In this final installment of my series looking at games I have enjoyed, I'm going to focus solely on the PC and mostly on games with an online component. Again my purpose here is to give you a bit of insight as to my "gamer DNA," what sort of games I have enjoyed in the past and the types of things I look for in games. I also hope that it has encouraged you to take your own strolls down "memory lane" and think about those special games from your gaming past. We all have a cool story or two to tell, otherwise what is the point of having a hobby? So here we go...
Online in the "Dark Age"
I wasn't into MUD's, although my brother was, so for me my first real experience with online multiplayer was a game called Tradewars 2002. I had played the game on local BBS's but it really became enjoyable when the Internet as we know it started to emerge and you could access larger BBS systems through Telnet portals. Local BBS's were typically limited to a single "incoming" line, or maybe a handful if their operators could afford it. So while a game like Tradewars was technically multiplayer, you rarely actually played it alongside other people on those local boards. Telnet made the game truly multiplayer as dozens of players could be in the game at the same time and interact with each other.
The game itself was a pretty basic space trading simulation. I suppose you could consider it a very primitive version of EVE Online. You made money by hauling commodities from one planet or station to another. Buy low, sell high, pretty basic stuff. You could buy different kinds of ships suited to different tasks, and there were a few "special" ships that you could only own under specific circumstances. You developed planets, colonized them, and defended them against other players. The trick was to find "dead end" sectors in space that only had one entrance as these were the easiest to defend. For its time it was a pretty deep game and a lot of fun to play.
Overall I would say that this was my "first MMO." I know it typically isn't thought of as one, mostly because it doesn't fall in the traditional fantasy genre that many of the early MUD's and other MMO progenitors did, but this is the game that really got me into playing with other people, interacting with them, and enjoying that particular mode of gameplay. As my Bartle test told me, I am a Socializer, and so the ability to interact with other people while I enjoy my chosen hobby is something that really appeals to me, and Tradewars is where it all started. It's also where something else started too, but that's not a topic for this blog.
The PC Middle Ages
Much like the "middle period" of console gaming, my access to games was restricted during the adolescence of PC gaming. It wasn't until my college years that I had exclusive access to a gaming quality PC. So there is going to be a bit of a "leap" between my first selection here and my next one. But this game will come as no surprise to anybody as it is widely regarded as one of the best PC games of all time, an assessment that I wholeheartedly agree with.
I played Wolfenstein 3D. I played DOOM. But as enjoyable as those games were, it was Half-Life that I enjoyed the most and that truly "changed the game" for shooters in my opinion. Yes the technology was now available to allow shooters to do many things that they had not in the past, but Half-Life took it one step further in my mind by actually incorporating a deep story into the game experience. Yeah shooters had stories before, but they were very shallow. Storm a castle to kill Hitler. Fight through hellspawn because... well, they are hellspawn. But Half-Life had a story to tell, and a great story it was. Even at the end you are left somewhat unsure about what exactly is going on (and the beginning of Half-Life 2 doesn't do much to clear this initial confusion.) Overall the game was a masterpiece.
But even more than that was its online component. Again, technology was making things possible in this arena that weren't before and iD Software's Quake series had started the ball rolling in this direction a few years earlier. But for me, nothing was more fun than the Team Fortress Classic mod for Half-Life. Man did I love playing this. Forget Counterstrike. I'm sorry, never liked it and never will. For me TFC was where it was at... the different classes, the different maps, I just loved it. I could sit and play for hours at a time jumping from game to game and server to server hoping to catch a good group with a good back and forth dynamic going. Easily the most fun I have ever had playing a shooter online.
The Modern World
While I loved online gaming and played various things like TFC and the original Starcraft, I long resisted the concept of paying a subscription for a game. I was a firm believer that once I paid the box cost, that game was mine and I shouldn't have to pay another dime. I know, it sounds bizarre considering how strongly I support the subscription model today. So for many years I avoided the MMO genre and looked at it as something I would never get involved in...... until Guild Wars. This game changed everything for me. It was (is) a quasi-MMO in that everything is highly instanced, but it opened the door to MMO's for me, and a person I met there encouraged me to give another game a try, this being a real MMO. Well I took his suggestion and the rest is history.
As much as I enjoyed Guild Wars and as important as it was as a "milestone" in my development as an online gamer, there really can't be any other choice here but World of Warcraft. I was already a fan of the series as I had played all the entries in the Warcraft RTS series, even the barely playable original. I was familiar with the setting, the story, and the characters and so to see things like the Ruins of Lordaeron, go meet Tyrande, or see the Plaguelands was very cool to me. There isn't much I can say about WoW that hasn't already been said by someone else. The game just hit all the right notes in ways that MMO's just hadn't in the past.
That is not to say that the game has not declined from what it was, but I would rather focus on the positive here. For all of its faults and foibles, WoW remains purely fun. The art style, the music, everything is highly polished and lends itself to a very enjoyable experience. And the combat system just works. It is fun to go out and slaughter monsters. Combat "feel" is a tricky thing and very hard to define, at least for me. Some games just have it and others just don't. WoW has it. RIFT has it. Star Wars: The Old Republic does not have it. Runes of Magic does not have it. What makes the difference? I really can't put my finger on it. If I ever figure it out someday, I'll make sure and let you know. But WoW remains a blast to play. If I still had a guild or people to call friends there, I would probably still be playing it today.
So what's next? What is the next game out there that will just be so much fun to play? Well you guys already know that I have my hopes pined on The Secret World, but what are you looking forward to? Is there a game out there that has you saying, "Man I can't wait to get my hands on this!" What is your bet for the "Next Big thing?"