In spite of the title, this is not meant to be a “one true list” of the best in any category. The next two installments (yes, it?s another 3-part series) will look at companies and individuals within the computer games industry.
Your gaming experiences will undoubtedly be different than mine. The gaming histories of some of you will be more similar to my own than others, but all will be different. Your versions of the best will not match mine, because your experiences do not match mine.
This first part then, is the games I think of as “the best.” They are from different genres, though there is one common element to them all: story. Games I like have to tell a story. Some of these games lead the player through a strong story, like Half-Life. With some, the setting is stronger than the story, and each time I play, a new story is told. Genres may wax and wane in popularity, but for me, it is story that keeps me playing a game.
These are not the only games I like. Far from it. I could fill a page simply listing all the games that nearly made this list. I have limited the list for consideration of space, and because this is an 800-1000 word article, not a 20,000 word thesis on why storytelling is so fundamental to gaming.
This is the oldest game on the list, being almost 20 years old. This is a turn-based Strategy game, seen through a first person perspective. The game is a sequel to the earlier Lords of Midnight, which was very similar, though with a much stronger story (very similar to Lord of the Rings) at the expense of less open play.
The game takes place in the land of Icemark, where over 100 separate characters from five factions contend for the land of Icemark. A sixth faction is the Free, led by Luxor the Moonprince, played by you. He has arrived to rescue his son from the evil Shareth the Heartstealer. Her faction of Icelords is the strongest. Each character is a lord, ruling over a fortress or city. Lord can (and must) be recruited to your cause, and ultimately battle forces loyal to Shareth. Ancient enmities also come into play, as lords leave their lands to pursue their own goals. Characters can act and move very differently from game to game, meaning each time you play, an epic story is written anew.
This epic story nature of the game is one that keeps me coming back time after time, and thanks to a very good PC conversion, this is a game I still play today. It?s the only one of the three games that I am still playing, in fact.
It is from this game that I take my Internet name. Lorelorn the Icelord is one of the more powerful of Shareth?s lieutenants, but can still be won over to the cause of Luxor.
It still amazes me how this game was written for the Commodore 64, using less memory than we use now in a sound card driver. It just goes to show how a few simple lines of code can create great complexity on the screen.
Unlike the first game on the list, I?m sure this one is familiar to many of you, if only because you had to buy it to play Counterstrike or Day of Defeat. It is the original game, not the mods that I?m talking about here though.
Half-Life proved you can have a strong storyline in a first-person shooter game. This is something other developers have since tried to emulate, with varying degrees of success. The apocryphal story I head is that when this game was considered “done”, Valve took a year out to improve the storyline, adding the set scenes and so on. It was time well spent. This game takes the player through a compelling storyline told through an immersive role. The starting sequence of the game is great, as is the “workaday” atmosphere of the start of the game.
The game progresses as you go through the game, and I found myself really caring about my poor stranded work colleagues, and did my best to keep them all alive, even at risk to myself. From a story point of view, the ending is weak, but not so bad that I didn?t play the game time and time again- I just stopped once the play left planet earth.
Now I?m really showing my age. A younger gamer than myself would place Baldur?s Gate or Planescape: Torment in this category. These later games did a good job of emulating the gameplay and environment found in Ultima VII, yet insanely cast aside in later Ultima games.
Ultima VII put the player in a very strong role, unlike many CRPGs. The Avatar is a figure of some repute in the lands, a person of near religious significance. Of course, some have more faith and respect for your position than others. Of the three games here, Ultima VII has the most open play of any. After the first stage of the game, where you must help solve a murder, you are free to wander the very detailed lands at will, recruiting new party members.
Your position as Avatar carries with it some responsibilities and expectations. You cannot wander the lands killing and looting at will, and still expect to be hailed a hero. Your actions do have consequences. Stray from the path of the Avatar, and your own party members may leave, or even attack you to defend the innocent.
While this game has an ongoing story, you are free to ignore it, and explore the world as you wish, and pick up the main quest later, if you want. This is just as well, as I was always far too entranced by the setting to bother pursuing the storyline very far.
So which games have impacted you the most? Don?t limit yourself to three—this is something I had to do for space considerations—as well as the fact that I could go on and on about my favourite games, and have a great time, and bore the rest of you senseless. I?m interested in hearing which games you like best, and a few words on why.
Disclaimer: The Ninth Circle was written by Lorelorn (David Kay) and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.