The games industry is in a creative slump as of late. People value graphics much more than gameplay, which is a true shame, because the innovation has gone out of the industry. Instead of the days when games had to be interesting to sell, we get a bunch of tired old first-person shoot-em-up clones, all of which offer minor technical improvements over Wolfenstein (which started the craze, of course) but which offer little or nothing new in the way of gameplay. This is not to say that such games are bad, but they're only rehashes of something that's already been done before.
(Note: This is not in disrespect of new games. I am not saying old is always best. But it cannot be denied that the feeling of "it's all been done" is strong, or at the very least present, in today's game industry. However, to be fair: Half-Life Rocks!)
Consequently, if you're new to the field of computer games, but enthusiastic about them (and you don't mind trading graphic quality for sheer FUN value) then you've come to the right place. Here we run down some of the greatest games of all time. But first, a few interesting links:
Here's a truly EXCELLENT page for old games:http://www2.netdoor.com/~whp1/games.html
Here's a great page for remembering 8-bit Atari games. (If you tried this link before and it didn't work, try it again; The site moved, and I didn't change the link for a while.)www.qlam.com/atari/atari.html
Danne's Homepage has a games section with some older and hard-to-find shareware available for download.
The CAGE (Computer Antiquity Game Encyclopedia) is another excellent website, "dedicated to the small computer games of the past", with lots of old PC games that are still fun to play.
And here is a fine collection of old text-style adventure games, with clever and often amusing reviews. The games here are mostly not great and often cheesy, but that's part of the fun:http://www.wurb.com/if/index.html
For those who like classic all-text type adventure games: A gentleman by the name of Graham Cluley is the author of an excellent text adventure game called Humbug. The latest version is 5.0, and it's public-domain (as opposed to the previous versions, which were shareware). It is by far the most complicated text adventure I have ever seen. It's way bigger and better than Colossal Cave, or even Zork!
Here is Mr. Cluley's home page:
Speaking of text adventures, Adam Cadre is the brilliant adventure game writer who produced text adventures like I-0 and 9:05. You can find these fine works, along with some other information and stuff, on his website, the URL of which is quite simply adamcadre.ac.
An even more legendary figure in the computer game industry is Chris Crawford, author of several computer strategy games, a book called "The Art Of Computer Game Design", and several other works which have made history. His website contains some of his brilliant writings, so if you're into the design of games, it's well worth stopping by to take a look and see what one of the masters of the medium has to say.
Going back to text games for a moment: There's more you can do with text than just display text. Before Windows 95 caused people to foolishly stop using MS-DOS, there was a whole subculture built around using text characters to make graphics. The results could sometimes be quite impressive. A great site which has collected some of the best DOS text games and made them available for download (along with some heartfelt essays explaining why you'd actually want to play such a game) is simply called Text Mode Games.
MadMonkey.net is a great little site dedicated to indie computer games; Whether you want arcade, adventure, or strategy games, this site has plenty of small games from independant developers who make games for the love of doing so, not the money.
Adventureland is a site that "tries to list all adventure games (interactive fiction) produced over the years". And it does a pretty good job. Another similarly good adventure game enthusiast's site is Just Adventure.
The Giant List of Classic Game Programmers is aptly-named.
NOTE: The following two links died *VERY* recently. Sierra has apparently finished their free game giveaway without any prior notice. I include these links for reference only (a lot of other pages will still have them up.)
In case you haven't heard about the most-hyped free computer game giveaway of this year, Sierra is giving away their classic role-playing game Betrayal At Krondor. It's 10 MB in size, so a bit biggish, but it's a milestone in RPGing (or at least it was when it was released).
Here's a link to Sierra's "Free Krondor" area:
In an interesting business move, Sierra is actually giving away lots of their games on their website (most notably Red Baron). Here's their "Free Other Cool Games" area:
If you're like most people, the music in your computer games probably isn't very important to you. Indeed, you might not even notice it, or consider it simply a background process which doesn't do much for the game. However, if you consider computer games to be art, and feel that the more carefully-crafted they are, they more enjoyable they are, then music is indeed important to you, and you know that a memorable game can be made even more so by a memorable soundtrack. In a nifty sort of segue, this next site is not only about music in games, but specifically, the music in Sierra games. If you've played a lot of Sierra adventure games, you'll notice that some of the brilliant work by the musical gurus (most notably Mark Seibert) was actually pretty darn good. At least I always thought so... Sierra had good music in their games. Apparently I'm not the only one who thought so, because now there's a site where you can get all the best Sierra adventure tunes in MIDI files. Pretty cool, and they take a lot less disk space than MP3s. =) Check out Quest Studios at www.queststudios.com (And yes, if you believe the "Used with permission" that's in the site's fine print, Sierra knows about this site and has authorized it, meaning it probably won't be closed down by legal problems like those sites which tried to provide 15-year old Sierra games for free download.)
Speaking of Sierra adventures, visit The Ultimate AGI & SCI Web Site for a lot of information about these two interpreters which Sierra used for all of their classic adventure games. This is quite the rarity-packed site.
A company called Champ Games makes PC clones of classic arcade games. This is their home page: http://www.champgames.com
...And, since Champ is now out of business and none of their games are for sale any longer, you can get the full (non-shareware) versions of all their released games on the CHAMPgames Fan Page.
Some people maintain that the Star Control games are the best games ever. In particular, Star Control 2 is usually considered by far the best of the series. If you love the Star Control games, or haven't played them but are interested in learning more about them, The Pages of Now And Forever - All About Star Control is a site which makes for some fine reading, with lots of info about the Star Control games (especially the much-loved SC2). You might also be excited to learn (as you can learn from that site) that the source code for the 3DO version of SC2 has been released by the developers, a little company called Toys For Bob, and the Internet fan community worked diligently to create a PC port, the result of which was The Ur-Quan Masters, an open-source game which is just like the good old days. (Why did they use the 3DO source code instead of the PC source code? Because the PC source code has been lost; nobody has a copy, not even Toys For Bob.) So basically, if you want a really huge space exploration game that will take you a lot of time to finish and probably be a lot of fun if you like big intricate games with a lot of detail and depth, then check out these sites.
If you think that a website about the Atari line of consoles can't be awesome, you've obviously never been to AtariAge, a site which has just about everything you could ever want regarding the Atari 2600 and its related systems: Reviews, screenshots, manuals, and ROMs for most every game made for those consoles. This site rocks more than a landslide in the Grand Canyon.
If you're looking for a guide to old flight simulators, I've yet to find a better site than MiGMan's Combat Diary, a site which includes a flight sim museum of every major flight sim ever made (plus several minor ones). (UPDATE: This site has converted to a pay site, and much of the info that used to be free is now expected to be paid for.)
GameSpot, which is one of the best sites on the Net for game info, recently did an interview with Ron Gilbert, one of the most famed game designers of all time (he did the Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island games). Check out the interview here.
Recognize these guys? ;)
Here, in no particular order, then, are the games, listed.
It seems appropriate to start with what was likely one of the first games for the PC, ever. In the old days, games were entirely text, and a great many were adventure-type deals, typing commands like "get wumpus" or "open door", just as was done later in graphic adventures before point-and-click took over. Colossal Cave is considered the grandaddy of such things, although new, bigger games of the same style exist. (Humbug, in the links above, is one of those.) Suffice it to say that Colossal Cave is a part of gaming history, and while it's not an excellent game by most people's standards, it is well-known to old-timers. Serious students of gaming history will want it. It's freeware.
Download it here.
The second of the great gaming experiments, Zork was much like Colossal Cave, only it was sold commercially instead of being distributed freely. There are three games in the original Zork trilogy: Zork I: The Great Underground Empire, Zork II: The Wizard Of Frobozz, and Zork III: The Dungeon Master. There are also new Zork games, which were released much more recently. The first, Return To Zork, was a joyful reprise after the games had been put to rest for years. Now there's Zork Nemesis and Zork Grand Inquisitor. I think those later games are all still available from Activision (they're actually made by Infocom, but Activison owns Infocom). The original text Zork games were compiled into a collection called The Lost Treasures Of Infocom, Volume One. That collection also contained a number of similar games from Infocom, as did Volume Two. Both volumes are probably still available as well.
This was a rather odd little game. You were put into a cave with some arrows, and you basically wandered from room to room in the cave until you were in a room adjacent to the "wumpus" (a small furry creature) at which point you'd try to shoot it with an arrow. The original version was all-text. Here's a clone of the game which has nice graphics, but otherwise is the same:
Download it here
"In 1979, I had worked as a programmer trainee, but it wasn't really something I enjoyed. I wasn't sure I liked computer games. I wasn't even sure I liked computers." --Roberta Williams
Mrs. Williams was soon to change her opinion of computers and computer games. When her husband Ken brought home a terminal from work and one of the first text adventure games, she soon found herself hooked. But when they went looking for more computer games, they only found a few, and nothing that really appealed to them.
"I don't think we thought at that time about actually starting a software company, but it did cross my mind. 'It would be fun to try something like that.' So I wrote up a design at the proverbial kitchen table... I drew all kinds of pictures."
Roberta and Ken eventually made Sierra On-Line. Mr. Williams was and still is President. In the early 80s, Sierra had already released some games, including the now-classic Mystery House (the company's first product, the PC's first graphical adventure game). Mystery House is included in the Roberta Williams Anthology, which is still available from some places.
It was in 1984 that Sierra On-Line (then still a very small game company) released a little game called King's Quest for IBM. IBM had approached Ken Williams asking for a color adventure game (Mystery House was monochrome) to show off the capabilities of a new PC they were developing. That computer was the ill-fated and completely laughable PCjr.
Fortunately, however, while the computer didn't survive, the game did. It was a full-motion adventure game, where you could move around, in front of, or behind things. You saw yourself as this little guy with a red feather in his hat, and you walked wherever you wanted to. You could enter water, swim in it, climb stuff (mostly that rope on the well), and type commands. It was a far cry from anything the world had seen before (Mystery House was not full-motion. It did have pictures, but they were static. There was no animation.)
King's Quest is now the best-selling computer adventure game series of all time. Sierra has been hard at work on King's Quest VIII: The Mask Of Eternity for quite a while now, and it's supposed to be incredible. Unfortunately, the company has taken too much of a liberal approach to the gameplay: The game is going to be the first of the series to be very action-oriented. (It's been called "King's Quake".) All this and it hasn't even been released yet. It is a shame that Sierra chose to messily fix a product that couldn't have been less broke.
(For a text file by yours truly on a puzzle in King's Quest 1, read The Parable Of The Gnome's Name.
If you didn't guess who the two gentlemen in the photo above are: They're The 2 Guys From Andromeda, designers of the first four Space Quest games. They are actually regular humans named Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy, but they like to dress up as seen in the picture.
Crowe and Murphy got together while working on The Black Cauldron, yet another King's Quest-style adventure from Roberta Williams (based on the Prydain novel from Lloyd Alexander and the subsequent Disney movie by the same title). They were both science-fiction fans, and both were aware that Ken Williams was not. However, they did eventually get his go-ahead to try working on a sci-fi adventure game, and made Space Quest, Chapter I: The Sarien Encounter. The game was a great success, showing that there was an untapped market for sci-fi humorous computer games.
And, of course, Crowe and Murphy tapped it, to say the least. However, after producing Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco And The Time Rippers, the Two Guys broke up. Make Crowe did Space Quest V by himself, without Murphy's help. The story behind the breakup is longer than I'll include here, but it is most excellently summed up in The Official Space Quest FAQ 2.0, available from an excellent Web page on Space Quest called Roger Wilco's Virtual Broom Closet. The FAQ contains lots of inside information on the people behind the scenes of Space Quest, with personal contributions from Scott Murphy himself. Here is the URL for the Web page:http://www.wiw.org/~jess/roger.html
Sierra was best known for their adventure games, but that was certainly not the only type of game they did. The Incredible Machine (developed by Dynamix, a subsidiary of Sierra) is my personal favorite computer game ever, and I think most people would agree that it has to be at least one of the best puzzle games. Like Paperboy (see below), it takes everyday things and makes them into an incredibly cool experience.
Lucasfilm (now LucasArts) made this gem in 1988, the first adventure game to use a point-and-click (no typing) interface. It went on to gain a reputation as one of the pioneering games of the 80s, and rightly so.
Will Wright's SimCity remains one of the most enjoyable computer games ever. From the company Maxis, it's a Simulated City, where you're the Mayor. The appeal of the game lay in the feeling of power it gave you... It started the so-called "God sim", where you can look down upon people and control them. (Electronic Arts' game Populous is another excellent effort in this field.) SimCity, however, was more of a "boss sim"; You built residential, commercial and industrial areas, police stations and fire stations, adjusted taxes and laid down roads and railways. I could go on describing this truly classic game, but here's one of the coolest things about SimCity: Maxis has now released it as SHAREWARE. So get it now, and play it for yourself.
The game is a wee bit large, so I've split it into three ZIPs.
Note: SimCity uses an unconventional video mode which is not supported by most video cards today. I'm really not sure why. (What's the advantage to removing support for certain modes from cards???) The graphics will display fine, but most of the in-game text will appear as gibberish on these cards. Mercifully, there is a fix available, and it's as simple as running a TSR. Just use this link to download a tiny program which, when run, should fix the problem with SimCity's text. (Note that this program is a DOS TSR, which means you need to run it in a DOS prompt, then run SimCity from the same prompt. If you run it directly from Windows, it won't work.)
Download it here
For a short analysis by yours truly of what makes some people like SimCity (and some not), read Who likes SimCity?
If you play computer games much, you know that a great many of them take place in fantastic settings, often futuristic worlds where spaceships are everywhere, or epic fantasy lands, or whatever. But there are some games which take common, everyday settings, and turn them into surprisingly fun experiences. SimCity was a good example (who would have thought managing a big city, dealing with crime, pollution, and disasters would be fun?) Another good example was Paperboy, from Mindscape. The concept is very simple: You are a paperboy. Ride down the street in your bike, throwing newspapers into mailboxes. It doesn't sound like much, but anyone who's played it knows it was a great game. Mindscape followed it up with Paperboy 2, an even better game, with much better graphics and smoother gameplay.
Most of the games in this section are for DOS. Very few true classic games exist for Windows. But SkiFree is one of them. It's a simple downhill skiing game. It doesn't sound like much, and it wasn't, really, but it was a mini-sensation in its time.
Download it here
Why describe Tetris? The Russian block-dropper was a huge fad some years ago, and while it's no longer something half of the world's population wears on their T-shirts, everybody still knows about it.
The world's most mercilessly addictive game series, the sensationally popular Lemmings games from Psygnosis are fine additions to any gamer's collection. You have to steer the little lemmings home, but there's one catch: You can't steer them. Further description is unnecessary, because the games are hard to describe anyway. Just play them and you'll find out why they rule the puzzle/arcade genre.
Although considerably newer than most games here, Myst can rightly be called a classic now. It is now the best-selling computer game ever. For some reason, Riven, its sequel, has not done so well, despite the fact that it's better.
The first video game, Pong symbolizes all that is great about electronic games. I have found an excellent copy of it.
Download it here
Another game which symbolizes the arcade era. A good shareware clone of it is available on Champ Games' Web page above. Here is a freeware clone of it:
Download it here
Yet another game which has become a highly recognizable pop culture symbol. An excellent clone of both Pacman and the politically-correct follow-up Ms. Pac Man are available from Champ Games' Web site. However, Champ Games is true to the original classic and does not attempt to update it. That's fine for purists, but if you want a more... Well, if you'd like a slightly "coolified" version of the game, a nice game called CD-Man is a PC Pacman clone with more modern graphics.
Download it here
And, since Champ Games is now out of business and their website is too, here's a totally authentic freeware clone of Pac-Man, called PacPC.
Download PacPC 2.00A here
Q*Bert was a game in which you controlled a small, furry creature with a big nose who had to jump around a pyramid-like structure which was divided into squares, turning each square to a specific color. I'm mentioning it here mainly as a follow-up to PacPC, because PacPC's developer, JROK Games, has also made a PC conversion of Q*Bert called PC*Bert. It's good. You can download it from JROK Games' official site. Bravo to them for making such faithful reproductions of these two addictive classics! :)
Speaking of Asteroids, here's a clone of it.
Download it here
A somewhat less well-known, very simple, but strangely addictive game. Just land your lunar lander on the moon. Don't knock it 'till you've tried it!
Download it here
It was a cool game, it still is, here's an excellent clone of it for the PC called Airlift Rescue, download it, play it, end of story.
Download it here
This game isn't nearly as well-recognized as most of those listed here. In fact, only people who were fairly deep into the computer game scene during the mid-80s are likely to have heard of it. Apparently it was only released for Apple computers; There was a Mac version available, but I never had a Mac. Instead, I had an Apple IIgs, and I played it on that. The reason I mention it here is because it was one of the most original and enjoyable little games I ever played, despite its seemingly simple concept. Mercifully, it has now been ported to the PC in a freeware clone called XQUEST. (Note that XQUEST has attained a bit of underground popularity in the PC shareware scene. If you've heard of the original Crystal Quest, you've probably heard of XQUEST.) The version available for download here is actually version 1.0. I include it here because I prefer it to 2.0, because 2.0 makes your spaceship always turn to face whatever direction you're moving in, which I find unbelievably annoying. 1.0 uses a circular ship which would look the same whatever way you turned it anyway. If you want 2.0 instead, go to The Official XQUEST Site and get it there.
Download XQUEST 1.0 here
If you have any suggestions on particular games to add, e-mail me with them.
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