During the peak (or low?) of lockdown, you might have seen the Facebook trend for people to post images of their favourite films, albums or games without any words to go alongside. I was tagged in one with the focus on the games that have impacted upon me, note impacted, not just favourite. Rather than a wordless Facebook post, writing about ten(ish) most impactful games right here on The Reticule is the best way to highlight these games that have shaped my gaming life. While we’ve often talked about Our Years in Games, or even Our (Reticule) Decade in Games, I decided to take things back a step, and look at my life in games.
Microsoft Entertainment and Arcade Packs
My family’s first computer cost a bomb, ran on Windows 95 and had a floppy disk drive. It was a wonderful thing and formed the basis of my enduring love of games. But how did it all start? The Best of Microsoft Entertainment Pack and the Microsoft Arcade packs, both installed from floppy disks were my first real taste of games that I had a sense of ownership over. At some stage before the first PC, I was passed something that could have been an Atari or Commodore 64 with a vague notion of playing games like Space Invaders, but it was the Microsoft packs that really pulled me in.
Chip’s Challenge was definitely a highlight of the Entertainment Pack, many rainy weekends were spent with my sister trying to solve the puzzles…I still have nightmares about any level containing ice when Chip didn’t have the right footwear! Pipe Dream has seen its influence last through the ages, with so many mini-games in AAA titles harking back to that gem. On the Arcade side was Battlezone, a tank blaster that stuck in my mind for quite a while.
The mid-90s were a great era for quality racing games that a simple joystick was more than suitable for. Three stood out for me here at this time. Screamer was an arcade masterpiece, for someone who didn’t have a PlayStation there was no knowledge of the Ridge Racer series, and the joy of barrelling around some outrageous courses in knock-off Porsche’s or the legendary Bullet Car was unmatched. The time limits were brutal, but at least the races were relatively short sprints. It’s available on GOG and I might well have to dip back in…
Network Q RAC Rally Championship, a racer I talked about back in 2011 was as different from Screamer as you could get. Harking back to the glorious mid-90s heyday of rally greatness, this one had Subaru’s and Ford’s, Skoda’s and Proton’s and more besides to thrash around the tarmac, mud, gravel and snow of the RAC Rally. Completing the whole rally itself was a challenge, let alone posting competitive times. The Pundershaw stage clocked in at over 30 miles, and after twenty minutes of intense concentration to keep the cars on the road, you knew you had experienced something few others would match. The Colin McRae games were good, but Network Q was better in my rose-tinted eyes.
The other big racer of this time was Geoff Crammond’s Grand Prix 2 published by the reborn MicroProse. I would own a number of MicroProse games in those halcyon days, but Grand Prix 2 was one that I would play over and over. The best thing though? I was horrendous at it, my joystick which served me well for Screamer and Network Q just wasn’t cut out for the simulation of Grand Prix 2. Nor did I have the patience for the full race weekends that made up the main championship mode. I would while away my time in quick races, all the assists on…and my engine inevitably blowing up two laps from the end. Despite the frustration of the mechanical faults, I’ve long wished that other racers would offer a similar reliability feature. Well, the new F1 games from Codemaster’s might well do, but with the bullet-proof F1 cars of the current era, I think Grand Prix 2 is a relic of its time.
If only Network Q and Grand Prix 2 were on GOG…
The Rise of 3D
As the 90s drew to a close, a new Windows 98 PC appeared…and with it, more impressive games. For some, the late 90s meant Half-Life, but that was one that would pass me by for another couple of years. One of the first 3D action games that I dug into on the PC was Battlezone, no longer was this the 2D game of the Arcade pack that was delivered on floppy disk, this was a CD game.
A slick intro package, gravelly voiced mission introductions and space combat. I was hooked with this hybrid of first-person shooter, tank sim and real-time strategy. It was a true test of anyone’s multi-tasking skills asking you to control your own craft, give instructions to wing-men and manage resource gathering and base building all at the same time. Exploring the Solar System and uncovering alien secrets, and even getting to play as the Russian’s? This was pure gold, and sadly there aren’t enough games of this blend of genres.
But Battlezone wasn’t the only 3D title that made an impression on me. By the turn of the millennium I was able to buy a PlayStation…at first without a memory card. Oh I was so naïve to the requirements of console gaming that my time with Tomb Raider IV: The Last Revelation saw me and my sister spend a few weekends working through the introduction and the betrayal of Wernver von Croy. By the time we got a memory card and made progress, it was time to buy a game guide to help us navigate Lara’s adventure. It was one of those games that I got too involved with, and I remember a number of nights unable to sleep with thoughts of how to get past puzzles going around and around my head. It had a big impact, but perhaps has influenced me to avoid getting too invested in a game…
Being the manager
The old saying goes that every child’s dream is to be sportsperson or go to the moon. I’d gone to the moon with Battlezone, but my sporting ties were firmly focused on the race track, or in a suit as the manager. Grand Prix Manager 2 was my first taste of power, and another MicroProse gem. While Grand Prix 2 was all about the 1994 season, Grand Prix Manager 2 was focused on the 1996 season. Developing your car over the years, managing drivers and finances, trying your hand at the black arts to get things past the FIA…it was exhilarating, especially at a time when the F1 action itself was at high-point.
My management wouldn’t stop there. After extensively playing the Championship Manager 3 demo, I got the full game at release in 1999 and my free time after school or on the weekends was lost. The easy nature of clicking ‘continue’ and sticking a team out in a 4-4-2 Attacking formation meant I spent far too many hours with this one. A fair bit of cheating would go on, being a Man Utd fan, taking charge of Arsenal to sell their best players and purposefully lose the big games put me on track for season after season of glory. I also had a fair crack of the whip with Rangers and Inter Milan, a proper continental flavour to proceedings.
While racing management games haven’t capture my attention like Grand Prix Manager 2 did, I’ve stuck by the series from Sports Interactive, playing most editions and leading Welsh teams to glory. Wonders….
Strategy and FMV
As a kid without a limited budget, I spent a lot of time digging through demo discs from PC Gamer and other stalwarts of the magazine era. The demo for the first Command & Conquer was one that sticks in the mind (especially with the remaster out now), and I must have completed the two levels in the demo hundreds of times. I was conscious of the series for a number of years, but it was Red Alert 2 that grabbed my heart. Having devoured the review in PC Gamer in the autumn of 2000, my joy at receiving the game that Christmas was unrivalled. The FMVs were brilliant fun, and I couldn’t get enough of arch villain Yuri. His character might not live in the memory like Kane, but I couldn’t get enough. It’s a game that has stayed in my mind ever since, and without it I probably wouldn’t have ever started my first site, cncnation.net
Rise and shine Gordon
When it came out in 1998, Half-Life passed me by, but I did come back to it after playing the Uplink demo quite extensively. I’m so glad that I did check out that demo, as it led me to the world of the FPS. For my sins, I never completed the first game on the PC, instead completing it thanks to the PlayStation 2 port. Coming to the series properly so late meant that when news of Half-Life 2 first emerged, I was immediately interested. I hadn’t been much of an internet user at that point in my life, but my thirst for any news about Half-Life 2 led me to haflife2.net forums (now valvetime on Discord). I lurked…I signed up and started to comment, I played Half-Life 2 and survived the early days of Steam. I started my writing life at halflife2.net, and where would The Reticule be today without that experience?
The ultimate online shooter
I’ve written about my adventures in Battlefield 2 with the -=256=- clan previously, so I won’t repeat myself too much. Safe to say, I still dip in and out of that one time and time again, and I was fortunate enough to meet up with members of the clan at EGX last year, and for some Airsoft just before the lockdown came into play. Friendship for life.
World of Goo
Back in the days before The Reticule, as if there was such a time, I ran my own blog called evo-gamer.com, one of my first ventures into serious games writing was when I took a look at World of Goo. It was a fantastic little indie game, and in my mind at the forefront of the explosion in indies that we have seen in the last decade. I’ve interviewed Kyle and Ron from 2D Boy a couple of times over the years, and that spark of excitement about writing about such an exciting game was a key driving force behind working with the original crew to start The Reticule.
There have been other games that have massively influenced my gaming life, but ending on the three titles that have shaped my writing career and one that has formed lifelong friendships feels a fitting way to end this piece. But tell me, what games have influenced your gaming lives?