NOT have fun.

  41. mephane says:

    My personal favourite of that time is Freelancer. I probably have spent more time on that game than on any other game, (well, except WoW, I suppose…^^).

  42. Midnight Thunderboy says:

    Yup, I noticed the entry too to the stupid ages some time ago. The time when multiplayer went from the nice extra to the game towards the number 1 priority it is now. The time when I finaly got fed up and switeched to a PS2 and decided while playing FFX: Ok, the graphics in this game rock. No need to improve that anymore guys. The time were good immersive RPGs started to become extinct.

    My favoroute list :

    Baldurs Gate II: Allthough I played the first one, it was this one that really gave me a good time. Cool story, fun NPCs (Mincs and his hamster, Jan Jansen..), good gameplay. The only thing I hated is this game was that every mage and his dog cast the “summon every shield in the core rulebooks” spell. That is the reference I use when comparing RPGs. Only Planescape Torment is equal and Mass Effect (despite the crime against humanity that is DRM) comes even close.

    Planescape Torment: Baldurs Gate II, but in a wacky dystopian inter planar world place. Only in this could you play a guy who has god mode on and still struggle play. Only in this game could you have the follwoing npcs: a floating talking skull, the gith version of Bhuda, a foul mouthed cute tiefeling rogue, a succubus (who ironicaly, isn’t a player), the chaotic evil human torch, the ghost of Judge Dread….

    Grim Fandago: The Casablanca of videogaming, with skellies.

    Half Life 1: Despite Half Life II being really good, my love is still with the first one. Ok, the plot wasn’t quite as epic as the second one, but the gameplay in it rocked boats .

    Starcraft: Blizzard is an interesting case. They are among the few big developers that are somehow able to bring games that are both able to make happy multi freaks and story driven geeks like me. Starcraft was their crowning achievement in my opinion. Great characters, gameplay, music… has it all.

    Diablo 1 and 2: One of the few games I actually enjoy in multiplayer. The story and gameplay is cool. I get to have hours of fun with some friends playing the campaign while yelling on skype: Gaahh!!! It’s getting to me ! Help !!!.

    Legend of Kyrandia 3: Malcom’s Revenge. Good ol point’n’click game. Was really made worthwhile by the main character… who happpened to be the first game’s villain.

    For those who are saying “get a console”, forget it. The stupid ages have started there when the Xbox live came out. Now console developers have realised they can be as lazy as pc ones on the bugs/story… without the risk of being pirated. The only platform left is portable consoles. And with wifi it’s only a question of time until the stupid ages come their too.

  43. Seb says:

    My favorite games of all time ?

    – Baldur’s Gate 1&2
    – Age of Empire 2
    – Starcraft
    – Warcraft 3
    – Caesar 3
    – Heroes of Might and Magic 3
    – Morrowind

    I spent a huge amount of time playing WoW, but the game itself does not rival these older ones. Played for the online part mostly.

    I also enjoyed KotoR 1&2 a lot, aswell as Vampire The Masquerade Bloodlines, NWN 1&2, W40k Dawn of War and expansions …

    Ok Shamus, now that you have some raw data, you owe us a chart, and a nice graph proving your point. You know, this nice little bell curve …

  44. Brandon says:

    Arcanum (if you haven’t played this Fallout-reminiscent RPG by Troika you are truly missing out)

    Unreal Tournament (spent many an hour in college with this)

    Quake

    Marathon 2 (on the Mac, rocking cool)

  45. James Pony says:

    I bet you won’t even read all 106 comments before leaving your own.You bet your ass I won’t!

    Anyways, if EVIL GAME-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX FASCISTS used their current budget and manpower to, say, make a game like Half-Life, with that engine, and to a similar quality, would it be safe to assume that they could make the game’s lenght go into the TRIPLE DIGITS? Or would they just curl up and cry themselves to death because THERE’S NO SPECULAR-DYNAMIC BALLISTIC EXCREMENT TRAJECTORY LIGHTNING ENGINE (no, I just made that up. I don’t even know what those words could possibly indicate in this particular context)?
    If you think about the original Half-Life, it’s pretty damn long. And that’s LINEAR gameplay. Think about Fallout 1 and 2. You could theoretically play those through in one go, in less than 10 hours, but if you start mucking about, you can play for hundreds of hours – and not just because you like running circles in the desert and killing over nine thousand radscorpions or mantises, as there actually is lots of stuff to do.
    Starcraft? Three (plus three, with Brood War) unique campaigns, where the story progresses constantly, even if most of the in-game scripted events mostly happen only in those pesky indoors maps. Oh, what’s that I’m hearing? What? Timmy fell down the STARCRAFT MAP EDITOR THAT EVEN A RETARD SUCH AS MYSELF COULD MAKE COMPLEX TRIGGER EVENTS WITH? What, Lassie? Oh, Timmy fell down the INTENSE AND EXCITING MULTIPLAYER MODE ONE CAN ENJOY THOROUGHLY EVEN WHEN LOSING PATHETICALLY? Oh, Timmy fell down the well? Well, you can go tell Timmy to go HAVE EPIC MOMENTS WITH YOUR FRIENDS AGAINST AI-CONTROLLED ZERG ONSLAUGHTS.

    I admit it, I want all materials (steel, wood, dirt, water, etc.) to act just like they do AFK (there’s no IRL, only AFK). I want all the dynamic lights and POOP. And yes, it is a good thing that people work on those.
    The advancements in such things as writing and art direction are, I believe, a direct result of the expansion of the industry, with which came the substantially enlarged budgets and increased manpower.
    The problem I have is that they use most of that manpower to tweak the engine that crushed even Skynet with its insane requirements to be able to crush TWO Skynets at once AND set fire to a thousand unicorn orphanages, instead of taking any of the existing tested and stable engines and redirecting that manpower to make more maps (and thus lenghtening the single-player campaign) and character, NPC etc. models and skins and such (to mask the Attack Of The Clones-effect atleast a bit further). Oh, and…

    …Wait for it…

    …ART DIRECTION. I’ve read comments about why 3D models will always look wrong because it’s just not the real thing and technicalities and such, but…

    …Why do I NOT get that “gee, that looks awkward”-feeling EVERY TIME when looking at models in Half-Life 2 (and Episodes) or Team Fortress 2? And the cutscenes in GTA San Andreas worked great with the motion capture – and while some in-game animations were awkward, most of the models looked proper – as well as Call Of Duty 4 on the whole. Which was to the contrary in Oblivion, with horrible faces and crappy animations.
    That’s art direction. Doing things properly leads to proper results.

    I hope I’m still atleast technically on topic.

    …Am I?

  46. Jonathan says:

    You left Baldur’s Gate & BGII off of your 1998-2000 range.
    Best game ever, still playing it.

    Favorite games of all time:
    MechWarrior II (95?)
    Baldur’s Gate II (99?)
    Fallout (97?)
    Fallout 2 (98?)
    Red Alert (95-96?)
    Infantry (online-1998-2000 originally?)
    KOTOR (2002?)
    Age of Kings (1998?)

  47. Patrick the Impudent says:

    97-02? screw that! NETHACK BABY! NETHACK!

  48. Jonathan says:

    Also
    Descent
    Descent II

  49. Garfnobl says:

    Over 100 comments and no mention of the original Pirates! game? What’s the world coming to? The remake was quite good but didn’t feel the same to me.

    I know a lot of people won’t read this, but also on my favorites list:

    Fallout & Fallout 2
    Baldur’s Gate & BG2
    M.U.L.E.
    Planescape: Torment
    Homeworld
    Populous
    X-COM
    MOO 2
    Master of Magic
    Civ 2

    All of these provided numerous hours of enjoyment on my PC (or my Commodore 64, or my Amiga) and I wish I could run some of them on my new hardware.

  50. Nathaniel says:

    I don’t think I could fit my favorite games in any specific order, but here they are:

    Pre-CU Star Wars Galaxy
    Deus Ex
    MOO2
    X-COM
    Diablo 2
    Dwarf Fortress
    Age of Empires 2
    Morrowind
    Warcraft 3

    All of these on PC

  51. Sitte says:

    I agree that Sanitarium was amazing – I remember being horrified and left in awe just by the demo. I immediately bought the game and loved it. A few months later, I read the PC Gamer review, which gushed about it but slammed it for the terrible voice acting. Since I hadn’t noticed anything wrong with it when I played the game, I went back…and, yeah. The story and setting were so immersive that I hadn’t realized how bad the voice acting was.

    I can’t play that game anyomre, it’s so terrible.

  52. illiterate says:

    What I loved about Beyond Good and Evil is that everything WORKED. Every single mechanic in the game meshed together, they all were controlled the same way, and they tied together in an aesthetically and kinesthenically pleasing way.

    I haven’t read all these… Did anyone mention Pharaoh?

    Ah, Shinjin and Snook. Thank you, Control-F!

    Homeworld nearly caused an injury in my family because I was ENTRANCED.

  53. Ben says:

    Not all these games quite fit the Golden Age; Zork has been around in one form or another since the mid-70’s, and some of my older choices were, as you noted, occasionally a pain to get running. Nevertheless, these are my favorite games of all time:

    Zork (1980)
    Castle of the Winds (1989)
    Lemmings (1991)
    X-COM: UFO Defense (1993)
    Scorched Earth v1.5 (1995)
    C&C: Red Alert (1996)
    Tomb Raider II (1997)
    Homeworld (1999)
    Diablo II (2000)
    Portal (2007)

    Your time estimates are just about right; here’s the distribution of my list: http://crazybob.travisbsd.org/files/gamestat.png

  54. Lost Chauncy says:

    Previously Mentioned

    Star Control II (1992)
    Curse of Monkey Island (1997)
    Baldur’s Gate II (2000)
    Civilization III (2001)
    Morrowind (2002)
    Freelancer (2003)
    Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003)
    ———————————————————

    Not Previously Mentioned

    Pro Pinball: Big Race USA (1998)
    Worms Armageddon (1999)
    MechWarrior 3 (1999)
    Risk II (2000)
    Battle Realms (2001)
    Tribes 2 (2001)
    Syberia (2002)
    Call of Duty (2003)
    Rise of Nations (2003)
    Sim City 4 (2003)
    Hoyle Majestic Chess (2003)

  55. I’m hoping they bring back the Wing Commander games. I had Kilrathi Saga until we were burglarized. The idiots sold it, along with a number of other things, for around five dollars.

    This is an interesting looking project, I wish them well.

  56. Chris Arndt says:

    I got a Tandy 1000 HX, my first personal computer, back when hard drives were just sorta becoming a norm.
    I got my Packard Bell with an 812 MB Hard drive the week before 1 GB hard drives were the standard.

    Trust me when I say the Upgrade treadmill always existed, the steepness was and is just never steady and/or constant.

    X-Men: Madness in Murderworld

    Dark Forces 2

    Rebel Assault 2

    Descent Freespace

  57. Vacca says:

    I’ll only include the games that made me stay up all night, or that I played over and over again:

    Doom
    Dune 2
    XCOM
    MOO 1 and 2
    Warlords 2 Deluxe
    Warcraft 2 and 3
    Heroes of Might and Magic 1,2 and especially 3
    Unreal Tournament 2004
    Far Cry
    Half Life 1 and 2
    Starcraft
    Jagged Alliance 1 and 2
    C&C – The entire series up to, and excluding Generals
    Unreal 1 and 2

    The only online games have been Fighter Ace 1 and 1.5, and Counterstrike.

  58. Alter-Ear says:

    My favorite games?

    Well, my life has a bizarre game-availability distribution, with my marriage immediately connecting me to a whole series of titles that I had missed because my parents were That Kind. You know what I mean: the sort of parents who deleted the Oregon Trail exe file and claimed it was a “virus” (they didn’t know there was such a thing back then as Undelete. Yeah! What happened to Undelete?). And of course there was the time I was entirely and solely into online MUDs.

    So my favorite games:

    Before marriage:
    The Oregon Trail (the original)
    Warcraft II
    Starcraft
    Falcon 3.0
    Quake 1
    Civilization II
    The Sims
    Red Alert 2

    After marriage:
    Monkey Island 1
    Portal
    Half-Life 2
    Falcon 4.0: Allied Force
    Baldur’s Gate 2
    Assassin’s Creed
    Worms World Party

    Some notes:
    – I’m surprised none of the Falcon series showed up before. I guess people here don’t like flight simulators…
    – I played Diablo 1 (not 2) and wasn’t all that excited by it. In the very last battle I found a place to stand around the corner of a wall such that I could hit Diablo but he couldn’t hit me, and defeated it a little too easily…
    – I’m playing Neverwinter Nights now. I’ve only just started it but I’m so far enjoying it…
    – I hated the original Half-Life. Yes! Why? Because of the GODDAMNED HALF AN HOUR YOU HAVE TO SIT IN THE RAILWAY CAR WHEN YOU START THE GAME. The first time I tried to play, the game crashed less than five minutes into the actually-moving-around-and-killing-things part of the game. And I dreaded having to sit through that first half hour again, because I had nowhere to load from. A year and a half later I worked up the courage to try again. And after sitting through the half hour of railway car, I got stuck in a room with a non-opening door EARLIER than the previous crash. With, of course, no save. So yeah. I never played the original Half-Life. And until somebody can tell me how to skip the bloody opening, I never will.
    – The opening to Baldur’s Gate 2 is equally annoying when it comes to unescapable do-nothing-for-ages scenes.

  59. Christian Groff says:

    As I said before, I’m a big fan of The Sims 2. However, after getting into a course on game design, I realized that this isn’t a game, it’s a toy – a “software toy” or “god game.” I am a big fan of god games, take Black and White or The Movies, Peter Molyneux’s two biggest successes. I’m not as big a fan on the Fable series – first off, where is the option to be a female? Peter could have gotten more fans like me if we could have lesbian heroes.

    But I did like earning a humanoid animal pet who would wander around the world and help or hurt your followers in Black and White. Yeah, he drops dung, but then all animals do. I didn’t get through the second level because I had harder problems with gameplay, but it’s fun.

  60. Simply Simon says:

    Baldur’s gate 1998

    Age of empires 2 ,though now my cd is probably scratched beyond repair.

    Recently I found Fallout (the screen goes black at times, but it clears up) and freespace (crashes every 30 minutes) in our old pile of demo games and loved them after the first 10 minutes.

    robin hood: tlos from 2002, but I haven’t played it since our old Windows 98 died.

    counterstrike (fun when playing with players on the same skill level)

    Warcraft 3 RoC and TFT

    STALKER

    probably forgetting one or two

  61. DosFreak says:

    For Freespace you want the Freespace Open Installer:
    http://www.hard-light.net/wiki/index.php/FreeSpace_Open_Installer

    For Fallout 1 and 2 to fix the black screen issue you need to downoad TimeSlips sfall utility:

    http://timeslip.chorrol.com/sfall.html

  62. TSED says:

    “- The opening to Baldur's Gate 2 is equally annoying when it comes to unescapable do-nothing-for-ages scenes.”

    There was a fan-made mod where as soon as you are given control of your guy, a dude shows up with SFX and is all “hey want to just skip this dungeon? You can A: not. B: Skip with nothing. C: Skip and get handed everything to you that you would have gotten if you had played it completely (wands, XP, gold, etc.)”

    It was a really, really, really popular mod for BG2.

  63. Illiterate says:

    Good news everyone! Apparently we’re currently in a golden age of gaming! http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/editorials/op-ed/5214-Press-Released-The-Golden-Age

  64. Shamus says:

    Illiterate: I just noticed that yesterday. That article went up the same day as this one, strangely enough.

    It was going to be this morning’s post, until this Spore business bumped it. Which, now that I think of it, is really fitting.

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