10. Quake (id Software)
The dominance of the first-person shooter began in 1996 with the release of Quake, and with it came the wonders of online gaming. The single-player story consists of a government teleportation experiment gone horribly awry, in which hordes of deadly foes break through a portal and destroy everybody but you. The game’s graphics and music – the latter composed by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails – were unmatched by any other at the time, even id Software’s own Doom series, and paved the way for a lucrative set of games that included Quake II, Quake III Arena, Quake 4, and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.
9. Duke Nukem 3D (3D Realms)
I was first attracted to the Duke Nukem games simply because the lead character was just so f-ing cool. Yet another first-person shooter on this list, the game was released the same year as Quake but was entirely different in its look and feel; where Quake was dark, bloody, and rough, Duke Nukem was colorful, bloody, and, to a certain extent, amusing as hell. A game that allows you to have a weapon that shrinks enemies to the size of Barbie dolls is absolutely good for hours of fun.
8. Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II (LucasArts)
While never a Star Wars geek, I was drawn to Jedi Knight for a number of reasons: a) the positive sneak peeks that kept showing up in the gaming magazines I read, b) the respect and trust I had for LucasArts, and c) the online gaming capabilities. With the help of my Diamond Monster 3D graphics card, the game took up a good number of hours of my teenage years, less so for its single-player storyline than for the multiplayer fun that included capture-the-flag, team games, and deathmatches. Of course, cheating was prevalent in these multiplayer games – unlike others, Jedi Knight had no fix for that – and the old-school servers could barely handle the load, but if you could get beyond the lag and you had a blazing-fast 56k modem, you were good to go.
7. Grim Fandango (LucasArts)
Continuing on my path of “LucasArts, rah, rah, rah!” (as five of the ten games listed here were created by that company), when I first saw the screenshots for Grim Fandango I was absolutely floored. Released in 1998, the game had probably the most beautiful cartoon graphics I had ever seen. Based on the Mexican concept of Día de los Muertos, the tone of the entire game is inherently dark with a humorous twist. I honestly spent hours upon hours working my way through the game, and its intricate puzzles and captivating storyline had me hooked all the way through.
6. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (LucasArts)
Though I was only eight when Monkey Island 2 was released, I managed to rediscover it in my early ‘teens. You play Guybrush Threepwood, a swashbuckling young stud who’s on a search for both a treasure (the Big Whoop) and the girl of your dreams, only to be interrupted by the resurrection of your old foe, the infamous pirate LeChuck. Hysterically funny, verging on rude, Monkey Island 2 hosts a wealth of pop-culture quotes, tough puzzles, and lovable characters that led me to play the game time and again, long after I’d beaten it for the first time.
5. Half-Life (Sierra Entertainment, Valve Software)
In 1998, probably the best first-person shooter was released, and the gaming world was never going to be the same. Half-Life was the most talked-about game in a decade, and while it lacked the traditional level structure of past games like Doom and Duke Nukem 3D (you simply keep playing in kind of a continuous way, moving from one place to the next at your own pace), the entertainment value never faltered. Gorgeous to look at, mind-blowing to listen to, and difficult but manageable to play, Half-Life is likely to be seen as the grandfather of many of the great shooters of today.
4. Wolfenstein 3D (id Software)
In addition to being the first popular first-person shooter, Wolfenstein 3D was also one of the first examples of viral marketing gone totally right. Released as shareware, the game’s popularity flourished with the ease of copying the game; additionally, in 1994 Wolfenstein was banned in Germany for its use of the Nazi Swastika and anthem. The publicity didn’t stop there: when Wolfenstein was released for Super NES, the cartoon blood was replaced with sweat, and the guard dogs in the game were removed due to animal-rights activists protesting about, well, shooting cartoon animals. *pause* Anyway. With Wolfenstein constantly making headlines, the game maintained its popularity throughout the 1990s and has spawned a few sequels, with the next in the series under development now for PC, XBox 360, and Playstation 3.
3. Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle (LucasArts)
I have to give a shout-out to DoTT, especially since I rediscovered the wonders of this point-and-click adventure game recently when I bought the original on eBay. The sequel to 1987’s creepy Maniac Mansion, DoTT involves a trio of friends attempting to save the world from domination by the oversized, angry Purple Tentacle with the use of a time machine. In typical LucasArts adventure game fashion, the game is chock-full of humorous, illogical puzzles involving, at times, key characters from colonial America – George Washington, Betsy Ross, Ben Franklin, et cetera. Though the game itself is rather short, the creativity you need to use to get through each part of the game is extraordinary, and DoTT remains to this day my favorite adventure game ever.
2. Sid Meier’s Civilization (MicroProse)
My dad brought this home for me one day when I was twelve, and I have yet to find another game so engrossing that I can easily lose four hours at one time playing it. A single-player, turn-based strategy, Civilization offers you the opportunity to build an empire while competing with two to six other civilizations for wealth, knowledge, military prowess, and technology. The game developed into further releases, including CivNet, the online version, as well as Civilizations II, III, IV, and, most recently, Revolution, which I finally purchased after futile attempts to get it at my local Best Buy – it kept selling out.
1. Outlaws (LucasArts)
If any game influenced my career path, it was the first person shoot-’em-up Outlaws. Forever a fan of Westerns, the release of Outlaws took up all of my (rare) free time because of its addictive single-player storyline, the thrill of online play and the close-knit nature of its online community, and, of course, the creation of Outlaws Unleashed, a site I created to be the de facto resource for Outlaws players and which was featured in the unfortunately now-defunct PC Games Magazine.