I grew up in the late 70s and through the 80s, growing up playing games as long as I have. You get to see many, many changes over the years. There have been several times when I’ve played a game and thought to myself that ‘its never going to get any better than this’ only to be proven wrong further down the line.
So here, I’d like to round up those games that, for as long as I have been playing games, for one reason or another. Whether it be graphics, gameplay, story or some other reason, have impressed me.
In no particular order and I’ll be jumping around the years as I go and yes, I would have mentioned several of these games elsewhere on this site already too. Here are my ‘its never going to get any better than this’ (A brief history of video games).
Space Invaders – Atari 2600 (1980): Holds the distinction of being the first ever licensed arcade to home machine port. This was always a simple game and one of the all time classics in gaming. But what amazed me about it was the simple fact we could now play arcade games at home, of which Space Invaders was the very first and opened the floodgates to other arcade/home ports like Asteroids, Defender, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and so on.
While this version was not an arcade perfect port by any means, just the simple fact we were playing this on our own console at home was a dream come true. Plus the Atari 2600 version came with 112 variations on the classic game offering hours upon hours of replay value.
Prince Of Persia – Amiga 500 (1989): This game just had to be seen to be believed back then. The super smooth, rotoscoped animation was unreal and unlike anything we had seen then. A platforming game like no other at the time and would go on to not only be the inspiration for other many hugely popular IPs later, but also become its own successful franchise in itself. Prince of Persia didn’t just offer amazing animation but also managed to blend into the mix platforming action, sword fights and puzzle solving. The game was simple but tough and relied on the old ‘trial and error’ style, so the more you played, the more you learned and progressed.
It gave birth to the sub genre of (what I call); ‘The cinematic platform games’, as this offered an almost movie like story experience that unfolded as you played. With other games like; Another World (AKA; Out of this World), Flashback, Nosferatu, Blackthorne (AKA; Blackhawk) and numerous others that borrowed form the Prince of Persia formula. Would we ever had gotten; Lara Croft and the entire Tomb Raider series without this game? Plus the fact that Assassin’s Creed began as a spin off to Prince of Persia called; Prince of Persia: Assassin. Prince of Persia was/is certainly influential.
Half-Life – PC (1998): Okay, I have to be honest here, I’m not a big fan of Half-Life. People are always going on about Valve finally releasing a Half-Life 3 and to be honest, I couldn’t care less. But I am more than willing to admit that I was impressed with the original when I first saw and played it… but not for its core gameplay.
While I didn’t think much of the gameplay of Half-Life, what did impress me was the introduction. Just that whole opening of going to work felt epic and unique at the time as introductions were just something you watched (and occasionally skipped) before the game began. But the introduction to Half-Life allowed you to play and interact as the story was slowly set up. It all helped to make introductions to games important and a great way to set in place the style and tone for what was to come later.
Midwinter – Amiga 500 (1989): One of the very first true open world/sandbox games that are everywhere these days. While not the first of this sub genre (that one is coming up later), Midwinter (and its sequel; Midwinter II) paved the way for games like GTA, Saint’s Row, etc that we have today.
Played from a first person view point, the map was big (for the time) and the dazzling amount of ways you could get around was unmatched. You could ski, use hand-gliders, skidoos, cable cars, snowcats, etc. Then the missions themselves could be approached and handled in various ways. Yeah there was a story to follow and objectives to complete, but you didn’t have to do them and could explore the map, find new locales and meet new people. Just the freedom the game allowed you to have was stunning at the time.
Gauntlet – Arcade (1985): The cabinet itself with its 4 player set up was an amazing sight to see, allowing you to team up with friends and play together. One of the very first drop in/out, co-op multiplayer games. The way each character was unique and had their own strengths and weaknesses was also quite new at the time and offered a character to suit your play style.
The memorable (and quotable) speech during gameplay, the endless levels urging you to keep on playing to see how far you could get. One of the most perfect arcade games ever created and an arcade game that shaped and moulded co-op gameplay decades before it became popular. I just never could resist popping in a few 10p coins into this monster of a game whenever I saw it.
Super Mario World – SNES (1990): In my personal opinion, this is the greatest platform game ever created. I really can not think of another platforming game that was as well designed and as much fun to play as this. The closest game that comes to mind it its own prequel; Super Mario Bros. 3. It was beautiful to look at back then and offered a dazzling variety of gameplay and fun with a huge world full of taxing levels to play in and explore trying to find all those little secrets and hidden levels.
The bright and cartoony styled graphics were jaw dropping at the time, but this was not just a game that looked pretty, it was a game that played even better. Each level seemed to be so well crafted and felt genuinely fun to play. The massive over-world map that held its own fun secrets to find. The multiple endings and secret areas you could hunt for in the levels that would open up short cuts, hidden areas and even a whole ‘new’ world… everything about this game is just so well designed and implemented, for me (as I said) the greatest platforming game ever made.
Skool Daze – ZX Spectrum (1984): Another early game that had that open world/sandbox style. A game that was very unique at the time with it being set in a school. But the things you could do, the mischief you could get into and the freedom the game offered was a thing to behold back then.
This game allowed you to bend and break all the rules you couldn’t get away with at school. Want to punch that annoying ‘know it all’ kid, stand up to the bully, hit your geography teacher with a slingshot, write rude words on the blackboard? Well you could do all of that and more in this game. And like many open world/sandbox style games, yes there was a story/plot to follow and a main goal to achieve… but you didn’t have to. You could just play around with all the little things the game had to offer and find new and interesting ways to cause havoc in school without the risk of getting into real trouble.
Populous – Amiga 500 (1989): You got to play as a God, which in itself was pretty unique at the time. This Peter Molyneux classic (from when he was a great game designer and not a purveyor of lies and empty promises) spawned an entirely new sub-genre of gaming; The God Game.
The power you had was unmatched in any other game, you could sculpt the land to help you people build ever increasing homes, build your power and army to unleash God-like attacks on your enemy such as earthquakes, typhoons, blight the land with swamps and so on. Until you destroyed your puny rival and took over the land. Each map was different and offered a fresh new challenge, with changing scenery and obstacles to work around. A refreshing and interesting first for its time and was the game that opened my eyes to the strategy led games of that era.
Star Wars – Arcade (1983): The 3D vector graphics were stunning back then, coupled with the voice samples taken directly from the film as we took down Tie Fighters in our X-Wing with the Death Star looming in the background. Then once all those pesky Ties were dealt with, onto to Death Star the take out the towers before reliving the climatic trench run from the film. All of this was just awesome and really made us feel like we were X-Wing pilots.
This game was the first I remember that felt like we were playing a movie. The action was nonstop, the graphics were (at the time) impressive and the digitised sound and music taken directly from the film just added to the overall experience, I’m pretty sure the impressive art work on the cabinet helped a lot too. If there was ever a gaming experience that made me think ‘its never going to get any better than this’, then Star Wars was it.
Elite – BBC Micro (1984): This, this is the game that is (arguably) the grandfather of the open world/sandbox sub genre of gaming. What this game managed to archive in terms of game design in 1984 was just though of as being simply impossible back then. Developers; David Braben and Ian Bell were quite simply pure geniuses.
To be honest, to do this game justice, I really need to do its own in-depth article (and may do so one day). What this game offered was just unheard of then, a true revolution in gaming. It was game of unparalleled design, depth and one that offered such amazing freedom of gameplay that it is still held up in such high regard today. With you playing as Commander Jameson (though the name could be changed) and starting off with a meagre 100 credits and a lightly armed trading ship. You are free to do whatever you want within the game’s impressively large universe… and it is a universe. You can become a Han Solo style space smuggler/trader. Dabble in perfectly legal goods, or maybe you want to earn more money going a more illegal route? Mine asteroids for materials. Become a well respected space trader or a nefarious space pirate. Take part in dogfights, go from planet to planet, galaxy to galaxy over an entire explorable universe via hyperspace travel. Earn more money and upgrade your ship, its weapons or even buy an all new ship with even more upgrades available. As I said before, I could do a more in-depth look at this game as it rightly deserves as what I’m writing here doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Elite changed gaming for decades and really showed what could be done with a little imagination and impressive development skills. What was in Elite was just not thought possible in 1984… but there it was. The game went on to become its own successful franchise with; Frontier: Elite II, Frontier: First Encounters and more recently a reboot for the current generation with; Elite: Dangerous (which I highly recommend if you want a great space exploration game) as well as opening the doors for games like Wing Commander (series), Privateer, Star Wars: X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter and the countless other space combat/exploration games that followed it. David Braben and Ian Bell changed the face of gaming forever with Elite and the ripples it caused are still being felt today.
So there you go, just a handful of games that made me feel ‘its never going to get any better than this’. To be honest, there are literally hundreds of others I could include and may very well do just that in a follow up article or seven later. While all of these were games from the 80s and 90s, there are still games being made in recent years that manage to impress me for one reason or another. I have just learned over the years that ‘it will always get better then this’ with the advancement of technology and ever increasing game designers with fresh and exciting ideas.