Picking My 15 Most Influential Games

Jackie at Kitty Kitty Boom Boom, prompted by lvling life, put up a list of her top 15 video games.

There was a methodology by which you were supposed to generate that list.  It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal.  You were not supposed to spend a lot of time with it.  And, of course, I tossed that aside.  Rather than a quick list of 15 special games, I ended up with my list of the 15 most influential video games in my gaming career so far.

And what do I mean by “influential?”

I mean that they opened up new idea, new genres, or new points of view for me when it came to video games.

Influential does not mean that they were my favorites, the games I played the most in a given genre, or even all that good in a few cases.  So, for example, I have played a LOT more World of Warcraft than EverQuest at this point in my life, and I am not really all that keen to go back to EverQuest.  But EverQuest is the more influential of the two.  Without it, there would be no WoW, and without me playing it in 1999, I might not have made it to WoW.

Anyway, on to the list.

1. Star Trek (1971) – many platforms

Star Trek in vt52

Star Trek in vt52

I have covered this as the first computer video game I ever played.  While incredibly simple, this game showed me the way, let me know that computers were going to be an entertainment device

2. Tank (1974) – Arcade


Tank! In Black and white!

This was the game AFTER Pong.  Not that Pong was bad.  Pong was new and fresh when it came out, but I must admit that it did become a little dull after the first pass or two.  And then Tank showed us that man need not entertain himself with virtual paddles alone.  I wouldn’t touch Pong after a while, but Tank was always good.  You just needed somebody to play with.

3. Adventure (1979)  – Atari 2600

This Castle is Timeless!

This Castle is Timeless!

Yes, I got that Atari 2600 for Christmas way back when, but then there was a matter of what to play.  It came with the Combat cartridge, which included Tank.  And I also had Air-Sea Battle and a few others. But the problem was that these games were all unfulfilling unless played with two people.  And then came Adventure.  Not only wasn’t it the usual 27 minor variations on three two-player themes, it was specifically, unashamedly single player only.  Here, loner, good luck storming the castle!  And it had odd behaviors and minor flaws.  I tried putting that magic bridge everywhere and ended up in some strange places.  It also had a random mode, that might just set you up with an unwinnable scenario.  And there was an Easter egg in it.

It was both different and a harbinger of things to come.

4. Castle Wolfenstein (1981) – Apple II

Graphics - 1981

Graphics – 1981

This was the first game that I saw that indicated that I really, really needed to get a computer.  An Apple II specifically, because that was what Gary had.  And he also had Castle Wolfenstein.

It was not an easy game.  You lost.  A lot.  The control system left something to be desired.  You really needed a joystick to play.  And there were so many quirks and strange behaviors that somebody created a utility program a couple years after it came out that basically “fixed” a lot of the worst annoyances.  I bought it gladly.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

Achtung! Give me your uniform.

But this game was the prototype for many that followed.  You’re in a cell and you need to escape.  You need make your way through the castle, picking up guns, keys, ammunition, German uniforms, and grenades.   Oh, grenades were so much fun.  There were other, later games I considered for this list, but when I broke them down, I often found that Castle Wolfenstein had done it already, in its own primitive way.

5. Wizardry (1981) – Apple II

Apple ][+ The Upgrades Begin

Apple ][+ and Wizardry

Basically, the party based dungeon crawl in computer form.  Monsters, mazes, traps, treasure, combat, and death.  Oh, so much death.  NetHack was a potential for this list, but I realized that randomness and ASCII graphics aside, Wizardry had pretty much everything it did.

And I spent hours playing.  I mapped out the whole game on graph paper, including that one level with all the squares that would turn you around.  The one with the pits of insta-death.  It also taught me the word “apostate.”

6. Stellar Emperor (1985) – Apple II

The GEnie version of MegaWars III at its inception, it was my first foray into multiplayer online games.  I have written about the game, even about winning.

Emperor of the Galaxy

Emperor of the Galaxy

But it was the online, playing with other people, usually the same people, making friends and enemies and having ongoing relationships that sold the game.  Again, it was primitive, even in its day, with ASCII based terminal graphics.  But there was magic in the mixture.

7. Civilization (1991) – Mac/Windows

The flat world of original Civ

The flat world of original Civ

Sid Meier was already something of a star by the time Civilization came out, but this cemented things as far as I was concerned.  I was considering putting Civilization II on the list rather than this.  Once I got Civ II, I never went back and played the original.

But that wasn’t because the original was crap.  That was because the sequel built on what was great in the original.  It was purely an evolutionary move.  But it was the original that hooked me, so that has to get the nod for influential.

8. Marathon (1994) – Mac



For me, this was the defining first person shooter.  There was a single player campaign.  There was a multiplayer deathmatch mode.  There were a variety of weapons.  There was a map editor and some mods and an online community that built up around it.  Everything after Marathon was just an incremental improvement for me.

Marathon on my iPad

Marathon on my iPad

There have been better graphics, better rendering engines, different weapons, plenty of variety on arena options, all sorts of updates on match making and connectivity, but in the end those are just updates to what Marathon already did.  To this day, I still sometimes say “I’ll gather” when creating a game or match for other people to join.  That was the terminology from 1994.  I wonder what Bungie has done since this?

9. TacOps  (1994) – Mac/Windows

Before video games I played a lot of Avalon Hill war games.  Those sorts of games made the natural transition to the computer, which was ideal for handling much of the housekeeping chores.  However, in the transition, some old conventions got dragged along as well, like hexes.  And I hate hexes.  Yes, on a board game you need to use that hexgrid for movement.  I could accept that for Tobruk set up on the kitchen table.  But a computer was fully capable of handling movement without such an arbitrary overlay.  A couple of games tried it, but they tended to fall into the more arcade-ish vein, which wasn’t what I wanted.

And then I picked up a copy of TacOps.

Giving orders on an open map

Giving orders on an open map

I bought it on a complete whim, picking up the very rare initial boxed version off the shelf at ComputerWare before it went completely to online sales.  And it was a revelation.  Hey, terrain governs movement.  And cover.  And visibility.  That plus simultaneous movement phases rather than turn based combat meant wonderful chaos on the field.  The game was good enough that the military of several countries contracted for special versions of the game to use as a training tool.

I originally had Combat Mission: Barbarossa to Berlin on my list.  That is where Battlefront.com really came into their own with the Combat Mission series.  But aside from 3D graphics, TacOps had done it all already.

10. TorilMUD (1993) – various platforms

Have I not written enough about the last 20 years of TorilMUDPrecursor to the MMORPG genre for me.  Without it I might not have understood that camping mobs for hours at a stretch was “fun.”

11. Diablo (1996) – Windows

A simpler time... in HELL

A simpler time… in HELL

I have written quite a bit about my fondness for Diablo II, while I haven’t gone back to play the original Diablo since the sequel came out.  But I wouldn’t be still talking about Diablo II or comparing the merits of Diablo III, Torchlight II, and Path of Exile had the original not been something very, very special.

12. Total Annihilation (1997) – Windows

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation

Total Annihilation was not the first RTS game I played.  I am pretty sure I played Dune II and Warcraft before it.  It is not the RTS game I have played the most.  I am sure I have more hours in both StarCraft and Age of Kings.  But it was the first RTS game that showed me that the genre could be about something more than a very specific winning build order.  All the units, on ground, in the air, on the water, were amazing.  The player maps were amazing, and player created AIs were even better.  The 3D terrain and line of sight and all that was wonderful.  And new units kept getting released.  And you could nuke things.  I still find the game amazing.

13. EverQuest (1999) – Windows

Fifteen years later and nothing has made my mouth hang open like it did on the first day I logged into Norrath.  I can grouse about SOE and the decisions they have made and the state of the genre, but that day back in 1999 sunk the hook into me good and hard and it hasn’t worked itself loose since.  Pretty much what this whole blog is about.



14. Pokemon Diamond (2006) – Nintendo DS

Before we got my daughter a DS lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond, Pokemon was pretty much just a cartoon on TV and a card game somebody’s kid at work played.  Sure, I knew who Pikachu was, but I had no real clue about the video game.

And then in watching my daughter play, I had to have my own DS and copy of the game.  Make no mistake, despite its reputation as a kids game, Pokemon can be deep and satisfying.  It tickles any number of gamer needs.  My peak was in HeartGold/SoulSilver, where I finally caught them all.

Back when 493 was all

Back when 493 was all

While I have stopped playing, that doesn’t mean I don’t think about buying a 3DS XL and a copy of Pokemon X or Y and diving back into the game.  It is that good.

15. LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (2006) – many platforms

Filling this last slot… tough to do.  There are lots of potential games out there.  For example, I like tower defense games, but which one sold me on the idea?  But for a game that launched me into a lot of play time over a series of titles, I have to go with LEGO Star Wars II.

LEGO Star Wars II

LEGO Star Wars II

That is where Travelers Tales really hit their stride.  The original LEGO Star Wars tried to hard to be a serious and difficult game.  With this second entry, they realized the power of simply being fun and irreverent.  That was the magic.

And I only have to look at the shelf of console games we have to see that LEGO games dominate as a result of this one title. They have evolved, and in some ways I think they have lost a bit of their charm by trying to do too much.  We got the LEGO Movie Game for the PS3 and it didn’t have the joy of LEGO Star Wars II.  Still, 8 years down the road, the influence of LEGO Star Wars II got us to try it.

Fools Errand?

Of course, putting limits like an arbitrary number on a list like this means it must ring false in some way.  And what does influential really mean?  I know what I said, but I can look back at that list and nitpick that, say, Castle Wolfenstein might not belong.  And what about genres I missed, like tower defense?  I could make the case that Defense Grid: The Awakening belongs on the list.  What about games like EVE Online?  Actually, I explained that one away to myself, seeing EVE as sort of the bastard child of Stellar Emperor and EverQuest or some such.  And while TorilMUD is so powerful in my consciousness, would I have played it had it not been for Gemstone? Where does NBA Jams fit?  And what other Apple II games did I miss?  Should Ultima III be on there?  Lode Runner Karateka?

And somehow this all ties into my post about platforms and connectivity options I have had over the years.

Anyway, there is my list, and I stand firm behind it today.  Tomorrow I might change my mind.  You are welcome to consider this a meme and take up the challenge of figuring out your 15 most influential games.

Others who have attempted to pick their 15, each with their own history:

30 thoughts on “Picking My 15 Most Influential Games

  1. Tesh

    Challenge accepted. Now, to sort it out…

    I see you have some Mac history. Did you ever play Bolo? That one kept us sane in late night newspaper sessions in my high school journalism class.


  2. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Tesh – Oh, indeed. I think I have something posted somewhere about Bolo. Ah, here. And I considered it for the list. But I couldn’t decide if it was influential or just its own island in the stream of my gaming existence.


  3. bhagpuss

    Hmm.. let’s try this off the top off my had, without doing any research. I’ll be surprised if I can even think of ten.

    Space Invaders – played it in a pub in the late 1970s. Never seen anything like it nor imagined there could be anything like it.

    Riddle of the Sphinx – my first wife and I had an Atari 2600 and the two cartridges we used most were this and The Empire Strikes Back one. I couldn’t remember the name so I just googled “tanis leaf” – *that* I remembered.

    The Golden Apple – possibly not my first text adventure but the one we spent the longest on. And never finished. I still love text adventures in theory – just not so much in practice.

    Atic Atac – For a while in the ’80s Ultimate Play The Game could do no wrong. This wasn’t their first hit, not by a mile, but it was the one we loved the best.

    Eye of the Beholder – The first video game that made me feel like I was really *in* a dungeon. In some ways a more convincing version of D&D than even playing around the table.

    Broken Sword – Still the best adventure game I’ve ever played, made all the better for playing it with Mrs Bhagpuss, each of us taking it in turns to steer George and Nicole while the other kibbitzed from behind.

    Might and Magic VI : The Mandate of Heaven – Oh the hours we spent on that one. We played a lot of RPGs after, looking for something that would match up but nothing ever did.

    Baldur’s Gate – At least, not until this. Without any doubt my favorite non-MMO game of all time and one of the very, very few I’ve actually finished.

    Everquest – Probably not too strong to say this changed both our lives. For the better, I’d say. Tabbed out in the Guild Lobby as I type this – if anything it’s better now than it was back then.

    Vanguard, Saga of Heroes – Proved two things: lightning can strike twice and being the best isn’t always good enough.

    Hey! That’s ten. I’ll quit while I’m ahead.


  4. Liore

    You are welcome to consider this a meme and take up the challenge of figuring out your 15 most influential games.


    Great theme, great picks. Working on my own for next week. :)


  5. Matt

    Might not be that hard:

    1. River Raid – First game I remember being enthralled with

    2. Super Mario Brothers – First well-put-together game I remember

    3. Legend of Zelda – First adventure/rpgish game, prejudiced me for years against random battles and menu-combat.

    4. Castlevania 2 – My first introduction to “Metroid” type gameplay, long before playing an actual Metroid title

    5. Tetris – Defining puzzle game.

    6. Simcity – First simulation game, and maybe (or Simcity 2000) one I played the longest.

    7. Lunar – First traditional RPG, with random battles and menu combat galore!

    8. Doom – First real taste of FPS action

    9. Warcraft 2 – Played the original Warcraft demo, and C&C, but this was the first RTS game which captured my imagination.

    10. Super Mario 64 – First 3d platformer, blew me away.

    11. Diablo – Surprisingly enough, the first “diablo clone” I ever played

    12. Silent Hill – An actually scary game, I judge all scary games against it

    13. Grand Theft Auto – The 2d one, it was basically identical to the later 3d installment

    14. Elder Scrolls 3 – First totally open world rpg, and definitely the ES game I wasted the most hours on

    15. World of Warcraft – First MMORPG, holds the title for most played game and most money spent on a game.

    I tried to put them in a vague chronological order, but not entirely sure on some of them.


  6. Kevin Brill (@kevinbrill)

    I would argue for Ultima V. The game was epic and took the static world of Britannia, lousy HGR graphics of Ultima IV, and made it dynamic and alive. To me, it is a an better all around game than IV, but you could argue that IV really set the stage for RPGs for the next 15 years.


  7. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Kevin Brill – Well, you can put it on your list. By the time Ultima V came around, I was on a Mac. Lord British wasn’t big on that as a platform, so I never played it. I did play Ultima IV, but I don’t have fond memories of it. My lasting impression of it is “pretentious,” though that is coming through time from the mid-20s me.


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  11. Jonny 5iVe

    I’d have to make an honorable mention of Phantasy Star Online…

    Was my first online gaming experience outside of the Discworld MUD I spent FAR too much time in way back when.

    Oh, and it was awesome!

    PS: Big ups for the Total Annihilation mention. Totally changed the way I looked at resource generation in RTS from then on.


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  13. tsuhelm

    So many times tried to do this and failed… Interesting stuff…
    Space Invaders, Elite, Sonic and Phantasy Star(Megadrive), Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy had an immense impact on me.


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  16. Carty

    So you were an AH guy…..I preferred SPI, especially the monster games. Why have Tobruk on your table when you could have CNA sprawled across your ping pong table? Of course, I think I only managed to play it through 3 times. But back to computers, I agree with your TacOps pick — I spent long hours with that one. My ancient, first game was Temple of Apshai, and the games I have loved the most were the gold-box SSI games — Pool of Radiance and beyond. After that era, I was mostly MMO’s — AOL’s NWN, to Dark Sun, to UO, to DAOC, etc.


  17. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Carty – I had a couple of the SPI games around… Sniper and Stalingrad I think. But Tobruk was my favorite of all, in large part due to its limited scale. It was small actions I could play laid out on a card table before my dad told me I had to clean it up. And I appreciated the scale… individual tanks and guns along with infantry platoons, not down to individual soldiers like Squad Leader… and the mechanics clicked with me.

    Somewhere along the line I lost the bag with all the Axis counters. That was the end of that.


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  24. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @boink – I agree, your comment is awful, lacking in any real depth, insight, or thought.

    We all take different paths through life. Scorning somebody who didn’t take exactly the same path as you is pure arrogant conceit.


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