So, I’m gearing up to apply to a couple writer gigs in the game industry, because it’s one of those things you just have to try, and I find myself curious about the requirements of some of these positions. One that I looked at recently required a list of games played in the last 6 months (I limited it to video and computer games, because, yeesh, it’s already way too long) as well as a top-10 list of all time. I was not content to just do a top 10, because I wanted to really think about it.
So I did. And now, dear reader, you get to see my thoughts on it. I’m curious if anyone else who still plays games has sat down and thought about this, but now that I have, I found it really interesting and valuable. So take a minute and give it a shot. You might be terribly amused by what you find.
Games Played Over the Last 6 Months (No Particular Oder):
- 1. League of Legends
- 2. Battlefield 3
- 3. Mass Effect 3
- 4. Catherine
- 5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution
- 6. Dustforce
- 7. Rochard
- 8. Brink
- 9. Borderlands
- 10. Diablo III Beta
- 11. Star Wars: The Old Repbulic
- 12. Darksiders
- 13. Crimson Alliance
- 14. Binary Domain
- 15. Bastion
- 16. Assassin’s Creed 2: Revelations
- 17. Batman: Arkham City
- 18. Dawn of War II
- 19. Half-life 2: Episode 2
- 20. Portal 2
- 21. Dungeon Defenders
That’s 21 games in 6 months. That’s a lot. I didn’t include weird new crap from PAX either or board games, drinking games, tabletop games or sports. And I easily could have. Well, sports would have amounted to one night of ping-pong, but it was still a fun night of ping-pong. Or as the Chinese say: Ping-Pong.
Top Ten Games of All Time (Most to Least Important)
- Megaman 2
Bizarrely, Megaman 2 is responsible for my first memory of being excited as a spectator of a video game. I was deeply enmeshed in Megaman fanhood – I dreamt up and drew out new Robot Master bosses and their associated levels as a, came up with stories and different puppet enemies for Dr. Wily to use as a front (that became really popular around Megaman 4) and extended that passion, eventually, into the Megaman X series. But Megaman 2 was and will forever remain formative for me because of its difficult for me as a kid. I knew the order in which you were supposed to blast through the Robot Masters. I understood that there was an ideal way to do it, and I took the route of doing it this way more of than not. What I was utterly unprepared for was witnessing what I saw as true mastery of a game. I watched my oldest cousin dive into Quick Man’s stage as the first of the eight robot masters he was going to defeat. And I watched him do it. As a nine-year-old, I don’t know that I knew my jaw could hit the floor. But it did. There’s also something pure and visceral about Megaman 2’s difficulty curve, its tiered final stages, it’s occasionally cruel “succeed or die” aesthetic that’s mostly gone from modern games. It’s not simply nostalgia – I think there’s provably something in that design philosophy that we’ve missed out on. If you can judge an intellectual property from the deviations of art it inspires, then I think Megaman wins just because it created The Protomen.
- Star Wars: TIE Fighter
There may or may not be a weird trend happening here with sequels, but this one has a dear, dear place in my heart. Like most kids of the 80s, I lived a binary life growing up – I was a Marvel kid and Star Wars kid. It’s not that I had anything against Star Trek or DC. I played and enjoyed the Star Trek: 25th Anniversary game from Interplay, and I was a Batman fan. But I adored Star Wars. I make the (semi-true) joke that I was terrible at relationships as a kid because Han Solo was my model for romance. But I mean, come on. He’s Han Solo. Anyway, Lucasarts was a powerhouse of great games at the time – the DOOM-inspired Dark Forces, all the early Tim Schafer games, all that stuff was great, but I loved being a pilot of a starfighter, and the X-wing series gave me that. What TIE Fighter did was literally blow my mind. They sat me down in the guts of a starship run by the most evil of all evil entities I could imagine – the Galactic Empire – and told me I was the hero. That I was bringing peace and order to an unruly galaxy. That the Emperor himself was proud of my progress. And I drank that Kool-Aid. I drank it all. That game took 20 years of Star Wars history and established lore – Rebels are good, Imperials are bad – and had me hating the terrorist Rebel scum and their allies by the end of it. I cared so much about the story, that I worked my butt of to do everything the Emperor’s Hand (the super secret organization that rewarded you for doing bonus objectives and being awesome) asked me to because I believed in the cause. I went digging in the game box one day to discover a small novella written about the main character of TIE Fighter, who goes completely unnamed in the game – a pilot named Maarek Steele. I was 100% hooked. I saved my allowance for weeks just to get the Official Strategy guide because Maarek’s Story continued in the pages between the mission summaries, and even the mission summaries were written in the style of Maarek having submitted an after-action report (in fact, that’s what they were called). TIE Fighter introduced the idea that narrative in a game can come at you sideways and still mean just as much if you care about the world, not dissimilarly from the method League of Legends uses to deliver its story.
- Full Throttle
I should imagine, given my exuberant espousing of LucasArts above, that it’s not a stretch of the imagination to think that I loved Tim Schafer’s tenure as best-adventure-game-developer-ever at LucasArts. The game that moved me back out of Sci-Fi was Full Throttle. Still futuristic and dystopian in many ways, Full Throttle was the kind of puzzler I’d been waiting my whole life for. I loved the conversation trees, the action, the adventure, the characters, and the romance that gushed out of the thing. To this day, Ben Grimm is one of my favorite characters, even more than Manny Calavera from Grim Fandango.
- X-wing Vs. TIE Fighter
For some reason, I was the kid that never got into shooters, so I came to the Online gaming scene extremely late for my age bracket. I went to a relatively small Catholic school and no one else played games, so I didn’t know that it was a thing anyone did outside my house. Generally, I played on our small LAN with my dad and my brother. X-wing vs. TIE Fighter changed that. All of a sudden, it became obvious to me that not only did people play games online, a lot of people played games online. Plus, this sudden eruption of XvT players to the online space brought an interest in modding for the first time to Star Wars games, and I could not imagine a more beautiful idea. Some of my first widely-distributed writings included combat dialogue written for custom missions or descriptions I wrote up for custom starfighters and spaceships we (quite against the EULA, it turns out) were adding to the game as a community. That passion naturally evolved into the vastly more modern and robust X-wing Alliance, but they are, for all intents and purposes, the same game.
- Halo: Combat Evolved
Single-handedly convinced me that it was possible to have a career in video games. I played Halo competitively with my EverQuest buddies for years. We placed seventh in a tournament that would come to be the beginnings of Major League Gaming’s Halo league. In the days before Xbox Live, we used tunneling software to find other random kids on the internet against which to play and developed real, meaningfuly friendships with a lot of people who were much better than us, some of the first really “e-sportsmen” that I’d ever meet, and one of them was a 14-year-old girl (which made us feel bad to beat her, but her brothers, JMB and Grasshopper, summarily destroyed us and then we never beat her again, either, so, you know…). It tore down a lot of my conceptions about what gaming conventions and other gamers were, brought me into the idea of participating in a gaming community, and opened the door to my education and all of the longest lasting friendships I’ve ever had.
- MechWarrior 2
It was just awesome. I was a huge Battletech fan, but I didn’t really understand or have the money for the card game. I just loved the way the world worked. I loved the feudal house and clan system abutted against these amazing technological capabilities like giant, walking tanks. I loved the rigidness of the designs, how militaristic and practical (I thought) they were. I made my dad buy me an expensive and pointless joystick for this because I didn’t have enough buttons to properly pilot my ‘Mechs. I loved the terminology as well – Alpha Strikes (discharging all weapons at once), my Lancemates (who were basically wingmen, a la Star Wars and Wing Commander). For the record, I can affirm without checking Wikipedia that “’Mech” is only correctly capitalized and punctuated that way in the context of Battletech. In most other robot-mech games and universes, it’s typically lowercase “mech” and lacking the punctuation indicating that it’s a shortened form.
- Metal Gear Solid
This is one of the first games I played on a modern console. Up until MGS, I had been mostly a computer kid. It was also a uniquely connected moment to the concept of spectating video games. The game and console were owned by a neighborhood friend of mine, so I rarely got to play it at first (a PC port a few years later allowed me to push through it), but I still got to experience it via spectating. Like most kids who played Metal Gear Solid, Pyscho Mantis absolutely blew my mind, as did the idea that real spy stuff would be hidden in the game – that we would have to check the back of the box in order to find a secret Codec frequency.
Not italicized because I don’t mean whatever computer game they eventually produced, I mean the actual board game Battleship. The application didn’t specify video games, so I thought I would be honest about this – I played a ton of (electronic-talking) Battleship as a kid, and I cheated at it constantly for a really long time. Still, the idea of naval engagements really enthralled me, and I thought it was interesting to try and figure out my opponent’s strategy. We added rules like you could reposition one wounded ship every four rounds and other stuff that kept it fresh and original, even well into my adolescence.
Ah, my first MMORPG. I guess, a lot of people’s first MMORPG. I can honestly say, I have a lot of fond memories of not being very good at EverQuest. It was sold to me by my first D&D DM as a wonderful digital version of the game he had introduced me to and gotten me completely hooked on, but here you could actually see all the things you were fighting and really swing your sword and sling your spells. The reality of the game didn’t quite live up to the bill of goods I was sold, but it was enough fun that I convinced all my friends to play online with me. They all blasted past me and reached max level terrifyingly quickly. Still, I have fantastic memories of times spent exploring Norrath and Luclin and all the various Planes of Power. Really, I’d never bothered to level up “Sense Direction” so I got lost a lot, would get killed, and then would force my higher-level friends into fun adventures where we tried to retrieve my body. Famously from: Paludal Caverns, Estate of Unrest (seriously, screw Unrest), and Lesser Faydark. Really, somewhere in the Paludal Caverns on the Moon of Luclin, Gathorin the Beatlord’s body rotted for years because I just got sick of being bad at the game and decided the monthly subscription fee would be better spent on girls. High school is a weird time.
- The Floor Is Lava
Anyone who does this analysis and doesn’t admit this is a liar. I don’t mean some avant-garde indie game that I’m just cool enough to have heard about. I mean the game you played when you’re seven years old and you would pretend that The Floor is Lava. We all played one version of it or another. It was awesome then, and you know what? It’s still awesome now.