For all my claims of wanting to be a video game designer, and this being my professional site, I've spoken very little about video games in my blog so far. I think it's about time I fix that.
For this first entry on the topic, I'm going to present a list of games I consider to have been significant in my development as a gamer and as an aspiring professional game designer. Some are of a historical nature, while others just had elements to them that influenced my views on game design. I'll try to keep this chronological to when I played them as best I can, but it is a fairly long list. As for rambling, I make no promises. This is after all a big part of my personal life, and that is the subject I ramble about the most, especially when there's no one there to stop me (like right now). So without further ado, here we go:
I'm fairly certain this was the first game I ever played. When I was young, I would often visit my cousins, and they had a Game Boy colour (my mom at the time didn't let me have video games), and when I'd come over, I'd frequently play this game. I had already gotten into Pokémon pretty hard by then, and I loved this thing. It eventually led me to play a lot of other Pokémon spin-offs, like Puzzle Challenge, which in turn introduced me to puzzle games.
Another game I played that technically belonged to my cousins, though they lent this one to me for several years. It was my first real Pokémon game and the one that got me hooked on the idea of collection and team building. I still kind of wish I had Blue instead (because I like that colour better and Blastoise ftw), but I definitely owe a lot to this game.
This is the last Pokémon game I promise! I got this game (along with Gold and Pinball) with my Game Boy Colour as either a birthday or Christmas present (probably the latter, given the release date). Technically speaking, that makes them my first owned games and console. My mom wasn't too happy at my aunt for that (to her credit, she eventually changed her mind about video games).
Silver has easily been my favourite game in the entire series. I played it for ages and actually did get a team up to lvl 100 and came damn close to having a complete Pokédex. The only reason I stopped playing it was because being a dumb kid I used the multiplication glitch to get one too many copies of my Feraligatr and ended up corrupting my save. Anyway, I learned a whole lot about game design for combat, collectibles, strategy, and world-building from that game. I wouldn't say it's the game that made me a gamer or a game designer, but it's definitely the one that got me to fall in love with the concept of video games.
Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back
This was the first game I ever played on console. It was a guy that was living with us that owned it and a PS1, though he'd often let me play it. I like to think of this as my other big entry into gaming, since it formed a lot of my gaming behaviour from then on. Platforming, checking for secret paths, silliness: all penchants I got through this game. It also holds up remarkably well, and I do still play it from time to time.
Roller Coaster Tycoon
I don't know that this was my first PC game, but it was the first that I really explored a great deal. It got me into the strategy genre, which for the longest time was pretty much the only genre I played on PC. It also got me into a lot of other Tycoon games, such as Zoo and School Tycoon. Now that I think of it, it's here where I developed my interest in building things in games, which extended into my love of world-building, collecting., and customisation.
Age of Mythology
Another game I got into for PC. I was really into Greek mythology as a kid, so this was my jam, and one of the ways I discovered that you can learn things through video games. The scenario editor also contributed to the whole world-building thing. It's funny now that I think of it: I usually consider character and mechanics design to be my stronger design domains, but with respect to games I started with levels...
Oh, and I did try online multiplayer with it once, which I think may have been the first time I tried online multiplayer. I only ever tried once though, because within the first few minutes I was promptly destroyed by some guy who was playing the Norse (pro tip: the Norse are OP in that game's multiplayer because their workers are also fighters).
SOCOM U.S. Navy Seals
Technically this was the first console game I ever owned. My step-dad bought me a PS2 for my 10th birthday along with this game (again, to my mom's displeasure, though I think that was mostly because he got me an M rated game). I never got all that far with it and I never played it online, but I remember adoring the idea of using stealth and tactics to outsmart the enemy and get around levels. It's something that struck me as a great gameplay style, which I suppose explains my love of the Metal Gear Solid franchise and why my favourite personal game concept is built on the idea of tactical team combat.
Ratchet and Clank
This was one of the first games I rented (back when Blockbuster was still a thing), and effectively the first game I "chose" from a large selection. Something about a cat dude holding a giant rocket launcher with a robot on his back and a whole bunch of cool weapon designs in the background was very appealing to me. The series ended up being one of my all-time favourites (I still consider Going Commando to be in my top 3 favourite games). It introduced me to mixing shooting and platforming (which in turn influenced my gameplay style in a lot of other games), as well as the idea of weapon variety and later weapon leveling. It was also one of the first games I played with a story I actively engaged in.
EDIT: Something I neglected to mention but touch on later is that this was also the first franchise I'd ever become a true fanboy of, and the first franchise whose online community I joined and actively engaged in. Those were good times...
Midnight Club 3
Though I did have both Gran Turismo 3 and Moto GP2 a little prior and Need For Speed 2 a long time before (though to be honest while I really enjoyed NFS2, I forgot about it completely when I shifted over to console gaming), Midnight Club 3 was the first racing game I personally really got into. I think this almost entirely because I really REALLY liked customising my vehicles to make them look cool. I also just generally found racing through streets with obstacles, alternate paths, and special abilities way more interesting than classic driving. The whole "spending more time customising my aesthetics and making designs rather than actually playing the game" thing is something of a recurring theme with me. I guess that's proof of my prior inclination to become a game designer, if anything.
Final Fantasy VII: Dirge of Cerberus
Comically, as far as FF games I've played, it's just this and X-2 (I didn't even play the original X; in my defense I was young and didn't know any better at the time). I know this is generally not considered to be that great of a game, but it was my introduction to the concept of a shooter with RPG elements. Besides Pokémon, I hadn't really tried RPGs yet, but a lot of the ideas behind it: leveling characters and gear, customising equipment, exploration, and a heavy plot, all of these really resonated with me. That alone earns this game its spot in my list.
Soul Calibur III
I was never a huge fighting game player, but I played a bit of 2 with friends that owned it, and turned out to be pretty good (mostly because I figured out how to throw and parry before anyone else). 3 was the first one I really played and engaged with on my own. I probably don't need to say it at this point, but I spent a great deal of time in character creation for this game. Despite not playing them nearly that often, I still quite enjoy fighting (especially sword-fighting) games as a result of the Soul Calibur series, and it helped me understand a bunch of game concepts later on down the road.
God Of War II
I credit this game as the one that killed my original PS2, alongside the original God Of War which I had rented when I got the sequel (the disc was in really bad shape). This was my intro to character action fighters. Fortunately a lot of the knowledge I got from SC3 translated well, as did my exploration and puzzle senses from platformers. Additionally, my love of Greek mythology helped me understand a lot of stuff as well. One thing I really loved about this series in particular was its creativity with respect to its amazing visuals. The designs of characters, the world, and even scenes (especially the brutal kills) were very appealing to me. It also showed me a cool alternative way of interpreting real world myths into games which was fairly novel to me at the time.
The Sims Complete Collection
I only ever touched the original Sims when the second game came out. I was conflicted between getting this or the sequel, but decided this was the better choice since it came with all the expansions (to this day I do not regret this decision, though it did lead to me being fairly shocked at how relatively little content there was when I eventually bought the Sims 3; not having access to teleporters out of the box was a real drag). The Sims is probably the most serious case of me barely actually playing the game and spending all my time in the character and house creation modes (Minecraft may have broken that record since, though). So many mansions. So much rosebud;!;!;...1.
Halo Combat Evolved
Strangely enough, this is perhaps one of the most significant games in my personal life story, but almost entirely because I didn't like it all that much. Looking back and having played it again I appreciate it as a significant game, but I'm still not huge on it despite it having a lot of things I should enjoy. I think it almost entirely comes down to the controls: the aiming felt too stiff and movement felt too floaty. Plus the Xbox controllers feel really awkward to me for some reason.
Anyway, it's significant because a lot of my friends at the time loved it, and it became the go-to party game. I wasn't big on it or the Xbox (a lot of my favourite games were PlayStation exclusives too), and that was in part used as a factor in splitting me apart from my small group of friends at the time (well, it was part of the premise under which I was bullied and subsequently ostracised by them; I'll probably write about that story here eventually). So, for a long while, I associated Halo with why I didn't have any friends through the majority of high school. That said, those years alone proved to have helped me out in a lot of ways, so I don't consider it all that much of a bad thing.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Before our split, I played this a lot with my friends. After that, it became my main gaming outlet for a good long while. In fact, it was the first game I played online for significant amounts of time. After this, MW2, and Black Ops, I became fairly good at the series and the FPS genre in general, if I might say so myself. By now I'm easily the best at CoD in my group of friends, and though I'm far from MLG tier, I was in the top 5 or so in online matches I played with fair consistency. That said I'm fairly rusty these days, but enough about that.
I developed a lot of ideas about playing games through this series, such as applying map exploitation and psychological concepts from other games to outsmart and flank enemies. I got really good at being an infiltrator and marksman. I'm still pretty proud of those talents, and it has helped me define the types of games and characters I play in a big way. Additionally, this game franchise was another instance of my real world interests (modern and 20th century political history) and video games blending in an interesting way. Truth be told, for all the critisism of its popularity, I think CoD earned its place in the bestsellers through overall solid execution, and I respect that, despite its flaws.
My introduction to the 4X genre came fairly late, but hot damn do I love that genre now thanks to Civ. Not only did it feed my love of world history and culture and teach me how to install mods for games, but it also showed me the wonders of turn based strategy. One thing I've never really liked about RTS is that everything feels so rushed that you basically have to establish a gameplay formula for each time you play lest you end up way behind an enemy that optimised their process. I liked being able to look through a whole bunch of complicated systems and carefully choose among the myriad of different tactics to outwit my opponents over the course of a long campaign. More than that I really like it when combat isn't the be all and end all.
My favourite tactic was to use a combination of rapid expansion in unclaimed territory, culture, and diplomacy to establish peaceful relationships and make myself untouchable by virtue of being "the one guy everybody likes". All the while I would build up internally as an economic powerhouse. Then anytime someone gave me an excuse to attack them (or I felt the game was going on long enough), I'd use my massive funds to buy my army and effectively create a force bigger than everyone else combined within a few turns. There were a few elements I neglected to mention here, but this technique translated to my tactics in a lot of contexts, including social (though usually I never need to use the "build an army" part). There was something really enjoyable about that over the standard aggressive nature of so many other games.
Oh and one more thing: Baba Yetu is easily one of my favourite main menu songs ever.
This is kind of a weird one, but Bejeweled was easily one of my favourite games to play on the computer when there was nothing else to do and I didn't have the time or means to play my other games. Visual puzzles are something I like a lot, and this had them and strategy in spades, all the while not having the time component that made things like Tetris too stressful for my tastes. I think this game is the reason I ended up being so amenable to mobile gaming, particularly things like Candy Crush and Angry Birds, later on. The idea of a quick simple little puzzle game you can use to pass the time is something I can relate to. In fairness though, Minesweeper and Spider Solitaire share credit on that front.
I was a huge Insomniac fanboy, so I played and really enjoyed the first Resistance before Modern Warfare. However, I only kind of got into the online multiplayer. After Modern Warfare though, the Resistance 2 became my FPS of choice, and I loved it. The mobility and possibilities for creative tactics with the weapons and perks fit well with my preferred play-style. I distinctly remember one moment when I was in a 2v2 match. I was using a Marksman rifle and my partner was using the minigun that can pop up a shield. The combined tactic of his suppressing fire and my skill at headshotting, as well as his ability to attract attention while I flanked with a cloak and took them out from behind... These were moments where my mind went "YES! This is how teamwork should be!" Furthermore the co-op was a great revelation to me. Class-based co-op is still something I really love, and it surprised me that it took as long as R2 to introduce me to it.
One other thing about this game is that it was the first one in which I joined an online clan (the Royal Marines). It wasn't big or especially skilled, but they were my friends and that along with the Insomniac forums were my big introductions to having a true online social life. Kind of a big deal when you don't have any real-life friends. I even learned to use the cloning tool in Photoshop to make my forum signature (this was before I knew anything about using Photoshop properly):
The Elder Scrolls Oblivion
Not counting my dips into games with RPG elements (and excluding Enchanted Arms and FFX-2 as JRPGs), Oblivion was my first attempt at playing a classic Western RPG, and my first major introduction to the genre in general, alongside the traditional fantasy setting. Admittedly while I do like the structure of these types of games, I didn't get all that into Fallout 3 or Skyrim (mostly because they felt too brown/grey and monotonous). Oblivion I played a good deal and got fairly far, but I think by then end I was bogged down too much by my obsession with collecting absolutely every item and having full sets of every armour/weapon in the game. That said, I did still put many hours into all three of the aforementioned games, and though I wouldn't consider them my personal favourites, they did plant the seeds of interest in Western RPGs.
Metal Gear Solid 4
Given how huge of a fan of MGS I am now, it's kind of baffling that I only started with 4. In fact, I played 4 with barely any prior knowledge of the previous games. As should be obvious by now, the gameplay style encouraged with Tactical Espionage Action was exactly my cup of tea. It was kind of like one of those moments when you already have something in your head as being your ideal thing, and then you discover that it already exists. Stealth, customisation, multiple ways to go through levels, Easter eggs galore. I was an instant MGS fan...
Most people assume I followed absolutely nothing of what was going on the first time around, but surprisingly I was able to piece it together fairly well, and after some research in the database and online, I became pretty well versed in the lore too. I later went back and finished all the previous games, and I'm currently playing MGS5 and am already loving it as expected.
Assassin's Creed 2
Though I did play and enjoy the first Assassin's Creed, I shared the common opinion that it felt like it lacked something. I subsequently shared the equally common opinion that 2 successfully brought everything I hoped for from the series. The solid parkour mechanics were well complemented by the beautiful and vibrant new setting (it helped that I had been to most of the places visited in the game) and multitude of places to explore, and the additional side tasks added meat to the franchise's bones.
There is one thing that makes this game special. I was already fairly down with the premise of the Animus as a means of exploring different settings, but what struck me the most about it came near the end of this game. I remember beating AC2 in between exam study sessions, and being completely shocked when Minerva turned to speak directly to Desmond/me. That was genuinely freaky, and I loved it. It was a small thing, but it stuck with me. The fact that the game could get me so invested in Ezio, then subsequently tear suspension of disbelief to remind me that I was playing a game within a game struck me as something so fundamentally unique to video games. Since then, I've seen many explorations of meta-narrative, but this was one of the first I experienced and that alone put Ubisoft (and eventually the entire Montreal games scene) on my radar.
Deus Ex Human Revolution
I had briefly touched the original Deus Ex, but never got into it. Later I watched a playthrough (this was during a time where I watched playthroughs of games I was unlikely to ever play, but thought might be culturally significant enough for me to know about them) and found out it was exactly the kind of game I'd like, since it touched on all the same stuff I like about MGS, but with the addition of RPG style choices that can affect the story, which I also loved. So, I asked for Human Revolution as soon as I heard about it.
In a strange twist, I had originally asked to get it on the PS3, but my mom made a mistake and got it for PC (cue "I didn't ask for this" joke here). I installed it anyway and that, quite simply, is how I converted from a console player to the PC master race. I never realised the PC could be such a good system for shooters (I didn't follow much about gaming culture outside of G4 and Playstation Magazine back then). It was a revelation, and I've been headshotting with my mouse ever since. This game also prompted me to look into Hitman and Eidos, and I've been a huge fan of those ever since as well.
When I was in university, several of my friends got really hyped for Mass Effect 3. I didn't know anything about it or any Bioware games at the time (again, I was ignorant back then; but I was learning quickly). In part at their insistence, and my own desire to not have everything spoiled by waiting too long, I ran through the first two games and then the third. I came to realise Mass Effect was another one of those franchises that hit on a lot of my favourite things: class-based gameplay, choices, engaging story and characters, sci-fi... In fact, I noticed that a lot of Mass Effect's plot matched fairly well to the story I had conceived for my own game idea. As such, this series got me to become a big fan of Bioware, which led me to playing Dragon Age, which I played around the same time I was introduced to the Pathfinder Tabletop game, which in turn introduced me to a whole bunch of fundamental RPG concepts. The fact that it's only been a few years since I learned so many of these things still kind of astounds me, but I have Mass Effect to thank for fast tracking me through it.
Also, ME3's multiplayer. Loved it. Introduction to gauntlet-style team co-op and class synergy that wasn't restricted to just 3 classes. I incorporated a lot of those ideas into my own game design concepts.
This was one of those games where a friend who was really into the series insisted I play it with them. I did, and though I did eventually burn out on it in the higher levels for various reasons (the main one being that power scaling became completely unreasonable after lvl 60, especially if your partner played more than you and was a few levels higher so all the enemies were scaled to them therefore you couldn't do any damage... But enough rambling about that). It was another dip for me into the realm of online co-op on PC, but also to the idea of drop-in/drop-out co-op and having the co-op be a part of the main campaign. I had done this a bit before in split screen, but seeing it online through the PC felt very different. I suspect it was primarily because it wasn't all that linear as a game and it allowed both players to do as they wished (even if it meant going to completely different parts of the map), but still emphasised teamwork. It felt like a more liberated form of co-op. Oh also it helped that the game was really funny.
Spec Ops: The Line
Speaking of funny games... This isn't one. But it is a game that made me think. Some games had certainly challenged me to think about subjects, and definitely consider exploring game design through a meta lens... But this game really did a great job in challenging what gamers take for granted, and as someone who at this point had already decided he wanted to become a game designer, that really struck home. Those tough, thought provoking moments are something I want to see more of in games. And if at all possible, I'd like to in some way be responsible for some of them.
The Stanley Parable
Another though-provoking game. Not only did I love the commentary it presented on game design, it was just a joy to play and explore. Truth be told, a game that is as self-aware as this didn't initially strike me as something that could get made in this industry. But the fact that it did, and that it worked brilliantly and received critical acclaim for it really impressed upon me that video games are truly where I belong.
At this point, I think this is the game I have played the most in my entire gaming life. I'll admit, it's not my favourite game ever, nor is it the one I consider to be the most important, but I'll be damned if it doesn't do exactly what it says on the (metaphorical) box and does it very well. It has a lot of my gaming standards: mobility focus, creative weapons, character classes, teamwork, co-op. I've played this game with my friends on a fairly regular basis for a little over 2 years now. I've slowed down on it a lot now, but I've enjoyed my time with it. More importantly, I learned a great deal about game design by watching the devs talk about the game as they make it, and seeing the constantly updating feedback on it while playing myself. For all the system's potential flaws, that's one thing I really enjoy about open betas and free-to-play games: they serve as excellent study material for game design in action.
I'd be remiss to say that's my entire list. There are several other games I've neglected to mention that I felt pushed the boundaries of gameplay and narrative in unique ways while still being fun. There have been an equally large number of games I've simply enjoyed or found to be extremely well executed. Heavy Rain, Infamous, Uncharted, Telltale's The Walking Dead, Flower, Journey, Little Big Planet... Heck I just finished Undertale yesterday and that already strikes me as a game that deserves a spot on this list.
There are many, many more I could add here. Unfortunately, this list is incredibly long as it is, and that would inflate it enormously. And so I restricted the list as best I could to games that shaped me personally as a gamer and game designer. For now, this is its conclusion. But no doubt there will be more in the future, and perhaps then I will update this list...
...I probably won't. Not for a very long time, anyway.