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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