Gaming Made Me: The Return Of The Panel

It’s been emotional. Now, over a week of frenzied nostalgia later, Gaming Made Me draws to a close with a final round-up of Developers and Journalists. From the former, Ed Stern, Brian Mitsoda, Annie Carlson, Dan Marshall and Simon Parkin. From the latter, LewieP and Simon Parkin. Oh no! Simon’s dual-classed, the powergaming twink. Recollections… go!

Becoming games journalist shorthand for a gameplay flaw -
Ed Stern (Splash Damage Designer)
No shortage of games I loved and learned (Blood, Close Combat, Harpoon Classic, Half-Life, Deus Ex etc.) but I was already a gamer by then. First I had to form my game-gland.

Mattel BattleStar Galactica handheld
I was agog at the mere existence of a three position thumb switch, let alone one that controlled a shootything. The first three cylons always came in the same pattern. Thereafter, stochastic sweaty-palmed thrills. On the back, in big red letters “IF GAME MALFUNCTIONS, TRY A FRESH BATTERY”. Brilliantly, as the battery wore out, the bleeps would slow to quavering bleats. Pewwwwwwwwwwppppppppeewwwwwwwwww

SquidgyHaste: Mario Bros. Game and Watch
Teeny tiny LCD fratelli Mario and Luigi, bottling factory, Game and Watch played and watched in mounting ecstasy by gap-jawed schoolchums queueing by real (milk)bottle crates to drop virtual ones. I was crushed when someone else got Donky Kong. “Poor Mario and Luigi”, I thought “Ah well, that’s the last we’ll hear of them”. Later someone tried to persuade me that the little man from this game was the same little man in Donkey Kong. What kind of idiot did he think I was?

Hex Crimes: D&D, Expert D&D, Advanced D&D, RuneQuest, Traveller
During a particularly impenetrable maths lesson, I laboriously inked a sheet of graph paper into a maze. A classmate suggested it could be used to play an RPG. Pitying him as a simpleton and buffoon, I patiently explained that I didn’t have my D&D dice or reference tomes with me, so that was impossible. “But couldn’t you make a combat system using coin tosses or something?” I fled shrieking at the Throbbing Wrongness of it all. Make a game? That bordered on the obscene. Games were, axiomatically, by definition, things bought and read and played, not made. Some abysses are not meant to be stared into. Best back away.

Hop, Shoot – Waaaaah!: Rick Dangerous
Remorselessly unforgiving Core 2D platform/pit-trap-fest. Inevitability of pseudonymous hero’s demise leavened by comic coolness of death noise. Mortality. Gravity. Sharp sticks. What’s not to love? HAVING TO START AGAIN FROM THE BEGINNING EVERY FUCKING TIME, THAT’S WHAT.

PointyBang: Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Quake
Played on a raging fast Uni IT lab 486 pc. Entire academic years sacrificed at the altar of id-tastic FPSs. The first time I ever found myself trying to look around the edge of a monitor (the next being Alien Vs. Predator). There’s a part of me that still feels that using a mouse and not the Page Up/Page Down/Cursor Arrow keys is just cheating. And no, they don’t let me touch interface design, how did you guess?

Flashback was probably the game I - as in, Kieron - was most excited about which I somehow never got hold of. I'm still not sure why. The intro sequence was simply jaw-dropping. Another World... but an actual game. Except, as time showed, what we remember isn't actually the better game.
Dan Marshall (ZombieCow)

Flashback (Delphine)
I have a very distinct memory of playing Flashback one long, hot summer. Every bone in my body was telling me I should be outside, basking in the sunshine, throwing water bombs and eating burned stuff off a barbeque. But I couldn’t, because Flashback wouldn’t let me go. It was a combination of the animation, the story and the effortless sense of cool it gave you, the player. Waiting for a grunt to walk past, dropping down behind him, whipping out your pistol in one seamless move and plugging him in the back. Not even Bond was this smooth.

Sonic the Hedgehog (Sonic Team)
This is how games should be. This is how all games should be. Mad, vibrant, fast, slow, endlessly cheery, gloriously simple and… words aren’t necessary here. You all remember.

Syndicate (Bullfrog)
Aaaah Colorado. Never been there, but if it isn’t awash with citizens and a visiting dignitary to assassinate I’ll be bitterly disappointed. Syndicate was insane – one of the few games I’ve meticulously planned a mission, staked out the target and executed it perfectly until it went balls up and I had to run away. Dinky but violent, it’s an outrageously simple concept layered atop a complex underbelly of gaming deliciousness. When I played it, I didn’t have a soundcard so sat through it in silence… and it’s still in my Top Five Games Ever, which just goes to show how strong the other cornerstones are.

Sam and Max: Hit the Road (Lucasarts)
There’s always a point, when playing a game that you’ve paid for with pocket money, where you realise you’re about to get to the end, and slow down. It’s a horrible, gut-wrenching feeling – is this it, already? So it was with Sam and Max, primarily because it was so very impossible to stop playing I blitzed through it in double-quick time. Beautifully written, excellently paced, with a bar-setting bunch of puzzles and the perfect interface. Others say Day of the Tentacle or Monkey Island – for me, this is the pinnacle of adventure gaming. Although admittedly Grim Fandango had a more tactile CD sleeve, which I think helps a lot.

I actually hate Pac-Man. It's my least favourite classic arcade game.

Brian Mitsoda (Ex-Obsidian, Ex-Troika)
Separating the games that mattered most from all the others was difficult because as my awareness of self developed, I have always been obsessed with thoughts about games and playing games. From the terrible ones that made me really appreciate the good ones, to the best ones that made me want to exclaim to non-gamers that they don’t understand the beauty of high points that only games can deliver, I’ve consumed so many and continue to be consumed by games. These are the ones that immediately came to mind as milestones in my gaming life – a lot of them were massive and seem kind of obvious, but they are events that I was caught up in and experienced, unlike baby boomers who enjoy the greatest hits of the Sixties even though they were never actually part of the counterculture and the closest they came to seeing Woodstock was catching Sha Na Na at a New Jersey mall in 1978. But to quote Mr. James Murphy, I Was There for:

Pac-Man (Namco)
It’s impossible to separate my childhood from Pac-Man. If you were alive in the early 80s, you knew who Pac-Man was and like it or not, you were surrounded by Pac-Man. It’s the first game I remember being ubiquitous to the point that over a decade later, bars and restaurants still had their Pac-Man cabinets or tables neglected in a corner somewhere. Not only could the game be found everywhere, but so could the Pac-merchandise – stickers, sheets, cereal, Christmas ornaments, t-shirts, novelty songs, defibrillators – to the point that even someone who couldn’t tell a videogame machine from a digital clock perched atop a brick knew who Pac-Man was. Luckily, the game was fantastic – no, it was glorious – a thing that was unexplainable and unrelated to the natural world, simple enough to make sense to anyone who studied it for a few seconds but addictive enough to keep people glued to it for hours, even lifetimes for some. To this day, I find it incredible that some people’s entire gaming career consists of Pac-Man, maybe Galaga or Tetris. As a kid, I wasn’t very good at it, and I couldn’t put a finger on just what made me so fond of it, but I just wanted to play it. I was in awe of people who could last more than ten minutes and who had eaten more than mere strawberries and cherries and I probably bugged the shit out of a fair share while trying to watch them play.

One of my fondest and worst memories of childhood is the day my father surprised me with a copy of Pac-Man for the Atari 2600. Imagine the sheer joy I experienced as I opened the yellow cardboard box, realizing that I would be able to play my favorite arcade game all the time, whenever I wanted, as much as I wanted and then take that childhood high point and drop it head first onto a jagged heap of coral rock above a tepid pool of piss and mildly-venomous animals. Goddamn that port blew! At least, it taught me a valuable lesson about being an informed consumer. But I continue to love Pac-Man, even if I’m still not that good at it.

Street Fighter 2 (Capcom)
The first Street Fighter was kind of a novelty – I mean, the early cabinets consisted of giant buttons you mashed until your character did something, and this was if the cabinet was still functioning correctly. But a few years later, I happened to read about Street Fighter 2 in a gaming magazine and it sounded like a bigger deal. A couple of months later, I encountered it at a bowling alley and got to play it for the first time. It didn’t immediately click because I didn’t understand how to do all the moves or the purpose of each attack, but it was intriguing. Flash forward a few months later and my local arcade has it. There’s an all-ages group collected around the machine as two experienced fighters are throwing down and it quickly becomes the Ali Vs. Fraser of my generation, over and over, for participant and audience. Thanks to some encouragement and help from a kind pro, I learned how to play Blanka that day. Then I went out and bought every magazine with Street Fighter 2 info and I studied it, practicing the controller movements on my old NES Advantage. Next I learned Ryu, then Guile, then the rest. Over the course of a few years, through multiple iterations, I played the hell out of the game. I must’ve spent three or four days a week after school challenging people at the local arcade. I was never the top player, but I did well enough to hold the machine once in awhile. I bought the SNES versions of SF2 and SF2: Turbo on day one and wasted far too many college hours trying to squeeze in one more match with anyone who was willing to play. It’s one of those games that is, years later, still just as fun to pick up and play with people, if they haven’t played in tournaments. I’d consider Street Fighter 2 the arcade’s swan song, and I’d be hard-pressed to name a game that was as ubiquitous as Pac-Man or Street Fighter 2.

Fallout (Black Isle)
So, Fallout wasn’t a revolution or the most popular game ever when it was released, but it had a profound impact on me, as it directly contributed to my career in the game industry. It’s not the first RPG I played by any stretch, but it was the first one that made the main character feel like a normal person rather than the activation switch in a predestined, very linear path. Not only was it wide open as far as play-styles went, but it was stunningly written with people over the age of twelve in mind. The combination of lax narrative and open world design made me reconsider a career in movies or TV and made me think gaming was going to be where it was at as far as developing new ways of creating and experiencing story.

At the time of its release, I was working on the fringe of the movie industry in Los Angeles. Looking up Interplay, I found out it was close enough (Orange County) to give it a shot, and they were hiring for testers at the time. I applied, got the job, and was on my way to becoming a designer of many cancelled titles and one that actually got out – well enough received for you to be reading this today, how ‘bout that? Perhaps if not for Fallout, I would have never thought my love of games, design, and writing could be combined and instead I’d be getting into the head of the Monopoly thimble, trying to figure out its motivation in the script while attempting to drink myself to death.

Never played a Sim City past the first, which is some kind of gaming sin, I suspect.

LewieP (Savygamer)

SimCity 2000 (Maxis)
I must have been about 7/8 years old when I first played SimCity 2000. My Mum worked for a local Council at the time, and was given a computer to do word processing on. We’d had an Amiga 1200 for a few years, but for some reason this mid range windows 3.1 system felt far more exotic and exciting to me.

I’d seen a friend play the original SimCity once, and was enthralled by the idea of running my own city. My mum borrowed a copy of SimCity 2000 from a friend, and copied that floppy (I had no idea at the time that you could even buy games, my parents were filthy pirates back then, I have since bought it). We just about managed to install it, although messed it up somehow and it wouldn’t run directly from Windows, you had to exit to dos, and type it’s shortcut in from there. I memorised how to do so pretty quickly.

Before I had actually played Sim City 2000, I had no real concept of budget or planning. On my first go I just made as much residential zone as possible, because I wanted a big population. Needless to say, my first experiment was a massive failure.

So I tried again.

I experimented with different zones, balancing commercial, industrial and residential. I built roads, I made power stations, water supply, police and fire services, and managed to cobble together a decent small city, which happily ticked along making a meagre amount of money for me.

That wasn’t enough.

I then spent a pretty long time trying to ‘solve’ the games mechanics. I realised that buildings would only get built in a zone if there was a road 3 squares away from it, or closer, so I made long strips of residential, commercial and industrial zones 6 squares wide, surrounded by road. This made things organised, but more importantly, efficient. Maximum use of the land with smallest amount of roads.

I also realised that although certain power stations gave off a lot of energy, most of them needed to be replaced every so often, at pretty significant cost. The hydroelectric damns and wind turbines, however, last forever. Since I was in it for the long haul, these would be really cost effective in the long run.

Then I delved into the games deeper mechanics. Manipulating the tax system for maximum profit, building airports and ports for transport, and eventually building mysterious Arcologies.

Then I quit the game, and started again, applying everything I had learnt, to build a new city. A better city.

SimCity 2000 instilled a few qualities in me which I know massively shaped me in my child and then adult life. I learnt the value of ‘gaming a system’, working out the underlying rules, and manipulating and pushing them for maximum personal benefit. I also gained an understanding of the value of iterative learning. I knew after my first failed attempt of creating a huge sprawling metropolis that I could do better next time. And I did.

More impressively, looking back at it, I learnt all this stuff just off the game. My parents knew as little as me about the game at first, but after a few weeks I was able to teach them how to play better. A piece of software didn’t just contain things I could learn, it taught them to me in a fun and engaging way.

Pokémon (Game Freak, Creatures Inc)

The particular Pokémon in question was Yellow, but it really could have been any of them.

It all started when I went on a family holiday to Florida, and completely by chance the holiday coincided with the release of Pokémon Yellow. At the time, none of my school friends had got into Pokémon yet, but I could tell that it was going to be pretty big. I played a bit of Pokémon yellow on a demo pod in a Wall Mart, whilst my parents did the food shopping, and I was hooked. I used some of my holiday money to buy myself a copy.

In the months after my return from Florida, I played a hell of a lot of Pokémon. I must have racked up over a hundred hours of playtime, and had a wide range of pokémon that I had trained with specific battle strategies in mind.

At this point, my peers at school started getting into the game too, although all those losers had to get blue and red because the special edition Yellow wasn’t out in the UK yet. Since I’d had the game for a fair bit longer than anyone else, lots of people turned to me for advice about the game, techniques for defeating specific gym leaders, ideas for good pokémon to fill strategic gaps in their squad, or just places to catch cool pokémon. For the first time in my life, my peers were looking up to me for my prowess at a video game. I even remember one kid named his in game rival after me.

Then we got link cables.

This created my first proper gaming community. It wasn’t connected via the internet, it was connected by 50cm wires which we carried with us.

There were opportunities for trading, completing your pokédex (the encyclopaedia of all the pokémon), and more importantly, battling.

Never before had I played any video game that nurtured a persistent competitive environment, and never since have I found one that does so at such a personal level. You weren’t just battling another player, you were battling for kudos and respect from your peers.

Deus Ex (Ion Storm Austin)

The funny thing about Deus Ex is that it is one of my most replayed games, and no matter what I do every replay boils down to this process:

1. Spend about 15 minutes planning exactly how I am going to play the game, in a completely different way to how I have played it before, using different equipment, different augmentations, and upgrading different skills.
2. Encounter the first enemy.
3. Throw out the new plan, and revert to playing it exactly the same way I always play it.

I go for a generally stealthy strategy, and use non-lethal takedowns when forced to. I only kill people when it comes down to me or them, or they have done something to cross me, then all bets are off. I love the crossbow with TRQ darts, finding somewhere safe, and taking out guys before they can see me. The Baton and Riot Prod when I can get closer.

Interestingly, I didn’t even like it when I first played it. I died too much, ran out of ammo too often, and skipped all of the boring dialogue. I didn’t even make it to the end of the first mission. Coming off the roller coaster ride of Half Life, Deus Ex didn’t match up to what I had wanted from an FPS. I was young and naive.

I left it alone for a few years, I matured a bit, and then came back to it in a Summer gaming drought.

The game hadn’t changed, but I had.

I then understood the significance of what was being said in the dialogue far more than I had before, and the moral grey areas that the game thrusts you into.

I saw the solutions that the environments offered for solving challenges. More than anything else, the levels are designed so that you feel like you are subverting them. There are so many kickass things that it simply feels you should not be allowed to do. Hacking into an ATM and stealing all the cash, hacking into CCTV systems to let you slip into areas you should be allowed to get into, making hostile robots do your fighting for you. It’s a toy box of naughty things to do to achieve a set goal.

I had empathy for images generated on a computer screen, and was morally compelled to do ‘the right thing’. The beauty of it is that the game even forces you to question your idea of what ‘the right thing’ is. For me, it massively evolved throughout my first playthrough. At first I was happy to kill badies because A) the game told me to, and B) they were terrorists. That perspective is simply not good enough for Deus Ex, and it forces you to have a more mature understanding of the themes and topics present in the game.

It’s a bloody good game, I am reinstalling it right now. And so are you.

Never played Metroid either, though being British, it's less of one. NES wasn't the thing here it was there.

Annie Carlson (Ex-Obsidian)
This list could probably be 20 pages long if I let it – gaming was the salvation of my young life, and though now I am a jaded lass and view even games I adore with a kind of balanced, game designer reserve, I still recall when I loved games I played whole and without reservation. There are plenty that had their share of molding me into the peculiar humanoid that I am today, but boiled down to a stock, these three titles (two of them groups, because I am shifty like that) stand out:

Metroid (Nintendo R&D1)
Is it any wonder? Do I need to explain this one at all? This is one of the must no-duh additions to any gaming list, it’s like adding Casablanca or Citizen Kane to the Top 50 Movies of All Time list. Way to pick the low-hanging fruit, dude.

I should also add that in addition to this game being awesome for reasons that everybody already knows, this was a pivotal game for me when I was eight. With the exception of maybe two or three titles, every game I’d picked up only featured women as the people needing the saving. That day – when my older brother met me after school, breathless with excitement, and said someone told him about a special code for the game – changed my perception forever. JUSTIN BAILEY was entered, and it was revealed that the most awesome, most badass character I’d ever played was not a guy, but a woman: that was one of the greatest moments in my young gaming life. In my memory I raised my fist silently in the air in triumph at this revelation.

King’s Quest (Sierra)
To hell with Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing – no game ever taught me how to type better and faster than the frantic commands THROW DAGGER AT DRAGON or CLIMB INTO BUCKET. My parents prized this game for how it actually made my brother and I cooperate without yelling at each other and murdering for spite (I’m looking at you, Contra’s waterfall levels), and I prized it for its multiple puzzle solutions and how it managed to make the clunkiness of CGA into a glorious palette of color.

In addition to the first title, the 5th and 6th iterations of the series became the games of choice when I visited my cousins, and we developed our own style for playing it. One person was the actual controller, who sat at the computer and worked the mouse; one was the chronicler, keeping careful track of notes and sketching out maps in careful, graph-paper detail; and the last was the scrutinizer, who offered secondary opinions and pointed out items that the others might have missed. This three-part harmony of playing adventure games is something we oft repeated, so much so that playing those games without at least one other person makes me feel something is missed in the experience. Odd that what is pretty much perceived as a single-player experience made me feel the importance of social gaming so strongly.

The Dig (Lucasarts)
I’m full with a deep joy that this title is coming out on Steam again, thanks to a very clever decision by LucasArts, as this was the title that reminded me, at age 16, why I loved games so damn much. When my computer was sinking into “piece of crap” territory and I couldn’t afford a Playstation, it was this birthday present from my parents that changed my life. It isn’t the very best of the adventure titles that LucasArts released, but something about the story, the richly-drawn landscape of Cocytus, and the beautiful eeriness of Michael Land’s music grabbed and squeezed my heart. It took hold of my ears and bellowed in my face THIS IS YOUR DESTINY, and installed permanently into my brain the knowledge that games would forever be a part of my life. Which, you know, I’m pretty darn okay with.

I did play Defender to death, however. In fact, Defender was almost on my list of games which made me, except oddly late. It was a game I came back to, over a decade on, with an eye for its cachet, in the same way I got into Wire and Buzzcocks. Something beyond retro, games as signifiers... and, yeah, if that doesn't give it away, this is Kieron doing the alt-texts.

Simon Parkin (Littleloud/Journalist)

Your mind races to the games that you’d be proud to have made you: a revisionist history that cherry picks classics from the tree of critical consensus.

So I am Defender and Yoshi’s Island and Ocarina of Time and Symphony of the Night and Ico and Portal and all the games that top the all-time best lists; an impeccable pedigree.

But in truth you don’t get to choose the games that make you. Rather, these are the ones that time and circumstance pair you with. You don’t get to pick your DNA.

So really, I am an import copy of Smash Court Tennis 2 on the PlayStation, a game that my brother and I spent one summer playing, perched on the end of my bed in a kick-ass super-deformed doubles team, having the best time of our lives.

I am Castle of Illusion on the Megadrive, a game that I played for four hours straight one Christmas till my parents gently led me downstairs to have a break by, um, watching some TV instead. I am Centipede on the Atari XE, the insect twitch terror distracting me from any sense of not being cool or rich enough to have an ST. I am Tetris on the Gameboy, which made my 12-year-old brain spasm with joy, in much the same way it does today. I am Goldeneye on the N64 because that’s all we did for one year of university, sleeping the day, waking in the evening to laugh at the guy lumbered with the klobb.

I am the first hour of Final Fantasy VII, which I played through with my dad a few months before he left, trying desperately to get him to see what I was seeing, and catching him catching a glimpse of it. I am Dance Dance Revolution because that’s the first game I wanted to get really good at, just to see if I could. And I could.

I am Disney Think Fast on the Wii, because that’sthe game currently making my daughter and it makes her happier than anything else about this hobby, and in her joy I catch the reflection of why I do what I do.

Some of these games are good, some of them are not. That’s kind of the point of the things that make you.

Thanks to all our panel, and everyone who contributed to Gaming Made Me for their time. The opening photo is of Tomer Gabel’s collection, used under a Creative Commons licence.


  1. Rinox says:

    Never thought I’d see someone name Deus Ex and a Pokémon game in the same breath/retrospective! But I guess I was just too old for the Pokémon thing when it first started.

  2. Owen says:

    Brill-i-ant guys. Also Ed Stern, your handheld mention has suddenly reminded me (something I’ve gotten used to after the last few days of ‘gaming made me’) of a handheld space invaders game I used to play. Will try and find a wiki link as it must have been up there with the Speccy 48k, for earliest games played.

  3. Schmung says:

    Glad to see someone mention Flashback for ’tis a splendid game. I missed it first time round, but even playing an emulated copy several years later was an experience.

    I’ve loved these articles and the accompanying forum discussion, partly to see my own experiences reflected by others but as much to see it from entirely different perspectives. Gaming moves so quickly that people only five years younger than me have had formative gaming experiences so vastly different that I can barely imagine it. There are people for whom Half Life was the beginning and who view Doom in the same way I see Space Invaders.

    Top stuff RPS.

  4. Psychopomp says:

    Any plans on continuing these, if more game makers decide to mail in?

  5. AndrewC says:

    How about the developers’ kids? No-one allowed over the age of ten. Ask them what *they* think.

  6. Jonas says:

    I think you missed poor Lewie P in your intro. Perhaps you accidentally wrote Brian Mitsoda instead, as I don’t believe Mr. Mitsoda has ever been a games journalist? (I might well be wrong of course, the man writes like a genius)

  7. Clovus says:

    @Rinox: Makes perfect sense to me. They are two of the best RPGs ever made (for completely different reasons though). Have you actually spent a few hours with Pokemon? Granted, you have to look past the kid friendly story, but capturing mobs to create what is essentially your character is great. RPGs had been using the same boring character advancement system for decades. It is all pretty much D&D.

    Although the Pokemon itself is simple, the mechanics of building a group of monsters to fight with can be really complex and fun. I just wish someone would make a mature RPG with the same gameplay mechanic. If Pokemon wasn’t so kid friendly you’d probably see it in every other RPG by now.

    Also, I like Simon Parkin’s point. I mostly played the weird assortment of games that I owned. This includes hundreds of hours of Bad News Baseball and Double Dribble for the NES. The latter was a hilariously buggy basketball game. After years of playing I somehow ended up at a sleepover and there was an ad hoc tournament. It was the first time I’d ever dominated at something. To make things fair my score had to be halved! The game was horrible though, haha.

    I did manage to own Punch Out! and many of the Sierra adventure games though.

  8. Jim Rossignol says:

    Jonas: Yes, just a typo. Now fixed.

    Psychopomp: That’s it for now.

  9. groovychainsaw says:

    @LewyP : Deus Ex gave me the same problem – so nearly dropped it after dying repeatedly/getting lost in the first level. Getting used to a gun that didn’t hit things you pointed it at, plus a lack of levelling made it seem hard (for those of us expecting a straight shooter). After that first level though – wow, straight shooters were dead (Although not really. But they mostly died for me right there). I wonder if that put many people off the game, so they never got to the juicy core beyond.

  10. animal says:

    Syndicate can always do with more props. On some of the missions you had to employ some careful planning, equipping and timing during execution of your strategy; whereas on others it was all about massing the biggest possible civilian horde this side of a zombiepocalypse.

    Throw in the RPG element of the upgradeable characters (that you didn’t want to see die), some great weapons (as well as maps) and it had hit written all over it.

  11. MrBejeebus says:

    Its really interesting seeing the things which attracted people to the games industry, and seeing the path people then went on to take.

    I wouldn’t mind working in the games industry, but I’m happy to remain a consumer.

  12. Krondonian says:

    @Clovus: Have you tried the Shin Megami Tensei games on PS2? It has the same monster catching/using to fight mechanic. It’s a little grindy in places, but the story in the one I played wasn’t kiddy friendly at least.

  13. AbyssUK says:

    Not one person mentioned Commander Keen or Duke Nukem at all …… what sort of a PC gaming site is RPS running…

  14. Toby says:

    Flashback- yes oh yes. One of my top 5, still completely playable and as the chap says, effortlessly cool. When I was young I instructed my mother to give me a haircut ‘like the man in flashback’. It didnt work, obviously.

  15. ahabsito says:

    Does anyone remembers Another World? Before Flashback and Fade to Black, also by Delphine? The presentation and the story was great.

  16. Player2 says:

    I remember Another World. And how that wolf thing in the start always devoured me as I lept over those snakes, only to devour me, over and over and over.
    Was a bit sad to see no mention of Commander Keen or Duke Nukem though until Abyss came along. Guess it’s just us two then… :P

  17. Rinox says:

    @ Clovus: oh I hope my previous comment didn’t come over as a “Pokémon ha ha ha!” statement. Like I said, I never played the game and have no idea how good or bad it was. As a player of virtually only PC games who only knows/knew Pokémon from the kids cartoon and the trading card game the chances of me playing it were astronomically small. :-) It just struck me as a weird combination, one of the essential ‘adult’ PC games being named along with a title like Pokémon, in that regard. Wasn’t trying to be elitist or anything.

    Good point at almost all RPG’s going along the same D&D-inspired lines though. I liked Vampire : Bloodlines for its slightly deviant character development system for example (apart from many other reasons like awesome dialogue writing, that is).

  18. T. Slothrop says:

    I find it rather lamentable that since Deus Ex… the millennium basically, no game has had its maturity, sophistication, level design or philosophical brilliance. Sheldon Pacotti deserved some kind of grand honorific for his dialogue and storyline, it’s quite telling his favourite author is Thomas Pynchon, Deus Ex is probably the closest thing to Gravity’s Rainbow for gaming (still incomparable, but I stress the closest).

    As a larger point on the industry; when will there a comparable game to Deus Ex? Or indeed comparable to any of the famous Looking Glass-era title? Warren Spector once described Deus as an ‘immersive simulator’ and I believe that quite succinctly and definitively should be the aim of any title, to realise as wholly as possible the game world presented.

    I have often thought about what would be the extension of Deus Ex’s mechanics and I can only think that rather than Deus Ex 2’s convergence of mechanics, a stratification should occur where even more choices and specificity are offered to players. The shame is that no developer has come close to replicating the freedom and sophistication of Deus Ex, let alone surpassing it. I long for the day when someone adds rather than subtracts from the formula.

    Even Harvey Smith who was the project lead on Deus Ex 2 does not grasp what made the sequel such a failure; citing one of the perceived failings as the futuristic setting in comparison to the grittier, real-world feeling of the first, however in all the criticisms of the game I have read and heard, not one mentions the setting, almost all mention the simplification of mechanics and character interaction. The manifest brilliance and failings of the first and second game respectively should be a demonstrative example in game design and artistry but obviously and understandably goes unheeded when Gears of War sells millions of copies.

  19. panik says:

    very surprised ‘elite’ has yet to get a mention.

  20. Joshua says:

    As a larger point on the industry; when will there a comparable game to Deus Ex?

    Most cite Vampire The Masquerade: Bloodlines here. I’d agree, Deus Ex was a clear influence. Unfortunately, it faltered in several ways (it was really buggy, being Troika and all, and combat was mostly horrific) that Deus Ex did not. Still, it is a great game.

    I remember playing Deus Ex. The story was amazing and the combat mechanics were brilliant. Every nutty situation I got into was explicitly acknowledged by the game. It was all quite incredible.

    Keep in mind too, I first played Deus Ex in 2005 because my old comp ran into problems. Four years on, DX was still very much ahead of its time. It is quite sad to say, four years later, it still is.

  21. Chemix says:

    I don’t have to reinstall Deus Ex, it’s permanently taking residence on this hard drive

  22. TheArmyOfNone says:

    Gaming: that which binds us together.

  23. TOOTR says:

    Born in 1970. I was captivated the first time I saw and played space invaders. I was hooked when I beat my mates big brothers score on Galaxians. I was over the moon (pyschologically and game wise) when I got GrandSlams Astro Wars for my birthday (11th) in 1981.

    By the time we got a BBC B and acornsoft had to change the graphics on Snapper to be less of a copy of pacman and changed the name of Defender to Planetoid – I was a gamer for life.

    Chuckie Egg, Twin Kingdom Valley and then the mighty Elite finished me off.

    Elite was the first game I stayed up playing past midnight as a child.

    It was not to be the last.

    Loving these articles and RPS *cough* FTW! :)

  24. Erlam says:

    “Four years on, DX was still very much ahead of its time. It is quite sad to say, four years later, it still is.”

    And always will be, at this rate. For every Deus Ex or Psychonauts that does moderately well in sales, there’s a Halo, Gears of War, or Call of Duty that smashes sales.

  25. Evan says:

    Reading all of these “Gaming Made Me” articles have caused me to give some serious thought to the games that I treasured most. In no particular order:

    Contra (NES) – Not the best game ever or even an especially original game, but this one sticks in my mind because it was perhaps the first common joy I shared with my dad. We spent countless hours playing this one over and over.

    Mike Tyson’s Punch Out (NES) – The first game I played relentlessly in order to beat it, and also the first game that made me admit defeat. I never did get to Mike Tyson. Bloody thrilled that Punch Out has been revived on the Wii.

    Chrono Trigger (SNES/PSX remake) – The first game universe that I absolutely fell in love with. I reached for every ending. I purchased the PSX version just so I could see the animated cutscenes that had been added. When I had exhausted all the CT lore, I went beyond that and read every CT fanfic I could find. I made a CD of the soundtrack. I reworked CT melodies into my own compositions. This eventually continued in Chrono Cross, which not only affected me emotionally (Dario fight anyone?), but taught me that listening to the soundtrack can evoke those same emotions and memories even years later.

    King’s Quest VII – Got this one in a 3-pack with Earthsiege 2 and some other tripe as part of a Windows 95 software pack or something like that when I was a kid. This was my first adventure game on a PC. Again, probably not the best, but it made such an impression on me that ever since I have preferred 2D “Cartoon-animated” adventure games (currently re-playing Curse of Monkey Island again) to the alternatives. This game also sticks in my mind as the first game I played with strong female protagonists. Later on, in college, The Longest Journey would be released on Steam and reinforce my love of adventure games with strong female leads and evoke serious emotion, but KQ7 will always be my childhood favorite.

    Warcraft II – Many reasons why this game is monumental, but for me at least, it was my introduction to the Warcraft universe that I still love to this day. It was also the first game that had me laughing out loud at the audio sound clips. I still quote lines from this game to this day.

  26. archonsod says:

    FarCry 2 is the closest I’ve found to Deus Ex, at least in terms of setting immersion. It lacks the inventory and skill elements everyone moans about, but to be honest I never really appreciated them in Deus Ex myself.

    Most of my games are probably obscure 8 bit things nobody has ever heard of. Journey’s End, Hall of the Things, Kabal, Barbarian 1 & 2 …

  27. hmrf says:

    The funny thing about Deus Ex is that it is one of my most replayed games, and no matter what I do every replay boils down to this process:

    1. Spend about 15 minutes planning exactly how I am going to play the game, in a completely different way to how I have played it before, using different equipment, different augmentations, and upgrading different skills.
    2. Encounter the first enemy.
    3. Throw out the new plan, and revert to playing it exactly the same way I always play it.

    I go for a generally stealthy strategy, and use non-lethal takedowns when forced to. I only kill people when it comes down to me or them, or they have done something to cross me, then all bets are off. I love the crossbow with TRQ darts, finding somewhere safe, and taking out guys before they can see me. The Baton and Riot Prod when I can get closer.

    I can definitely sign that part, completely.
    Which reminds me of The Nameless Mod, that is still waiting (installed) to be played on. I really need to get a few days off my son to really(!) play something again. ;) No, seriously, even if I wanted, I’d probably have trouble finding enough free time to play a game like Deus Ex the way it deserves to be played.

  28. Chemix says:

    Chex Quest: my first FPS- a wolfenstein mod that came in a cereal box on a CD, I played that at the age of 6 on my windows 3.1

    Premise: You are a chex warrior, and by that, it means you’re a dude in armor made of giant chex which resists almost any damage, except radiation and moisture. The planet you are on (Zoig?) is filled with slime monsters that have conquered the entire planet, and being slime, moisture is their thing. You must venture throughout the game while avoid sogginess as much as chexedly possible, and killing your foes with a variety of energy weapons (one of which severely damages you and them, radiation gun or something)

    Dr. Brain
    My first third person action/adventure game, sort of like fallout, but without guns, instead you get grass seed that kills mutants when they step on it (they of course avoid it, so it makes for good barriers, but you only get 4 bags and the game is 20 hours, there’s some other basic weapon tool I don’t remember, but you loose it, then there’s an emp mine or something like that, but you have 4 again, and the sections are long). Highly puzzle based with avoidance at an olympic high. Your enemy: mutant wildlife on the unknown world, and brain eating robots (some of which try to blow your mind with matrix puzzles). It had 2 sequels, the first taking 4 hours to complete and the second taking 9. “It fits like a glove, well, at least the glove parts do” was also the starting line in the game, minus a bit of dialog about the suit you wear, which is a lot like the HEV suit, and I recall the line from HL2 as well, inspired by this perhaps? I played this at age 8 on windows 97.

  29. Axess Denyd says:

    Glad someone else mentioned King’s Quest teaching typing! I still remember the moment I committed the “X” key to memory, while my 5 year old self was opening the mailbox outside granny’s cottage. Of course, one really shouldn’t open that mailbox.

    *I think this was actually King’s Quest 2.

    In hindsight, the most brilliant thing ever was when Space Quest 3 paused the action when you started typing.

  30. GammaRay says:

    Chex Quest ftw!

    @ T. Slothrop:

  31. Axess Denyd says:

    And when is someone going to mention Prince of Persia?

  32. DD says:

    Chemix says:
    Chex Quest: my first FPS- a wolfenstein mod that came in a cereal box on a CD, I played that at the age of 6 on my windows 3.1

    Wow, when i read that a rush of memories came back to me. I need that game again. yes

  33. Paul B says:

    Final Fantasy VI is one game that I remember fondly – I was in my first year at University, and was floundering badly. All I had was my trusty Pentium-powered PC from home, and a 15″ monitor… oh, and a snes emulator.

    Grabbed Final Fantasy VI from the internet, and got lost in a world of Chocobos, turn-based gameplay and an utterly enthralling storyline. While my Uni. life fell apart around me, I played on, and on, and while I was kicked out in my second year…. my achievement was finishing the game.

  34. Rinox says:

    @ T. Slothrop

    The day a game comes close to Gravity’s Rainbow (or V, for that matter) is the day my brain will explode. In a good way.

  35. ANeM says:

    “Interestingly, I didn’t even like it when I first played it. I died too much, ran out of ammo too often, and skipped all of the boring dialogue. I didn’t even make it to the end of the first mission. Coming off the roller coaster ride of Half Life, Deus Ex didn’t match up to what I had wanted from an FPS. ”

    I had the exact same experience when I first played Deus Ex, and while it isn’t my most replayed game, I have come to love and respect the game for what it is.

    “3. Throw out the new plan, and revert to playing it exactly the same way I always play it” pretty much sums up my most recent play-through of fallout 3. I wanted do do an evil bastard melee character. Just couldn’t bring myself to punch everyone I met in the face.

  36. malkav11 says:

    SimCity and SimCity 2000 were pretty formative for me as well. Not so much in the urban planning or game mechanic exploitation senses (though I did do some of that – strips of road? Pshaw. Single squares of road surrounded on all sides by zones. They just needed road access, nobody ever said anything about the road being -connected- to anything…). No, what I tended to do most was load premade cities and reduce them to ashes via repeatedly triggering disasters. This would probably explain why I’ve long since lost interest in city building games, but have a thriving interest in games like Prototype.

    My most enduring memory of SimCity 2000, though, is when I first encountered it at a friend’s house. We were familiar with the first game, but the sequel confounded us. See, we couldn’t figure out how to place a power plant, because they weren’t on the tool palette. (The concept of additional icons going off of the default ones completely escaped us.) Needless to say, you can’t get far without even one power plant.

    My favorite game of the genre, though, is LucasArts’ Afterlife.

  37. LewieP says:

    I think I was just the right age. Old enough to get my head round all the pokémaths required for high level play, but young enough to enjoy the story aspects. Hell, I can see past the immature elements of newer pokémon games even today.

    I very nearly included Chrono Trigger. It’s basically like all other JRPGs, except better. Each section of the game keeps getting more and more interesting. Zeal is by far my favourite section of the game, because just as the game feels like it is drawing to an end, here comes this fantastic magical world, like nothing else in the game.

    I’ll have to try that road trick, is there no disadvantage to not having a connected road network?

    One thing I didn’t mention about Sim City 2000 – The Newspapers. There was an in game newspaper. I remember one article in it about how a local school had got some computers, and kids there were playing the role of Mayor in a virtual city. It was so accurate, that some people theorised that *Insert City name here* could be a similar simulation being ran on computer somewhere!


  38. Gnarl says:

    Top notch stuff, Hivemind. Good work all.

  39. Clayton H says:

    Simon’s piece makes a beautiful ending to this series. I completely agree with all the points he makes, and look forward to my own daughter getting into gaming.

    Throughout this series, I’ve of course been thinking of the games that have made me. It’s hard, really, to identify the games that have impacted you in a significant way. It’s much easier to think of the games you sank a lot of time into, but those don’t really equate.

    It’s a bit easier, I think, to recall the great games rather than the terrible ones, or the mediocre ones that you spent a lot of time with. In trying to bring up what formative games have been in my past (while avoiding games that were clearly just awesome, but may not have had much impact), I often dig up examples of games that I now hate and recognize as terrible design. These games were hard, and crap, but I played or suffered through them. Or, perhaps embarrassingly, they were “great,” but I thought they sucked or could never get into them.

    (I’m way rambling here, forgive me). How much of formation is from negative reinforcement rather than positive?

  40. Tony says:

    The first game I ever remember playing was Zool on the Amiga.

    The big ones, though? Desert Strike, Sim City 2000, Syndicate, Doom and Unreal Tournament.

    I remember watching my dad play Desert Strike, Syndicate and Doom and I fucking loved it. Even if I was shit-scared of Doom. To be fair, I was six. My mum used to play Sim City 2000 (and Sim Tower, which we also had) and we worked out that together. And Unreal Tournament was probably my first foray into the modern world of FPS, which I borrowed from my sister’s friend in exchange for Sim City 3000. Best lend ever.

  41. wcaypahwat says:

    Oh dear… all this has had me thinking about my games the last however many days…

    Alleycat-wolfenstein3d-commander keen/duke nukem-doom-gold box games-command & conquer-master of orion-baldurs gate-halflife-darn near every release in the last 10 years…

    Emotional stuff…. but Simon almost bought a tear to my eye when he mentioned seeing all this in his daughter. That’s just beautiful.

  42. T. Slothrop says:


    I think to truly come within spitting distance to Gravity’s Rainbow, such a game would probably be 400 hours long, have twice as much narration, contain sandbox maps of 1930’s New York, 18th Century Massachusetts, 1904-1907 Sudwest, 1930’s-1945 Europe AND Central Asia, 1950’s America, consume a separate development house dedicated to designing pixel shaders that morph geometry into esoteric symbols and imagery, contain all genres of gaming and it would be banned in all countries for its abundant portrayal of drugs and sex. It would also feature the first ever quick-time event where one must escape into a toilet to avoid unsolicited sodomy.

    I have more realistic dreams that David Cronenberg will decide to adapt ‘The Crying of Lot 49’ into a film.

  43. jalf says:

    @wcaypahwat: Alley Cat! Now there’s a game I hadn’t even thought about for at least a decade… Wow.. (It was a ton of fun though)

  44. malkav11 says:

    I never understood the mechanics well enough to say definitively if there was any drawback to single square unconnected road hubs, but I can guarantee that the zones populated. That was how I got my only really successful city going. And I say successful, but I would have hated to live there. :p

  45. vagabond says:

    @ANeM – persevere with the face punching long enough to get the cannibal and mr sandman perks, then you can kill everyone you meet while they sleep and eat the corpse afterwards. :)

  46. Requiem says:

    @T. Slothrop I never played Deus Ex 2, didn’t even know it existed until a couple of years after the fact, what were the mechanics like? Picking up the first game after being a total System Shock 2 addict I really felt it was a step backwards. I loved the story, setting and opponents but I actually hated the inventory, armour and combat skill system in Deus Ex, they felt so poorly done. Stats are essential in rpgs were you don’t directly control your character but keep them out of my shooting please.

    If any game has picked up Deus Ex’s baton and surpassed it in recent years it must be Stalker. Deus Ex mod for Clear Sky, some one? Pretty Please.

  47. T. Slothrop says:

    System Shock 2 is one of my favourite games but I would not say its mechanics were a step above necessarily, sure the skills were more realised in System Shock 2 (strength for instance giving you greater inventory spaces and melee damage) but I do love the fact that a improved weapons skill improves accuracy and lessens kickback in Deus Ex; it could use greater fine-tuning but I think that it was better implemented than any FPS/RPG hybrid.

    The inventory system should have used System Shock 2’s model and melee/low-tech skills should have been piled into strength, also the armour system was more of an additional temporary buff than System Shock 2’s more persistent design.

    Deus Ex 2 is a comparative tragedy when one looks at what came before, but compared to most action games, it is a competent fare. For instance now you have a generalised health bar, there are no skill points only augmentations which are can be exchanged, you have a limit of two weapon mods per weapon, inventory is 10 squares and all items take one square and consumables stack; it’s really simplified. The levels are also claustrophobic in comparison to the incredibly expansive, massive levels of Deus Ex, the characters are not as deep, importantly to me, the incredible and detailed e-mails and newspapers are absent, books have been condensed into a paragraph if you’re lucky. Graphically the game is quite disappointing too, it had prohibitive system specifications on release and minuscule levels with blurry textures abound.

    S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is an entirely different beast, I do have high hopes for Call of Pripyat but I don’t think the games have reached or surpassed Deus Ex.

    I do hope that Ken Levine buys back the IP and develops System Shock 3 one day; it will be GLORIOUS.

    Addendum; I read a rumour that EA’s Dead Space was at one point supposed to be their attempt at System Shock 3, given they have the IP and it’s hard to ignore the similarities (in spite of having diametrically opposing gameplay quality), can anyone lend any credence to this?

  48. Rinox says:

    @ T. Slothrop:

    It would also feature the first ever quick-time event where one must escape into a toilet to avoid unsolicited sodomy.


  49. Requiem says:

    @T. Slothrop I’ll have to disagree with you on the weapon skills, it’s one thing I hate in F/TPS hybrids. Stats were a way to define characters and see the results of actions you had no direct control over. In a game that allows you direct control of your character you don’t need stats limiting player control. You’re already at a disadvantage at the start of any new game, and get better as you progress, you don’t need an artificial handicap system on top of that. In System Shock 2, no matter my own FPS experience, I had to spend points on weapon skills to unlock being able to use more powerful weapons. In Deus Ex I would leave all the firearms skills untrained and put all my points into the non combat skills and melee, even though I tended to favour the sniper rifle. That’s not good design.

    All Stalker really lacked was the location based damage and non combat skills, otherwise I thought it was far superior. Especially if you add in the sleeping bag and weapon modifications from Clear Sky.

  50. T. Slothrop says:


    Your argument is interesting but you must acknowledge that System Shock 2’s prerequisite system was also an artificial handicap, not being able to even attempt to fire a pistol without the prerequisite skill is more contrived than hyper-inaccuracy at a base level, at least in my estimation.

    I think we diverge also on what precisely constitutes ‘player control’, I don’t think there’s any legitimate entitlement for precise bullet/trajectory/shot. Few if anyone would argue that weapon inaccuracy is the removal of ‘player control’. Deus Ex only differs from every other shooter with inherent weapon inaccuracy by offering tiered specialisation to ameliorate said inaccuracy. In the context of the game (being a newly-promoted multi-skilled anti-terrorist agent) and the mechanics (a character-building RPG sim) the system works.

    It also works on a more fundamental level because it is a manifestation of the protagonists own progression and you obviously have control of that progression (if not in the most naturalistic of ways). I also think that the argument that such a system (with regard to combat) is unnecessary due to a new players disadvantage at the start of a game is specious not only as Deus Ex was designed for multiple playthroughs but as it’s an RPG and there must be an incentive for progression. If combat is a large component in the RPG game in question, it must also have a progression and an incentive. Then we are left with what kind of progression to implement (Deus Ex 2 did not have stratified weapon inaccuracy and was immensely poorer for it, it did not even have locational damage until an outcry after the demo was released and the pistol had some multiplier attached); The Deus Ex design or the System Shock 2 design and I would argue the former is more naturalistic and less contrived.

    Your Deus Ex tactics are interesting and in all my playthroughs never avoided mastering in at least one weapon class, you may not consider it too advantageous or prohibitively expensive, but a master-level sniper rifle shot can break most locked cabinets/wooden doors/lockers/cameras/turrets/etc. Also you can shoot an assault rifle and with only a mod or two have every shot hit where you want it without recoil. However the game was designed to accommodate ridiculous permutations in play styles, I believe one man tried to finish the game without picking up a single item (apart from quest items) using those rare explosive crates and canisters to open required locked doors.

    S.T.A.L.K.E.R. also really lacked a compelling storyline, the atmosphere was stunning however the plot leaved a little to be desired. It also lacked interesting side-missions and characterisation, which is particularly noticeable in the disparity to the incredibly realised setting.