Wednesday, August 14, 2013

100 Greatest Games of All Time

Entertainment Weekly recently published lists of the 100 greatest everythings. Greatest movies, greatest books, greatest TV shows, greatest albums, greatest plays. Of course it's impossible to write a 100 greatest anything list without making people angry. But they left out their 100 games list. So here's mine, in chronological order. It'll make you angry. "Greatest" is a pretty ambiguous term. My criteria lean towards games that push the medium forward as an art form.

Pong - Atari, 1972 - It's Pong. If you're reading a website like this one, you already know what Pong is.

Colossal Cave Adventure - William Crowther, 1976 - One of the most important early text-based adventure games. Crowther based it on the real-life Mammoth Cave system in Kentucky, as a way to connect with his daughters. Sometimes referred to simply as Adventure or Colossal Cave. You can play it for free here.

Space Invaders - Taito Corporation, 1978 - The first international blockbuster in gaming history. Expanded the medium from a novelty to an industry. Designer Tomohiro Nishikado was allegedly inspired by a dream about schoolchildren waiting for Santa Claus who are attacked by invading aliens. He also took influence from The War of the Worlds.

Adventure - Atari, 1979 - Inspired by Crowther's Colossal Cave Adventure. The first ever action-adventure game. Up to this point, game creators were never credited for their work. Adventure designer Warren Robinett created the medium's first "Easter egg" by sneaking his name into the game, spearheading a movement for author credit in videogames.

Mystery House - Sierra On-Line, 1980 - In an industry dominated by men, Mystery House creator Roberta Williams is perhaps the most influential female game designer of all time. It was the first adventure game ever to have graphics, inventing an entire genre.

Pac-Man - Namco, 1980 - Pac-Man was the first game to expand past hardcore arcade enthusiasts to reach a wider audience, particularly women. Namco took it a step further with the sequel, Ms. Pac-Man.

Missile Command - Atari, 1980 - One of the most important games from the Golden Age of arcades. Designer Dave Theurer meant it as a message about the Cold War, as he suffered from nightmares of nuclear blasts during development.

Donkey Kong - Nintendo, 1981 - Donkey Kong is the first game to develop a story onscreen, and popularized the platforming genre. The original arcade version is the first game to include a cutscene.

Pitfall! - Activision, 1982 - Activision was the first third-party developer, opening the door to hundreds of studios outside major console manufacturers. Easily the Atari 2600's best game: more colorful, more complex, and longer than most games on the system. One of the first major console hits that wasn't a port of an arcade game.

Attack of the Mutant Camels - Llamasoft, 1983 - Llamasoft helped establish the subversive surrealist movement in '80s British game design.

Dragon's Lair - Advanced Microcomputer Systems, 1983 - Don Bluth, a former Disney animator, created the most popular game to use laserdisc animation instead of traditional sprites, limiting gameplay but pushing forward videogame storytelling.

Tetris - Alexey Pajitnov, 1984 - "From Russia with fun!" Expanded games to a whole new audience of players, and has been ported to essentially every system ever created. Creator Alexey Pajitnov didn't earn a single cent from the game until over a decade later.

Deus Ex Machina - Automata UK, 1984 - Building off British surrealist game design, Croucher created this multimedia cult classic that was the first game to include a synchronized musical soundtrack with narration.

Super Mario Bros. - Nintendo Creative Department, 1985 - It's Super Mario Bros, what else do you want? Greatest Game Designer of All Time Shigeru Miyamoto took influence from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland to create the Greatest Game of All Time, with the Greatest Game Soundtrack of All Time.

The Legend of Zelda - Nintendo EAD, 1986 - Shigeru Miyamoto went from creating the most iconic videogame character the year before to creating the second most iconic one with The Legend of Zelda. It spearheaded the action-adventure genre, and was the forerunner to modern console role-playing games.

Metroid - Nintendo R&D1 / Intelligent Systems, 1986 - The first game to feature a real female protagonist, with an iconic twist--players didn't even realize they were playing as a woman until she removed her helmet at the end of the game. A landmark in nonlinear game design and atmospheric soundtrack composition.

La abadía del crimen (The Abbey of Crime) - Opera Soft, 1987 - The story of a Fransiscan monk uncovering a series of murders. Unique for requiring the player to go about their daily routine as a monk in addition to solving the crime. Developer Paco Menéndez later committed suicide.

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards - Sierra On-Line, 1987 - Later Leisure Suit Larry games were sleazy and sexist, but the original remains a biting comedic commentary on male sexual identity. It was the first major mainstream title to deal with sex in games.

Mega Man 2 - Capcom, 1988 - Helped establish the action-platforming genre. One of the most iconic soundtracks in gaming.

Populous - Bullfrog, 1989 - The first "god game." Launched the career of Peter Molyneux, he of the existential game design Twitter and popular titles like Dungeon Keeper, Black & White, and Fable. This open-ended strategy game goes hand-in-hand with the next game...

SimCity - Maxis, 1989 - Launched the sandbox genre. SimCity has no defined objectives. Players can improve the lives of their citizens or destroy their entire city. Led to Maxis' Sim franchise which culminated with The Sims. In 2008, creator Will Wright released the source code to SimCity for free under the game's original working title, Micropolis.

The Secret of Monkey Island - Lucasfilm Games, 1990 - The breakout title of Lucasfilm Games and influential designers Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer. The Secret of Monkey Island popularized comedic point-and-click adventure games, and brought about the heyday of LucasArts.

Another World (Out of This World in North America) - Delphine Software, 1991 - French designer Éric Chahi's cinematic action-adventure was one of the first games to gain commercial success as an "art game." There are earlier ones, but Another World was the first art game to sell a million copies.

Sid Meier's Civilization - Microprose, 1991 - Sid Meier was one of the first auteurs to warrant his name on the box of a game. Civilization evolved from strategy board games and popularized deep turn-based strategy games with multiple ways to win.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - Nintendo EAD, 1991 - A Link to the Past took the formula from the original The Legend of Zelda and evolved it. While the NES original hasn't aged quite as well, A Link to the Past has aged beautifully. Play it today and everything's perfect, from the art design to the controls to the music.

Alone in the Dark - Infogrames, 1992 - The interactivity of games lends itself to immersion and pants-pooping scares. Alone in the Dark was one of the first 3D action games, taking its artistic clues from H. P. Lovecraft. The modern survival-horror genre was born.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 - Sonic Team / Sega, 1992 - Mario's first true competitor. Colorful, bombastic, and lightning-fast gameplay.

Shadowrun - Beam Software, 1993 - Shadowrun had a unique mature cyberpunk fantasy approach to RPG design. Australian studio Beam Software introduced the film noir style to videogame storytelling.

Secret of Mana - Square, 1993 - Notable for its advanced AI and cooperative multiplayer. Secret of Mana was ahead of its time with co-op in a deep story-focused RPG.

Myst - Cyan, 1993 - Myst took players on a puzzle-solving adventure across a beautiful island. The game appealed to a wider variety of players than the standard hardcore gamer, and was the best-selling computer game of all time until The Sims dethroned it. One of the "killer apps" to sell CD-ROM drives in the '90s.

Doom - id Software, 1993 - Doom defined a generation of shooters. Built one of the first mod communities in gaming, leading to a generation of aspiring level designers. Its violence and satanic themes made it the target of conservative America, particularly after the Columbine High School massacre.

Super Metroid - Nintendo R&D1 / Intelligent Systems, 1994 - Mario and Zelda got sequels aplenty, but Metroid waited eight years for a console sequel. Perfected the nonlinear platforming adventure genre the series invented. For such a minimalist, atmospheric game, the story has a poignant climax involving the titular antagonist.

Final Fantasy VI (originally released as Final Fantasy III in North America) - Square, 1994 - The culmination of all the Final Fantasy series' 2D sensibilities before it moved to the 3D era. Set in a post-apocalyptic industrial fantasy world, steampunk years before steampunk became the fad it is now.

EarthBound - Ape / HAL Laboratory, 1994 - Nintendo's recently-rereleased (finally!) Japanese satire of American pop culture. None of the other games in the series have been released outside Japan, but EarthBound characters have been popping up in the internationally bestselling Super Smash Bros. franchise since 1999.

Chrono Trigger - Square, 1995 - Square put together a dream team of Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Dragon Ball creators to make something entirely different. Rooted in traditional JRPG design, but its time-traveling premise and branching storyline were the swan song for 2D Japanese role-playing games.

Duke Nukem 3D - 3D Realms, 1996 - Falls into the same category as Leisure Suit Larry. There's a fine line between satire and straight-up misogyny, and arguments can be made on both sides for both games. Regardless, their impact is important enough to include on this list. Pop culture and the media's portrayal of videogames have been defined by games like Duke Nukem.

Resident Evil - Capcom, 1996 - Made survival-horror a blockbuster genre. Clunky controls and fixed camera angles added to the nervous atmosphere. Although survival-horror today has evolved into action-horror, there was a time when the genre was actually about scares.

Super Mario 64 - Nintendo EAD, 1996 - Essentially invented 3D platforming. It had been attempted in vain before, but Miyamoto & Co. captured the essence of Mario in 3D form. Nintendo 64 and its goofy controller were designed specifically for this game.

Tomb Raider - Core Design, 1996 - Of course the protagonist Lara Croft gets all the attention when discussing Tomb Raider. On one hand, she's one of the few strong female protagonists in games. On the other hand, she's completely sexualized. Get past the main character, though, and we get an action-adventure game that redefined what 3D puzzle exploration games can be.

PaRappa the Rapper - NanaOn-Sha, 1996 - PaRappa the Rapper brought rhythm gaming to the masses years before Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero popularized it with peripherals. And while your plastic Rock Band drum set is gathering dust now, PaRappa the Rapper stands the test of time with its twisted rap schemes.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night - Konami CET, 1997 - Instead of a 3D game, Konami used the PlayStation's muscle power to create one of the most beautiful 2D games ever produced. Along with Super Metroid, it represents the pinnacle of "Metroidvania" design.

Ultima Online - Origin Systems / EA, 1997 - The first massively-multiplayer online game to reach 100,000 subscribers. Shaped the MMORPG genre. Still running today.

Fallout - Interplay, 1997 - A spiritual successor to 1988's Wasteland, Fallout popularized the post-apocalyptic setting in role-playing games. Hit a balance of dystopian morbidity, sociopolitical commentary, and comic relief.

Metal Gear Solid - Konami CEJ, 1998 - The coming-out party for one of gaming's greatest auteurs, Hideo Kojima. Metal Gear Solid perfected the stealth genre, but unlike most military games, it played freely with storytelling conventions.

Grim Fandango - LucasArts, 1998 - LucasArts' graphic adventure swan song. A neo-noir black comedy about characters based on the Mexican Day of the Dead. Gained universal critical acclaim, but was a commercial flop and caused LucasArts to eventually stop making adventure games.

Half-Life - Valve Corporation, 1998 - The debut of Valve, arguably the most important U.S. game studio in business today. Half-Life ushered in the late-'90s/early-'00s era of "smart" first-person shooters on the PC, before Bungie's Halo came and destroyed it all.

Harvest Moon 64 - Toy Box Studios / Victor Interactive, 1999 - One of the few enduring videogame series not based on killing things. Harvest Moon 64 provides a seemingly mundane farming experience, but its zen garden-like tranquility set a precedent for future outside-the-box peaceful game concepts.

Seaman - Vivarium / Jellyvision, 1999 - A strange game about conversation. Lets players use some of the industry's first voice recognition software to converse with a talking fish... voiced by Leonard Nimoy.

System Shock 2 - Irrational Games / Looking Glass Studios, 1999 - Continuing the Intelligent FPS trend jumpstarted by Half-LifeSystem Shock 2 is a grim, cyberpunk dystopian shooter with RPG elements. It was an under-appreciated gem until its spiritual successor BioShock came around eight years later.

The Longest Journey - Funcom, 1999 - While LucasArts was working on its last point-and-click games, Norwegian studio Funcom made this beautiful graphic adventure. The Longest Journey has a deep storyline, a strong female protagonist, and jaw-dropping background art design.

Planescape: Torment - Black Isle Studios, 1999 - During the height of late-'90s isometric Western RPGs based on Dungeons & Dragons, Planescape: Torment stood apart with an immensely deep storyline and moral ambiguity. None of the characters are "good" or "evil"; everyone's somewhere in between.

Shenmue - Sega AM2, 1999 - One of the first major examples of a living gameworld that continues even if the player doesn't do anything. Non-player characters continue their daily routine. Trees wave in the wind. The sun goes down, then comes up again. A meditative masterpiece.

The Sims - Maxis, 2000 - Revolutionized the entire industry: an open-ended game with no discernible objectives, which actively encouraged subverting societal norms in a people simulator. Or if you wanted, you could just spend all your time building houses and ignoring the human aspect. The Sims is the second best-selling computer game of all time, behind The Sims 2.

Thief II: The Metal Age - Looking Glass Studios, 2000 - While the original Thief introduced medieval steampunk stealth gameplay, the sequel stripped away all non-stealth elements and perfected the formula. It's still considered by many to be the best stealth game of all time.

Deus Ex - Ion Storm, 2000 - The next step in intelligent first-person games with RPG elements. Deus Ex throws stealth gameplay into the mix in a story about secret societies, evil corporations, and corrupt government.

Jet Set Radio (originally released as Jet Grind Radio in North America) - Smilebit, 2000 - A game about skating and graffiti, with a colorful visual palette and a kickin' soundtrack. It's a shame more games haven't followed in its footsteps.

Animal Crossing - Nintendo EAD, 2001 - Took the everyday life concepts of open-ended games Harvest Moon and The Sims and turned them into something special. Your Animal Crossing town goes on living even while you're not playing. Well-written, deep, witty game in a cute animal façade.

Max Payne - Remedy Entertainment, 2001 - The first game to feature "bullet time," this game by Finnish studio Remedy combined a neo-noir style with graphic novel cutscenes and allusions to Norse mythology. Popularized noir storytelling in games.

Devil May Cry - Capcom, 2001 - Planned as a Resident Evil sequel, Devil May Cry evolved into a demonic Castlevania-inspired look and spawned an entire sub-genre of stylized over-the-top beat 'em up action games with supernatural elements.

Ico - Team Ico, 2001 - A small, commercially unsuccessful game that has since become one of the most influential arguments for "games as art." A pensive title about a personal relationship and quiet beauty.

Silent Hill 2 - Konami CET, 2001 - Psychological horror at its finest, with a twist ending that still gets to me. Fun fact: Ico and Silent Hill 2 were released on the same day as each other: Sepember 24, 2001. Best release day in gaming history?

Grand Theft Auto III - DMA Design (later Rockstar Games), 2001 - Most games credited with expanding the audience for games are written off by "hardcore" gamers. GTAIII appealed to both casual players and hardcore enthusiasts and stirred up controversy in the aftermath of September 11th. Established the modern formula for open-world games.

Pikmin - Nintendo EAD, 2001 - This strange game took everyone by surprise as a GameCube launch title. Technically, I guess it's a real-time strategy game. The family-friendly, deceptively deep genre-bender is the best new IP created by Shigeru Miyamoto since Mario and Zelda.

Rez - United Game Artists, 2001 - Halfway between a rail shooter and a rhythm game, Rez evolved games past their traditional confines into the realm of synesthesia, leading players into a trance-like state with its electronic music and Wassily Kandinsky-inspired abstract visuals.

Ikaruga - Treasure / G.rev, 2001 - Shoot 'em up games aren't traditionally praised for their artistry, but Ikaruga's design and gameplay balance make it an important entry in a genre that had waned since the end of arcade dominance.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem - Silicon Knights, 2002 - A survival-horror game that toyed with the concepts of diegetic vs. non-diegetic action. As the protagonists begin to lose their sanity, the game breaks the fourth wall, but not in the ways you'd expect.

Metroid Prime - Retro Studios / Nintendo, 2002 - Took a neglected series and tasked with bringing Metroid to the 3rd dimension. Japanese design crossed with American design, an action-exploration game with a first-person perspective, and one of Nintendo's biggest risks paying off in a mature adventure.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time - Ubisoft Montréal, 2003 - A reboot of the influential Prince of Persia from 1989, The Sands of Time redefined 3D action-platformer games with its time-reversal mechanic, environmental puzzles, and great characterization.

Beyond Good & Evil - Ubisoft Montpellier, 2003 - A Studio Ghibli-inspired story of finding humanity in post-9/11 paranoia. Main character Jade is one of the most well-developed female protagonists in gaming. It's a shame there's so much ambiguity around the sequel.

Katamari Damacy - Namco / Now Production, 2004 - A Japanese absurdist game about rolling things into a ball, with an electronic/a cappella/jazz soundtrack. Became a sleeper hit in the United States. Of course.

Half-Life 2 - Valve Corporation, 2004 - Defines modern first person physics-based gameplay. Many consider this to be the pinnacle of first-person shooters. Spawned countless mods, impacting the DIY game development scene more than any game since Doom.

Resident Evil 4 - Capcom Production Studio 4, 2005 - Mainstream survival-horror games have unfortunately evolved into action-horror, and RE4 is largely the reason why. Took the RE formula, revamped its controls and camera movement. Made horror accessible to a wider range of players.

God of War - SCE Santa Monica Studio, 2005 - Built on the Devil May Cry formula with a story based on Greek mythology. Despite later sequels missing the point, God of War balanced over-the-top violence with a critique of said violence.

Psychonauts - Double Fine Productions, 2005 - Tim Schafer's first big post-LucasArts game. Took Schafer's signature comedic dialogue from his point-and-click adventure games to a clever 3D platformer. Each level is inside someone's brain.

Super Columbine Massacre RPG! - Danny Ledonne, 2005 - After America blamed videogames for the Columbine shooting, this game stirred up even more controversy. On par with Gus Van Sant's Elephant in terms of trying to understand the killers. You can play it for free here.

Killer7 - Grasshopper Manufacture, 2005 - The first international hit by auteur Goichi Suda. One of my personal top 5 all-time favorite games. A complex cel-shaded story about death and politics informed by Suda's time working as an undertaker.

Shadow of the Colossus - Team Ico, 2005 - Minimalist level design with sweeping, visually arresting aesthetic. Unlike its predecessor Ico, it was both a critical and commercial success.

Ōkami - Clover Studio, 2006 - A Japanese watercolor tale of Shinto folklore, the definitive Legend of Zelda-style game that Nintendo never made.

BioShock - 2K Boston/2K Australia (now Irrational Games), 2007 - A critique of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged in an underwater city setting. One of the first blockbuster FPSes to show mainstream America that games can tackle philosophical issues.

Portal - Valve Corporation, 2007 - Considered by many to be the Greatest Game of All Time. Took everyone by surprise. Starts out as a simple, clever puzzle game. Ends up much more than that.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - Infinity Ward, 2007 - Revolutionized online console FPS gameplay, but also redefined what a single player campaign in a bro-dude military shooter can be.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 - Atlus, 2008 - Reinvigorated mainstream Japanese RPGs at a time when they were falling behind their Western counterparts. Stars one of the first high-profile gay characters in gaming.

Braid - Number None, 2008 - Jumpstarted indie game development on consoles. A Mario-inspired platformer with a classical soundtrack, innovative game mechanics, and a personal message.

Far Cry 2 - Ubisoft Montréal, 2008 - An open-world commentary on the effects of colonialism in Africa. A cast of morally ambiguous characters, and a beautiful savanna.

Fallout 3 - Bethesda Game Studios, 2008 - This entire website is named after Fallout 3's nuclear retro-future Washington, D.C. gameworld. An RPG hiding in FPS clothes. The American yin to Shadow of Chernobyl's Ukrainian yang.

Mirror's Edge - EA Digital Illusions CE, 2008 - Strong, non-objectified female protagonist, groundbreaking parkour game mechanics, and minimalist Scandinavian design with a cruisin' electronic soundtrack.

Dear Esther - The Chinese Room, 2009 - A mod for Half-Life 2, remade as a standalone game in 2011. A quiet walk across an obscure Scottish island and a heartbreaking piano soundtrack. Plays with narrative, sparking a debate about the definition of "game."

Demon's Souls - From Software / SCE Japan Studio, 2009 - Brought back old school difficulty in a modern action-RPG. Western RPG style, as interpreted by a Japanese developer.

Minecraft - Mojang, 2009 - Is it a game, or is it just virtual Lego? This procedurally-generated sandbox game went from an obtuse curiosity to an multimillion-dollar phenomenon.

Deadly Premonition - Access Games, 2010 - Can you say "open-world nonlinear comedy horror"? One Japanese auteur's polarizing ode to Twin Peaks, a landmark in worldbuilding.

Heavy Rain - Quantic Dream, 2010 - Somewhere between a standard game and an interactive movie. Explores divorce and dealing with the death of a child, topics hardly ever broached in mainstream gaming.

Metro 2033 - 4A Games, 2010 - An adaptation of a novel by Dmitry Glukhovsky. After nuclear war, Moscow's residents live in the Metro tunnels. Very human horror with unique survival game mechanics.

Limbo - Playdead, 2010 - Scandinavian minimalism in an atmospheric black-and-white platformer. Equal parts noir and Lord of the Flies.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent - Frictional Games, 2010 - When blockbuster horror series like Resident Evil and Silent Hill were floundering to appeal to wider audiences, Amnesia started an independent survival-horror renaissance that spread by word of mouth.

Catherine - Atlus Persona Team, 2011 - One of the first major games to analyze sexuality in an in-depth way, navigating the subconscious of a 32-year-old office worker.

Portal 2 - Valve Corporation, 2011 - Exceeded expectations as a sequel to one of the most important games ever made. Expanded the Portal mythos and still delivered a classic puzzle game.

The Stanley Parable - Cakebread, 2011 - A mod for Half-Life 2, a manifesto about game narrative and the nature of player choice. All about playing it over again. You can download it here for free.

Journey - thatgamecompany, 2012 - A game about traversing a desert and emotional connections between players without any verbal communication. A new template for what multiplayer gaming can be.

DayZ - Dean "Rocket" Hall, 2012 - A mod for ArmA II, revolutionizing massively-multiplayer games with a persistent world and permanent death. You can download it for free here.

Spec Ops: The Line - Yager Development, 2012 - An adaptation of Heart of Darkness, an anti-war political statement masquerading as a bro-dude military shooter.

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