on Mar 22, 2007
Really, I could fill a book on this topic, but let’s see if I can answer this question with at least some hint of self restraint. So, for Rebecca, or anyone else that might want to give this hobby a try:
Let me make a few assumptions:
- I’ll assume you don’t own a console. We’ll leave console titles out of the equation. There is some incredible fun to be had, but if we include them this post will be nine miles long because we’ll have to decide on a platform first.
- I’ll assume your computer is not a hot off the shelf, fully-loaded gaming monster. Let’s assume our target computer is a couple of years old. This means we can draw from the bargain bin if we want.
- Let’s also assume you’re an adult, so we don’t have to limit ourselves to games of a given ESRB rating.
Right, with that out of the way… where to start?
What games do I suggest? I’d try to get a feel for what sort of subjects interest someone before naming any titles.
This is an excellent genre of games for newcomers. Their calm pace, broad appeal, and easy learning curve mean that just about anyone can have at least some fun with these, even if they move on to other games later.
There are a lot of entries in this gametype. Sim City. Sim Golf. The Sims. All of those are amazingly popular and you could have a good time with any of them, but by far my favorite game is Roller Coaster Tycoon 3. It is a game that can appeal on a lot of different levels. There is the “Planning” aspect to the game, where you work out how to lay out the amusement park as a whole by planting trees, placing flowers, making a good system of paths, and placing the rides together in interesting ways. Then there is the “running a business” aspect to it, where you hire people, launch advertising programs, and set the prices for all your rides and gift shops. You can even get in and fuss around with how generous you want to be with condiments on the food or ice in the drinks if you really want. Then there is the “build and ride roller coasters” part of the game. (Wheee!) A demo is available.
These different aspects blend seamlessly, and you can have as much or as little of them as you want. In sandbox mode you can build and ride coasters without giving the slightest thought to money or park management. Or you can fuss around with the business end of things and just use pre-built coasters in your park. I’ve been playing this game on and off for endless months and I’m still delighted with it.
Rebecca mentioned Starcraft. That is indeed a long-standing favorite. It should be fairly cheap, it’s still available in stores, it will run on any PC made in this millennium, and it has just the right level of depth for a newcomer. But will Real-Time Strategy be your cup of tea? Well, the game involves commanding armies. You produce military units, seize territory, harvest the resources it contains, and use those resources to build factories and fortifications, and eventually an army. The game sometimes moves at a swift pace. At the start of the game you’ll manage one base at a time. Forty hours later you’ll be managing multiple armies and a half dozen bases.
Sound like fun? Then Starcraft is the place to start.
These games feature some of the deepest strategy gameplay you can find. They are famous for being powerfully addictive. Take as long as you like on each turn, no pressure. No furious mouse-clicking. These games usually don’t ask too much of your computer. This is a pretty good place to start for new players, but the gameplay isn’t for everyone. Some people find this sort of thing to be tedious or dull. Try a demo and see if it captures your interest.
You pretty much can’t go wrong in this category. If you like this sort of game then you’ll likely enjoy any of them. Civilization 4 is popular, although I think the system requirements are a little unreasonable for what the game does. Master Of Orion II is amazingly popular but its age makes it hard to find. I’m a big fan of Galactic Civilizations, myself.
I don’t really suggest this as a starting point for getting into computer games. The genre is broad, varied, aimed at serious gamers, and ruled by graphics hardware. This is the deep end of the pool for sure. These games are usually bloody and fast-paced. Not for everyone. I would need to break this down into sub-genres to even begin to outline where to start.
My own. My precious. This is the sort of game that most appeals to me. Create a character to represent yourself in the game world and build him or her up into a champion that will most likely end up saving the world.
I would steer clear of the new RPG games, which have shown a nasty tendancy to push computers to the limit while offering bland gameplay. Stick to the titles of yesteryear. If you’re a Star Wars fan then I highly, highly recommend Knights of the Old Republic. The story is epic and filled with excellent and engaging characters. (Really, some of the best characters I’ve ever “met” in a computer game.) It’s a classic which should still be available for cheap.
Fallout and Planescape: Torment and both beloved classics that come from the late 90’s. They offer a lot of fun if you can find them.
Diablo II is also a classic which should still be available. It’s not so much about role-playing as it is about killing lots of monsters and taking their stuff. It’s simple. It’s easy. The story is stunningly simple but well told. The characters are about as deep as cartoon characters, but they have their own simple appeal. The game will run on just about any computer.
This barely scratches the surface, but might give a newcomer some kind of starting point. I’m sure we’ll get a lot of good suggestions in the comments as well.
I know looking at the rack of software can be daunting. A lot of it is junk, and as with movies you can’t really go by advertising or shelf space to tell you what is good and what sucks.
And finally, a humble request: Consider leaving a comment or write a blog post about your first forays into the world of PC gaming. Even if you hate it. It’s always interesting to see how people react to these things, and I’m always curious what new players think. In a lot of ways their opinions can be worth more than those of the typical reviewer or critic.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.