Pitchfork does a regular series called "5-10-15-20" where they interview music artists about their favorite music when they were 5, 10, etc. Why don't we do that but for our games? Let's reminisce about some important games for us that happened that year. I'll probably be focusing on new releases since I can't remember exactly what I was playing that year, but feel free to mention whatever if you seem to remember playing it that year. I'll start!
5 (1993-4) - I can't remember if I was playing many games this early in childhood, but around this time my favorite would have to be Super Mario World. It defined my love for platformers and Nintendo games - really just games in general. Back then I hadn't matured yet into the pro gamer that I would definitely become (okay just a small exaggeration) - I remember one of my aunts helping me finish the game and unlocking the special mode for the game (when the map turns desert-y and the enemies wear Mario masks and other oddities). Now that I think of it, anything beyond World 1 my little mind could barely comprehend, so every small step toward the next world was huge for me.
10 (1998-9) - By now the SNES had come and gone and the new hotness was the N64. I remember my Mom kept telling me "sorry son I couldn't find an N64..." and me being all bummed out... then what should I find on Christmas morning...! I was probably like the N64 kid for sure. Super Mario 64 was definitely a huge title - the whole concept of 3D was completely new to me and helped cement the future for games. Completely blew my 10 year-old mind that I could move any way I wanted. I remember particularly loving "Cool, Cool Mountain" for the penguins and the slide race. I was particularly bad at the race from what I remember, but it was fun! Spent many days over at my friends house trying to beat as many levels as we could, working together on it. My skills had yet to blossom at this point. Despite coming out at launch, I know I was playing this well into the lifespan of the N64 - probably repeatedly right until I sold my original N64 to move up to a GCN.
Another huge game would have to be Ocarina of Time. I remember that Christmas particularly because I was anticipating it - it was the only notable thing that I can remember on my Christmas list that year. I did my usual visit with the family, first my Mom's side - grandma, grandpa, aunts and uncles. After hours of niceties and such, and demolishing the gift wrapping with speed - no game yet. I was bummed out at first - but there was still hope! Now, I'd go visit my (biological) Dad's side and do it again. Again, gift after gift! No game! Then, as I looked at the last one... it was suspiciously game box shaped. I tore into it with incredible fury... and there it was, in a beautiful golden box. I was thrilled! But I still had to visit for another hour or two... so I put on my best face and tried to be a good boy. By now I had already torn off the plastic and cracked the box open - poring over and taking in that beautiful manual, waiting for the adventures ahead. With the goodbyes done with I was picked up by my Mom and on my way home - ready to plunk that game into my N64 and dig in! I remember I got to the Deku Tree and then... oh no! Christmas dinner time at the grandparents! I remember my Mom peeking into my room and watching me glued to the TV screen - and her saying to grandma "we'll be another hour... see you soon." My Mom is the best.
Ocarina of Time was also the first game that my Dad and I really played together. I still had trouble beating dungeons by myself, so he'd help out and take out the tougher baddies or figure out the puzzles when I couldn't. I remember when I got home from school one day my Dad was telling me what happened after you get the Master Sword (Link grows up) - I was going nuts! I get to be a badass young adult now?! Alright!! We worked on the game together all the way to the very end. Probably one of, if not the best, gaming-related memory I've got.
Another game that immediately comes to mind around that year was Clayfighter 63 1/3. I asked for it for Christmas but I knew it had a T (Teen) rating at the time... I wasn't old enough to play it and I just knew my Mom wouldn't let me... Dad to the rescue! He snuck it in with my other Christmas gifts that year. If you've ever seen A Christmas Story where Ralphie gets his Red Rider BB Gun from his Dad, it was almost exactly like that. My Mom was worried I'd be playing too violent of a video game for my age, but dear old Dad just let me have it. Thanks Dad!
Man that game was a blast at the time. It was stupid funny to me. I couldn't figure out the combos, but I loved the characters and setting. I was huge into Taffy at the time. He had a stupid high-pitched voice and I loved how annoying it was. The only combo I knew how to pull off was where he'd whip out is gun and shoot the shit out of the other guy. My childhood favorite at the time was also in it - Earthworm Jim! Everything was so over-the-top and dumb, and all of the clay-related puns - and I loved every minute of it - despite the fact I could barely play it and just mashed buttons 90% of the time.
15 (2003-4) - I recall the early naughties (hehehe) were a very big time for me when it came to PC gaming. My parents had just invested in a new computer that could play brand new PC games - very exciting time!
Immediately the game that comes to mind here is Half-Life 2. The original Half-Life cemented my love with the FPS genre as a whole. A few years earlier, I remember my Dad coming home from work one night with a pack of CDs from a friend of his - he had burned my Dad a bunch of copies of games he had - Quake, Medal of Honor, and some weird game called Half-Life. I started playing Half-Life one day completely bored, and... well the rest is history there. Fast forward a few years and rumors of 2's development were surfacing, the release was coming soon... then it kept getting delayed. If anyone has yet to read up on Half-Life 2's development, I highly recommend it - very interesting story.
I remember poring over every early teaser that Valve put out. Back when downloading and viewing a video was a real ordeal - they would record their demos with Bink! video. This is one of the earliest ones I can remember:
This was probably one of my earliest exposure to the game. I was completely blown away! You have to remember this was back in 2003 - games just didn't look this good. I remember being particularly impressed with the ragdoll physics - again for 2003 this was crazy. The way the zombie crumbles realistically into the water... Wow!! The way your perspective shifts and bobs as you get hit... the water!! It was all so incredible - and this was only a taste. Then, Valve would drop this bombshell of a teaser:
Holy crap. The demo starts right off with something huge: this game has physics and you can play with it. WHAT!! Yes, you get a gun that and pick up and throw things at the enemies - and those objects behave realistically (for 2003) and interact with the environment! WHAT!!! This was huge for the time and my jaw just hit the floor time and time again every time I watched this demo. When the Combine solider is slamming on the door and the objects on the table wiggle... when another enemy soldier fires through the window and the blinds fly backward in sequence... when the player picks up a radiator as a shield then chucks it at the solider on the stairs - and then pop cans come flying out of the vending machine!! Today we'd probably take these things for granted, but back then this was crazy - completely unparalleled. It offered a level of immersion I'd never seen in gaming before.
I could go on and on about the demos Valve released - they did put out a ton of them. For the sake of this not being too long, I'll fast-forward to the released game...
I remember getting the game release day and rushing home to play it - I got the G-Man box variation - and having to install this weird program called Steam. Back then, Steam was pretty much universally reviled (who remembers that awesome putrid green color scheme?), but Valve soldiered on (look at where it is now). At the time it probably caused more harm than good, but there was Half-Life 2 to play. I remember getting chills as G-Man greets you once again - not only because I was finally playing Half-Life 2, but it was genuinely spooky - the voice actor for G-Man is incredibly talented at sounding "almost" human - alien, but not distinctly so. It's hard to put into words, but when you hear it you'll know what I mean. Eventually G-Man teleports you onto a train... and off you go. I was completely immersed right from the first second.
Funnily enough, I didn't actually complete the game for quite a few years. Anyone who has played the game is likely familiar with Ravenholm - the part of the game that turns kind of old-school Resident Evil on you. It's dark and moody, and there are spooky things about. You'll eventually run into these hideous headcrabs called the Poison Headcrabs. They look like headcrabs but with thinner, spindly legs and an all-black appearance. They've got a weird pattern on their back. Yep, they look like spiders all the way - and I couldn't take it. I remember reading somewhere that Valve deliberately modeled them after a certain species of spider... the bastards! Don't even get me started on the Poison Headcrab Zombies... *shudder* I saved right after my first encounter and... well, didn't go back for a long time. My Dad ended up playing through the game and I'd watch him as he played. Since he was at the helm, I didn't have to worry about the stupid poison headcrabs. I did get to experience the game, although it was not directly I guess you could say.
Years later I eventually I memorized 90% or so of the locations of where the poison headcrabs would appear (thank you GameFAQs), and I braved them. It was tough. They still give me the willies. But it was worth it. The game was everything I wanted and Valve delivered in spades. I remember a few sections where you'd get a small squad of rebel soliders and you got to command them. I was in awe of how well the AI worked and how they would move together, watch each other's backs... for the time this was just so cool!
Another cool part of Half-Life 2 wasn't the game itself, but rather the mods that came as a result. Half-Life 1 was known for its modding scene - and 2 was no slouch in this department. My love of the game was extended into mods like Garry's Mod - where you're given a few tools and a test map, and the whole game is available at your disposal to play with. I built myself a helicopter, made dioramas with NPCs... even played minigames within the mods (game within a game within a game... whoa). Then there's CS Source of course. I played a fair bit of CS 1.6 before Half-Life 2 came out, and I got a good chunk of fun out of CS:S as well. By and large I got a ton of mileage out of one game - Half-Life 2. The game engine that Half-Life 2 ran on - Source - would pave the way for a whole series of new games from Valve in the future. It was a real monumental game for me - and the industry!
I'd say the other really important game for me around this time would the Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne. This was the expansion to Warcraft 3, a game I also loved to bits. At the time Blizzard were at the top of their game when it came to stories, and TFT was no slouch there. I was still pretty bad at RTS games - despite my interest in them - so I remember using cheats a lot, but I beat the campaign one way or another.
The real lasting power of this game wasn't the single player - but the multiplayer. Seeing as how I was real bad at the traditional game, I had no recourse but to look to the (arguably) the best part of the game - the custom maps. The game shipped with a custom map editor that (I believe) Blizzard themselves used to make the campaign itself. This lead to some very interesting games that you wouldn't otherwise find in the campaign. I remember playing a map called "Angel Arena" a lot - probably the precursor to something you guys may have heard of - Dota. You could pick a hero and then get put into a big arena-style map. You hunt around for minions to kill for EXP and gold, which you in turn use to beef up your hero. Every few minutes, a duel takes place - with either team's strongest hero facing off. It usually ended up in a boring agility-stacked duel that had either hero attacking like 3 times a second while they have 45,000 health, but damnit it was still fun.
I remember another map called "Real Life" or something - it didn't have a victory condition that I can remember, it was true to its namesake. A handful of players were villagers, so they would get jobs and live a real life (in the world of Warcraft anyway) - meanwhile one player becomes the Police, another becomes the Mafia, and another is a Drug Lord. Obviously the Police and Drug Lord are at odds with each other, while the Mafia remains neutral until they decide otherwise. The three of these players more or less dictated how the game was going to play out. A common strategy for the Mafia was to act as protection against another player or a particularly dictatorial Police, provided you coughed up the dough. Other Mafia would instead require funds from you every so often - otherwise you get snuffed. The Drug Lord provided all the goodies to other players, things that would increase your stats or damage. The Police's end goal is to take out the Drug Lord and Mafia, but can't do it alone - they need the help of the players. It was usually an interesting power struggle. I don't know why I was so into this map, but I remember playing it a lot.
Another common custom map was Dota - or Defense of the Ancients. Jeez, if anyone played that... you know. Something about it just completely enthralled me. I remember installing 3rd-party tools to manage a ban-list since leavers were such a huge problem in these games. The community was (and still is) notoriously toxic. Still, the game was incredibly deep and featured a lot of customization - almost all of the heroes abilities were reprogrammed - so you almost never saw the vanilla hero abilities from the campaign. I was impressed from a technical level alone - and that fueled my desire to make a map of my own...
I remember losing a lot of hours in the map editor. I think this was the genesis of my career right there - this and the StarCraft 1 map editor. Diving in headfirst into triggers - which is the map editor's 'programming language'. It's pretty simplistic, unless you got into its scripting language JASS... then things get really crazy (Dota was built using a ton of JASS). At one point I had created a map based off a popular archetype at the time called "Don't Touch The Grass" - which I think is pretty self-explanatory... my map took place in a cave with traps everywhere along the main path. I hid levers and switches to disable these traps, but I think too well... a lot of players would die on the first trap, get frustrated, and leave. Still, it was my creation and a taste into what something like programming can accomplish. I was also working on making a 3rd-person action game within the map editor. It didn't work very well, but it was cool to try and make something like that within an RTS game. I wish I had saved some of these maps, but sadly they've been lost to time... however, my thirst for programming was created and wouldn't be stopped here!
20 (2008-9) - By this time I was into gaming full swing, trying to get in as many games as I could on as many platforms as possible. I think I had a PC, a Wii, DS, and 360 - which from what I remember was my first non-Nintendo console - ever. I just got my first "real" job and had a steady flow of money. Living virtually rent-free in my parents house, my paycheques usually went entirely toward gaming or some other hobby.
I remember playing a lot of Super Smash Bros. Brawl around this time - it just came out and was the next sequel to our beloved Smash Bros. series. At the time, I was loving it - but as the years went on, I stopped playing it and ended up just firing up Melee instead. I'll always have a soft-spot for it every now and then for the inclusion of Snake, but by-and-large, the game just wasn't the same caliber as Melee. Some hours lost to trying to get lobbies and such set up with NC peeps, only for it to finally work and then it turns into a input-lag laden mess. Oh well, at least the offline play was more or less fine... in that it worked!
Speaking of online play - one service had things actually figured out - Xbox Live. It was crazy at the time to pay for it, but that I did. I remember playing a lot of Burnout Paradise offline, but I would occasionally dip online with Puxel and AC Dasher - and what a blast. Burnout Paradise was such a solid game by itself, but with the inclusion of online it was real fun! It was enough to just give us a map to all hang out in and fart around, but there was all of the offline content available in an online form too. One of my favorite (dumb) features was that the game would take your picture from your webcam (if you had one) every time you got smashed. Puxel had one too, and would always flip me off (what a guy). I'd ham it up and give stupid reaction faces. I also remember playing with AC once and we bumped into some rando joining our lobby who decided to uh... well, let's just say there was a lot of heavy breathing and we were supremely weirded out.
Although who could forget the behemoth Halo 3. So many hours dedicated to this game - mostly playing with Ray. TD forever! At point point we both made matching accounts - I was "teal man" and Ray was "malachite man" and we'd head off to Team Doubles to terrify our opponents with matching names. "oh my god these guys have similar names they must be so good!" The trash talk was something else... nah it was something stupid. Still, lots of fun here. We would regularly have sticky grenade competitions - whoever got the most sticks wins. It was of course at the detriment of our team, we didn't care... sticks were all that mattered. I remember Ray would usually win, although the experience was helpful when I'd go over to my friend's LAN party and just annoy the hell out of them with my sticky prowess (wait that kind of sounds wrong). It was a tradition that would carry over into Halo: Reach. We'd regularly compare our stats to see who was leading in sticky kills.
"I'm being attacked from every imaginable angle!"
"NO MOM I SAID CHOCOLATE MILK!!"
"Steakinator? Steak as in pork? As in how I porked your Mom last night?"
I'm willing to bet Xbox Live still hasn't changed.
Well, that was fun! It's great to remember some of the best gaming memories I've had. As I get older it gets harder to remember some of these - so it's cool to write it all down as a time capsule of sorts. Hope you guys will do the same!