Videogames: Where to start

  By Shamus   Mar 22, 2007   86 comments

Rebecca asks:

In a related story, I too feel like getting into PC gaming just like Jaquandor, thanks to your rants. Do you have any games to recommend for someone just getting into it? Any oldies but goodies, like Starcraft or something?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Sim

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.

Real-Time Strategy

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.

Turn-Based Strategy

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.

First-Person Shooter

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.

Role-Playing Games

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.

202020206There are now 86 comments. Almost a hundred!


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  1. Alex says:

    Well, if you want a ridiculously fun and replayable game that can be run on literally ANY modern(read: DOS or later) PC, allow me to recommend X-COM: UFO Defense. Stunning in its simplicity, terrifying in its atmosphere, addictive in its “one more mission” drive, pretty much the only thing going against it is that it’s old as, well, DOS.

    This means you have to be EXTREMELY lucky to find it in stores nowadays, and you can’t really play it straight out of the box (unless you’ve got a DOS booot), but if you can find one of the many fan-made Windows solutions floating around the internet, you will not be sorry.

  2. wildweasel says:

    I’ve got a sizable list of my own recommendations for Rebecca…

    SIM GAMES

    – Yes, The Sim series can be very fun, as can the Roller Coaster Tycoon games. But if you’re interested in something specific, I bet you could probably get a deluxe pack of the original The Sims for fairly cheap nowadays, and it’s bound to run well.

    FIRST-PERSON SHOOTERS

    I consider there to be three kinds of first-person shooters. You’ve got your standard FPS games like Half-Life, Quake 2, and Doom 3. They give you a moderate arsenal of weapons to take down increasingly powerful monsters or soldiers, and often emphasize action over tiny details.

    The next step up is the “tactical” or ultra-realistic shooters, which emphasize tactics, planning, and stealth above just flat out killing stuff. This would include games like Rainbow Six: Raven Shield, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, and most World War II games.

    And on the exact opposite end of the spectrum, we’ve got your Arcade-style shooters. Games like Painkiller, Serious Sam, and the first two Doom games. There is no attempt made to be realistic; the games are simply about killing things and finding more weapons with which to kill things more efficiently.

    If you want something that’ll get you into FPS games, I advise getting a copy of Doom Collector’s Edition. That contains Doom 1 and 2, plus the Final Doom collection. The controls are very simple (literally just movement, a fire key, and a button to open doors, plus the number keys to switch weapons), and the monsters dumb enough to accommodate (but also posing enough challenge in later levels to make things interesting).

    ROLE-PLAYING GAMES

    I really want to recommend The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind, if not for the fact that it can tend to run poorly on even some more recent computers. If you can find it, Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2, and naturally the Fallout games are great investments.

  3. charlie says:

    Ditto to the X-Com, it was the first thing that came to mind. Actually, I’ve been playing it quite a lot this last week. There is a Windows “Collectors Edition” version which runs quite well with a patch publicized here:

    http://www.xcomufo.com/x1faq.html

    The game is also known as “UFO: Enemy Unknown.” One might have some luck doing a google search for “ufo – enemy unknown abandonware”.

  4. Adam Bloom says:

    Just to expand on a few of your suggestions:

    Sims: Yes.

    Real-Time Strategy: Starcraft is good. If sci-fi isn’t your thing, Age of Empires is a great series.

    Turn-Based Strategy: With a few exceptions, the best games in this genre are usually free. X-Com, which you can get running on XP with a bit of tweaking. Civilization I and II, Master’s of Orion I or II. If you like historical, Steel Panther’s is the greatest tactical-level WWII game ever made.

    First-Person Shooter: If you want to get to the heart of the genre, Unreal Tournament is a simple blast-them-to-hell.

    Role-Playing Games: You’ve got this covered. Baldur’s Gate is also a great series.

  5. Samrobb says:

    Sim – I’ve never really enjoyed these much (except for the original Sim city). So no real recommendation here.

    RTS – I’m currently getting hooked on Dawn of War. For me, though, much of the appeal is the setting – I love the Warhammer 40K universe, and that makes pitting my Ultramarines against Eldar Reavers just that much more fun.

    TBS – I played Alpha Centauri until the CD warped and cracked (well, not really, but it *seemed* like it should have). My current favorite is an extremely minimalist game that’s just called ‘Slay’ – you can download a demo at http://www.windowsgames.co.uk/slay.html. Just playing variations on the single, small demo map has kept me occupied for weeks. I fear what will happen to me when I finally give in and get the full version.

    FPS – Unlike Shamus, I’m going to make a recommendation here. Give any of the Thief games a try. They’re very different from most FPS games – you’re playing a thief, after all, and the point is to sneak, not shoot. The story line is interesting, the levels are fantastic, and the pace is positively sedate compared to most FPS games.

    RPG – I’m a long-time Might and Magic fan, and I’d really recommend some of the mid-range titles (MM V, VI, VII, VIII). Decent mechanics, good plots, lots of side quests, and a huge number of variations to play in each game. I also liked Arcanum, for much the same reasons – an interesting world, lots of different options, and multiple ways to play through the game.

    Arcade – Shamus didn’t really mention any of these. There are a lot of arcade-style games that are truly fun to play; a lot of the ones I liek personally come from PopCap games. Rocket Mania, Zuma, Noah’s Ark, Peggles… all of these are just plain fun. My wife, oldest daughter (7), and I all enjoy these games. They’re great for a 10-15 minute break, and have *huge* replay value.

  6. Shamus says:

    Ditto the suggestions for Thief. I really, really enjoyed the most recent Theif game. I have several posts about it in the archives as well. It isn’t a real entry-point into the FPS genre in general, since it won’t tach you to circle-strafe and rocket-jump (so to speak) but the game is wonderfully fun.

  7. X-Com would be hard for a first-time gamer to get into, I think. It’s pretty hardcore.

    My recommendations for dipping ones’ toe into the water would probably be along the lines of Civilization or The Sims. And Roller Coaster Tycoon :)

    And yeah. Diablo II is a good’n for the RPG set. Not very difficult, not very straining on the brain, but lots of fun.

  8. Rebecca says:

    Thank you so much, Shamus! For a while I thought I wasn’t going to get an answer.

    And your assumptions about me are correct. :D Especially about my computer being a couple years old. I’ve got Toshiba Satellite L-25 with 480 mb of RAM and … I don’t even know what kind of graphics card. Kind of pathetic, I know, but I don’t have enough money to upgrade right now, or waste my money on terrible games.

  9. Thad says:

    Just a note about Baldur’s Gate: you can now get a compilation pack of this containing:
    Baldurs Gate
    Baldurs Gate: Tales of the Swordscoast
    Baldurs Gate II: Shadows of Amn
    Baldurs Gate II: Throne of Bhaal
    for pretty cheap. (NZ$30!)

    (Not that I’m likely to play it any time soon, but hey, it is cheap…)

  10. Dr-Online says:

    I am a hardcore fan of Fallout, and kudos to you for mentioning it. I actually plan on getting an old school BoS tattoo on my arm in the near future.

    Now, I do have a question for you, have you heard anything good about the two most recent, afaik, games? Specifically tactics, and BoS?

  11. Nilus says:

    I just thought I should mention. Many of the games that were mentioned above are available on Game tap(www.gametap.com). You pay a monthly fee and have you PC opened to tons of games. They just added X-Com a few weeks ago, and Planescape Torment has been there for a while(plus many of the other Baldur’s gate games). I also think several of the Sims games are there(but that not really my thing)

  12. The PopCap suggestion is a good one.

    My wife and I both enjoy Bookworm Adventures. The demo is very accurate, in that if you like the demo you’ll like the full game. It doesn’t change that much. Free demos seem like a good thing in this case.

  13. I have to second the love for Bookworm Adventures, X-COM, and GalCivs.

    If you like the roleplaying genre and multiplayer (I noticed that everyone here is assuming single player games, but I can’t play a single player game for more than an hour per sitting, so I’ll branch out) with no system requirements other than the internet, a MUD can be a lot of fun provided you have a good imagination.

    The good thing about them is that they are tremendously varied to suit whatever interest you have.

    I admit that I run one, which I am going to shamelessly plug, at http://www.forsakenlands.org.

  14. phlux says:

    It’s all about Space Flight Sims for me. My top 5 games in this category:

    1: Tie Fighter
    2: X-Wing
    3: Freespace 2
    4: X-Wing Alliance
    5: Starlancer
    Honorable Mention: Independence War 2

    You’ll notice 3 of the top 5 are star wars games. That’s no coincidence. Those are fantastic games. They are difficult to find now, though, because of their age, and they’ve started to become difficult to play on newer OSes. To play Tie Fighter for example, you need to own the TIE95 version of the game (which is what is most commonly available anyway) set the EXE to Windows 95 compatibility mode, and launch the EXE manually. For whatever reason I can’t ever get the launcher program to work. Once it’s running it works pretty sweet though.

    You can probably still find the “X-Wing trilogy” which includes 1,2 and 4 on my list.

    Freespace is another classic. Everyone who liked it wants a Freespace 3, because 2 was a cliffhanger. Sadly the only one interested in making a sequel is the guy who made the god-awful Battlecruiser 3000AD series.

    Starlancer is not generally listed as a classic of this genre. I really liked it personally. It had good voice acting, a fun plot, fun controls, and I like advancing, getting new ships, medals, all that stuff. Jaquandor bought the sequel to this game “Freelancer”. Freelancer is OK, but it’s not at all like Starlancer. It’s only loosely set in the same universe, with an exiled population hundreds of years in the future.

    The honorable mention is actually the newest game on the list, I believe. It almost doesn’t fit into the genre, because it’s a very non-linear game. You basically get to be a space pirate, and you can spend all your time fighting corporate injustice or robbing the innocent blind. The fun part is collecting the cargo booty and trading it for weapons and ship upgrades. I really do love this game, it just had a lot of stiff competition. I replay it almost, but not quite as often as Tie Fighter, which I play every year or two.

    Sadly this is a more or less dead genre. They lost favor I think because FPS games got popular and looked much more impressive graphically. Hopefully they will make a resurgence. I buy pretty much every game in the genre just on principle…except those battlecruiser games. The first one is so bad they have to give it away and subsequent releases have been no better. Stay away!

  15. Hal says:

    For an FPS/RPG blend, I highly recommend Deus Ex. Given its age, it’s not too intense for most computers today, and it has an incredibly compelling story line and exciting gameplay. It’s story line seems especially poignant, given the global climate today.

    For an RTS, if Starcraft isn’t your speed, then Red Alert 2 could be perfect. I used to play it with my father (which says something about the ease of picking up the game), plus the story hook of defending the US from a Russian invasion.

  16. Hal says:

    Oh! How could I forget? If you really want to go old school, pick up some copies of the old Sierra adventure series Quest for Glory. I never played 4 or 5, but the first three are what started me on my path of PC gaming (that and the original C&C).

  17. phlux says:

    Oh, and if you like blowing stuff up, and have already invested in a decent joystick, I also highly recommend the Mechwarrior series. Mech IV is probably the most recent PC version, which is several years old. I think my favorite on the PC is Mechwarrior Mercenaries. I find the system of taking jobs, earning cash, hiring other mercs to handle your air and ground support very appealing. It also makes more sense that new mechs and better parts are restricted from you by price and you just haven’t earned enough cash yet, rather than the game just deciding you can’t have them yet because of your “rank” or some made up excuse for limited availability.

  18. phlux says:

    Oh…last chime-in for me on this thread: If you really want to try out an FPS? Buy Half-Life.

  19. Mordaedil says:

    I knew Shamus had something in him I liked. He wanted to love NWN2, but the faults peer out at him…

    Curious, is recommending NWN online a good idea at all? It’s awfully complex, but it has one of the BEST communities I’ve ever been in. And it’s still alive after 4-5 years.

  20. melchar says:

    ‘Planescape – Torment’ is full of wonderful. The first ‘Baldur’s Gate’ was great, as is ‘Knights of the Old Republic’.

    [My experience with KotOR is that #1 runs fine on my laptop, but that #2 only ran well on Xbox.]

    I also recommend ‘Alpha Centauri’ and ‘Civilization 3′ as fun strategy games. They may be older games, but they can suck me in for hours on end.

  21. Nilus says:

    Phlux? You didnt list a single Wing Commander game on your Space Sim list. I personally always preferred them to the x-wing series.

    If I recall the X-wing games had a pass/fail system for the missions. If you failed one you had to keep doing it until you beat it. Wing Commander had mission trees so could fail a few missions and still beat the game. Also had multiple ending based on what you did usually.

  22. Patrick says:

    Based on your assumptions I would recommend, in order:

    1. Fallout. A turn-based strategy set in a post apocalyptic California. With a rather ” been there, done that” type of story line, this game is made great by one of the best character creation engines ever, and the conversation options make the game highly replayable.
    2. Morrowind: The Elder Scrolls. This is probably not a great place to start for a newbie gamer, as this game is very detailed in it’s environment and stroyline. It’s very, very easy to get lost and side-tracked for litterally HOURS. This is part of it’s appeal to me, but it could be frustrating for new players.
    3. Galactic Civilizations. Previous posts have covered this adaquetly I believe.
    4. But really, you can’t know where you’re going to you understand where you’ve been. It is probably the most underrated, yet most detailed game ever. You can do just about anything, and be just about anyone. Of course I speak of the original, yet always satisfying NETHACK. I love it. No 2 games are ever the same, and best of all IT’S FREE. Google it and download the latest version. MAKE SURE TO GRAB THE HINT/HELP GUIDES!!

    Bets of luck Rebecca, it was nice knowing you. Might as well file for divorce and drop the kids off at your mom’s and sign them over. If you aren’t married with kids….well I wouldn’t make plans on doing either.

    Welcome to the dork side….

  23. Rebecca says:

    If you like the roleplaying genre and multiplayer (I noticed that everyone here is assuming single player games, but I can’t play a single player game for more than an hour per sitting, so I’ll branch out) with no system requirements other than the internet, a MUD can be a lot of fun provided you have a good imagination.

    Yes, what about MMORPGs? World of Warcraft, of course, and I’ve played Ragnarok and Runescape. Are there any more adventure-y type online RPGS that focus less on leveling up and repetitive tasks?

  24. phlux says:

    Nilus: I liked the Wing Commander games, don’t get me wrong. I suppose since I went as long as I did I might as well have done the full top ten. I just didn’t have the addition for that series the way I do with Star Wars. IWAR2 might come in below one or two of the WC games in a top 10 list for me, but I listed it for it’s unique gameplay.

    The thing that didn’t sit well with me about WC games was that I never wanted to lose a mission. I would literally play it 15 times if I had to instead of taking the loss path.

    I looked up the series on wikipedia though and am excited to find there’s one on here that I haven’t played! Wing Commander: Prophecies. Any good?

  25. phlux says:

    I know I said I wasn’t posting anymore, but did anyone here ever play X3: reunion? I picked it up, because as I said I try to support the genre whenever possible. I tried to play it but damn was it terrible! It felt just like Battlecruiser 3000AD with a better graphics engine! I couldn’t even hardly figure the game out and just gave up. Can anyone tell me if I’m actually missing out on anything?

    Sorry for the flight-sim threadjack.

  26. Alex says:

    Rebecca: Unfortunately, pretty much the heart and soul of MMORPG’s is leveling up and repetitive tasks (Kill X amount of Y or bring A from B to C are what the content boils down to), even the much vaunted Word of Warcraft. That’s how they keep you coming back month after month, plonking down $10-15 each time. That being said, I’ve been out of the MMORPG market for a while (for that very reason), so there might be something new out that I haven’t heard of that would fit your needs perfectly

  27. Thad says:

    If you want to talk Space Sim there is Space Colony, a sim-game on a colony in space (surprise, surprise). Yet another game I’ve picked up and never played. (I have a lot of them!)

  28. lplimac says:

    My 2¢

    If you can find them Warcraft and Warcraft II (plus expansion packs), also by Blizzard, are excellent RTS games that should work. Not Warcraft III though as it requires more graphic umph. Diablo II is fun as well but it really works best online where you can get a group. If you do get Diablo II and want to go online go to http://WWW.theamazonbasin.com/d2 where you will find an excellent group of people to play with and learn more then you ever wanted to know about the game.

    I would try Civilization II out before Civ III as it requires less power and to me plays better. I also give Morrowind a recommendation as one of the best Fantasy RPG’s out there, with a wealth of player built mods that you can add to fine tune your experience if you chose. In the same vein NWN is a good game (not NWN2) with lots of player made mods as well. It should run on your system (check the requirements first) and if you have a DVD drive the Diamond Edition is a good value.

  29. Nathaniel says:

    My tastes run somewhat older (and cheaper), and include some genres not before mentioned. Some of these are old enough that they need to be run from DOSBox [http://dosbox.sourceforge.net], or another DOS emulator. Almost all of them will run on a Macintosh–for those poor, game-deprived people who don’t have a PC.

    Fighting: One Must Fall 2097 is great, and now free [http://www.omf.com/faq/misc.html]. Think Mortal Kombat with robots (what better way around parental concerns than replacing blood with bolts?), and a tournament mode where you can spend your winnings upgrading your robot. Needs DOSBox.

    RTS: Starcraft has already been mentioned. Lemmings seems to have been overlooked, however. You can play some of the levels in your web browser at http://www.elizium.nu/scripts/lemmings/ — I find this sometimes slows down too much to be playable, though, and I don’t get any sounds. You’re better off buying it. There are some sequels, as well. Needs DOSBox.

    Turn Based Strategy: Battle for Wesnoth [http://www.wesnoth.com] is a free game where you direct your forces in battle. Fantasy warrior tactics–I’m told it’s similar to Heroes of Might and Magic.
    X-COM is also a good choice, as mentioned above. Get it free at http://www.the-underdogs.info/game.php?gameid=4966 I think this needs DOSBox, but I’m not sure.
    And of course, the Civilization games are good, or Alpha Centauri (Civilization–IN SPACE!). Only buy one, though–they’re all pretty much the same game, with slightly different graphics and tech trees. Windows or Mac.

    Platformer: The Commander Keen series [http://www.commander-keen.com] is great, especially #4 and later. The first three episodes are clearly not as polished. Secret areas abound–you can spend ages on this game if you’re determined to find everything. Some episodes are free, some aren’t. Needs DOSBox.

    RPG: http://www.spiderwebsoftware.com makes a lot of shareware RPGs without much in the way of flashy graphics. I prefer the old versions, without the isometric view. Windows or Mac.
    NetHack is a very old and venerable game without ANYTHING in the way of graphics. Falcon’s eye [http://falconseye.sourceforge.net/index.html] fixes the latter. One of those games you could spend the rest of your life playing. Free.
    Mr. Robot [http://www.moonpod.com] is a new game that answers the unasked question, “What if Final Fantasy had Sokoban puzzles in it?”. Shareware, Windows-only.

    Space: Starscape [http://www.moonpod.com], by the same people who made Mr. Robot, has you flying a spaceship from an overhead view, fighting baddies, and building upgrades. Shareware, Windows-only.
    Escape Velocity: Nova [http://www.ambrosiasw.com/games/evn/] is a shareware game where you pilot a spaceship. Run trade routes, mine asteroids, run missions, upgrade your ship. Starts slow, until you start getting more interesting missions. Windows or Mac.

  30. Chargone says:

    heh. been reading for a while and thought I’d chime in here…

    if grand strategy is your thing, go look at Hearts of Iron 2, Doomsday. it’s ww2 from a ruler’s perspective. not to mention you get to play with the whole world as your map. [it’s huge, lots of territories] the system requirements aren’t big either, and graphics are LOW compared to what you’re getting.

    paradox make other great games that you might like even if doomsday isn’t your thing, but they have something of a history of not providing decent documentation for what is a … Very… detailed world. doomsday has both a very good tutorial and excellent documentation to get you into the genre, and trust me, you NEED to get used to the genre before playing Europa Universalis 2 or Victoria.

    if you can run it, civ 4, preferably with the warlords expansion, is very nice. all pretty and stuff. [they went over board with the 3d graphics, that turn based strategy doesn’t really need]

    ohhh… if one doesn’t mind waiting… Spore looks set to be insanely good. I believe Will Wright described it somewhere along the way as “sim everything” *laughs*

    oh yeah… totally unrelated note: DM of the Rings is ridiculously awesome. i say this, and quite happily get the jokes, despite not playing D&D, or really any table top RPGs. course it might help that one of my hobbies is designing games [not computer/console games].

    ehh… too bad consoles are being ignored here… quite right the list would be long, and there is a lot of crap on them…. but some of the games just deserve the love :)

  31. Polk says:

    Whoever asked about the new(er) Fallout game: Brotherhood of Steel is ridiculous… not only is it about half as hard as Fallout 2 was (skill wise), it’s more designed to run on the real-time system, rather than turn based. This, IMO, is not Fallout.

  32. Yes, what about MMORPGs? World of Warcraft, of course, and I’ve played Ragnarok and Runescape. Are there any more adventure-y type online RPGS that focus less on leveling up and repetitive tasks?

    Well, MUDS are MMOs, or more accurately, the precursors. They’re usually text-based, as opposed to the graphical MMOs, and depending on the MUD, they can have a variety of different atmospheres. The one I play is very focused on roleplaying and player v. player combat, the type Shamus doesn’t like, because you lose hard-earned equipment if you lose.

    I like MUDs because I can’t get a D&D group together, and it is a way to have adventures and roleplay without being able to.

    While mine may not be the best for you, with low system capacity, to play online multiplayer, text is probably the way to go.

  33. Nathaniel says:

    Missed one–Raptor: Call of the Shadows [http://www.3drealms.com/raptor/index.html] is a top-down scrolling shooter. You’re in a fighter plane, and need to shoot down as many enemies as you can without getting shot. Use the points you get to buy new weapons. Needs DOSBox.

  34. Nathaniel says:

    Crud. Did my first post get eaten?

  35. Nathaniel says:

    Repost:
    My tastes run somewhat older (and cheaper), and include some genres not before mentioned. Some of these are old enough that they need to be run from DOSBox [http://dosbox.sourceforge.net], or another DOS emulator. Almost all of them will run on a Macintosh–for those poor, game-deprived people who don’t have a PC.

    Fighting: One Must Fall 2097 is great, and now free [http://www.omf.com/faq/misc.html]. Think Mortal Kombat with robots (what better way around parental concerns than replacing blood with bolts?), and a tournament mode where you can spend your winnings upgrading your robot. Needs DOSBox.

    RTS: Starcraft has already been mentioned. Lemmings seems to have been overlooked, however. You can play some of the levels in your web browser at http://www.elizium.nu/scripts/lemmings/ — I find this sometimes slows down too much to be playable, though, and I don’t get any sounds. You’re better off buying it. There are some sequels, as well. Needs DOSBox.

    Turn Based Strategy: Battle for Wesnoth [http://www.wesnoth.com] is a free game where you direct your forces in battle. Fantasy warrior tactics–I’m told it’s similar to Heroes of Might and Magic.
    X-COM is also a good choice, as mentioned above. Get it free at http://www.the-underdogs.info/game.php?gameid=4966 I think this needs DOSBox, but I’m not sure.
    And of course, the Civilization games are good, or Alpha Centauri (Civilization–IN SPACE!). Only buy one, though–they’re all pretty much the same game, with slightly different graphics and tech trees. Windows or Mac.

    Platformer: The Commander Keen series [http://www.commander-keen.com] is great, especially #4 and later. The first three episodes are clearly not as polished. Secret areas abound–you can spend ages on this game if you’re determined to find everything. Some episodes are free, some aren’t. Needs DOSBox.

    RPG: http://www.spiderwebsoftware.com makes a lot of shareware RPGs without much in the way of flashy graphics. I prefer the old versions, without the isometric view. Windows or Mac.
    NetHack is a very old and venerable game without ANYTHING in the way of graphics. Falcon’s eye [http://falconseye.sourceforge.net/index.html] fixes the latter. One of those games you could spend the rest of your life playing. Free.
    Mr. Robot [http://www.moonpod.com] is a new game that answers the unasked question, “What if Final Fantasy had Sokoban puzzles in it?”. Shareware, Windows-only.

    Space: Starscape [http://www.moonpod.com], by the same people who made Mr. Robot, has you flying a spaceship from an overhead view, fighting baddies, and building upgrades. Shareware, Windows-only.
    Escape Velocity: Nova [http://www.ambrosiasw.com/games/evn/] is a shareware game where you pilot a spaceship. Run trade routes, mine asteroids, run missions, upgrade your ship. Starts slow, until you start getting more interesting missions. Windows or Mac.

  36. Nathaniel says:

    Let’s try splitting it up:
    My tastes run somewhat older (and cheaper), and include some genres not before mentioned. Some of these are old enough that they need to be run from DOSBox [http://dosbox.sourceforge.net], or another DOS emulator. Almost all of them will run on a Macintosh–for those poor, game-deprived people who don’t have a PC.

    Fighting: One Must Fall 2097 is great, and now free [http://www.omf.com/faq/misc.html]. Think Mortal Kombat with robots (what better way around parental concerns than replacing blood with bolts?), and a tournament mode where you can spend your winnings upgrading your robot. Needs DOSBox.

    RTS: Starcraft has already been mentioned. Lemmings seems to have been overlooked, however. You can play some of the levels in your web browser at http://www.elizium.nu/scripts/lemmings/ — I find this sometimes slows down too much to be playable, though, and I don’t get any sounds. You’re better off buying it. There are some sequels, as well. Needs DOSBox.

    Turn Based Strategy: Battle for Wesnoth [http://www.wesnoth.com] is a free game where you direct your forces in battle. Fantasy warrior tactics–I’m told it’s similar to Heroes of Might and Magic.
    X-COM is also a good choice, as mentioned above. Get it free at http://www.the-underdogs.info/game.php?gameid=4966 I think this needs DOSBox, but I’m not sure.
    And of course, the Civilization games are good, or Alpha Centauri (Civilization–IN SPACE!). Only buy one, though–they’re all pretty much the same game, with slightly different graphics and tech trees. Windows or Mac.

  37. Nathaniel says:

    Second half:

    Platformer: The Commander Keen series [http://www.commander-keen.com] is great, especially #4 and later. The first three episodes are clearly not as polished. Secret areas abound–you can spend ages on this game if you’re determined to find everything. Some episodes are free, some aren’t. Needs DOSBox.

    RPG: http://www.spiderwebsoftware.com makes a lot of shareware RPGs without much in the way of flashy graphics. I prefer the old versions, without the isometric view. Windows or Mac.
    NetHack is a very old and venerable game without ANYTHING in the way of graphics. Falcon’s eye [http://falconseye.sourceforge.net/index.html] fixes the latter. One of those games you could spend the rest of your life playing. Free.
    Mr. Robot [http://www.moonpod.com] is a new game that answers the unasked question, “What if Final Fantasy had Sokoban puzzles in it?”. Shareware, Windows-only.

    Space: Starscape [http://www.moonpod.com], by the same people who made Mr. Robot, has you flying a spaceship from an overhead view, fighting baddies, and building upgrades. Shareware, Windows-only.
    Escape Velocity: Nova [http://www.ambrosiasw.com/games/evn/] is a shareware game where you pilot a spaceship. Run trade routes, mine asteroids, run missions, upgrade your ship. Starts slow, until you start getting more interesting missions. Windows or Mac.

  38. Tallain says:

    I will, eventually, get around to reading what I’m sure are 34 additional recommendations and comments on others, but for now I must recommend two games.

    My favorite turn-based strategy is Civilization 3. It’s not too old or new, can be run on most–if not all–computers made in the past seven years, and is just as fun and in-depth as Civ 4. It will always hold a special place in my heart.

    A Diablo-esque RPG that is extremely good and relatively new is Fate. It’s a Diablo clone in the literal sense. Gems, socketed items, point-and-click gaming. And although it’s new, the graphics requirements are low enough for my four year old computer to run it on the very highest settings with several other programs running in the background (including WinAmp which is a real sucker of resources for me).

    I could ramble on for thousands of words about these games and others.

    I enjoyed this post and I am happy to have played every game mentioned except GalCiv.

  39. Nathaniel says:

    Tallain–you better not ramble on for thousands of words. I tried to post something just under 500 words, and it wouldn’t post. I had to split it up.

  40. Jeffrey says:

    I would like to suggest Heroes of Might and Magic 3. It takes place in an attractive and colorful fantasy setting. Resource gathering and town building is a bit like a turn-based RTS, with resource mines to claim and tech trees based on your city’s existing structures. Combat is tactical turn-based on a hex grid, where you play the role of a hero, which is mostly a spellcasting field general. There are 8+1 factions to play (w/ expansion), 3 each of good, evil and neutral alignments; they play very differently, though they are not as well-balanced as Starcraft (but then, what is?). Siege combat was very well done and could be quite intense. My most memorable battles were all siege combats with me on the defending side. Arrow towers, moats and well-placed level 1 spells FTW. :D

    It was available as a collector’s edition that had both expansions but I do not know its current availability.

    Heroes of Might and Magic 5 is newer and very similar, but has significantly higher requirements, though they are still managable. Personally though, I prefer the look and feel of 3. Sprites beat polygons. ;)

  41. Miral says:

    My personal favourite genre is the adventure game. Try out The Longest Journey, The Dig, Sam & Max (both the original and the new ones from Telltale), Day of the Tentacle, and (if you don’t mind dying a lot) some of the old-school Quest games from Sierra (King’s Quest, Space Quest, Quest for Glory, etc).

  42. I have to admit that Privateer (which has a remake on-line to let you play it on any computer) is probably the best of the space sims. Freelancer really wasn’t as good, too much of the designers trying to force you to play the game the right way.

    Also, you need to at least look at Heretic and Heretic 2 — they failed as market games, but they had a marked impact on later games, including Diablo and Diablo II.

    They have an interesting on-line community.

    http://wcuniverse.sourceforge.net/

  43. Shamus says:

    Nathaniel: Sorry my despamulator grabbed your comments. I’ve rescued them.

  44. SteveDJ says:

    It seems another category was left out (slightly touched on in one of the comments) – Adventure Games.

    I’m talking stuff like the old classic MYST and its sequels. I’m having troubles remembering some of the titles that we’ve played (it’s been a couple years, and I’m at work and cannot look at the shelf), but I recall one called Dark Fall, and one called Syberia. Excellent game, along with it’s sequel Syberia 2, – I’d recommend both.

  45. ngthagg says:

    My pick for a sim game is Caesar 3. Similar to SimCity, except set in Roman times. Has some scenarios where you are required to defend your city from attack.

    I’m glad someone mentioned a Heroes of Might and Magic game. My pick is 4, which I felt was more natural to pick up and play.

    I really can’t recommend any of the Civilization games, any more than I would recommend heroin to someone. Ugh. They plague me still.

    Diablo II is one of the best games ever made, as I see it. Make sure to get the expansion if you go that route. (Or get Fate, which I haven’t played but am interested to try.)

    ngthagg

  46. ngthagg says:

    Adventure games are fun, especially if you have a whole family working on them (without resort to the internet to solve puzzles). When I was kid, my Dad, brother and I worked our way through the old text-based Zork games. It was always fun and exciting when someone came up with a way to solve a puzzle that no one else could do. Many of the old Sierra games would fit in this category as well. (King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, Quest for Glory)

    ngthagg

  47. DaveJ says:

    How old is oldie? Warcraft 3 and Deus ex are both from 2001 and are still alive. Arcanum and Baldur’s Gate 2 are very good rpgs with excellent stories.

    Warcraft 3 and The Frozen Throne. A very enjoyable RTS, but I tend to avoid the community. Online play is still decent, new people join all the time (and some people just remain crap) so no need to worry about being thrashed by ill mannered punks. If you bother with online that is, the single player is good enough for years of fun.

    Deus Ex. You’re a super cop (for the United Nations Anti Terrorist COalition “UNATCO”)in 2040 out fighting terrorists. The first mission is in the statue of liberty, the terrorists blew of its head. You go to Paris, New York, Hong Kong, all sorts of places. The level design is based on real world locations (this is why they couldn’t have the white house level). Excellent story with some very nice characters. I’d say there is no better story. It’s also a game where you can be rewarded for not killing everyone. Conversation, sneaking, hacking, exploding and shooting all have their place.

    Arcanum, unlike Oblivion, is almost entirely about its main quest and I thought the main quest was awesome (and quite large). Coming to the end of the game and making a choice was difficult and rewarding. Sadly only one character gets decent development. But that isn’t as important when the world you’re playing in is thought out so well. Natural vs Supernatural evolution, Elves throwing fireballs, Dwarves with shotguns and dynamite, Half-ogres flying zepplins and gnomes doing whatever it is gnomes do. All very engaging and pure fun.

    I’m tired of typing so I can’t endorse BG2 as I should. It is better than the other games I have mentioned in many respects. I’d say it ties with Deus Ex for overall best game ever.

  48. DaveJ says:

    Damn, I forgot The Underdogs dot org. It has been along time since I’ve visited it, but it is the best place of abandonware. Free, legal downloads of older games. So many classics in just one place!

  49. Shamus says:

    ngthagg: I agree. Adventure games really shine when you go through them with someone else.

  50. Maddyanne says:

    Neverwinter Nights 1. The Platinum edition is about $15 on Amazon. For that, you get 3 massive RPG games and, above and beyond that, there’s all the custom community content on the Neverwinter Vault.

  51. Bryan says:

    Fallout and Deus Ex are two very good places to start.

  52. DaveJ says:

    Just thinking about it. There was a Warcraft 3 demo, had some stuff not in the full version. Deus Ex demo had the first two levels, so I know them back to front. Baldur’s Gate 2 demo has the first chapter, 1 of 7. Not the best one but has a few good moments. Don’t know about Arcanum.

    But those are good places to start.

  53. evilmrhenry says:

    Here’s a few games that have been released for free over the years, from Liberated Games: http://liberatedgames.org . I have played everything in this list, and vouch that they hold up over the years.
    Beneath a Steel Sky: (Play with ScummVM. Adventure)
    Bio Menace (Works in DOSBox, I think. Platformer)
    Castle of the Winds (It should work directly in XP. RPG)
    Fish Fillets (Use the Fish Fillets – Next Generation port. Puzzle)
    Flight of the Amazon Queen (Use ScummVM. Adventure)
    God of Thunder (DOSBox. RPG)
    Marathon Trilogy (Use the Aleph One port. FPS)
    One Must Fall: 2097 (Should work in DOSBox. Fighting)
    Tyrian 2000 (DOSBox. Shooter)
    Star Control 2 (Use the Ur-Quan Masters port. Exploration?)

  54. Gothmog says:

    Okay, here’s my two cents.

    I’m going to second evilmrhenry’s suggestion with Star Control 2 – Ur-Quan Masters. It’s brilliant.

    The other game I’ve mentioned on this site before is Space Empires V, which is a DEEP 4X turn-based strategy sci-fi game. It’s what Master of Orion 3 should have been. You can find it on shrapnelgames.com

  55. Shamus says:

    Looks like Space Empires is no longer available, though. :(

  56. Tallain says:

    Oh, yeah, two words:

    King’s Quest.

    It could count as three if you count the contraction, but I don’t.

  57. Scott says:

    Wait… that’s a possessive, not a contraction… whatever.

  58. evilmrhenry says:

    I just realized that the phrase “Monkey Island” is contained nowhere in this page. I aim to correct this oversight by recommending Monkey Island 1, 2, and 3. All 3 can be played with ScummVM. (I don’t know how the first 2 fare with XP, but I know 3 has trouble.)

  59. Talitha says:

    I’m a fairly lightweight gamer in that I’ll obsessively play one game to death but not necessarily follow through with others in the same genre. My favourites however:

    FPS: Quake – the original one. My first gaming foray, so it has a special place in my affections
    FPS: Thief – most definately. I’m not so good at quick reactions, so these are perfect for me. The eye candy, the stories, the strategy and sneakiness. The everything. The level editor is a bitch to grapple with, so don’t try being a Dromeder unless you want to lose hours and hours of time.

    RPG: I’m playing NWN1 for the first time at present. Loving it. It’s my first introduction to the D&D rules, so it was a pretty steep learning curve that confused me a lot until I went looking online to find out what the dice notation actually meant. But once you get over that hurdle it’s great. I’m looking fowrard to playing online once I finish the offical campaign, and my half-elf ranger/thief is doing nicely.

  60. Thought I’d toss in Majesty as an RTS light. You play a king, you make strategic decisions, but you don’t micromanage the units (you actually have to bribe them to get them to act organized). My seven year old loves it, has a campaign storyline, nice graphics, runs on lower end computers very well. A nice introduction to RTS games.

  61. Geberal Ghoul says:

    Jeffrey Says:”I would like to suggest Heroes of Might and Magic 3″

    I’d like to second this recommendation.

    ngthagg Says:”I’m glad someone mentioned a Heroes of Might and Magic game. My pick is 4, which I felt was more natural to pick up and play.”

    While it was a good game, after playing through 1-3, 4 was a disappointment. Monster armies were OK, but leveling up was a confusing mess, and you counldn’t get high enough to do anything on anything but an XL map. And but 2 year old computer won’t run 5.

    I’ve still got to pimp Age of Empires II, still playing this 7 year old game at least monthly. Any game with a true random map feature makes for extra hours(no months, years) of fun.

  62. Johnson says:

    Downloads from Home of the Underdogs aren’t quite legal…the FAQ on their website states that abandonware is still copyrighted, even though it is no longer published. It’s just in a different class ethically than downloading games that are still published and a source of income for publishers/developers.

  63. Ariel says:

    First forays into gaming:

    I started playing computer games on a TRS-80 Model I when I was a kid. It had a cassette tape drive. The family had a subscription to receive a cassette tape full of programs. I remember spending HOURS playing a Star Trek strategy game.

    Before that, I remember playing games like Eliza and Life and some sort of Civilization-type game on teletype machines at the Berkeley Hall of Science.

    Later, there were Infocom text adventures, followed by various incarnations of Wizardry (on the Apple II).

    Then the Bard’s Tales, and a bunch of other RPGs with a few other types thrown in for variety. I’ve never been able to get into realtime stuff because I don’t have the necessary reflexes.

    Lately, when I have the time, I’ve been working my way through the Platinum edition of the first Neverwinter Nights.

    Of all the RPG’s I’ve played on the computer, I think Planescape: Torment is my favorite, for depth of story and character.

    When I got Diablo II, I had to upgrade the graphics card in the system, but that was when it was a hot game and full price.

    I feel old.

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