Games that made me
I am a firm believer in incidental learning, which in simple terms means learning new things in an unplanned manner. This is a topic experts debate in the educational community. However, I believe it also has some bearing on other aspects of life. The way we develop our habits and hobbies may also be quite incidental. It is based not only on our conscious choices, but also on different circumstances and key experiences.
Even though my current taste in games is determined by the games and experiences I enjoyed in the past, I cannot say that I have, for the most part, consciously chosen those experiences. In this way my habits have also formed accidentally. Through games and technologies that were made available to me by my environment*. This of course is not all bad. Scarcity provides opportunities for exploring other territories that we might have not even considered. This way I learned of many games and genres that I initially haven’t even considered. With time I broadened my horizons from platforming and action games with strategies and roleplaying games.
Below I present a chronological list of games which had the biggest influence on my hobby.
This is the game I remember most fondly from my Atari 800XL era. What gripped me the most about it was the perceived complexity and the feeling that I am a part of a changing world. I loved the changing time of day, the sounds and the feeling of impending doom. At the time, arriving at a new city at the break of dawn seemed very vivid to me and really incited my imagination. This game may have laid the foundations for my love of open world games.
When I was in the 2nd grade I managed to watch the movie Conan the Barbarian. I was too young for that then, I know. 😉 The movie had a profound impact on me, but so had its C64 adaptation. This was the first brutal fighting game I had ever seen. The gameplay was quite quick and realistic (for that time at least). Being able to chop someone’s head off has made lifelong alterations to my brain.
When I first heard of Doom, I was already playing Wolfenstein 3D. It was such a new experience that I did not believe any new game could beat it. This way I postponed my gameplay of Doom for some time. When I finally got the game, it blew me away with its complexity compared to Wolfenstein. And not only did it have good combat, but the movement, the behaviour of weapons, the exploding barrels and different death animations were all something new at the time. But most importantly, the game felt no shame when immersing me in its gory, brutal and irreligious world. Right then and there my gaming childhood might have ended.
Raptor and Tyrian
While not a fan of arcade style scrolling shooters, these two games had a very deep impact on me. First, their soundtracks were just brilliant. Sometimes I just played them to hear the tunes. The other part was the customization of the player’s aircraft. Earlier arcade shooters were for the most part quite simple in their resource management aspects. Raport and Tyrian allowed the player to tweak weapon loadouts and experiment with different setups. This was especially true for Tyrian. The game not only allowed for swapping out weapons, but also featured different types of ships and weapon upgrades. Add to this a branching campaign with secret levels and you have a game with an absolutely insane level of replayability. Also, Tyrian has the most epically designed game logo I have ever seen. Check it out and try to guess what is so special about it.
The Warcraft series of strategies probably had the most important influence on me, no other games did I play so much during my youth and the total hours accumulated on repeated walkthroughs probably dwarfs the time spent on other games (excluding, well, World of Warcraft). These games were a perfect blend of fun, balanced gameplay and a vividly created fantasy world that was strangely consistent and mystical. Cool CGI animations between the acts of Warcraft II together with flavor texts in between missions and brilliant artworks of Chris Metzen always incited my imagination and created a yearning for a fantasy world I could visit not from the bird’s view, but as a regular inhabitant.
While I usually favored real time games over turn based systems, the atmosphere of Fantasy general was similar to Warcraft so I gave the game a try. It provided challenging gameplay, 4 different generals with different playstyles and great artwork for each unit, which made acquiring them very compelling. It was my first step into more hardcore turn-based strategy and I have a special place for the game in my heart.
Crusader: No remorse
Now this game is real treasure for me. It featured brilliant soundtrack, cool story and cutscenes, dynamic brutal combat with special death animations, brilliant SVGA graphics and, what is quite unique, destructible environments that had and important impact on gameplay. You could for example explode a bomb on a walkway. The explosion would weaken the walkway and a soldier who walked on it would collapse through it to a pool of acid underneath. This was the first game that featured such advanced interaction with environment presented in such a glorious way.
While the series was not as revolutionary as Doom, it had quite a big influence on me through its dark atmosphere, haunting sound and music, light RPG elements and extremely challenging puzzles. In addition, both games featured levels based on the hub-and-spoke level design principle, where you would have a single important location through which you would venture into other locations in order to solve puzzles or acquire items. This made the world feel more connected, although lots of backtracking was required.
This game is, without a doubt, one of the most important games I played in my entire life. Nothing can match its design, atmosphere, progression and soundtrack. Me and my friends spent a whole summer vacation collecting loot, hunting down different spells and photographing the different named monsters. By the end of the holiday I had a folder fool of screenshots and beautiful memories. The second game in the series did initially disappoint me (low resolution), but with the release of patch 1.09 and the re-balance of the skill trees it became my favorite Action RPG (and the most played one at that). While it lacked the dense atmosphere of the old Tristram cathedral, it made up for it with unparalleled depth and replayability.
When my excited friends first told me about Fallout I was not really interested. A turn based RPG with guns and flamethrowers and mutants. That didn’t sound good to me… until I tried it. And when I tried it, I felt as if my whole gaming life has lead to that point. Fallout seemed to have everything that I wanted in a game: immersive and detailed world, elements of travel, deep combat and customization, dialogues, choices, morality, secrets.
I would spend my days and nights testing different builds, discovering secret locations, reading data logs and expecting different end game results. The game influenced me in many ways. It made me appreciate the post-apocalyptic settings, showed me how choice is important in creating experiences and fostered a longing for vast open worlds I could get lost in. The whole series is very dear to me, even the new iterations made by Bethesda and Obsidian. I just never seem to have enough of Fallout.
The launch of this “larger than life” Half-Life mod coincided with the Internet cafe revolution in my country. We would spend our afternoons at the local “Salon” as we used to call it, playing matches of Starcraft, Unreal Tournament and trading Diablo 2 items brought on floppy disks (yes, these are the artifacts that the modern “Save” icons are based on). One day, early morning we came to the cafe and noticed Borch (the owner) installed a new, strange game on all computers.
A free modification, a realistic shooter with realistic guns, with a single death allowed per round. It looked promising, we gave it a chance and our world has changed. We played it, we loved it, we skipped school to play it, we formed our own clan, we rented the whole cafe for whole weekend nights for our clan to play in peace. We were quite good at it back then. But the period ended, once we started our University education. And only a few months after we moved away from our hometown, Salon has closed forever. I like to think that it was due to losing its core customer base. But in reality it was due to the advent of affordable, broadband home Internet.
I must admit that I do not quite remember how I first encountered Deus Ex or who showed it to me. I just know that after finishing the first mission I was hooked. The RPG elements in an FPS shooter with a brilliant storyline, great music and conspiracy theories were a mix made in heaven. And I thoroughly enjoyed several full playthroughs of this gem.
During my first year at the university I overheard a few of my friends speaking of a new game that blew their minds. Actually, our study group was fed up with them talking about Gothic. But they were so excited that they kept talking about it no matter the social fallout this created. I asked Marek to lend me his copy and on a weekend went to my hometown for a playthrough.
I spent the weekend playing Gothic like mad. When the sun rose at 6 AM on Sunday I noticed I have played the entire night away. For the next 2 weekends I would come back home (a 240 kilometer ride) to finish the game. Its open world, mysterious story, extreme difficulty and unprecedented day/night cycle which encompasses both human and animal behavior managed to create an experience that few games managed to do since.
While I somehow skipped Arena and Daggerfall, this beautiful gem of a game occupied quite a lot of my time. It even prompted me to buy my first proper 3D graphics card to be able to see the beautiful water. While the world was much more generic than that of Gothic, I still fell in love with how large and deep the game was and with how customizable the player’s character was.
World of Warcraft
While I came into contact with the idea of MMOs much earlier, I never really understood how they could work in an immersive way. The respawning of monsters and players seemed to me like a deal breaker. However in the fall of 2004 I got a beta key for World of Warcraft and being an avid fan of Warcraft RTS games I decided to give this a try. I fell in love with the game once my undead rouge opened his eyes in a Tirisfal graveyard. Right then and there I lost my MMO virginity and to this day no other game managed to capture the same amount of awe and excitement.
To this day I remember finding my first chest in the Deathknell mine, being struck by the size of the abomination walking along the road to Brill and fighting off waves of easily aggroed murlocks on the Tirisfal north coast before falling to prey to them. My first entry into the Undercity was epic. First travel to the Crossroads half a world away with a total stranger remains one of the best social gaming experiences to this day. We did not know the way. We spent at least an hour trying to get there asking people for directions along the way. I played lots of other MMOs (I could safely say I played all the high ranking ones). But none of them has gripped me as WoW had.
Unfortunately, WoW became a shell of its former self and I do not play it anymore. My last solid experience with the game was acquiring my legendary cloak during the MoP era.
To me this game is the ideal RPG game of all time. Simple, readable statistics system, rich world, unique options for different character classes, different endings, unique combat styles. This game has it all. Mix it with great graphics that are passable even today and a mod that constantly improves the game almost two decades after its release and you have a great game that passes the test of time. No other game had me immersed so badly in its world. And, to be honest, I had a quick playthrough just the last year.
Company of Heroes
I believe the RTS genre is dead as of now (compared to MOBAs, MMOs and FPSs). But before its death Relic managed to bless us with, in my opinion, the best RTS game ever created. Apart from beautiful presentation the game featured impossibly good gameplay, dynamic terrain destruction and great vehicle combat. The multiplayer scene that rose around the game was brilliant. I played the game with my friend Michał for a very long time.
I have to close this list as I do not want it to get out of hand. There are a few other games that barely made it. These games are almost as dear to me as the ones described above. Below is a short list (in no particular order) of the games that I also hold dear:
- Dawn of War, Supreme Commander, Command and Conquer: Generals, Age of Wonders, Heroes of Might and Magic, Jagged Alliance, Xcom, Total War: Shogun 2, World of Goo
- Duke Nukem 3D, Blood, Shadow Warrior, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, Painkiller
- Sacrifice, Divinity: Original Sin, Mount and Blade, The Witcher, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, Dark Souls, Dying Light, Stalker, Terraria
*In the pre-Internet era games were not easily available. Additionally, in the early 1990s there was no real market of original computer games in my country. In order to play a game we had to wait until somebody manages to find an owner of such game, procures a copy and brings it back to our town.