« You Go Ahead and Play While I Work
Quiz and a Poll
| Main | the cutter [updated] »

Most Important Games Ever (1 and 2)

Hey, I already wrote a post like this. That makes my work a lot easier.

The two games mentioned below are just two of the most important games ever. I thinke each platform and each genre have their own heroes, legends and forerunners. These two certainly were leaders in the industry.

When it comes to reading a book that has been made into a movie, I always prefer the book, no matter how well made the movie is. The reason is simple - I like to use my imagination. I prefer to conjure up the scenery, the look of the characters. I have a definite vision in my mind of the world that exists within the story I’m reading and no cinematographer will ever match what I envision.

I thinnk this is why I fell in love with text adventure games. From the first time I loaded up Zork on my Vic 20, I was obsessed. It was a story, but with choices. I could direct which way a scene would play out. The hero’s life was in my hands. No, I was the hero!

There is a small mailbox here.

> look in mailbox

That mailbox probably looked different to everyone who played Zork. For some, it was made of wood, for others it was gold, or silver, or just a shabby, rusted box by the side of the road. I read the leaflet that was in the mailbox. I was on my way. I stood in the open field, west of the big white house with the boarded front door.

And thus my adventure began. And it was my adventure, nobody’s else’s. No matter how many people were playing Zork at that exact moment, no one was having the same adventure as me. I had a set vision in my mind of the way things looked in the house and in the cellar and underground. In fact, I dreamed about these places - in a precursor to the days when I would dream about falling Tetris blocks - and thought about them even when I wasn’t playing the game (yes, I did stop to sleep and eat once in a while).

I never wanted the game to end. I wanted an endless array of puzzles to solve. Yet I did want it to end because I had to prove I could do it. Once I finally solved it, it was like a piece of my life was missing. Pathetic, I know. But there were sequels to Zork and many other adventure games to keep me going once I finally got back to the mailbox and found the barrow.

You are in a twisty maze of passageways, all alike.


Colossal Cave Adventure was made before even Zork; it was the first known interactive fiction game, created by Will Crowther originally to simulate his cave exploring experiences. I played "Adventure" so often that sometimes I would fall asleep at the computer. So many days and nights meeting dwarfs and saying plugh, catching the bird and falling into a pit because I forgot to turn my lamp on. Again, I got lost in a world that existed solely between my head and my keyboard. There were other text adventures I played endlessly, but Zork and Adventure are the ones that I can still reenact in my head; every detail I gave to those worlds still exist for me (Later on, Level 9 would add graphics to Adventure).

Eventually, graphics were added to the adventures. I thought I wouldn’t like it, but I was amazed by the pictures that appeared on the screen before me (Hey, I hear you young whippersnappers laughing. Those pixilated graphics were amazing for that time!). Pirates convinced me that I could get used to having pictures to go with my games. Once you got into the gameplay, you were only concerned with getting to the end.

Some of my favorite graphic adventures came from Windham Classics. Sure, I felt a little odd sitting there playing games based on children’s books, but the puzzles were hard and the authors of the games kept them interesting enough so that you never felt like you were in a child’s world; there was something very adult about Alice’s adventures in this Wonderland. Same for Below the Root; the story was fascinating and the gameplay pretty hard.

Colossal Cave Adventure and the Infocom games paved the way for future generations of amazing role playing and adventures. From Zelda to Metal Gear Solid, they all owe a debt of gratitude to the simple command choice of north, south, east or west.

Of all the games we geeks played, of all the nights we never went to sleep because we had to find our way out of the chasm, for all the grues we met and treasure we found and all the times we had to say xyzzy, for the trolls and dragons, for the drafty room and for the trial and error way of getting that last point in Caves, and for all the reasons the readers have shared, I am claim Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork: The Great Underground Empire as two of the Most Important Games Ever.

[The original of this post has a special place in my heart as Dave Lebling, one of the co-authors of Zork, left a comment. One of my greatest blogging/geek moments]

You can nominate your VIG (very important games) in the post below this one. Or this one. Whatever floats your boat, spins your dryer, butters your toast.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Most Important Games Ever (1 and 2):

» Spot On from Overtaken by Events
JunkYardBlog hits the nail on the head. Here's the thing. Blogging is a hobby. It's a hobby that can bring... [Read More]

» Text adventure games from Physics Geek
Michele goes into the wayback machine and discusses Adventure(akaColossal Cave) and Zork. If you aren't familiar with plugh or xyzzy, then you've been missing out. You see a fierce green dragon. >Kill dragon With what, your bare hands? >Yes Congratulat... [Read More]

» download advd burner from Kim Bjornstad
Most Important Games E... [Read More]


God, I thought I was the only one who played Below the Root. It was mildly embarrassing for a college aged male to have this on the computer, but I played through it about 4 times. If they updated it to a PC version, I'd buy it and play it again.

However, for top 3 VIG I would nominate:
1. Ultima-got me to buy my first PC
2. Empire-great because it's so simple
3. X-Com-Great gameplay, mood music & mystery.

Most important for me was Marathon for the Mac. Easily one of the best stories in a shooter, and it still continues today (as Halo and Halo 2). How many other places had people decoding screens in the game using hex code, or looking up latin?

"The candle burns out for you; I am free"

John, I was an adult when I played Below the Root. The gameplay was fanastic and had a lot of depth for a game of that time. All of the traveling, gathering, speaking, etc. - it's as rich as a game like Kingdom Hearts.

Whatever floats your boat, spins your dryer, butters your toast.

Hey, you left out "batters your messy stick".

Since you piqued my curiosity, I went down to the storage area in the basement where I've got my Commodore 64 (serial # 000001889). There, in a box full of 5 1/4" floppies I found my copy of Below the Root. Have no idea if will still boot up, but I've got it.

Pong! That was the only game I could sit and play for hours. I played it at the Hollywood Diplomat hotel when we went with my dad to a convention. It was set up in the lobby and cost a quarter to play. This was in the late 70s. After we went home I forgot about Pong, and computers, and didn't even want a tv in my room. I didn't touch anything resembling a computer, much less a game (no, I didn't go to arcades, that meant leaving my room and associating with my horrid peers) again until I got a full-time job at a mortgage company over ten years later.

"Important", not "best" right?

Hard to argue with Space Invaders or Pong, both mentioned previously.

Pac Man

Castle Wolfenstein 3D, for inventing/popularizing the 1st person shooter (not really my cup of tea, but you can't deny the impact of the genre). Or maybe Doom should get the nod it this category.

Space Battle for Intellivision, for being the first console game I ever played.

Important, eh? Let's see...

In the category of Role-playing games, I have to go with Wizardry and Ultima IV as the two title holders. Tiltowait, Dupmaic, Madi, Lorto.

In the category of Flying Around, Shooting Stuff, I'll split between Wing Commander, and Tie Fighter (rather than X-Wing because using ships with shields is for wimps.)

Hm. Strategy? Rails West was always a blast. And so was Dark Forest. ("The Wizard has turned you into a GRUD for a turn.")

And in the category of Running and Jumping and Stuff, Prince of Persia wins, hands down. I guess if I need another nominee here, it'd go to with something really primeval like Jumpman or Miner 2049er.

Who can forget Adventure International's 1981 3D space shooter "SC-78503 Starfighter"?

You HAVE forgotten? For shame!

Just thought of it. The most important game ever is Oregon Trail. In my youth, getting to play Oregon Trail on an Apple II with a color monitor was bliss. The hunting was the best part, but choosing how to load down your wagon was fun as well.

M.U.L.E. The only game (since Monopoly) that made business economics fun. It was especially good on the Atari 800 computer, which had four joystick ports. This made auctions especially fun. It wasn't quite as good on the C64 due to the two-player limit, but still damned fun.


A close second was Archon, which was like a chess hybrid that would devolve into a fighting game. Amazingly fun, especially if you could master a low grade piece well enough to beat up the more powerful pieces. (Imagine a chess knight being beaten up by a pawn.)


Like a few others, I have to nominate Ultima IV for this honor. It was the reason I got a C128. Never before had I played a game so intricate that you had to be "good" to win it, instead of Kill the Foozle or Retrieve the Snark. There was a moral code in the game, and interacting in the world moved you along the way.

Michele, you think you got it bad? After playing Zork, I decided I wanted to understand how they got a computer to understand english well enough that:


worked. Thus, I studied Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence, and have been a programmer ever since. I also worked at Activision and met The Last ZIL Programmer™. So Zork defined an enormous chunk of my life.

Other important games:

Quake I. Six degrees of freedom, baby. Awesome for jumping down on your DOOM-playing buddies who keep forgetting to look up.

Unreal: Boy, where to start? Dynamic lighting, translucent and reflective surfaces, corona effects, procedural textures, big outdoor spaces, friendly aliens, enemy aliens that dodge and weave and basically don't just act suicidally, funky music, the flashlight, The Sunspire, The Nali Castle, healing fruit, seeds you can watch grow, schools of fish, UnrealScript, RealCTF, other mutators/mods... the franchise still sets the standard for real-time 3D technology.

Ditto Marathon: in 1994, Bungie had: 15-degree up/down visibility (DOOM was strictly straight-ahead), depth attenuation (it got dark in the distance), true color (thousands or millions of colors), a good story, translucent monsters, exploding bobs (you had to be there), showed you what weapon your enemy was carrying in multiplayer (a first), had some super-fun netgame types that still don't appear anywhere else, had voice-on-net in multiplayer (no, I'm not kidding), and introduced Waldo World Arena to the world, which would later be remade for Quake II (no, I'm not kidding). You can now download the Marathon Trilogy from <http://trilogyrelease.bungie.org>. Mac OS X, Windows and Linux players can play Marathon 2 and Marathon Infinity using Aleph One.

Half-Life single-handedly resurrected the story-driven first-person shooter. Impressively, it did so mostly with Quake I code, a little Quake II code, and only a handful of home-grown tech: a nice skeletal animation system, some new lightning effects, and still the most rockin' sound system I've ever heard in a game. IMHO, "Surface Tension" is still the best FPS game level ever designed.

Deus Ex single-handedly showed that you really could combine elements of an FPS, RTS, and RPG and not only not have it be ridiculous, but be one of the best titles ever. Open-ended gameplay, the skills system, nanotech upgrades to help focus your abilities along specific dimensions, shoot/hack/sneak... a genuine Warren Spector special. Too bad Invisible War didn't turn out the way we all would have liked.

Gotta put DOOM 3 in here. I haven't even played it yet, but my understanding is that as far as the tech goes, it has a single rendering pipeline. That won't mean anything to you non-geeks, but to us geeks, it means that, as John Carmack pointed out, everything from here to full photorealism is incremental. No more tricks, no more special cases. If memory serves, Carmack said that Quake III had 13 distinct rendering paths for different cases! Yikes!

But if I'm gonna mention games I haven't even played, I may as well mention one that hasn't even shipped yet: whatever the first title using the Unreal 3 tech is. Go check out the CGDC video and the E3 presentation as well. Words fail me.

Growing up: Oregon Trial. The Black Cauldron.

Today: Gemstone III. Runescape. I get on kicks where I'll play Runescape for a week or so, then get off of it, but I always come back.

Oh man, I remember Archon. I used to play that and Realm of Impossibility a lot.

I still remember playing "Adventure" on my dad's Plato terminal. That was late middle school or early high school, probably '77 or '78. Plato also had a first-person flight game ("Fighter pilot," maybe?) that you controlled through the keyboard. More than once I exceeded the G-force limit in my F-15 and became something "resembling a pizza."

Rogue, of the common early games.
Dungeon (CDC 6400) and Karnath (Terak 8510a)

Don Knuth has a version of Crowther's adventure source translated into CWeb, a literate programming tool meant to express the intent of programs to people as well as machines. Adventure was not just a fun game, but a `cute hack' (in the best sense of the phrase). Check it out.

I'd ditto Zork, for all the same reasons Michele mentioned, although I will never forgive Infocom for releasing Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I swear took several years off my life expectancy. You can play that one in all its original text glory online. I do sometimes reminisce about the old text adventure days - I remember getting a game for my Atari 800 on a floppy via a magazine, getting stuck and writing a letter to the game author, who actually wrote a signed letter back to me with a hint. I still remember the hint 25 years later (Dive in the lake to get a bottle with a note in it). Imagine that happening now, you whippersnappers.



What is a grue?

Oh, and Impossible Mission. Total freakout puzzle platformer. And the first home game I played with a digitized voice.

"Another visitor. Stay awhile. Stay FOREVER!"

"The grue is a sinister, lurking presence in the dark places of the earth. Its favorite diet is either adventurers or enchanters, but its insatiable appetite is tempered by its horrible fear of light. No grues have ever been seen by the light of day, and only a few have been observed in their underground lairs. Of those who have seen grues, few ever survived their fearsome jaws to tell the tale.

Grues have sharp claws and fangs, and an uncontrollable tendency to slaver and gurgle. They are certainly the most evil-tempered of all creatures; to say they are touchy is a dangerous understatement. "Sour as a grue" is a common expression, even among themselves."



You don't want to know.

I don't know if I'm qualified to say what is the most important game ever -- I am not nearly as well-versed in these things as some of you -- but for me personally, it was Myst. I had been playing games ever since I got my first PC in 1988 (the first one I ever bought was a submarine simulation called Gato), but Myst was the first game that kept me up nearly all night playing it. It completely justified the (for the time) exorbitant price of a CD-ROM drive.

I swear, when I finally finished it I must have sat there for a good 30 minutes with a stupid grin on my face, watching Atrus working away behind his desk, listening to the end-game music. There were scenes and moments in that game that were truly awe-inspiring, creepy, enchanting...I just can't say enough good things about Myst. I know it infuriated a lot of people (I had to look up some cheats myself just to get through some of the puzzles), but it really got me hooked on computer gaming for good.

And look at me now...playing City of Heroes with my son, on two computers with dual accounts, teaming up together to fight the bad guys in an incredible multiplayer world. I'm not just a junkie...I'm an enabler!

(For any CofH fans out there...Max Hardcase, stone/stone tanker, on the Infinity server.)

What is a Grue?

As transcribed from the Encyclopaedia Frobozzica, a compilation of all things from the Great Underground Empire, also known as "Zork".

The grue is a sinister, lurking presence in the dark places of the earth. Its favorite diet is either adventurers or enchanters, but its insatiable appetite is tempered by its horrible fear of light. No grues have ever been seen by the light of day, and only a few have been observed in their underground lairs. Of those who have seen grues, few ever survived their fearsome jaws to tell the tale.

Grues have sharp claws and fangs, and an uncontrollable tendency to slaver and gurgle. They are certainly the most evil-tempered of all creatures; to say they are touchy is a dangerous understatement. "Sour as a grue" is a common expression, even among themselves.

Blackstone Chronicles. Scary characters. Puzzles. Save your kidnapped kid before they brainwash/possess him and make him kill his mother, your wife. Shit!

I feel like such a lightweight compared to you guys. Or just really old.

I missed the whole computer game phenom - I started working full-time straight out of high school and five years later had my first son. When my second son was born, we inherited my nephew's Atari 2600 along with a bunch of games. I started playing Centipede and got hooked, especially after getting a track ball controller so I could kick butt.

When the boys were older we bought them the first NES. I watched them play Zelda and got hooked; I LOVED that game, along with the sequels on the different systems. I would stay up till 4 in the morning playing, and then came to a point when I had to go back to work and didn't have the time to play anymore. I did dabble in Tetris and got to where I could beat level 9-5 at will, which was cool since after each win, a different character from various games would show up and cheer.

Zork of course, not only did I play it on my Vic20, but it was the only game I could play on my dad's CBM256 (it looked like I was typing a paper for school to him) or play at school in the computer lab (we had two labs with 16 PCs in each one!).

Later in life I got hooked on Bruce Lee that I played for hours on my buddy's Atari 800. I still jones for that game. Then there was star trek - that and nuke war. Many I loved both of those.


damn it michele, now I'm going to spend the next four hours playing Zork on my z80 emulator, unless I can find a port of Bruce Lee or Tai Pan for my c64.

gosh, i remember playing 'adventure' and 'star trek' on my high school's room-sized DEC in...heck, had to be 1979/80 or so. And we didn't have a screen then, mind you; everything got printed out on these endless rolls of perforated paper.

I also remember playing a game called "Ladder" in 1985 or so on this clunky Compaq. In the game you controlled the letter 'c' with the space bar and arrow keys and you had to jump and climp your way up a series of ascii-text boards.

But most important games to me? "Pirates" and "River Raider" on the Atari 2600, and "Empire Deluxe," "Dark Castle/Beyond Dark Castle" and "Thexder" on my Mac SE.

Endless hours lost!

Pirates: For sheer fun of play and for historical accuracy. Actually inspired me to study history

Ghostbusters: For being impossible to beat. I actually did it just once, then forgot the password it gave me

Pool of Radiance: Turn based D&D game which was hopelessly addicting with it's supercool graphics

And of Course: MUD! I knew many a college GPA sacrificed to this Everquest predecessor. A multi-player text based Dungeons and Dragons world. I remember at the time thinking, "Someday someone is going to combine this concept with graphics. That's really going to rock!"

Loved Adventure, got the tech to install it on our office's first computer back in 1981. Played it for weeks after quitting time, although mapping it was a pain (especially those twisty little passages)

Other important games:

Command & Conquer: I remember getting the demo in PC Gamer mag and playing till 4:00 AM, then running out to Comp USA the next morning to buy the full version.

Ultima Underworld: Far better than the much-mentioned Wolfenstein 3-D. It had a full storyline, magic spells, mapping, etc.

MULE: Way ahead of its time, still the best trading game.

Heroes of Might & Magic (I-IV). Still play it, still love it. Greatest strategy game series ever.

Ultima (IV-V, VII). Classic RPGs.

Oh, and the original war game, Empire. Still like playing that 1970s relic.

Golden Axe on the Sega Genesis, especially with friends and little brothers.

The 7th Guest on the PC, it was the first survival horror game I came across.

The Secret of Mana on the Super Nintendo, for multiplayer RPG madness.

And finally, World of Warcraft, my most recent love affair (sigh)

Honorable mentions: SNES games by Square, Super Metroid on the SNES, Castle of Illusion featuring Mickey Mouse on the Genesis, and Everquest on the PC.

Zork was the first game I bought for my Commodore 64. I spent many wonderful nights exploring the Great Underground Empire. I still enjoy playing all my old Infocom text adventures using the WinFrotz Z-machine emulator.

Geek cred: I first played Adventure on a VAX/PDP11 timeshare cluster back in 1978. That was a serious computing resource back then. I also wrote my first program, in ALGOL 68. I was eight. Somewhere at home I have a huge fanfold printout of every text string in the program.