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Hall of Fame

One of the problems with trying to experience the history of gaming for yourself, by actually playing games, is that so many games are so very, very bad. I obviously can’t do much about that directly, but I can offer a roughly chronological list of games that balances claims of historical importance against playability and fairness. That’s what you’ll find below, slowly growing as we continue to work our way through history on the blog proper. If you’re just looking for an interesting game to play, you can feel pretty confident selecting any title from this list. And if you’re a serious student of computer-gaming history and want to experience it from the beginning, I suppose you might just have a project here that could absorb many years as this list continues to grow. In the name of painting as accurate an historical portrait as I can while still offering a list of games that are actually fun to play, I’ve substituted for some historically important games that I consider pretty much unplayable today (like the Sierra Hi-Res Adventure line) others that give a good impression of the genre or movement they represent while working better as satisfying games (in the case of the Hi-Res Adventures, for instance, that would largely be Transylvania).

I hope you find this list enlightening and/or useful.


1. Eliza (1966)

Joseph Weizenbaum’s psychologist simulator is one of the most important computer programs ever written, prompting its players for the first time to suspend their disbelief and join with the computer in a shared interactive fiction.


2. The Oregon Trail (1971)

Schoolteacher Don Rawitsch’s attempt to introduce his students to the rigors of the pioneer life lives on to this day, as important to the history of interactive narrative as it is to that of computers in education.


3. Hunt the Wumpus (1972)

Gregory Yob’s “topological computer game” introduced to the world the representation of a consistent geography inside a game and the joys (?) of mapping the same.


4. Adventure (1977)

The urtext of adventure gaming in all of the forms it’s taken in the decades since, Will Crowther and Don Woods’s Adventure combined Eliza‘s model of interaction as a conversation between player and program with The Oregon Trail‘s narrative elements and Hunt the Wumpus‘s representation of geographic space to become the game that changed everything.


5. Adventureland (1978)

Scott Adams’s 16 K miniature masterstroke brought adventure gaming to microcomputers.


6. The Count (1979)

Scott Adams’s only really successful attempt to break out of the mold of “treasures for points” was also his first, managing to introduce an element of time and dynamic plotting to a game that still ran in just 16 K.


7. The Prisoner (1980)

The first game on this list to feature graphics, David Mullich’s unlicensed knockoff of the old television show turned into a fascinating homage to its inspiration and gaming’s first unabashed striving toward Art.


8. Zork (1980)

Infocom’s first and most commercially successful game of all could be described as “just” Adventure with a better parser and a better world model, except that those two things made all the difference in the world.


9. Ultima (1981)

The urtext of an entire school of CRPG design, the first Ultima also becomes the most enjoyable and playable of Richard Garriott’s early works by keeping the size reasonable and the player’s goals relatively clear.


10. Softporn (1981)

A rare example of a game that’s better than its reputation, Chuck Benton’s evocation of singles life in the disco era is worth a play, even if the actual game is destined to be eternally overshadowed by that cover art.


11. Castle Wolfenstein (1981)

Silas Warner’s movie-inspired World War II caper is a masterpiece of Apple II programming and the first successful action/adventure hybrid on a computer, not to mention the starting point of one of the most long-lived franchises in the history of gaming.


12. Wizardry (1981)

The yin to Ultima‘s yang, Robert Woodhead and Andrew Greenberg’s Wizardry did the tactical dungeon crawl so well that future games, including its own sequels, would struggle to really improve upon it for years to come.


13. Wizardry II: Knight of Diamonds (1982)

The first sequel to Wizardry is more like an expansion pack that introduces the joys of high-level dungeon crawling and completes the story of the intrepid party you created in the first game.


14. Transylvania (1982)

Penguin’s very first adventure game as well as one of the best examples of the “hi-res” school of illustrated text adventures that dominated on the Apple II during the early 1980s, Antonio Antiochia’s homage to the old Universal monster movies is a B-grade Gothic delight.


15. Zork III: The Dungeon Master (1982)

Zork II has some dodgy puzzles and is generally skippable, but Marc Blank’s haunting conclusion to the trilogy is not, showcasing as it does Infocom’s rapidly evolving sense of craft in writing and game design alike.


16. Starcross  (1982)

Dave Lebling’s first solely-authored game for Infocom had you exploring a huge alien spaceship that was one of the most coherent settings yet constructed for an adventure game.


17. M.U.L.E. (1983)

Danielle Bunten Berry’s lighthearted multiplayer game of economic strategy is one of the best examples of pure design craft I’ve ever seen, and certainly the game that has provided me with more hours of fun per kilobyte than any other.


18. The Witness (1983)

Marc Blank’s earlier Deadline would have been on this list if it was made purely with an eye to historical importance, but since it isn’t I include instead Infocom’s second mystery, this time by Stu Galley, which offers the same revolutionary new approach to adventure games as dynamic systems rather than static maps while also managing to be be much more fair about the whole thing.


19. Planetfall (1983)

Steve Meretzky’s first game for Infocom introduced Floyd, lovable robot sidekick and the first character you could really care about inside an adventure game.


20. Enchanter (1983)

Originally conceived as Zork IV, Marc Blank and Dave Lebling’s latest fantasy romp for Infocom added a hugely entertaining and influential spellcasting system to the old equation.


21. Infidel (1983)

The world’s first interactive tragedy, Mike Berlyn’s workmanlike game of adventurous Egyptology culminates in a very shocking and controversial ending that continues to spark debates on the very nature of adventure games.


22. King’s Quest (1984)

It’s hard to convey today just how amazing Roberta Williams’s free-roaming cartoon adventure was in 1984, the year it saved Sierra On-Line from an early extinction.


23. Summer Games (1984)
24. Summer Games II (1985)
25. Winter Games (1985)
26. World Games (1986)
27. California Games (1987)

Perhaps unjustly, I’ve used Epyx’s Games series in the blog proper mainly to illustrate the evolving art of Commodore 64 graphics and sound, but they’re still immensely entertaining to play with the right group of friends.


28. Sorcerer (1984)

Steve Meretzky’s sequel to Enchanter reflects his goofier style of humor, but the magic-based puzzles are no less entertaining for it.


29. Seastalker (1984)

The debut of a would-be new line of Infocom Interactive Fiction Junior for children, this gee-whiz undersea adventure was largely written by Jim Lawrence, whose pedigree as a ghostwriter for Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and Tom Swift made him the perfect man for the job.


30. Dragonworld (1984)

Telarium’s line of illustrated adventure games based on popular books had its problems, but this is one of the best, perhaps because a coauthor of the book in question, Byron Preiss, was also the driving force behind Telarium itself.


31. Amazon (1984)

The other really good Telarium game is this jungle adventure written by none other than Michael Crichton of The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park fame.


32. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1984)

This collaboration between Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky stands as one of the most self-aware, delightfully subversive text adventures ever written as well as the high point in Infocom’s commercial fortunes.


33. Suspect (1984)

The third of Infocom’s original trilogy of hardcore mysteries, Dave Lebling’s Suspect is harder than The Witness but fairer than Deadline.


34. Elite (1984)

A universe in 32 K, an icon of British game development, and the urtext of a genre of space-combat simulations, the sheer scope of David Braben and Ian Bell’s game of combat, exploration, and trade can inspire awe even today.


35. Deus Ex Machina (1984)

More a piece of multimedia art than a conventional game, Mel Croucher’s countercultural magnum opus tried to pack a lifetime into a 48 K Sinclair Spectrum and a handy nearby stereo system.


36. Déjà Vu (1985)

While Sierra had gotten the ball rolling with King’s Quest, it was left to ICOM Simulations to fully embrace the computing paradigm of the new Apple Macintosh by dumping the parser completely from this entertaining two-fisted detective caper, inventing the genre of the point-and-click graphic adventure and numbering the days of the commercial text adventure.


37. Mindwheel (1985)

This surreal psychological fantasy, the only of Synapse’s ambitious line of Electronic Novels to fully succeed artistically, was written by Robert Pinsky, future Poet Laureate of the United States and the most prestigious literary figure ever to turn his hand to the humble text adventure.


38. Wishbringer (1985)

Infocom’s first attempt at an introductory game for adults was this artful mixture of foreboding and whimsy written by Brian Moriarty.


39. A Mind Forever Voyaging (1985)

Infocom’s first and only foray into almost entirely puzzleless interactive fiction, Steve Meretzky’s time-traveling mixture of hard science fiction and contemporary political commentary bites off at least three or four more Big Ideas than it can chew, but is nevertheless fascinating for what it attempts and for the considerable degree to which its ambitions are in fact realized.


40. Spellbreaker (1985)

Dave Lebling’s conclusion to Infocom’s Enchanter trilogy is something of an extended proof of the theorem that adventure games don’t need to be unfair to be really, really challenging.


41. Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? (1985)

An icon of edutainment to rival The Oregon Trail, Brøderbund’s game puts you on the trail of a ring of international thieves, crisscrossing the globe with your trusty World Almanac and Book of Facts — or, these days, Wikipedia — at your side.


42. Borrowed Time (1985)

The best of Interplay’s early illustrated text adventures, Borrowed Time is a hard-boiled private-eye tale with a cutting sense of humor.


43. Leader Board Golf (1986)

Particularly when played with others, Access’s minimalist masterpiece is far more compelling than a golf game in which the terrain consists solely of flat green land and equally featureless blue water really ought to be.


44. Oo-Topos (1986)
45. The Coveted Mirror (1986)

These two remakes of earlier adventures written using Penguin/Polarware’s new Comprehend engine represent the culmination of the “hi-res” tradition of illustrated text adventures.


46. Starflight (1986)

A feat of high-wire software engineering that became the first popular MS-DOS-exclusive game, Binary Systems’s space opera took full advantage of those machines’ memory and processing power to offer an awe-inspiring persistent galaxy to explore and a compelling intergalactic mystery to unravel in one of the first games that amply justifies the adjective of “epic.”


47. Portal (1986)

Rob Swigart’s Computer Novel for Activision is a minor masterpiece of science-fiction worldbuilding and also our own world’s first notable example of serious literary hyperfiction, predating HyperCard, Storyspace, and the World Wide Web.


48. Killed Until Dead (1986)

Artech’s delightful casual mystery game offers 21 snack-sized cases to solve and a palpable love for the history of the literary genre on which they’re based.


49. Trinity (1986)

For me, Brian Moriarty’s mournful atomic-age tragedy is the Big One, Infocom’s greatest single achievement and a work of interactive poetry which moves me like no other.


50. Leather Goddess of Phobos (1986)

Steve Meretzky returns to his wheelhouse of science-fiction comedy, this time with the additional spice of sex that turned it into Infocom’s last genuine hit.


51. Defender of the Crown (1986)

The game that introduced Cinemaware’s concept of interactive movies to the world and showed for the first time what the new Commodore Amiga could really do in the process, Defender of the Crown‘s mouthwatering atmosphere makes up for a multitude of minor gameplay sins.


52. King of Chicago (1986)

Written almost singlehandedly by Doug Sharp in its original Macintosh incarnation, Cinemaware’s most ambitious attempt at creating a responsive interactive story is still fascinating and instructive today, both in where it fails and the surprising degree to which it sometimes succeeds.


53. Guild of Thieves (1987)

Magnetic Scrolls’s most prototypical game is this sprawling old-school treasure hunt full of gorgeous pictures, puzzles of many stripes, and a delicate seasoning of English whimsy.


54. Gnome Ranger (1987)

The second Level 9 text adventure to use the KAOS system with its active non-player characters who can follow your instructions, Gnome Ranger has some of the most unique puzzles mechanics you’ll ever see, and is in my opinion Level 9’s most playable, most soluble, and simply all-around best game.


55. Giant Killer (1987)

Peter Killworth’s educational “maths adventure” is one of the most-played text adventures in history, for years a fixture of British schools and today an accessible introduction to the otherwise intimidating Phoenix/Topologika tradition of hyper-intellectual adventuring.


56. Accolade’s Comics (1987)

The first original game by Distinctive Software was this charming interactive comic book with its almost 400 original panel illustrations and 8 action games.


57. Pirates! (1987)

The first addictive Sid Meier masterpiece is in my opinion simply the finest game ever born on the Commodore 64.


58. Maniac Mansion (1987)

The best graphic adventure ever made for the Commodore 64 and the starting point of the LucasArts tradition of saner, fairer puzzling, this intricately nonlinear and endlessly likable multi-character caper deserves a spot here despite a few rough edges.


59. Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards (1987)

While its bullying personality isn’t always completely to my taste, the first Leisure Suit Larry is a very well-designed adventure game — the first Sierra game for which I can unabashedly make such a claim — and its hapless protagonist an icon of the genre.


60. Bureaucracy (1987)

It’s a shaggy, disjointed beast to be sure, but Infocom’s only interactive social satire is also both archly funny and a deliciously tempting nightmare come true for lovers of punishing but fair puzzles.


61. Stationfall (1987)

Steve Meretzky’s final all-text adventure game starts as another of his goofy science-fiction comedies and then slowly turns into… something else entirely.


62. The Lurking Horror (1987)

Despite marking the first full-fledged work of Lovecraftian horror in computer gaming, Dave Lebling’s final all-text adventure game is almost more interesting and significant as a nostalgic look back to life at MIT, the place where Zork and Infocom were born.


63. Plundered Hearts (1987)

Infocom’s only interactive romance lives up to the ideal of “waking up inside a story” better than any other game they ever released, a rollicking ride through pirates, powder kegs, and pieces of eight sufficient to make the most stalwart romance hater’s bosom heave.


64. Border Zone (1987)

The real-time gimmick used in this interactive spy story is perhaps problematic, but the game itself transcends it, delivering three sustained cinematic action sequences that get the blood pumping in a way that no other entry in Infocom’s catalog can quite match.


65. The Fool’s Errand (1987)

Occasionally called the “greatest puzzle game ever made,” The Fool’s Errand is in its way even more compelling than that description would imply, an onion of unfathomed depths just waiting to be peeled back layer by delicious layer.


66. Dungeon Master (1987)

The most technically and formally innovative CRPG since Ultima and Wizardry laid down the ground rules, history’s first grid-based real-time dungeon crawler might also be its best, with level design to die for — and, trust me, you will.


67. Three Stooges (1988)

Okay, it’s a trifle, but it makes me and my wife laugh, and sometimes after a long day that’s all you really need, isn’t it?


68. Pool of Radiance (1988)

The first game in SSI’s Gold Box line of officially licensed Advanced Dungeons & Dragons CRPGs is not without its specific irritations and frustrations, but they are far outweighed by one of the best tactical-combat systems ever made and a general design philosophy of showing you a little mercy, sparing you most of the boring stuff so endemic to its contemporaries.


69. Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels (1988)

Infocom’s final all-text adventure game is as good a way to say farewell to the era as any, a sturdily constructed scavenger hunt set in the lovingly recreated gas-lit environs of Victorian London.


70. Fish! (1988)

A riot of fishy puns and surrealistic humor, Fish! manages to be bizarre, challenging, and fair at the same time — no mean achievement — and is on the whole my favorite of Magnetic Scrolls’s games.


71. A Dudley Dilemma (1988)

The first really good game of the AGT era and a fine addition to the long tradition of collegiate interactive fiction, Lane Barrow’s A Dudley Dilemma manages to do for life at Harvard what Infocom’s The Lurking Horror did for life at MIT.


72. The Manhole (1988)

Far more than just the first stop on the road to Myst, Rand and Robyn Miller’s goalless and puzzless “fantasy exploration for children of all ages” is intriguing and delightful in its own right.


73. Neuromancer (1988)

Kind of a terrible adaptation of William Gibson’s novel though it is, Neuromancer the game is great as a game, a thoroughly enjoyable, content-rich experience unlike any other of its era — or, for that matter, of any era since.


74. Son of Stagefright (1989)

Mike McCauley’s AGT creation is both a love letter to plays, play-makers, and playgoers and a great, genial puzzler of a text adventure.


75. Hero’s Quest: So You Want to Be a Hero (1989)

Later renamed Quest for Glory for legal reasons, the first game in Lori and Corey Cole’s delightful series of adventure/CRPG hybrids sets the generous standard for the series as a whole, allowing you to play exactly how you want to.


76. It Came from the Desert (1989)

Cinemaware’s finest hour, It Came from the Desert really does kind of make you feel like you’re starring in your own interactive B-movie.


77. Curse of the Azure Bonds (1989)

This sequel to Pool of Radiance mostly maintains the high design standard set by its predecessor, and lets you advance your characters from the previous game to just before leveling up in Dungeons & Dragons stops being much fun anyway.


78. Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire (1990)

The second game in the series moves the character you created in Hero’s Quest into a setting drawn from the Arabian Nights.


79. Wonderland (1990)

Magnetic Scrolls’s swansong is this fine old-school Lewis Carroll pastiche that stands up very well as much more than a technology demonstration.


80. Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls (1990)

Marking the debut of Legend Entertainment, the implicit heir to Infocom, Steve Meretzky’s fantasy farce mixes dumb humor with smart puzzles as only he could.


81. Loom (1990)

Brian Moriarty’s minimalist masterpiece of a graphic adventure doesn’t take that long to play, but you’ll never forget it after you finish it.


82. The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)

The archetypal LucasArts adventure game, Ron Gilbert’s comic tale showed that deaths and dead ends aren’t necessary to make a challenging graphic adventure, becoming in the process one of the most influential adventure games ever made.


83. Railroad Tycoon (1990)

Sid Meier’s second masterpiece was like nothing anyone had ever seen at the time of its release, and remains today one of the finest and most influential strategy games ever made.


84. Wing Commander (1990)

Wing Commander combined a space-combat simulator with a cinematic narrative and wound up being not only more than the sum of its parts, but a blueprint for a good chunk of gaming’s future.


85. Lemmings (1991)

Arguably the greatest single game ever born on the Amiga and certainly the most popular, Lemmings is an immaculate creation, a stunningly original concept nearly perfectly executed across its 120 intriguing, delightful, infuriating levels — and yes, it’s pretty darn cute to boot.


 

 

34 Responses to Hall of Fame

  1. Marshal Tenner Winter

    June 28, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    Aww, Zork 2 didn’t make the cut? :(

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      June 29, 2015 at 7:25 am

      Too many dodgy puzzles.

       
      • Mike Taylor

        October 10, 2017 at 1:36 pm

        Your blog, of course, and your choices. But for me, Zork II is the pick of the trilogy. It has two awful, awful puzzles: the bank (which no-one understands even after having accidentally solved it) and the maze (which, as a starter, requires you to be American). But once you leave those aside, the rest of the game is just about perfect: a combination of puzzles mundane and wacky, and somehow a wild variety of terrain that nevertheless retains a coherent and consistent atmosphere of splendour remaining through quiet decay. It certainly has the other two Zorks beaten for immersion, and I think that counts for a lot. I want to visit the location of Zork II in a way that I don’t for I or III.

         
        • Jimmy Maher

          October 10, 2017 at 3:40 pm

          While I agree that Zork II has its strengths, this list is meant to contain games that one can confidently enjoy without caveats like “turn to a walkthrough for these two awful puzzles.” That’s really the sum total of why it’s missing…

           
          • Mike Taylor

            October 11, 2017 at 8:07 am

            Yep, that makes sense. It’s easy to forget exactly what this list is (“games that balances claims of historical importance against playability and fairness”) and think of it just as a Best Of. On your own clearly stated criteria, I have to admit that omitting Zork II does make sense.

             
  2. TsuDhoNimh

    June 29, 2015 at 3:28 am

    I’m surprised that “Choplifter” didn’t make the cut as being the first (or one of the first) action games to put saving people as the priority of the game, not even awarding points for destroying the enemy.

    It’s also one of the best-animated of the early Apple 2 games, before Apples had enough RAM to do double-hi-res graphics.

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      June 29, 2015 at 7:29 am

      Its absence speaks largely to my tendency to get bored quickly by that sort of pure action game.

       
    • Mike Taylor

      October 10, 2017 at 1:39 pm

      Defender has it beaten — though, to my surprise, only by a single year (1981 vs. 1982). Of course, Defender was ferociously difficult — so much so that, at 10p per game, most players probably lost all three lives before figuring out what they were trying to achieve.

       
  3. Andy

    June 29, 2015 at 11:05 am

    This list reminds me of something I wondered at the time so will now ask: when you were working your way through the Telarium catalog, why didn’t you also take the time to give full critical attention to the Windham Classics/Dale Disharoon “Below the Root” and “Alice in Wonderland”? You mentioned their innovative engine only in passing as precedent to the inferior “The Scoop.”

    In your initial bookware post you called “Below the Root” “a lovely, lyrical classic” and then in a comment said it was “a really, really wonderful little game. Well worth your time.” I thought maybe I’d see it here in the hall of fame despite the short shrift it got in your chronological survey proper. But no.

    So I’m taking this opportunity to vouch for it and for “Alice in Wonderland,” which in my opinion is one of the great masterpieces of that era. If you haven’t played it you really must. In my opinion these games really and truly hold up 30 years later.

    I would think that you would at least want to be able to refer to Alice as a reference point when the time comes to give some historical perspective to the advent of point-and-click, which in many ways it and Below The Root anticipated. Maybe you can make an excuse to get back to these games in in retrospect whenever Maniac Mansion shows up around here? (Imminently, I imagine.)

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      June 29, 2015 at 11:26 am

      I played Below the Root exactly 13 years ago. I know this because I played it during a week-long ride on the Trans-Siberian railroad, one of my last big backpacking adventures before I started to feel too old for that sort of thing. So, I do indeed have strong and affectionate memories of it that are, I’m afraid, also hopelessly bound up with the context in which I played it.

      I just never found the right point to revisit it on the blog, and I must confess I’m a little reluctant to start backtracking. It’s omissions like this that make me stress that this list is hopefully a useful historical survey but not definitive. I suppose I could include it here, but I’d really like to restrict the list to games that get proper features on the blog.

       
  4. Andy

    June 29, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Fair enough. I agree, I wouldn’t want you to put stuff on this list that you haven’t actually featured on the blog. And if I were you I absolutely wouldn’t want to backtrack either.

    Having some random commenter advocate for these games seems like plenty. Done!

    (Though I do still encourage you to take a quick peek at Alice, just to have personally seen and sampled it, for future reference.)

     
  5. Brian Bagnall

    June 29, 2015 at 2:05 pm

    I’m very happy to see Amazon, Deja Vu and Killed Until Dead on this list. Those three were fun games I could actually complete back then without hints!

     
  6. TsuDhoNimh

    June 29, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    I’d finished the Below the Root game a long time ago in the late 80’s, but I never thought to read the Green Sky books until you mentioned the game in your blog. I enjoyed the game and the books immensely, so thanks for reminding me of that classic, even if you aren’t going to back track.

    I mentioned Choplifter just because it came out at roughly the same time as Castle Wolfenstein, but on second thought, I can see why you would include Wolfenstein and not Choplifter. Choplifter spawned an arcade game and a later console revival a few years ago, but had nowhere near the influence of the Castle Wolfenstein series.

    Another interesting omission is Ultima IV. Did you leave it out simply because it’s not that interesting to play for today’s gamers in comparison to Ultima V or Ultima VI? I would have thought that it would make the cut just because it tried to be different with the Virtue system.

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      June 29, 2015 at 5:56 pm

      That was one of the more painful omissions, but much as I admire it in so many ways it’s just not something I can really recommend as a fun game. The combat is tedious and endless, it’s too easy to miss important information, typing “Name Job Health” over and over and playing guess-the-noun with the parser is excruciating, mixing regents for magic spells is mind-numbing, and then there’s the whole nearly unsolvable guess-the-word puzzle at the end that’s there because old Richard literally simply forgot to implement a vital clue and Origin’s nonexistent test process didn’t catch it.

      I think it’s a game that’s very important to know about, but I think you can learn pretty much everything you need to know just by reading about it rather than playing it. If, as Sean Barrett suggested on Twitter, I should ever make a list of my best/most important *articles*, the two on Ultima IV would almost certainly make the cut.

       
      • Scott M. Bruner

        June 29, 2015 at 8:06 pm

        While I agree that Ultima IV’s fun quotient will definitely vary depending on the gamer’s patience, I would argue that in addition to its basic RPG element innovations: the virtue system, the open world, the (imperfect) parser within an RPG what really sets it apart for me is the lengths that Garriott went to make the player feel like the game they are about to play is a truly immersive, living world. That playing Ultima is like entering an alternate world – even the act of “becoming an avatar” augments that concept.

        It may not be a part of the game, but the manual, cloth map, and ankh are certainly a part of the experience. Even at my age now, when I play Ultima IV (and I’m in the middle of a full replay), the feelies and even the history (clearly retrofitted from Ultima 1-3’s truly bizarre storylines) make me believe in Brittannia as a real and compelling place.

        I would argue for its inclusion, but all of these things are of course subjective, and Cheap Trick and Journey’s exclusions from Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are much larger crimes.

         
        • Scott M. Bruner

          June 29, 2015 at 8:21 pm

          …of course, finding a full retail version of Ultima IV with all the goodies/feelies isn’t that easy.

           
        • Jimmy Maher

          June 30, 2015 at 5:36 am

          Yeah, I don’t really disagree with this. It’s just that to make this list a game has to be one I would be willing to recommend to a friend today without a host of qualifiers and apologies. Ultima IV for me doesn’t quite qualify. Mileages obviously can and do vary, and hopefully your eloquent defense of the game here will serve as a counterargument against its omission when people peruse this list for years to come.

          As for the Rock Hall of Fame: I’ve always maintained that it’s best ignored entirely.

           
          • ZUrlocker

            December 28, 2016 at 10:02 pm

            Late to the party on this thread and slightly off topic, but since you brought it up… While I disagree with many of the selections and omissions from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, for anyone who has an interest, it is well worth the visit to Cleveland. Whatever your particular slice of rock music that gets your heart pumping, there are items there that will quicken your pulse, take your breath away or cause the hair on your neck to stand up. For me, it was seeing original hand-written lyrics from the Beatles, leather jackets from the Ramones and guitars and gear from The Clash.
            Ok back to gaming…

             
      • Bernie

        February 24, 2017 at 3:24 pm

        A little late, but … could you believe that only after having read all of the articles and having followed the blog for a solid two years , I have read these comments just now ? Jimmy, your blog is really “deep” : if a reader keeps digging, he or she can keep finding something interesting.

        Well , as for Ultima IV , I think this might help your argument :

        I’m pretty sure everybody here knows about Ultima remakes on modern engines, with Ultima V Lazarus and the Ultima VI Project being the most prominent releases. There’s also the Exult engine to play “classic” Ultima VII on current OS’s.

        I’ve always found it intriguing that these talented teams have “overlooked” Ultima IV for a remake, just like Jimmy has done in the Hall of Fame. Moreover, all I have been able to find are many “upgrades” to Ultima IV and 2 incomplete implementations created using the Neverwinter Nights package, but nothing on the scale of Lazarus or U6 Project.

        There must be a very good reason that Quest of The Avatar wasn’t chosen along with Warriors and Prophet, if one takes into account the fact that these remakes were done by veteran game designers with “modern” experience. Maybe they thought Ultima IV was better “left in the past”.

         
        • Jason

          June 5, 2017 at 6:29 am

          xu4 is a remake of the ultima 4 engine.

           
        • Nathanael

          August 22, 2017 at 3:54 pm

          The Ultima IV engine actually still works under DosBox (for example). The remakes for the later games (V, VI, VI part 2) were made largely because they were literally unplayable for technical reasons (they did crazy stuff with the hardware at a very low level). This is largely the reason the Ultima IV engine remake was not considered a priority: you could still play it.

          I would have no hesitation recommending Ultima IV immediately. Mixing reagants is a wonderful resource management game. The process of exploring the world to figure out the shrines, the runes, the mantras, etc. is a collector’s paradise and it’s not too repetitive or too diffiult. The combat is actually good enough to satisfy a Wizardry player.

          Maybe there’s something about the combination of open-ended exploration, information collection, resource management, and tactical combat, which isn’t ever really reached again. Every subsequent RPG, including all the later Ultimas and the whole of Bioware’s work, feels railroaded by comparison. Resource management elements have practically been abolished from computer RPGs, which is sad.

          And as for asking absolutely everyone about absolutely everything… well, there isn’t any other game where, for no particular reason, there is one, locally famous, talking horse. The world-buidling is exceptional, and again, modern games with their excessive railroading and cutscenes should learn from it.

          The final missing clue should just be in the manual though. I thankfully had it spoiled in advance.

           
  7. Andrew

    July 3, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    Great idea, and as an owner of a ZX Spectrum back in the ’80s I’m pleased to see a few things I recognise (Elite, Deus Ex and especially Killed Until Dead, which I loved and commented on when you wrote about it six months ago).

    Still, a little surprised to see there’s no place for either The Hobbit or Lords of Midnight, given the way you assessed both when you wrote about them on this blog. Then again, I suppose these lists lose some of their meaning if everything gets on it, so perhaps there should be a few hard luck stories…;-)

    Oh, and agree completely about the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame. We don’t have anything like it here in the UK, which suits me just fine. Perhaps it is one of those cultural things that doesn’t cross the Atlantic, but I’ve never understood why the various musicians seem to take it all so seriously, or even what the point of it is. I mean, if you’re a band that’s sold millions or records, recorded a couple of widely acknowledged classic albums and maybe even provided the soundtrack to a generation who will never forget your best songs, why on earth would you crave a pat on the head, probably years past your prime, from a committee of middle-aged men in suits? What could it realistically mean to you alongside everything else you’ve achieved?

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      July 3, 2015 at 8:35 pm

      The Hobbit is fascinating on one level, but also kind of a mess to try to earnestly play and solve. It’s kind of a classic example of a game that’s more interesting for its programmers than its players; I just used it as an example of that phenomenon in my Pirates! review, in fact.

      The omission of Lords of Midnight was a harder choice, but its interface is just too limited; it’s really hard to keep track of what’s actually happening in its world. It’s just not quite playable enough in 2015 to make the cut.

      I’m aware that British games in general didn’t fare all that well on this list. That has a lot to do with the more limited hardware in Britain, which necessarily forced a lot of compromises. And then there’s also the fact that the sorts of action games that were particularly popular there just aren’t my personal cup of tea and/or specialty as a historian.

      Hopefully Britain will start to fare a bit better as we move into the heyday of the Amiga.

       
      • David Boddie

        July 3, 2015 at 10:55 pm

        I think it’s generally recognised that having to serve the lowest common denominator didn’t help to push the boundaries of certain genres in Britain. Having said that, some of the more interesting games in the Acorn market, at least, transcended those limitations. Here, I’m thinking of Elite and Exile, but also Revs and The Sentinel.

        Multi-load games also started to make an appearance in the mid-to-late 1980s, as on other platforms, which leads me to a question about some of the games you’ve covered recently. It’s often remarked that the use of disk drives made gaming more accessible and reliable, especially on PC clones and the Apple II, but were disk drives for the Commodore 64 in common use in the USA?

         
        • Jimmy Maher

          July 4, 2015 at 6:31 am

          Yes, that was the major difference between the United States and Europe. Commodore’s Datasette was I suppose nominally available, but was virtually unheard of in North America. I grew up with a Commodore 64 (later supplemented by an Amiga), had lots of friends with them, etc., and I’m still not sure I’ve ever seen an actual Datasette in my life. *Everyone* had disk drives. Almost of the Commodore 64 games included in this Hall of Fame depend on them.

           
          • David Boddie

            July 4, 2015 at 10:43 am

            It’s also interesting to note that there were quite a few games released on disk for the BBC Micro. It was fairly straightforward to add a drive to that machine, possibly because schools needed to be able to load software quickly and reliably. That requirement may have inadvertently created a market for games software on disk, for homes as well as in schools! The Electron, on the other hand, really struggled to get software on disk.

            Given that there was a market with disk-enabled BBC Micros, it’s perhaps surprising that there are so few games that really rely on the extra storage to swap data in and out, especially since Elite did that early on. Maybe there’s a cultural reason why some genres, like RPGs, were underrepresented on that platform. Alternatively, it may just have been the case that publishers felt there had to be cassette versions of every game, so it went down to the lowest common denominator again.

            Later games took advantage of extra memory (Exile, Stryker’s Run) to provide enhanced versions, and some even required an additional ROM (Doctor Who and the Mines of Terror).

             
  8. G Grobbelaar

    August 31, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    Haven’t read your Ultima IV yet, but by the few comments it got I am will read it soon. I say this as when we bought our soundblaster for the 486 PC we got it along with Warcraft Orc/Human and 2 other games (still have it as we unearthed it when we moved at the end of May when the house we rent was sold from under us and we had 2 weeks to get a new place) But could not get it to load properly back then – all 4 games on 1 cd (what were they thinking!) Later we hacked it, as the B&W manual made it look interesting for us to play, on the P3, but no luck! The feelies as the one said, is maybe what was missing and even with a walktrough we gave up early on! Wish I had discovered this Blog earlier! Thanx

     
  9. flowmotion

    August 8, 2016 at 5:34 am

    Just started going through this list, and have to note that your review of Infocom’s Infidel doesn’t have anything which would indicate it deserved your “hall of fame” honors.

    You say very little positive about the game itself, just mentioning in passing that it “competently crafted”, and “not difficult”.

    OK, it might also be “conceptually groundbreaking” and “very polarizing”, but your description is of a game where the manual tells you your avatar is an asshole and in the end your avatar dies because he is an asshole. Potentially afterwords, the player gains some enjoyment over contemplating how their tomb-raiding asshole died.

    Anyway, this list promises not to screw you over, which one would assume to mean not wasting your time on old worthless crap. But it might be a good idea to distinguish between the game that were actually fun, and the stuff which feeds a masochistic desire for dead-end IF experiments. Because your review doesn’t make this game sound fun in the slightest.

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      August 8, 2016 at 8:00 am

      You’ll note that I also describe this list as balancing “claims to historical importance against playability and fairness.” Infidel is a competently crafted and perfectly soluble if not exceptional text adventure through 99 percent of its length. This is its claim to playability and fairness. Then we get to the ending, which is of immense importance in the evolution of interactive fiction. That’s its claim to historical importance. Although absent the tragic ending Infidel wouldn’t be here, the game that precedes the ending isn’t bad, just not terribly good by Infocom’s standards. It certainly never screws you over or wastes your time with unfair puzzles. I’m afraid that characterizations like “old worthless crap” and “dead-end IF experiment” are yours, not mine.

       
  10. Robin

    June 6, 2017 at 9:13 am

    Great list but very disappointed to miss Populous, the first God game, Star Control, Command and Conquer and Master of Orion

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      June 6, 2017 at 9:17 am

      We’ve haven’t gotten to any but the first on your list in the blog’s chronology. ;)

       
    • Nathanael

      August 22, 2017 at 3:57 pm

      Although Populous is often referred to as “the first god game” thanks to its explicit use of gods, in modern terminology SimCity is a god game and it came out several months earlier.

       
  11. Frédéric Grosshans

    August 22, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    Given it’s importance, playability and your long (and fantastic) series of post about it, I’m surprised not to find Tetris here, even if it contrast a lot with the other entries.

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      August 23, 2017 at 6:52 am

      Tetris is indeed as important as any game ever made, is undoubtedly a work of genius… but it does little for me as a player. I like to include games here that feel like bracing experiences to me personally. As I got into a little bit in one of the articles in question, Tetris doesn’t really do that for me. I find the backstory much more entertaining than the game in this case. I get more excited about, say, the bold narrative choices in Infidel — to name another game whose inclusion rather than exclusion has been questioned — than I do about the elegant minimalism of Tetris.

      And yes, I know this is list in general is very personal and idiosyncratic. If it was weighted more toward historical importance, Tetris would undoubtedly show up here. But as it is, I think of this list more as the games I personally would like to revisit one last time someday from a retirement home than I do as a definitive “you must play these in order to understand gaming history” list. Were it more weighted the latter approach, Tetris would of course be a shoo-in. But then, you can find plenty of pretty good lists of that ilk, while only this list reflects my own doubtless skewed take on the games that are truly worth playing. Whatever else you can say about it, I’m pretty sure nobody else in the world would make one quite like it. My hope is that someone browsing this list might see a game she’s never heard of, get interested, and go play it. With adventure games in particular, one is always reluctant to try out an unknown title because one is never sure if it will play fair; all of the games here do, eliminating that concern.

      Tetris, on the other hand, doesn’t really need my patronage. ;)

       

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