Reminder: Try not to stress out too much about the order of the items on this list, what games made it and which ones didn’t. This list is just PC games, limited to the ones I’ve played and I thought were worth discussing. If you rage out because I left out your favorite game then you’re just making a fool of yourself. Also remember the rule: A particular franchise can only appear in the list once, so if Resident Evil 4 makes the list then Resident Evil 2 can’t.
Just use this as an excuse to talk about / praise / eviscerate games we might not get to discuss very often. Read the intro to learn why we’re doing this.
Also! Some people are having fun trying to identify the games in the header image. That’s actually a fun idea. Sadly, this one is a little odd: They’re all really easy except for one, which is completely unreasonable. Good luck!
I’ll post the answers for each image at the end of this series.
48. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX
Yes! I found a way to sneak Pac-Man onto this PC gaming list. Maybe this is a cheat. The Pac-Man name is legend, but this isn’t a re-creation of the original and this version isn’t nearly as famous as the various 80’s versions.
Still, this feels like a genuine evolution of the idea. This is a better game, and not just because of the shiny graphics and head bobbing electronic soundtrack. There have been a lot of variants to the Pac-formula over the decades: Bigger mazes, giant Pac-Man, jumping Pac-Man, girl Pac-Man, quiz Pac-Man, Pac-Man with a pinball machine attached, or isometric Pac-Man. This is the first one since Ms. Pac-ManI think having the fruit move around the maze was a really brilliant design choice. that still felt like a game of the same lineage and also improved on the original formula.
47. Rollercoaster Tycoon 3
There were a lot of various “management sims” put out by various teams at various times. You could run a hospital, a railway company, an airline, a farm, and a dozen other things. But the Rollercoaster games had a neat trick where you were using the somewhat dry and prosaic financial sim to build visually appealing thrill-rides. You were building things that were fun to ride and to look at.
A game where you fly through tunnels in “real 3D” That is: You can freely move in all 3 dimensions, as opposed to its contemporaries which used 2D maps to create 3D spaces. Because CPU cycles were precious and nobody had graphics cards.
I can imagine an alternate history where this game had the kind of explosive popularity and endless clones that Doom and Quake enjoyed. It is a very strange alternate history. There were a few games that built on the Descent formula, although Forsaken is the only one I remember. Ultimately I think this genre – if you want to call shooting stuff while floating around so you can’t tell which way is up a “genre” – was doomed to be a niche from the beginning. The movement is nauseating for some, and the controls end up being significantly more complex than anything else this side of mech piloting.
Sadly, the series kind of lost its way. The first game had this dark cyberpunk vibe, like you were Han Solo by way of Bladerunner. The story was just a few paragraphs of occasional flavor text to preserve the mood. By the third game the protagonist had morphed into a grouchy hero in a Star Trek future, and his story was told in cutscenes that have aged very poorly. The color palette was drained a little, the contrast was muted, the brightness was boosted, and the result was a bland game that had lost its original charm and had very little to offer newcomers except confusing levels and disorienting gameplayI know it’s petty, but I was always miffed at how dull and pale the shield orbs were in Descent 3..
Maybe an alternate future where this become a viable genre is unrealistic, but I would have liked it if this series had survived just a little longer.
45. Papers, Please
The rule in movies is “Show, don’t tell”. The rule in games is “Do, don’t show”. Papers, Please has almost nothing to say directly about its subject matter, but instead lets you participate in the utterly mundane horror of bureaucratic oppression. The mechanics perfectly show concepts that are hard to convincingly explain, such as how even a short list of seemingly reasonable regulations can make for chaos and confusion. You can see on one side some policy-maker concluding that issuing work permits would “simplify and streamline” the processing of visitors, and you can experience first-hand just how hilariously wrong this idea is. It’s a game with mechanics that work perfectly with the message, with art that wraps you in the desperation and smothering indifference of the Eastern bloc.
When we complain about ludonarrative dissonance, we’re usually complaining about games that have some kind of conflict between their mechanics and their tone, theme, story, or message: The main character is supposedly a fumbling aged alcoholic loser, but in gameplay he’s an unstoppable killing machine both before and after giving up the booze. You’re supposedly haunted by the deaths of twelve soldiers, but in gameplay you’ll kill a hundred guys and a couple dozen innocents in the process of doing some side-job for a modest paycheck at the behest of some idiot you barely know. But in Papers, Please the mechanics are the message, and the result is a wonderful of example of communicating through play.
44. Dungeon Keeper 2
Ah Bullfrog. The development house that served as the secret lair for the madman Peter Molyneux, before he moved to Lionhead. Both companies made games that sounded brilliant on paper but always felt a little rough in execution. Populous, Syndicate, Magic Carpet, Black and White, Fable. The list of auteur experiments is long and equal parts distinguished and infamous.
For my money, Dungeon Keeper (and its sequel, pictured above) were the most mechanically sound of the games. You could make a similar case for Fable, but Dungeon Keeper was much surer of its identity. Fable always seemed to be groping for a specific tone, theme, or idea, and never figured out what it was or who it was for.
43. Starflight II
Part adventure game, part space sim, part roleplaying game, the Starflight games (both of them) come from a strange era when we hadn’t yet mapped out the perimeter of our genre pigeonholes. It feels wild and random now, but it’s also a shining example of what you can accomplish with just some text and a few tiny images. This was big-idea sci-fi on a grandBy the standards of the day. scale. Elite is given credit as the progenitor of future space sims, but I have to give respect to Starflight for doing so much with story in such a limited medium.
42. King’s Quest III
King’s Quest, Space Quest, Police Quest, The Colonel’s Bequest… Sierra had certainly found a niche they were happy with in the 80’s. They excelled at fiddly adventure games with dumb parsers, horrible arcade sequences, and batshit insane puzzles. But at the time we didn’t mind, because nobody else was doing any better. We didn’t have the internet so developers didn’t have people screaming at them over twitter how annoying this stuff was. So it took many iterations for everyone to sort out what worked and what didn’t. In fact, even when a far better template came along (we’ll get to that later in this list) it took Sierra a long time to adapt.
I think the Sierra formula actually suffered with the introduction of better graphics and voice acting. The step up in visual fidelity demanded a equivalent step up in the rest of the game, and they just didn’t have that. King’s Quest III retains a lot of its charm, and you can forgive its brain-dead parser, lame stair-climbing gameplayUgh. The number of spiral staircases you have to navigate in this game is horrendous. One bad step and it’s game over. It’s the only game where I had to save-scum to CLIMB STEPS. and goofball puzzles because it still looks like the product of an era what that sort of thing was still okay.
41. Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
What a strange franchise. It began as Dark Forces in 1995, a shooter of the DOOM variety. People played it, shot Storm Troopers, and – as with all Star Wars games without lightsabers – complained that they wanted lightsabers. So the sequel gave you one, and the entire franchise re-named itself mid-stream to “Jedi Knight”. The series reached its peak with Jedi Outcast in 2002, and still stands as one of the best examples of action swordplay in the world of games. That’s a shame really. It’s been a dozen years and few games have done better. (Not that Outcast was especially brilliant, but proper swordplay is hard.)
 I think having the fruit move around the maze was a really brilliant design choice.
 That is: You can freely move in all 3 dimensions, as opposed to its contemporaries which used 2D maps to create 3D spaces. Because CPU cycles were precious and nobody had graphics cards.
 I know it’s petty, but I was always miffed at how dull and pale the shield orbs were in Descent 3.
 By the standards of the day.
 Ugh. The number of spiral staircases you have to navigate in this game is horrendous. One bad step and it’s game over. It’s the only game where I had to save-scum to CLIMB STEPS.
A game I love. It has a solid main story and a couple of really obnoxious, cringy, incoherent side-plots in it. What happened here?
What is this silly word, why did some people get so irritated by it, and why did it fall out of use?
A Star is Born
Remember the superhero MMO from 2009? Neither does anyone else. It was dumb. So dumb I was compelled to write this.
The Best of 2016
My picks for what was important, awesome, or worth talking about in 2016.
Punishing The Internet for Sharing
Why make millions on your video game when you could be making HUNDREDS on frivolous copyright claims?