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9 most important titles of the last 20 years (to me, anyway)

barbie dreamhouse party

I’m writing this column on my birthday. That means, when you’re reading this, my birthday would have been yesterday. So you’ve already missed it. Nice job. Assholes. Anyway, luckily for me I had the day off, which means I spent most of my day playing video games (with four or five minutes carved out for this column).

All that gaming got me thinking on my previous birthdays – what was I playing then? Gaming has been a huge part of my life for the past 20+ years (I turned 27 yesterday, I’m basically Gandalf at this point), and there are very specific years that are partly defined by whatever game I was obsessed with that year.

So then, this list looks at 9 of those years from the past 20, and the gaming memory that I associate with that time in my life. Why 9, you may ask? Because I was too lazy to do 10, and I was worried Dane wouldn’t pay me if I only did 5. You can find my narcissistic indulgence after the jump.

1994 – Doom

Not exactly “where it all began”, but close. I’d played video games before this, but nothing like this. Forever immortalised by my father (for me, anyway) as “walking gun games”, Doom changed everything.

Of course, you already know that – even if you’re too young to remember playing it. What you may not know, however, is the kind of pants-shitting terror this game could induce in a seven-year old playing past bedtime with the lights off.

It almost feels silly now considering how low-tech it looks, but back in 1994, turning a corner too fast and walking into the open maw of a bright pink demon was enough to destroy any chance of sleep that night.

1996 – Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness

My memory, like that of most people, is pretty fuzzy pre-10 or so; a hazy blur with a few distinct, isolated memories that stand out with perfect clarity.

One such memory is the day my dad returned from a business trip with Warcraft II in hand. I believe me and my brother had asked him specifically to try and locate this particular title, but watching that opening cinematic I think we could scarcely believe we’d pulled it off.

This was the beginning of my lifetime love-affair with RTS games, and my even stronger affection for almost anything Blizzard. The storyline was intriguing, the gameplay was challenging and the cinematics were frankly breathtaking for their time. I got completely lost in the world Blizzard had created, and, quite unlike me, I devoured the Warcraft III campaign while eschewing the competitive multiplayer side altogether.

1998 – Quake II

There are a number of things that make this game stand out (its graphics, for one, were pretty incredible for ’98), but what makes it memorable for me is that it is the game that began a lifetime of LANning with my friends.

In a rather progressive move for a strongly traditional, all-boys school, my computer teacher at the time began hosting “gaming afternoons” whereby the computer labs were used for multiplayer gaming – the game of choice being Quake II.

Being an experienced nerd at this point, a friend and I easily claimed the top two spots in every game, by a wide, wide margin. In that highly-competitive, sports-centric school environment, there was something immensely satisfying about being so much better at something than everyone else.

Of course, an afternoon a week just wasn’t enough, and my friends and I began lugging our bulky PCs (shout-out to CRT monitors) to each others’ houses every weekend we could for more carnage.

2000 – Diablo II

What is there really that I can say about this game? It completely consumed a massive chunk of my high school video gaming. I’ve gone back to it over and over again, and it never quite seems to die and it never seems to get old either.

This was also the game that sparked a problematic obsession with finding sweet, sweet loot, one I still suffer from today.

2004 – DotA

This isn’t the fancy-pants Valve standalone I’m talking about; this is the original Warcraft III custom map that got into my blood like a heroin addiction.

First introduced to me at a LAN in 2004, I somehow wasn’t put off by my first two games (0-24 Leshrac, 0-30 Anti-Mage) and fell in love in much the same way everyone who played it did.

Once I discovered online play and the local server, Reason (before it became Twilight), my life was over. I frequently stayed up until 4 or 5am playing, only to wake up at 7am to stumble off to school and try to think about something other than DotA while I was there.

Dat 800x600 though.

Dat 800 x 600 though.

2005 – Half-Life 2

Well, I assume you’re not surprised to see this year. The only real surprise is that I didn’t just make a list comprised entirely of the Half-Life franchise. Hell, I even loved Blue Shift.

Half-Life 1 was unlike anything we’d ever seen, so the hype-train preceding Half-Life 2 was unimaginable. How could it possibly improve on, or even equal, the game that changed the way we think about games?

By changing the way we think about games. Again. Half-Life 2 was, frankly, a masterpiece. It’s gaming’s Mona Lisa, if the Mona Lisa wasn’t stunningly boring to look at and tragically underwhelming.

This game stands alone, without equal. Before or since.

2006 – Frets on Fire

This is somewhat of an oddball inclusion, but it took up so much of my time I feel it’s earned its spot.

While the world was obsessed with Guitar Hero, the PC master race stared on, bleakly. Even if we did have access to the game, what self-respecting PC gamer would be caught dead with a brightly coloured plastic guitar peripheral in hand? Madness.

Then came Frets on Fire, the low-tech, community-supported alternative which had you rocking out on your keyboard like you were playing to a crowd of millions.

This game swept through my university file-share network like wildfire, and me and a small group of friends held the high score slots until the day we left. Hell, they may still be standing today.

Yup, I was a total badass.

Yup, I was a total badass.

2007 – Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Despite being widely acclaimed, sometimes I feel that this game doesn’t really get the respect it deserves. Just like Valve with Half-Life 2, COD 4 fundamentally changed the way we thought about military FPS titles.

They didn’t just change the setting, they changed the gameplay as well. And it wasn’t just different, it was better. Much, much better.

2008 – Portal

What a sleeper this was. This deserves to be on the list not only because it was f**king incredible, but also because of how unexpected it was. Bundled as not much more than a free add-on, a distraction, it turned out to be one of the most beloved games of all time.

I’m almost certain that 99% of you reading this have played the game, and if you haven’t, really, you need to stop what you’re doing and make that happen.

GLaDOS steals the show here with phenomenal writing and voice acting; her sarcastic, passive-aggressive and at times genuinely frightening diatribes were ones that I think few gamers will ever forget.

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  • Graham Ziervogel

    Apart from COD4, this list is great.

    • Squirly

      I’d argue that CoD 1 should have been on here, but that’s the only one I ever spent any significant amount of time on.

      • http://www.nag.co.za Chris Kemp

        CoD 1 was good, but it was also just another military shooter. I feel like CoD 4 deserves the spot because it reinvented the genre completely, and every game since has copied that formula.

    • http://www.nag.co.za Chris Kemp

      To me, Call of Duty 4 is not only the best Call of Duty, it’s the game that made the franchise the behemoth it is today. Of course, it’s since been pretty much ruined, but Call of Duty 4 was incredible for it’s time.

      It launched an entire generation of “modern” shooters – before CoD4 it was all creaky carbines and bi-planes everywhere.

      Not to mention staples of shooters today like killstreak rewards and perks; all of that began with CoD 4.

      I have a soft spot for it since I still play it even today ;) For my money, Activision is yet to release a Call of Duty that has better multiplayer.

      • Graham Ziervogel

        I won’t argue that it’s the best game in the COD series, but I don’t think that makes it a particularly good game :P

        • http://www.nag.co.za Chris Kemp

          Haha, haters gon’ hate ;)

  • Matthew Fick

    Apart from the lack of Peggle, this list is great

    • http://www.nag.co.za Chris Kemp

      Hahaha, was wondering when you would show up

  • Pulseofthe Maggot

    I love this list! I’m a relatively new gamer, but I’m proud to say I’ve player most of these!

    • http://www.nag.co.za Chris Kemp

      Good man, keeping the classics alive ;)

  • Delano

    Doom, Portal and Half-Life 2. All winners.

    I remember playing Doom when I was about… 13, I think. I’d come home from school and play it for hours and hours. I’d never played anything like it; it was so engrossing, so violent and the use of Satanic imagery was something I’d never seen in a game before. It was the first game I played that was genuinely scary, particularly with how you’d walk into a room only to be plunged into darkness and swarmed with unseen enemies. It changed gaming forever.

    Half-Life 2 took everything that made shooters great and increased it tenfold. Its story was actually pretty interesting and the world was just amazing to explore and fight in. For a while after I finished it and its episodes, I didn’t play shooters because nothing even came close.

    Portal was just something special. It proved that first-person games don’t need to be shooters, it showed us all how a game can be genuinely funny and the whole portal mechanic was just mind-blowing. To this day I’ll occasionally see a wall with white paint and think, “hmm, a portal surface…”

    • Graham Ziervogel

      Couldn’t agree with this comment more.

  • RooiBosTeaBagger

    Good list you got there. Agree with most of em. And happy birthday for yesterday man.

  • BinaryMind

    Yeah Frets on Fire! I also clocked MANY hours on that game :D

  • https://soundcloud.com/andre-gabriel-coetzee Andre Gabriel Coetzee

    Quake 2! xD Man, the quake 2 soundtrack was excellent, I still listen it today and jam along with it. That music, along with quake 2`s brilliant atmosphere, makes quake 2 one of my all time favourites, and it always will be. That, to me, was the Mona Lisa of first person shooters, I can`t think of a single thing they could have done better or done differently to improve upon. I`ve never again played a game with such brilliant, otherworldy atmosphere, Riddick was almost there (and I enjoyed it) but not quite.

  • Alex Rowley

    Good list. I was going to say why isn’t WoW on the list but remembered it’s a personal list.

    You basically covered most of the big ones.

    I don’t think I could actually make a cohesive list of the important games for me though that actually were important games, I mean Crash Bandicoot 3 is what pulled me into gaming like a drug addict but I don’t really think it’s an important game in the grand scheme of things. Also hope you had a great Birthday dude.

  • Ludwig Roos

    i’m 17 and what brought me up with being an addict to games was age of empires 1 and warcraft 3

    • Miklós Szecsei

      Those are solid RTS titles to cut your teeth on, no doubt about that.

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