Top 64 PC Games: Introduction

By Shamus Posted Friday Oct 17, 2014

Filed under: Video Games 133 comments

In keeping with the spirit of this project, the logo has been made crappy (roughly) on purpose, to symbolize the shallow and half-assed nature of this sort of thing.

A few weeks ago we dumped on PC Gamer for their list of Top 100 Games that gave top honors to Mass Effect 2It was a mess of dodgy tone, fake choice, plot holes, retcons, and cliches, but at least the shooting was… pretty standard.. A really interesting discussion about “Top Games” ensued, and it occurred to me that I’ve never really analyzed the thought process behind these lists or questioned the criteria that go into them. The more I thought about it, the more questions I had about how this is supposed to work. Eventually I realized that after deriding Top X lists for years, I hypocritically want to make one. Not because I think the final product is useful. (I don’t care who makes the list, it’s still hogwash. Look, I worked for a couple of weeks on my list and I still think it’s hogwash.)

This is a kind of experiment, “What is it like to make one of these, and how would it turn out if I made one?” I realize this is terribly crypto-hipster of me to both deride and then ironically indulge in something shallow. Just humor me.

What do people mean by “Top Games”, anyway?

The usual technique seems to be to have all the critics draw up a list, and then combine those lists numerically. That sounds nice and fair, but pointless. If I’m into Dave Brubeck and my friend is into Katy Perry, then playing their songs overlapping at half volume doesn’t magically create something that reflects our combined tastes. Neither does putting both songs in the same playlist. It also doesn’t tell us anything meaningful about music itself. It just creates something neither of us likes. You’ve just created noise from signal. It’s a collection that doesn’t really reflect the views of anyone in particular.

Spoiler: Just because I have a screenshot of the game here doesn’t mean that game made the list. Same goes for the header image.

What makes a game a “top” game? There are a lot of criteria we could use to rate games:

  1. Quality of execution? I may not like playing Dark Souls, but it’s a masterwork of execution. It is exactly the game its trying to be.
  2. Popularity? Angry Birds should get top honors here, but is it really a “top” game simply because it’s free, portable, and convenient?
  3. Historical significance? Wolfenstein 3D is very dull by today’s standards, but it’s the great-great-grandfather of the modern military shooter.
  4. Cultural impact? Even people who have never played a videogame can recognize Lara Croft and Mario.
  5. Personal enjoyment and “fun”? I enjoyed the heck out of FUEL, but it sold poorly and I wasn’t even playing the game as intended.
  6. Novelty? Outcast was unlike anything before or since, and suggests an entirely different direction in which shooters, adventure games, and even graphics might have evolved.

Those are all very different criteria, and some of them are even slightly opposed. The list of Top “Historically Significant” games is going to be radically different from the most “novel” games. Outcast and Descent are novel precisely because they weren’t mercilessly copied. Tomb Raider had a pretty big cultural impactNot many games get big-budget movies. (Ignoring Uwe Boll.), but the games rarely rose above middling quality and always suffered from horribly muddled executionAt least until the 2013 reboot.. Since it was packaged with the mega-selling console, Wii Sports is one of the best-selling games of all time. Does that make it historically significant, even though it had almost nothing else going for it? Should we give it credit for being “novel” when all of the novelty came from the controller?

What platforms should we include? PC? Consoles? Which ones? How far back do we go? What about arcade titles? Do we give credit to games like Minecraft and Skyrim, which served as a base from which innumerable mods could grow? Do I include games I haven’t played, based purely on their reputations?

Spoiler: Just because I have a screenshot of the game here doesn’t mean that game made the list. Same goes for the header image.

And once you figure out some system to figure out what belongs on the list, how can you possibly put them in a meaningful order? Different games appear for different reasons. Like, how do you put these items in order: Polio Vaccine, Agriculture, ice cream, your mother, music, Marvel Movies. You can’t sort those without knowing what we’re sorting for. Enjoyment? Personal importance? Significance? Popularity? What? Who made this list? This bullshit is an argument waiting to happen.

Yes, Top X lists are nonsense. But if your editor walks into your cubicle and tells you to have one up by the end of next weekOr you force yourself to make one as an academic exercise.Then you are boned, because these things take more than a week to make. then how do you go about it? How do you make a list that’s both a genuine reflection of your viewsUnless you’re just pandering to the audience by telling them what they want to hear, in which case you’re nothing more than a crappy analog version of Metacritic. and somehow useful or meaningful to others. Is such a thing even possible?

Spoiler: Just because I have a screenshot of the game here doesn’t mean that game made the list. Same goes for the header image.

So for my own self-edification I made my own list of top games. Since everyone does “Top 50” and “Top 100”, I thought I’d be all base 16 fanboy and do a list of 64 games.

I don’t want to release the entire list at one time. That’s a huge article and the resulting discussion can’t possibly do all 64 games justice. And I don’t see any point in this at all if we don’t stop and discuss them. So I’m going to release the list 8 entries at a time, every couple of days, for the next couple of weeks.

Buckle up.



[1] It was a mess of dodgy tone, fake choice, plot holes, retcons, and cliches, but at least the shooting was… pretty standard.

[2] Not many games get big-budget movies. (Ignoring Uwe Boll.)

[3] At least until the 2013 reboot.

[4] Or you force yourself to make one as an academic exercise.

[5] Then you are boned, because these things take more than a week to make.

[6] Unless you’re just pandering to the audience by telling them what they want to hear, in which case you’re nothing more than a crappy analog version of Metacritic.

From The Archives:

133 thoughts on “Top 64 PC Games: Introduction

  1. poiumty says:

    In defense of ME2, it was also a cool space opera with an interesting story that greatly improved on its predecessor’s mechanics. Y’know, in my opinion.

    I’d also like to say that because you have not played Baldur’s Gate 2 your list will be inevitably WROOOOOOOOONG in regards to the #1 spot. Thus the entire list will be pushed forward at least one spot and therefore also wrong.

    1. guy says:

      It threw its predecessor’s mechanics in the trash.

      Admittedly, that’s probably where they belonged,but I think there was potential there.

      1. Alex says:

        Yeah, if nothing else, they should have gone with a mix of the two heat sink systems instead of jumping straight to an ammo in all but name system. It would have been great if your guns cooled down automatically like they do in Mass Effect 1, but you had the option to eject the heat sink and replace it if you need to shoot something right now. Instead of managing a finite amount of ammo, you’d have infinite ammo but have to manage a finite amount of boosted DPS.

        1. Ringwraith says:

          Fun fact: you can go to a hybrid system by faffing with config file.
          This also completely breaks sniper rifles as it’s using a cover-based shooter as its baseline for combat.

          Anyway, the third game was the only one that actually nailed combat in some fashion.
          …and the paragon/renegade system.

        2. Adam says:

          I need a way to “like” this comment, because I proposed that exact fix when discussing the game with some of my friends. It makes sense given the in-game explanation for how they work, keeps the game from playing EXACTLY like other games in the genre of cover-based manshoots (I love that word) and serves as an in-universe justification for why they’d adopt the damn things in the first place.

          1. Jon says:

            I’m kind of surprised that anyone talking about the combat change from ME1 to 2 hasn’t already heard about this, but they tried that hybrid system, and it didn’t playtest at all well.

      2. Daimbert says:

        I much preferred ME’s mechanics to ME2’s. As someone who is more RPG player than FPS player, the mechanics in ME ensured that I had to actually learn to shoot and couldn’t just blast away, but made sure that if I happened to be good with or liked a certain weapon I didn’t have to make sure that I had the ammo for it in order to use it, or be forced to use a different weapon if I WASN’T that great at shooting and ran out of ammo with the weapon that I was actually half-way decent with.

        When I moved from ME to ME2, I didn’t see any reason why the new mechanics were better than the old ones; they just seemed more annoying than anything else.

        1. Humanoid says:

          Both systems “did the job” in terms of providing filler in between the talky bits, but not much more: certainly neither provided a reason to pursue the combat for its own sake. But that said, I probably do have a marginal preference for ME1’s gameplay if push came to shove. I think it’s mainly down to the less contrived level design allowing for at least a bit more movement, and also less abuse of arbitrarily spawned waves of mooks.

          P.S. Neither title would make my totally arbitrary top 57 games list.

      3. Zekiel says:

        I don’t really have a problem with Mass Effect 2 being given the top spot. It’s not where I’d put it, but it’d probably be in my top 10.

        What’s odd is that I agree with pretty much all of Shamus’ criticisms of the game. The Cereberus railroading is offensive. The main plot if stupid. Etc etc.

        But – as a Bioware fan (at the time) and someone who was underwhelmed by Mass Effect 1, I found ME2 amazing. The combat was genuinely enjoyable, rather than something to be endured. The tiresome faffing with inventory was gone. I’d read Shamus’ rants about Cereberus so I was prepared for the railroad, and as I hadn’t done many sidequests in ME1 I hadn’t really run into them as enemies before.

        But the reason why I loved it… in all the previous Bioware games, the bits I enjoyed most was the sections where you gathered companions, interacted with them, and then did their personal quests. Repetitive they may be, but Bioware can write fun companions – and Mordin, Garrus and Tali are (imho) some of their best. And in Mass Effect 2 you can quite happily spend about 90% of your time doing companion-related stuff (recruiting them, talking to them, doing personal quests). It was pretty much heaven to me.

        1. TSi says:

          Exactly why I enjoyed it too. Although, I was sad they ditched the Mako segments as I expected some improvements to them such as procedurally generated planets that you could explore a bit with random stuff and encounters (or none)… But that was before they started dropping on new features and making things more streamlined.

          The combination potential of powers between the classes were also simplified if I recall it right as now you just spam the break shield/armour power (if needed) then shoot or throw a grenade all the way down to the exit.
          In the first game you HAD to pause every couple seconds to give specific orders and use the biotics and tech powers that could lead you to creative ways of solving a tough battle. At least in the higher difficulty levels. This is something I hoped they’d focus on in the next games to make it better as it sometimes was also painful to wait for the long cool-downs. Now it’s mostly shoot, shoot, shoot.

          That or my memory is failing… I Haven’t played the first in years.

    2. Wide And Nerdy says:

      I just finished playing Shadows of Amn. Maybe Throne of Bhaal puts it over the top but so far, while its a great game I think there’s a little bit of nostalgia factored in boosting it to its exalted position.

      Plus, not that I’ve played it but I think a lot of people would tell you Planescape: Torment was better.

      (Yes, I suspect you’re exaggerating a bit for fun in a light hearted way. But people have said this seriously and I just got down with Shadows of Amn so . . . )

      1. poiumty says:

        Torment had more text and more reading so it was better if you’re a shut-in bookworm who hates video games! And by that I mean yes the story was cool and maybe overall better than BG2 though Irenicus is still better than any old lady with a massive crush on the immortal dead guy. Morte > Minsc though. Sorry Minsc. And Boo.

        That said the actual gameplay structure, flow and distribution was pretty ass which is why I rate BG2 higher overall. And pantaloons. Always pantaloons.

        Throne of Bhaal was spectacular as an expansion btw, though not as open. Man I should play through that game again.

      2. Dev Null says:

        I played BG2 back in the day and loved it. I tried to play Planescape about a year ago and couldn’t get into it; half-a-dozen fetch quests and some fairly endless wandring around and I was done. I keep thinking I need to go back and give it another go every time I hear someone waxing rhetorical on the subject, but…

        I do suspect the difference in my reaction to the two games has more to do with changes over time in the way I play games, than with any actual difference in quality.

        1. Tizzy says:

          The interface feels pretty dated and clunky, for sure.

          But mostly, it can be a hard game to get into, because it is so different. Telling a fairly complex story almost entirely through gameplay with such limited means. I am still very impressed to this day.

        2. Anonymous says:

          There’s some sort of novelization of the game in the GOG extras. Someone just dumped all the dialog into Word and added enough stuff to make it work. I have no idea if its any good since I never read it but maybe it’s worth checking out.

          1. Humanoid says:

            It’s probably safe to say it’s infinitely better than the notorious BG1 novel at least.

          2. Zekiel says:

            Apparently there was a Planescape Torment novel too. It is widely lambasted for being terrible – doing such things as having the Nameless One choose a name early on, and having the entire plot being [spoilers for rubbish novel] a convoluted plan from Fjull Fork-Tongue. Weird.

      3. Mechaninja says:

        Picture Half Life 2.

        Now imagine Gabe was run out of the company after it was released, the assholes from some Romantic European country who took it over tanked the company about 30 minutes later, let a ton of devs and etc go without paying them for like six months, sold Half Life to EA, and now we’re talking about it 15 years later.

        That’s how I see the whole Baldur’s Gate 2/Fallout 2/PS:T/Interplay thing. Nostalgia is too simple a concept to describe how I feel about this.

        We saw those three game worlds as a beginning. That it was the end was … I don’t even know what the word is to describe this. I assume there is a German word that fits perfectly.

        I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.

        1. poiumty says:

          Which is why 2012 was such a great year for videogames.

          Or possibly such a crappy year for videogames. I don’t know. Pillars of Eternity hasn’t happened yet. I will check this and report back from the future.

          *waits for the future*

        2. drkeiscool says:


          1. Mechaninja says:

            That’ll do, donkey.

      4. Zekiel says:

        Dammit I’m late to the party but can’t resist a chance to talk about Baldur’s Gate 2…

        Throne of Bhaal doesn’t (imho) improve it. And there certainly is nostalgia that means people like it. But what game isn’t that true of?

        For me the reason why BG2 is the best is because it allows you a huge amount of freedom (e.g. which party members to use, which quests to take, loads of equipment to find and even some (relatively simplistic) moral choices), while also having a satisfying combat system. Plus its pretty well written – frequently humorous and frequently quite moving. Its got one of the best villains. Even if you don’t like certain companions there are so many others that you can pretty much ignore the ones you don’t like. There are tons of cool magic items which grant you interesting abilities (which makes them really fun to find). And the spells. Oh the spells. The possibilities created by spells such as sequencers, Time Stop and the various summoning spells… they’re amazing.

        It ain’t perfect. The pacing of the game is off. The story is OK but its not amazing. You can get overloaded by quests. The spell system for debuffing enemy mages takes some getting used to. And you can end up with so many abilities and magic items that you feel overwhelmed.

        But that feeling of freedom – of choice between half a dozen interesting quests, each of which grant interesting rewards, is really something else.

        In contrast, Planescape Torment has a decidedly better story and generally better writing, but it spends far too long on combat… which is really not its strong suit. And it has too many fetch it quests. [Even then, its still amazing.]

    3. DrMcCoy says:

      I think you mean Planescape: Torment there. :P

      EDIT: Dammit, ninja’d by Wide And Nerdy.

    4. Daemian Lucifer says:

      You mistyped #4.Because clearly starcraft is #1,planescape torment is #2,and half life is #3.

      Though maybe portal could squeeze there as another #3 title.

      1. Chris says:

        half life is #3.

        I see what you did there.

      2. James Bennett says:

        “…and half life is #3”

        Half Life 3 Confirmed.

        Edit: Ninja’d

        1. Tizzy says:

          It’s ok. Running jokes never get old. (they do get achy legs though)

    5. Josh says:

      I don’t understand. You don’t need to have played Baldur’s Gate II to put TIE Fighter in the top spot.

      1. poiumty says:

        …shut up, Josh.

        And do a BG2 Spoiler Warning one-off. I want to see Reginald the Bhaalspawn.

        1. IFS says:

          It would just be three hours of getting lost in the tutorial dungeon and dying to every trap because Josh refuses to check for them thoroughly :P

          Much as I love BG2 (and I would personally put it very near the top, if not at the top, of my own list of top games) it would make for very poor spoiler warning viewing.

          1. Humanoid says:

            Traps are a large part of the hate part of my love-hate relationship with the IE games. Doesn’t help that disarming them yields XP, making them the definition of video game tedium. So um, yeah, good games, but not near the top of my lists.

            And just to alienate both sides, I’ve never played TIE Fighter. Because Star Wars sucks.

        2. syal says:

          “You must slaughter your party before venturing forth.”

          1. kurt henning says:

            “Bunny-Hopping for goodness” (or would it be badness in Reginald’s case?)

  2. Rack says:

    For myself I’d always do this list based on the top X I still enjoy today but It’s always clear there’s a thousand different criteria people use to make these things and there’s no sense taking exception to anyone else’s list.

    Except when it’s Mass Effect 2.

    1. KingJosh says:

      Some of the confusion over PC Gamer’s list stems from the same thing. Part of their criteria was that they’d only include games they’d still play today. If it didn’t age well, it wasn’t included. The ME2thing was still rediculous, of course, but not including every single game from a given series was understandable.

      EDIT: I like my PC Gamer subscription, but their “Top 100”
      lists are a waste of a cover article. They do one every year, and I usually only skim it. As Shamus says, it’s kind of pointless, right? Especially when they leave out Rogue Legacy, which I’ve logged more hours into then any two other games put together. It shoulda been #1.

  3. Duffy says:

    You’re about to release 64 mini articles of deconstruction concerning games that you in some capacity find to be good and/or important? I didn’t realize it was Christmas already.

    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

      My thoughts exactly.

      1. Mechaninja says:


        1. Humanoid says:

          On the first day of Christmas my Shamus sent to me, a hint about Half-Life 3.

          Etcetera, etcetera.

          1. MrGuy says:

            This is a terrible idea. I can’t talk about why without giving spoilers for the actual list, so be warned!

            When Fallout 2, Portal, Fallout 2 Ep 2, Portal 2, Fallout 2 Ep 1, and Fallout 1 sweep the top the top spots on the list, we will all die of alcohol poisoning.

    2. poiumty says:

      No. He will release 4.

      Anything else would be a betrayal of base16.

      1. Scott Schulz says:

        The arithmetic in this thread is astonishing. He’s doing a top 121 list in installments of 11; therefore, there will be 11 installments. Of course, I do all my arithmetic in base 10 where 10 = 1+1+1+1+1+1+1.

  4. Joe Informatico says:

    From the editorial perspective, Top X lists exist for one reason, and that’s clickbait. And this dates back even to traditionally published, pre-web, print periodicals. I used to read guitar magazines in high school in the early 90s, and at least once a year, if not more, there would be a “Top 50 Guitar Riffs OF ALL TIME”; “Top 20 Guitar Players of the 1970s”; “Best Guitar Solos EVER” list. Like clockwork, 3 or 4 months later, the letters pages would be full of reader sentiments like “How could you idiots forget the riff to Excellent Rock Song by Awesome McCool Band?” and “I can’t believe you put Popular with the Masses but Real Musicians(tm) Know He’s a Hack Guitarist on this list!”

    A Top X list, as generally conceived, is throwing down the gauntlet to your readers–and hopefully new readers attracted by fanrage or just the spectacle–daring them to engage with your content. Which can result in good discussions, even if the primary motivation is flamebait.

    That said, I’m extremely interested to see you investigate it as an academic exercise. Looking forward to it!

    1. Humanoid says:

      They’re of no particular value for the majority of us who’ve invested a lifetime in gaming, but I can see the value for people on the outside looking in. As a non-traditional console owner for example, when I ended up getting an XBox for non-gaming reasons, I figured I’d look at some top games lists and the much-maligned Metacritic for some clues. Likewise for things like the BFI/AFI top movies lists, and top albums lists by publications such as Rolling Stone or Pitchfork. More than a few lemons picked up that way, but also things I’ve absolutely come to adore.

  5. Daemian Lucifer says:

    “What platforms should we include? PC? Consoles? Which ones?”

    Well thats easy.Since there is only one master race,even the crappiest game on pc is superior to everything any console can put out.Therefore its pointless to include any of the console titles there,except as a freak to laugh at.

    1. poiumty says:

      Hear, hear. For it is written in the gaming scriptures: “and so shalt the Master Race walk upon the earth, and men will know true HD. Tremble will the console peasants as they jitter about in sub-par framerate, their outlines blurry, rough-edged and oh! so aliased”.

      1. Ivan says:

        Wait what? No-one tole me we would have to walk! I already got my exercise for this month, can we do this later?

  6. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    Any image with Cate Archer in it is, by definition, not crappy.

    I’ll grant you “retro style-ish.”

    I don’t know that I find the concept to be rubbish, but you do point out he important point: having your criteria be public. If we know how the list was composed this gives us some idea what we’re looking at, and we can use the list to refine the criteria. It’s an excellent exercise.

    1. Daemian Lucifer says:

      “Any image with Cate Archer in it is, by definition, not crappy.”

      Even a rule 34 one?

      1. Mechaninja says:

        I would propose that there are likely to be some Rule 34 pictures with Ms. Archer that are literally crappy.

        … I’ll get me coat.

      2. poiumty says:

        Especially a rule34 one. Wink.

      3. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

        Thank you for murdering my Childhood, guys.

        1. Mechaninja says:

          We live but to serve.

        2. Trix2000 says:

          Clearly you haven’t been on the internet long enough. Or deep enough.

          FYI there is no bottom.

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            Not true.Theres millions of bottoms.


  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Ok,observe carefully,I shall type this only once:

    In order to determine which game is top,you need to use this formula:
    Length of the game times its difficulty plus window size over graphics divided by artistic licence squared.Thats the formula for what we experts call TMI,or Top Media Index.Caution,a low TMI can cause anger in some individuals.

    1. Dev Null says:

      Nah; you just count the number of pixels in the game and you’re done. Because more graphics is better!

      1. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Sure,you can measure it in (pixels per) inches,but everyone knows that size isnt the most important thing,its how you use it.

    2. lurkey says:

      Methinks there is a mistake in your formula, because when G1TMG(G2) and that is wrong because of the “more graphic is better” axiom.

        1. Patrick the Verbally Deficient says:

          I’m fairly certain you need to account for the DOA2 effect: a numerical representation of butts, thongs and cleavage.

    3. Robyrt says:

      By this metric, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within is the best game of all time. Long and difficult, but devoid of any artistic value? Check! Lots of pixels but terrible graphics? Check!

  8. WWWebb says:

    Is a game just a game or is it an ecosystem?

    Skyrim is a great example here. It has user mods that fix bugs…and simply fixing all the bugs would probably change the its rating. Then you add in all the graphical and gameplay mods that make it a better game…another potential change to its ranking. If you start including new content (Skywind…I’m looking at you), that’s another factor.

    Neverwinter might be a better example. By itself, it was a pretty good RPG, but I spent way more time (and had even more fun) playing user made content.

    I suppose it’s similar to ranking different modes of play. As a single player shooter, Battlefield 2 is (literally) just a sandbox with bots. As a multi-player shooter, it’s an unpredictable mess of fun.

    PS- Your image Spoiler is worrying me. NOLF 2 is easily in my personal top 5 FPS list.

    1. Museli says:

      I say mods are fine to include. It seems reasonable to include expansion packs and DLC, and mods are basically player-made DLC. It doesn’t matter to me who made the content, only that it was made. The waters get muddier around games that started as mods before becoming their own thing, though.

    2. Ivan says:

      I would never judge a game by it’s mods (except Garry’s Mod because that is literally the point). Mods are a pain in the butt to find, install, and you never know beforehand exactly what they’ll do to the game. Besides, if you ignore all that, then there’s still the fact that very few people (compared to those who bought the game) will play any given mod. Basically, I just don’t see how you could consider a mod cannon. It’s great if there are really good fan theories about how “really popular movie” should have ended, theories that explain everything, but you would never judge the movie on this hypothetical ending.

      1. Museli says:

        I wouldn’t say mods are hard to find – in most cases it’s as simple as a Google search. Not knowing beforehand exactly what they’ll do before installing them is no different to official DLC – sometimes the description is right, sometimes it’s not.

        I’ll allow that they can be more difficult to install than official expansions and DLC, but again, it’s pretty simple in most cases – unzip a folder into the Mods directory. If someone doesn’t want to do that, that’s fine – mods are optional.

        “Very few people (compared to those who bought the game) will play any given mod.”

        So if the content is optional and few people take advantage of it, it shouldn’t be considered? Couldn’t the same be said of many optional aspects of gameplay too? If very few people get all of the Riddler Trophies in Arkham Asylum, should we discount them as an aspect of the game when we consider just how ‘top’ it is?

        You could argue that those circumstances are different, that something put in the game by the designers is more valid than something you have to add manually, but I would disagree. From a practical viewpoint, the way the content is delivered doesn’t matter to me – it’s available, and I use it when I’m playing the game, so it’s part of the game.

        1. syal says:

          And then we start judging games based on the background music we listen to while we play them, and the movie playing on the TV in the other room, because they’re part of the experience when we’re playing.

    3. Alex says:

      I would give a game credit for its mods, because a game with good modding support is better than one with bad modding support – not just because other people can produce new content for the game, but because I can produce new content for the game. I’d love XCOM a hell of a lot more if I had the freedom to implement all the cool ideas I have for that game.

    4. If it’s an RPG like Skyrim and Fallout 3/New Vegas, it’s easy to make the analogy that the vanilla game is the “core rules” and the mods are like the game’s splatbooks or 3rd party OGL products.

      It’s why if I buy a Bethsoft game, I’ll usually want all the DLC at some point because a mod somewhere that interests me later on will likely need the assets.

  9. Dev Null says:

    I had never heard of Outcast before I read this article. I feel like a classical music fan saying “Bach? Wait, who’s Bach?”

    1. You never heard his hit song, “Two Turntables and a Microphone?”

  10. WWWebb says:

    Ohh…and the best selling game of all time is Solitaire, closely followed by minesweeper.

    1. MadTinkerer says:

      Actually, the best selling game of all time that isn’t part of a system package deal is Minecraft.

      Which is a beautiful, beautiful fact that should be displayed on the wall of every AAA marketing executive’s office to remind them of the utter futility of marketing-driven design.

  11. MadTinkerer says:

    Hey Shamus, TRON 2.0 just came out on Steam if you missed it the first time around. I know it’s too late for the list, but you should check it out on general principle.

    Also, Rooms: The Main Building clearly will be Shamus’ number one pick. What else could it possibly be?

    1. syal says:

      Elevator: Source, of course.

  12. Darren says:

    Man, that’s a tough question to pose. I suppose I think about games that have staying power. What are the games that, over time, I think have held up despite changes in technology and genre?

    For instance, Final Fantasy VII is unarguably a very influential, popular title. I’d also argue that it is, at it’s core, a well-designed game that is still quite playable today. But in my eyes the aesthetic choices have aged very poorly, and the writing is something of a mess in retrospect, to say nothing of the fact that the game’s tremendous amount of side content leans heavily on minigames that are, by and large, not very good. Final Fantasy IX, on the other hand, is a game that I have only grown more fond of over time, and I’d have no qualms whatsoever in including FFIX on a best-of list while excluding FFVII.

    Not everyone agrees, but it at least gives me something to grab on to. If an older game seems rather clunky, it’s easy to evaluate the current state of the genre and see where things currently stand. Is there another game that is clearly superior to Startopia while attempting to fill the same niche? Is there a game that provides the player with the same amount of freedom as Deus Ex while improving on elements that seem woefully dated? This helps avoid the trap of well-remembered but dated games and can even help me stand back from games that I don’t necessarily like very well and still recognize why they’re great. It also helps me defend potentially unpopular choices or omissions.

    1. Mechaninja says:

      I would buy the hell out of a graphically re-designed FFVII.

      I don’t know whether I would play it again. I literally did ALL THE THINGS.

      But they were in a weird transition period, and I think they made the best guess they could.

      They were wrong. Oh, how very wrong. But it isn’t hard to understand why they made the guess they made.

    2. Patrick the Verbally Deficient says:

      I fine you 3 internet cool points for not mentioning FFX. Auron disapproves and gives you a condescending look of derision.

      1. syal says:

        Whereas Squall shrugs and says “…whatever.”

        (I think Final Fantasy 8 holds up as well or better than any of them. It was fascinatingly broken then and it’s fascinatingly broken now. )

      2. Darren says:

        FF X-2 is better.

  13. Jamie Pate says:

    Divide and conquer, the essence of any good algorithm!

  14. Patrick the Verbally Deficient says:

    There are some when you write things that make me slightly annoyed you didn’t seek my counsel. This is one of those times.

    Not only have you and I been playing video games since the creation of Pong, but our collective experience has influenced every game we played. Even after we started playing completely separate genres for very different reasons, our original shared experience was the God particle.

    Simply the fact that you and I play completely different styles/genres should be a resource worth tapping. Your obvious snub and blatant disregard for my input wounds me greatly. I pre-emptively declare your list vulgar and innaccurate, and may God have mercy on your soul.

    Also: I’m tellin’ MOM!!

    1. Mechaninja says:

      I am so jealous. I wish I had a brother who writes about video games for a living.

      1. Patrick the Verbally Deficient says:

        It’s only awesome if he calls you and talks about it. Instead he’s always hanging around his cool internet friends and leaving you home to play scrabble with your mom on a friday night. Everytime I try to call him his “assistant” takes down a message to forward to him, but he never gets it. To busy swimming in swag from Steam and EA to call his little brother back.

        You make it big with a Patreon account and all of a sudden he’s TO BUSY….pffftt. Sellout….

        1. poiumty says:

          Now I just want a photoshop of Shamus diving into video games like Scrooge McDuck dives into money.

          (what do you mean make it myself)

          1. Daemian Lucifer says:

            It seems like a job Not suited for Dog*nudgenudgewinkwink*

          2. Humanoid says:

            An image that makes less and less sense the younger your generation is. Would you dive into a pool full of printed circuit boards, cassette tapes, increasingly smaller but more plentiful floppy discs, or CD-ROMs? In comparison, a kid born in the noughties would just crash into the hard concrete below.

  15. Museli says:

    Shamus, is this list intended to be a list of THE top 64 (some attempt at objectivity, insofar as that can be applied to a top X article), or a list of YOUR top 64? I feel that the latter would be a more interesting read, but the former would be more interesting to make, as you weigh up the importance of all the different factors.

    The answers to many of the questions posed in the article would change depending on the type of list, too. For the top 64, you’d have to consider games from all the way back to the pre-Pong days, but for a personal list that’s not necessarily the case. Same for the question about which systems to include. As for games you haven’t played, they may crop up in the objective (ha!) list, but I’d guess that they’d have to have a pretty good rep to beat out 64 games you’ve played for the personal list.

    I also found the question about heavily-modded games interesting. My gut says that if the mods stick to the spirit of the game then they’re OK to consider with the base game, so I’d consider most Minecraft mods to be fair game. They mostly just expand on the basic gameplay by giving you more ways to do the core things like building and exploring, rather than trying to totally convert the game into something else.

    1. Chauzuvoy says:

      >Shamus, is this list intended to be a list of THE top 64 (some attempt at objectivity, insofar as that can be applied to a top X article), or a list of YOUR top 64? I feel that the latter would be a more interesting read, but the former would be more interesting to make, as you weigh up the importance of all the different factors.

      I feel like part of the problem with Top X lists is that you can’t really make a list of the top X games (or songs or whatever), because there are so many different criteria that determine whether a game should be on the list or not, and even within a fixed criteria (excluding objective descriptors like “best selling” and “most profitable”), the ultimate ruling on whether or not a certain game should be included, to say nothing of the final ranking it receives, comes down to the personal decision of the writer, and is going to be based on his or her experiences with the game more than any kind of objective understanding of it.

      It’s like asking for an objective review of a game. If you’re looking for anything beyond a strict list of features, the end product is inherently subjective.

  16. neminem says:

    “If I'm into Dave Brubeck and my friend is into Katy Perry, then playing their songs overlapping at half volume doesn't magically create something that reflects our combined tastes. Neither does putting both songs in the same playlist. It also doesn't tell us anything meaningful about music itself. It just creates something neither of us likes.”

    Unless either of you likes mashups, in which case they will probably like that, assuming you beatmatched and re-pitched them correctly. :p

    1. Patrick the Verbally Deficient says:


      Wouldn’t it be cool to have a mash-up VIDEO GAME?!

      As in Mario Kart: Silent Hill edition.

      Fallout IV: The water chip of Yendor

      Thief IX: San Andreas MOTHER @#&(#&@!!!

      1. NotDog says:

        Ooh, this is something I can get behind.

        Final Fantasy Rising: Revengeance
        Star Fox vs Ratchet and Clank

        1. Patrick the Verbally Deficient says:

          The Sims XXIV: Leisure suit Larry

          1. syal says:

            Alien vs. Predator vs. Plants vs. Zombies.

      2. lucky7 says:

        Now I kinda wanna play that last one. Your primary lockpick would be stolen cars!

      3. Peter says:

        Oh there are, and they are wonderful.

        For example, there’s Mari0, which is super mario bros with portals (and fun). Another one would be Super Mario Crossover, which is… err, super mario bros and, like, all the characters (and even more fun. Link, Samus, Megaman, Simon Belmont, &c).

        I suppose something like super smash bros would also count, or that pokemon tekken game that’s coming out.

      4. Tizzy says:

        Robot Chicken did a couple of good mashups:

      5. Daemian Lucifer says:

        Well we already have alien vs predator.And we so need alien vs predator vs terminator.

      6. JAB says:

        Might and Magic: City of Heroes III

        Dance Dance Diablo

        Rock Band: Bard’s Tale

      7. JAB says:

        Is it bad that now I want to play Knights of the Old Pizzeria? Will you continue to serve only organic vegan pizzas, or will you succumb to meat, ending in a deep dish 7 meat pizza that make the final boss battle much easier?

      8. Blake says:

        Deus Ex: Koopa Revolution:

        *jumps on goomba*
        “I never asked for this…”

        Tony Hawk: Shadow of the Pro Skater:
        Do sweet grinds down giant colossi.

        Lego Kirby:
        I now want this.

  17. NotDog says:

    Shamus, I’ll be frank with you and say that I don’t want to see your top-64 lists.

    It’ll either cause a flame war or, worse, a circle jerk.

    1. Wide And Nerdy says:

      People posting text on the internet? The horror.

    2. Jokerman says:

      I enjoy both of these things… But really, ignore comments if you have too.

    3. syal says:

      Or a flaming circle of war jerks!

  18. Aelyn says:

    If M.U.L.E. isn’t included, you did it wrong.

    See also: Bard’s Tale.

    1. Agreed. Also acceptable for a Bards Tale type game: Wasteland or Pool of Radiance.

  19. What bugs me the most about “of all time” lists of any sort (movies, games, books, etc.) is when stuff released the year the list is being made is near the top. I may be in the minority, but seldom is something which is among the “all time” best (for however that’s defined) recognized as being so in such a short span of time.

    There are games and movies I adored when first released that I don’t look back too fondly on now. On the flip side, there are productions that, in retrospect, are gems that I now think should have gotten more praise.

    I mean, Crysis was all the rage when it came out and made quite a few lists, but I rarely hear any nostalgic or comparative praise for it beyond measuring how beefy game hardware is, and even that’s getting rarer.

    1. MerryVulture says:

      This has been my complaint about lists for as long as I have had to put up with lists being listed. It is #2 all time poor all time list participants.

    2. Jack Kucan says:

      Part of it is that the best games of all time are ones that when people mention them, other people reinstall them. Deus Ex and New Vegas, for example.

      1. Hmm… I wonder if Steam can track that kind of thing. Of course, to be more accurate about why someone was re-installing something, it’d probably have to be cross-referenced with behavior indicating there was a glitch (multiple reinstalls in one day) or some other reason (ragequit, calm, more ragequit).

  20. tmtvl says:

    Sometimes it’s possible to make objective claims about video games (technically Half Life is a better shooter then Blood 2: The Chosen), but subjective claims are far more common (I love Blood 2 and I will never spend more then a minute on Half Life).

    A top whatever list is never a list of the best things, it’s a list of things the author(s) consider best.

  21. RCN says:

    I think the biggest reason such a list can’t be done truthfully is that your opinion on games will be highly influenced by your experience with them.

    I wouldn’t be able to make a list like this without placing Heroes of Might & Magic II on the top. Simply because it is THE game that made me a gamer. I had played DOOM, Wolfstein, Warcraft, Sincity, but neither of those were the spark that would keep me on the computer for hours, entranced by graphics, gameplay, sorry and even soundtrack.

    Thanks to that, my personal views of the entire Might & Magic franchise is hopelessly skewed. (Well… Maybe with the exception of Crusaders of Might & Magic…)

    Meanwhile, there are some games I adored, but can’t stand today. I remember playing Starcraft nonstop, but after playing Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander, my personal opinion is that StarCraft singlehanded stagnated and killed the RTS genre, much like WOW did to MMOs.

    1. RCN says:

      Wow, that’s what I get writing this on a cellphone with Auto-correct and swipe foiling me at every turn…

      … Also, your site is not exactly user-friendly to be browsed on a cellphone. At least to post anything. It MIGHT be that my cellphone is crazy and zooms so closely when you start writing a post that you can’t even see the very WORD you’re typing, but it is difficult to keep auto correct in check when you have to re-zoom and navigate back after EVERY word you type.

      But really, Swipe? Have no idea what Wolfenstein is, but will gladly type out “Wolfstein”? (Which, btw, Safari doesn’t recognize… but recognizes Wolfenstein). Also, why do you even recognize Sincity instead of Simcity? There’s no context where that word is correct. And why, oh why, can’t you properly recognize when I go from “S” to “T”?

  22. Jokerman says:

    I have no problem at all with personal top 10 (or whatever) lists, as long as i know the person making the list.

  23. Pyradox says:

    This is a lot of debating over something that’s actually pretty simple in practice when using an objective scoring method.

  24. DaMage says:

    What is worse is that you can’t even compare games purely on enjoyment. How do I compare Morrowind, to Age of Empires 3 to Modern Warfare 2? I have spent a lot of time playing each of these over the years, enjoyed them all and yet there is no way for me to compare them. If hours played on steam is anything to go by then my Favorite game would be Modern Warfare 2 without question, but I don’t even have it installed anymore.

    My way for rating games is to have sections. The ‘Top 10’ are just 10 games that I feel are my favorites, but I don’t not rate them as they are nearly impossible to compare. Then I might have another 10 that are games I like, but don’t rate as best ever. This is actually a good way to have a list without fully ranking everything against each other. There is no comparing Skyrim at 4 against Starcraft at 5….you just have them both under “Best games”. (Also example games there, I’ve never played starcraft and I find skyrim a bit dull).

    I also tend to exclude any games that have released in the past year, as games you are currently playing, or recently played often seem better than when you look back a year later.

    And since I’ve talked about it, here is my top games:
    Fallout New Vegas, Morrowind, Rise of Nations, Heroes of Might and Magic 3, Empire Total War, Portal, Modern Warfare 2, DOOM, XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Minecraft.

    But I have missed many mainstream game series like Starcraft, Half-life, Civilization, so some of the games on my list (like rise of nations and Empire Total War) would be really easy to replace.

  25. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    Those of us of a certain age (ahem, though our host has about a decade on me) can use the following rule: what games have we gone out of our way to make sure still run after 6 computers? Related: which games have we allowed to rot, or left behind during a move. By that measure –

    Top games:
    X-Wing, TIE Fighter, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, X-Wing Alliance. Getting those to run on Windows 7 was a pain (I had Win95 versions, so DosBox wouldn’t work).
    Sid Meier’s Alien Crossfire
    No One Lives Forever
    Command and Conquer
    Kings Quest and Police Quest (whole series, excluding last game in each)
    Myth: The Fallen Lords

    Bottom Games:
    Emperor: Battle for Dune
    Top Gun
    Earthsiege/Starsiege (Tribes excluded)

  26. NJ says:

    Honestly. Star Control 2 has to be near the top of this this list or go home … or if you haven’t played it then “OK” whatever, but really … c’mon. No?

  27. krellen says:

    I feel a desperate need to try this:

    1. Agriculture, because when you develop Agriculture in the Civilisation board game, you win.
    2. Ice cream, because the existence of vegan ice cream proves everyone loves ice cream.
    3. Polio Vaccine, because Salk gave it away for free and that’s f-ing metal.
    4. Music, because Mumbles likes music, but doesn’t like metal.
    5. Your mother, because if you rate her under Marvel Movies, you’re grounded.
    6. Marvel Movies, because someone had to be #6.

    That wasn’t so hard. ;)

  28. TheLurkerAbove says:

    Personally, the hardest question for me when ranking games is how to balance time spent playing the game. Portal was basically perfect for 5 hours; much of the 4800+ hours of World of Warcraft were bits of tedium while I watched TV or listened to music, but it seems like WoW should get some credit for convincing me to do that tedious stuff anyway.

  29. MrGuy says:

    What I think would be a more interesting and cathartic experience would be a WORST 64 games of all time.

    Anyone can heap fanboy love on games people already like. I’d like to spew some bile. What games are your least favorite, and why?

    I’d argue the reasons games disappoint us are more interesting and varied than the reasons we like them. Some games are just awful in execution. Some games are mechanically awful. Some games were ET for the Atari. Some are born broken, some fall apart. Some are riddled with joy-killing DIAS or QTE’s (or, in the worst case, both). Some are immensely overrated games (FO3 won many Game of the Year awards). Some had “some kid died.” etc.

    Is a game worse for being a bad game that’s immensely overrated? Or being a bad game that no one played because everyone thought was bad? Is a disappointing AAA title that’s kind of playable but feel well short of the hype worse than a truly awful indie that’s worse to play but didn’t come with so much expectation? Does a good game that took a trip to crazy land rate better or worse than one there the whole time? Does grinding in a somewhat enjoyable game make it better (prolonging the playtime) or worse (getting repetetive)?

    C’mon, Shamus, we know what you really like is telling us about why games suck! Give the people what they want.

    Or, if you don’t want to do two lists, outsource the bottom 64 list to Chris. He probably has his already written.

    1. syal says:

      The problem with a Worst Games list is you have to have some kind of minimum level of quality (or budget, or something) for them, or else you end up with nothing but games from Gaming Garbage.

  30. 4th Dimension says:

    “Spoiler: Just because I have a screenshot of the game here doesn’t mean that game made the list. Same goes for the HEADER image.”


    Also a nitpick. 64 is not a base 16 number. 16 squared is 256. YOu could say that 64 is base 8 or base 2 number though.

    1. Shamus says:

      The thing about 64 is that it’s a nice round number in base 16. (40)

      Also, the spoiler cuts both ways: Just because I DO have a screenshot of the game doesn’t mean it’s NOT in the list.

      1. Mandrilltiger says:

        I tried to find this without just asking but I want to know what that 3rd game is. (With the grid and the music).

      2. chiefnewo says:

        I’m choosing to believe you’re doing 64 because the C64 was the best computer.

  31. General Karthos says:

    One of my top games (that probably won’t make this list, as Shamus probably hasn’t played it) is Crusader Kings II. What I base that on is the fact that I’ve been playing it for a couple of years and it still swallows my life for days at a time once in a while. (Like this past week.)

    Another game that absolutely should make the list (but also probably won’t as I don’t know if Shamus has even HEARD of it) is Escape Velocity or Escape Velociy: Override. (EV Nova was entertaining, but it wasn’t as good as the original or the 2nd game.)

    Master of Orion II should make it on the list though, so that’s good.

  32. Dragomok says:

    Just for the record, I’m waiting with reading any post in this series (including this one) till after you have published the full list.

  33. Corylea says:

    Thanks for a really interesting article that’s given me some things to think about. Also, I laughed out loud several times — so loudly that my husband came running in, saying, “What? What?” :-)

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