Best. Video. Game. Evar.
March 6, 2006 8:20 AM   Subscribe

We all know at least some of the 'classics of literature', but what are the classics of videogaming?

If you were to put together a chronology of the games that defined the heights of technology and innovation for it's time, and then narrow it down to one classic game, what would it be, retro or modern?

I might as well cast the first vote. Personally, I'd have a hard time deciding on one between:
  • Ultima 7
  • Star Control 2
  • Fallout
  • Morrowind
  • Baldur's Gate 2
If I had to, I'd go Star Control 2.
posted by WinnipegDragon to Computers & Internet (95 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The Legend of Zelda, hands down, no question, thread over.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:22 AM on March 6, 2006

Second for Zelda.
posted by pdb at 8:26 AM on March 6, 2006

Dungeon Master was pretty amazing.
posted by cog_nate at 8:26 AM on March 6, 2006

I agree with Optimus Chyme and might add Super Mario 3 just because it was one of my favourites.
posted by LunaticFringe at 8:27 AM on March 6, 2006

Yeah, Zelda.
posted by the cuban at 8:27 AM on March 6, 2006

Home systems or arcade?


Pac Man
Donkey Kong
Missile Command

Super Mario Bros.
Sonic the Hedgehog
posted by Pollomacho at 8:28 AM on March 6, 2006

Modern Classics:

System Shock 2



Wolfenstein 3-D

posted by bshort at 8:31 AM on March 6, 2006

  • Fallout
  • Grid Runner
  • Jumpman
  • Doom
  • Castle Wolfenstein (the original 2D C-64/Apple II version)
  • MULE
  • Lemonade

posted by substrate at 8:32 AM on March 6, 2006

You might find this list interesting.

My vote would be cast for Super Mario Brothers. I think that game single-handedly saved the home console video game.
posted by Otis at 8:32 AM on March 6, 2006

my votes:
Space War.
Out of this World.
Herzog Zwei.
The Legend of Zelda.
Missle Command.
Paradroid (natch).
Super Mario 3.
Half Life.
Sim City (and soon, Spore).
posted by paradroid at 8:32 AM on March 6, 2006

Personally, I think that the No One Lives Forever series did a lot to integrate storytelling and great comedic writing into the gameplay itself. An overlooked 'classic', in my opinion.
posted by Evstar at 8:33 AM on March 6, 2006

Unreal Tournamente (this was the first truly *good* arena FPS)
Half Life
posted by devilsbrigade at 8:34 AM on March 6, 2006

Oregon Trail
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:34 AM on March 6, 2006

Lemonade reminded me, let's not forget Oregon Trail.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:36 AM on March 6, 2006

Preveiw, pollo, preview.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:36 AM on March 6, 2006

Spell check, pollo, spell check!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:37 AM on March 6, 2006

I think you'd have to reserve a spot on your timeline for one of the early vector-based arcade games - Tempest, Battlezone, or Asteroids. I'd go with Tempest as the most creative of the three, but any would do.
posted by mediareport at 8:38 AM on March 6, 2006

Oh, and Myst, definitely. It didn't really lead to the huge explosion of different types of puzzle games I expected it to, but it did change the way a lot of people thought about gaming.
posted by mediareport at 8:41 AM on March 6, 2006

posted by Mitheral at 8:43 AM on March 6, 2006

Space Invaders
posted by justkevin at 8:45 AM on March 6, 2006

Star Trek
Dune II
King's Quest
posted by ori at 8:46 AM on March 6, 2006

Good to see that I am not the only one that couldn't really choose just one!
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:47 AM on March 6, 2006

Knights Of The Old Republic,
Sam And Max Hit The Road,
Deus Ex 1,
Mario 64,
GoldenEye 64,
Dune II,
Tekken 3,
Street Fighter II
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:47 AM on March 6, 2006

Also see this Wikipedia entry for a nice overview of the history of videogaming.
posted by justkevin at 8:47 AM on March 6, 2006

Oh, and the original Syndicate : Utterly fantastic!
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:48 AM on March 6, 2006

posted by arco at 8:48 AM on March 6, 2006

I would vote for the under-reported Bard's Tale, the first multi-character, first-person POV dungeon crawl.
posted by GuyZero at 8:52 AM on March 6, 2006

Yet another vote for the Legend of Zelda.

Powerups, 'roaming' game play, commerce (earn money and spend it on tools), saving your progress without a password.

In the non-console world, I'd say Wolfenstein 3D.

In the handheld world, tetris.

In the arcade world, SpaceInvaders, Araknoid, DonkeyKong, PacMan, DigDug, PolePosition, Q*Bert.
posted by Wild_Eep at 8:52 AM on March 6, 2006

From the eighties, you can't ignore the fact that the UK and US produced different games. The following made a lasting impact in the UK:

Manic Miner
The Hobbit

There may be others.

Then Half cribbing + adding, I agree with the following:
Space War.
Space Invaders
Pac Man
Street Fighter
Missle Command.
Super Mario 3.
Sim City.
posted by seanyboy at 8:52 AM on March 6, 2006

Maniac Mansion.
posted by Capn at 8:55 AM on March 6, 2006

Nearly forgot about Tomb Raider.
And The Seventh Guest
posted by seanyboy at 8:56 AM on March 6, 2006

A few more I'd like to add (sorry if this is considered padding my own post):

Master of Magic (How did I forget this one?)
Bard's Tale
Ultima 4
Syndicate (good call Jon Mitchell)
posted by WinnipegDragon at 8:58 AM on March 6, 2006

-Daggerfall (and a second for Morrowind)
-Planescape: Torment
-Civ II (and as I'm getting to grips with how civics and religions work, Civ IV is really starting to impress me)
-Alpha Centauri
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:58 AM on March 6, 2006

Marble Madness.
posted by viewofdelft at 9:02 AM on March 6, 2006


posted by Witty at 9:05 AM on March 6, 2006

That haven't been mentioned yet:
  • Adventure
  • Wizardry (the first multicharacter, 1PPOV dungeon crawl)
  • Hunt the Wumpus
  • Deus Ex

posted by ikkyu2 at 9:08 AM on March 6, 2006

Windows Solitaire and Windows Minesweeper.

The Windows Solitaire game was created by Wes Cherry in 1989.

Minesweeper was created by Robert Donner in 1989.

Both are the most widely distributed computer games ever.
posted by iviken at 9:11 AM on March 6, 2006

I can't believe no one's mentioned The Secret of Monkey Island.

Also King's Quest (3, 5 and 6 were my favourites)
Theme Park (and Theme Hospital)
Katamari Damacy

Seconding No One Lives Forever. I only played the first one, but it was outstanding.
posted by yellowbinder at 9:13 AM on March 6, 2006

I can't believe more people haven't said "Tetris." Hands down the greatest, most addictive game of all time. Who hasn't gone to bed thinking of the blocks falling down around you?

I'd add, more recently:

Super Smash Bros. (N64)
Crono Trigger (SNES)
posted by maxreax at 9:20 AM on March 6, 2006

Conveniently, Racketboy just started a series titled, 'Games That Pushed the Limits, all about this sort of thing, with multiple examples for each system.

While it doesn't narrow it down to one, it will certianly help you choose. The review links are fantastic, and he mentions some games I haven't even heard of.
posted by Lockeownzj00 at 9:21 AM on March 6, 2006

Everyone should play Grim Fandango at least once. Great story, great music, great characters, great game.
posted by Orange Goblin at 9:23 AM on March 6, 2006

posted by Lockeownzj00 at 9:23 AM on March 6, 2006


World Series Baseball
Final Fantasy III
Super Mario Kart
Super Mario 64
Virtua Fighter 2
Soul Calibur
Warcraft II
Dance Dance Revolution

Best. Video. Game. Ever:

posted by Ptrin at 9:26 AM on March 6, 2006

I like making lists.

Space Invaders
Exodus: Ultima III
Dragon's Lair
Super Mario Brothers (NES)
Street Fighter II
Grand Theft Auto III
Global Thermonuclear Warfare

Wait, strike that last one.
posted by milquetoast at 9:28 AM on March 6, 2006

Space Invaders, Pong, Donkey Kong, SMB, Zelda, King's Quest 3, Oregon Trail, Tetris.

The originality of the genre was pretty much over by 1986 (unless you count mmorpgs, which I have managed to avoid.) Everything since has gotten flashier but is nonetheless derivative.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:31 AM on March 6, 2006

The Longest Journey (1999)
The gameplay is similar to the old Infocom text adventures only with beautiful graphics and sounds.

Bridge Construction Set
Design and test bridges.

World Builder (1986, Macintosh)
Build your own graphical adventure games. So easy, a child could do it. Hundreds of games were created using this software. I'm not sure what the modern equivalent is.

Chipwits (1985, macintosh)
Program a robot to explore a maze. I'm not sure what the modern equivalent is.
posted by malp at 9:32 AM on March 6, 2006

Missle Command
Donkey Kong
Mario Bros.
Kung Fu
Blades of Steel
Double Dribble
NHL '94
Punch Out
Pro Wrestling
Khengis Khan
Baseball Stars
Tecmo Bowl
Half Life
Sim City
posted by 27 at 9:40 AM on March 6, 2006

I agree that most of the games mentioned here were groundbreaking, fun to play, innovative, etc., etc., blah blah blah... but what about the original question? When it comes to what makes classic works of literature classic, we're not talking pure entertainment value, but that there is something humanizing in them, something that makes us recognize our shared nature. Have video games done that yet?
posted by sholdens12 at 9:42 AM on March 6, 2006

If I HAD to pick just one, it would be The Longest Journey, which was an amazing story, movie-worthy, in computer game form. I'm eagerly awaiting the sequel, Dreamfall.

First runner-up would go to No One Lives Forever, which was very possibly the best FPS ever done. The sequel was greatly inferior; it had moments where it approached the greatness of the original, but by and large it was butchered.

Second runner up would go to Counterstrike, which was computer crack.
posted by Malor at 9:53 AM on March 6, 2006

Whatever the canon of video games is, I think all of the following are in it, because they each did something significantly innovative or represented some sort of milestone that affected games that came later:

Cryptic notes serve as half-assed justifications.

Pong [The Beowulf]
Pacman [The Gilgamesh]
Zelda [The Odyssey]
Mario Brothers [Family game, franchise, Miyamoto]
Street Fighter 2 [Finalized the transfer of power from arcade to home console, effectively the model for all 2d fighter games]
Wolfenstein 3D [First frantic FPS that hit]
Sim City
Doom [Controversy, model for all FPS, online play]
Duke Nukem 3D [Death knell and high water mark for sprites in FPS]
Command and Conquer [RTS]
Diablo [Dungeon crawlers]
Quake [Polygonal FPS]
Baldur's Gate
Half-Life [Maybe the best FPS ever made]
Counterstrike [Mods, community]
Everquest [Graphical MMOs]
Grand Theft Auto 3 [Open-ended world]
The Sims [Real Life Simulation]
Morrowind [Comprehensive, open-ended world]
Dance Dance Revolution [Crossover success, peripherals, rhythm games]

There's no way to pick just one from that list. You can't pick name the best book, song, or movie with a straight face either.
posted by Hildago at 10:29 AM on March 6, 2006

sholdens12: One could argue that Everquest/World of Warcraft have had a profound effect on gamer/human culture, and have made strong statements about human nature.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:32 AM on March 6, 2006

See also
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 10:33 AM on March 6, 2006

Scorched Earth.
posted by blue_beetle at 10:35 AM on March 6, 2006

But who has been *moved* by a video game? Who has reflected on their humanity when playing a video game? Who has recognized themselves in a video game character? (I love video games, I do. I just don't think they are ART in THAT sense yet.)
posted by sholdens12 at 10:44 AM on March 6, 2006

Ultima Underworld

With the winner being DOOM.

I worked a Y2K project that did a file by file inventory of all the PCs worldwide for a group of people that make loud noises and break things, and DOOM was one thing you could count on finding everywhere.
posted by NortonDC at 10:44 AM on March 6, 2006

> But who has been *moved* by a video game?

People who've played Ico.
posted by NortonDC at 10:47 AM on March 6, 2006

I must pay respects to Micro League Baseball. Buried somewhere, I still have a stack of box scores that my cousins and I would print out after every game.
posted by lovejones at 10:48 AM on March 6, 2006

sholdens12: Tough one. I think that inherently, the technology actually makes it harder to experience that.

With a book, the imagination fills in the visuals and auditory stimuli. In a game, it's done with art resources and audio techs. It's less linear than a book perhaps, but more defined. Those missing interstitial places are where a book has it's greatest impact, I think.

Having said that, the game that most profoundly affected me is probably Planescape: Torment.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:50 AM on March 6, 2006

Oh, meant to say that I really can;t mark best answers here, since this is so subjective. Thanks to all that posted though.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:51 AM on March 6, 2006

echo votes for:
star control 2
planescape torment
posted by juv3nal at 10:51 AM on March 6, 2006

Winnipeg: What you say is true, but I have been profoundly moved by movies, and they show you exactly what the director wants you to see.
posted by sholdens12 at 10:54 AM on March 6, 2006

Good point, but I don't think I've every seen a movie as emotionally involving and draining as a good book.
posted by WinnipegDragon at 10:56 AM on March 6, 2006

And everyone forgot Qix.

May not be the best, but definitely one of the most surreal. They win points for making a compelling video game involving drawing, or all things.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:00 AM on March 6, 2006

I don't buy the technological constraints argument (with respect to the above posters) any more than I buy Ebert's format limitation argument, that because games are interactive you can't experience an artist's vision.

I think there are examples of games that have really touched people, and plenty of movies that haven't, so, it's not strictly a matter of format or technology. The reason most video games don't approach art is that most video games aren't intended to be art, and/or aren't made well enough to be art. They're commercial products meant for mass entertainment, which is very different than what most of us think of when we think of art. That's such an obvious point that people miss it.

People used to say the same thing about comics (some, god bless them, still do), because they'd never seen anything other than half-toned superheroes or obese cats, and they got confused about the difference between the capability of a medium and an instance of its expression. It took a Will Eisner to come along and say "hey wait, just because you haven't seen it yet doesn't mean it can't be done," and that's what video games need as well.

Expect that to happen in the next few years.
posted by Hildago at 11:13 AM on March 6, 2006

Nethack. Precursor to many games mentioned earlier in this thread.

And it has moved me to tears, also, sholdens12! You lose your pet; your pet bites you; you die of hunger -- I swear it's a fun game though.
posted by theredpen at 11:16 AM on March 6, 2006

I'm so glad that someone else mentioned the Mac game Out of this World. (And that ikkyu2 pointed out Wizardry's predating The Bard's Tale, though the latter is much better, on the same hardware.)

OuTW was virtually wordless and was the first I saw that really pushed the cinematic element in video games (i.e., you're the hero of an action/adventure movie). The ending practically moved me to tears.
posted by Aknaton at 11:18 AM on March 6, 2006

Loderunner on a PC or C64!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by raildr at 11:22 AM on March 6, 2006

I forgot to mention that Out of this World (a better link than the one above) was striking for having been written/drawn/scored by one developer. In 1991 that was already quite atypical.
posted by Aknaton at 11:24 AM on March 6, 2006

I'll pick Mario 64. It gets huge points on innovation, of course. And while it defined the genre of 3D platformer/explorer it also still stands as a towering colossus at the head of it thanks to the most amazing level design of any game ever.
posted by fleacircus at 11:41 AM on March 6, 2006

Plenty of art has been created in the form of video games. To claim otherwise would be like claiming that good stories can only be told in the French language.

Computer software is just another medium. If anything, it's more expressive than the written word. After all, anything that can be represented by the written word can also be represented as computer software.
posted by malp at 11:44 AM on March 6, 2006

Only one person mentioned Contra?

And also Metroid.
posted by 517 at 11:46 AM on March 6, 2006

Jump Bug.


There were a lot of cool, niche platformers and maze games that came out in the early 80s that didn't fit the macho "vibe" and are overlooked, but nevertheless advanced the state of the art and are amazingly playable. Ladybug, Mr Do and Bomb Jack come to mind.
posted by meehawl at 11:57 AM on March 6, 2006

For pure classic - Pac Man and Galaga.

Home systems?

I'd go with Metroid. And Pole Position on the Atari 5200 (you mean you can PAUSE the game?!)

And for sheer breathtaking, cinematic experience, well, I know it's relatively new, but Halo.
posted by TeamBilly at 12:02 PM on March 6, 2006

Dark room. Headphones. System Shock 2.
posted by moift at 12:14 PM on March 6, 2006

In my personal view, hands down Civilization. There are few games, particularly of that era, that have the depth of play and the sheer replayability of Civ.

Elite would get my second place- again sheer continuing playability. Equally however, its revolutionary use of vector graphics was lightyears of anything else on the old BBC.

But equally I guess its all about what you played and when. No doubt there are kids around today who'll be arguing about the revolutionary gameplay of Dance Dance Revolution in a few years time...
posted by prentiz at 12:24 PM on March 6, 2006

I always liked Gridrunner on the VIC-20 and Zaxxon on the C64.
posted by rfs at 12:34 PM on March 6, 2006

Spyro the Dragon
Wipeout 3
Quake II
Medal of Honor
Dark Forces
posted by Camel of Space at 12:59 PM on March 6, 2006

Joust. The only video game I was actually naturally talented at.
posted by teleskiving at 1:00 PM on March 6, 2006

Pirates! and Wasteland, d00d. Also got a soft spot for Mail Order Monsters and Racing Destruction Set, which never get any love.
posted by furiousthought at 1:01 PM on March 6, 2006

This is a fine thread and all, but it has so much potential. For gits and shiggles, let's compare classics of literature and video games.

For example:
Ulysses is to literature as ____ is to video games.
To The Lighthouse is to literature as ____ is to video games.
Madden 2005 is to video games as ____ is to literature.
Joust is to video games as ____ is to literature.

Sorry to hijack, but lists alone are a little boring.
posted by billtron at 1:04 PM on March 6, 2006

posted by Pollomacho at 1:13 PM on March 6, 2006

I think that genres of video games -- fighting, platform, RPG, etc. -- differ significantly enough that we can't put them all in one category. It's analgous to grouping novels, poems, essays, and instruction manuals and trying to come up with the best piece of writing ever.

Even so, it's tough. Some ideas:

RTS: Warcraft II, Myth
Fighting: Street Fighter II, Soul Calibur
Platform: definitely Mario, but I can't decide between the original, SMB3, and SMB64
RPG: similarly, it's gotta be Zelda. Original? Ocarina?
posted by danb at 1:13 PM on March 6, 2006

Katamari Damacy
Zelda: LttP
posted by Hexidecimal at 1:40 PM on March 6, 2006

Ultima Underworld.
Even though it came out the same year as Wolfenstein 3D, it's often overlooked even though it displayed a remarkable amount of depth, in both gameplay (jumping, looking around,) and in plot. While Wolf 3D is in some ways technologically superior (it could use much more of the screen,) gameplay wise it was nothing new. It was fun, but U:U was much more innovative with the tech it had.

Wing Commander.
Aside from helping to usher in the age of needing bleeding-edge hardware to run a game, it also helped create the whole "interactive action movie" concept, with cut-scences that were soley plot related, and multiple branching mission paths that are sadly near-nonexistant today.
posted by Snyder at 2:00 PM on March 6, 2006

Just because nobody has said it yet: Prince of Persia (on my Apple IIc) had an incredible elegance in the way the character moved around that always impressed me. The smooth animation and artistic "feel" of the game were way beyond other things at the time. Also, it was tricky and involved some thinking.
posted by Mid at 2:12 PM on March 6, 2006

Atari Adventure
Wolfenstein 3d
Action Quake II (Forerunner to CounterStrike)
Battlefield 1942
Battlefield 2

I tend to value games for the innovation in gameplay, rather than technology. That said, Doom is the clear standout on all fronts. It pretty much revolutionized computer gaming, and was the benchmark, both for games and computer rigs, in its era.
posted by Manjusri at 2:31 PM on March 6, 2006

I started typing up a huge list then caught the by-line.

X-com: Enemy Unknown (also known as X-Com: UFO Defense)

I still play it to this day.

RTS: Dune 2 is the grandaddy of the genre.
FPS: Ultima Underworld is the grandaddy of the genre.
Adventure: Name just about any of the old Sierra games or perhaps Sam & Max Hit the Road.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 2:36 PM on March 6, 2006

Doh! UFO: Enemy Unknown/ X-Com: UFO Defense)
posted by PurplePorpoise at 2:37 PM on March 6, 2006

I consider the experiences I got from the following games equal to or greater than the experiences I have had from similar movies/books (with some notes about specifically what I took from some of them):

Shadow of the Colossus (why do we kill?)
Psychonauts (laugh out loud humor, the dilemma of hyper-talented kids)
Prince of Persia (PS2 version)
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (the impact of crime and drugs on the urban community)
Final Fantasy X
Metal Gear Solid 2
Grim Fandango
Myst (completely immersive world)
Silent Hill (absolute terror - I was frankly too scared to complete it)
Chrono Trigger
posted by Rock Steady at 2:48 PM on March 6, 2006

I think a class would have to have been something made in early 90s, late 80s. Early 00s is definitely not classic.

Super Mario Bros and a bunch from that generation.
posted by cellphone at 3:07 PM on March 6, 2006

and Doom.
posted by cellphone at 3:08 PM on March 6, 2006

Star Control 2. X-Com. Fallout. Tetris. Nethack.

It is a matter of record that they do not, in fact, make them like they used to.
posted by cortex at 5:43 PM on March 6, 2006

Defender, BattleZone, and Tempest stole my allowance.

Pole Position, the aracde version, was the first game I could drop a single quarter into and beat the game every time.

Double Dragon, the arcade version, was the second such game. (Just face away from the enemy and use the elbow-punch move, and you can take everyone out.)

Final Fantasy for the NES was the first time I realized that video games were a nascent form of narrative.

SimCity made me think about urban planning and design.

Planescape: Torment was the first game that showed me that intelligent writing and story structure could make a good game great.

Ico made me realize that games could have the emotional impact of film.

Morrowind's depth took my breath away.

GTA:SA is still in my Xbox a year later, and I still enjoy tooling around on the motorcycles, looking for stuff to jump off of. And shooting cops, of course.

And Oblivion comes out in about three weeks.....

And the KISS pinball machine was the best one EVAR.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 5:48 PM on March 6, 2006

Super Metroid
Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past
Mario 3
Super Mario World
Mario 64
Chrono Trigger
Wing Commander
The Longest Journey
Duke Nukem 3D
Quake 2
System Shock
Deus Ex
TIE Fighter
posted by ludwig_van at 8:46 AM on March 7, 2006


Day of the Tentacle
Sam and Max Hit the Road
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
Full Throttle

posted by ludwig_van at 8:59 AM on March 7, 2006

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