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The Golden Age of PC Gaming

By Shamus
on Friday Sep 5, 2008
Filed under:


In my earlier rant against the current-gen Frankenstein graphics cards, a couple of people were quick to point out that while modern-day system-specs are indeed impenetrable to most people, the good old days of PC gaming weren’t much better. In the early 90’s, we had to fiddle around with config.sys and autoexec.bat to get games to work, make special boot disks, and know what freaking port and IRQ thingjigger our soundcard was hooked into. It was appalling.

She’s not a 10,000 polygon bump-mapped model, but Cate Archer of No One Lives Forever 2 manages to look pretty dang good.  Okay, her outfit is over-the-top, but that’s the fault of the 60’s spy movie heroines she’s sending up, not the graphics engine.
She’s not a 10,000 polygon bump-mapped model, but Cate Archer of No One Lives Forever 2 manages to look pretty dang good. Okay, her outfit is over-the-top, but that’s the fault of the 60’s spy movie heroines she’s sending up, not the graphics engine.
Those were the rough and tumble years before the new technology settled into place and was packaged and distilled for the average consumer. PC Gaming was a niche back then. And as much as I hate to say it, I think Windows was good for PC Gaming. It handled that stupid memory management / soundcard nonsense and gave developers a “stable” platform on which to build. Once you’ve paid the overhead in memory and performance, having an operating system there is actually pretty nice. It eventually made it possible for non-technical people to play some PC games.

About the time TV commercials for videogames start showing up you can say the hobby has come into its own and it’s time to start acting like responsible producers. If you’re advertising to the Average Joe, then Joe had darn well better be able to use the thing when he gets it home.

And there was a period of time where that was (mostly) true. PC Games peaked somewhere between 1997 and 2002. That was our golden age. It was after the stone age of DOS, but before the four horsemen of bugs, DRM, graphics fixation, and console-itis came in and made a mess of things. We had graphics cards that opened up a new age of 3d, but they were simple to buy and would last for years. (They could arguably outlast your PC. Mine did.)

Check out the games of 1998:


StarCraft, Unreal, Fallout 2, Grim Fandango, Half-Life, Thief: The Dark Project

Four franchises saw their beginning in 1998. The only sequel of note was Fallout 2. (It was, sadly, pretty buggy. But ONE buggy sequel and FIVE incredible new games is a complete inversion of what we’re getting these days.) I played four of those games again this year.


System Shock 2, Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament, Planescape: Torment, Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings, Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Homeworld, Outcast, Kingpin: Life of Crime, Rollercoaster Tycoon

I own every single one of those. I’d call most of them classics. I could fire up any one of them right now and have a blast. (Okay, maybe not Kingpin, but still.. that was a really good year.)


The Sims, Deus Ex, Diablo II, Escape from Monkey Island, The Operative: No One Lives Forever, The Longest Journey

Another banner year. Again, this is ignoring the lesser games, and expansion packs.

I think what makes the Golden Age of PC Gaming so special is that we were in a sweet spot, visually. Graphics were at the point where games could be immersive and atmospheric, but they didn’t cost a fortune to produce. As development became more complex and costs rose, other aspects of the game had to be cut to pay for the bling-mapping. I can’t imagine ever getting another game as immense as the original Unreal. I can’t imagine getting another game as deep as System Shock 2 or Deus Ex. (Both BioShock and Deus Ex 2 were greatly simplified when compared to their predecessors.) We have less room for risky new ideas like Thief.


Sure, graphics are better now, but we have sacrificed almost every other aspect of gameplay to get those graphics. A few games manage to get good graphics, and gameplay, and stability, and half-decent backwards compatibility (Half-Life 2 comes to mind) but most fail to deliver on at least two of those.

Sometime around 2002 backwards compatibility began to shrink, so that you needed to stay a little more up-to-date to be able to shop in the “New Releases” section. Graphics cards started to get harder to understand. Release & patch became the common solution to dealing with the expense of playtesting. Games got shorter & shallower.

Every time I bring this up I get people posting helpful suggestions like, “Yeah it sucks buy a console and stop whining.” Which misses the whole point of these posts. I’m not complaining because I can’t figure out where in this great big world I have to go to get more games. I’m talking about this stuff because it needs to be said. Look at titles like Haze, Crysis, and Quake 4. Think of the millions and millions of dollars being wasted on these short, dull tech demos. Think of the games we could be playing with that kind of cash being thrown around.

I played Quake 4 a while back. It was shallow, but amusing. But I’ll bet for the budget of Quake 4 you could (if you dialed back the graphics to 2002 levels) build a breakthrough along the lines of Thief or System Shock 2, with the added bonus that just about every PC out there would be able to run the thing. Imagine, you could spend the same money and make more money and give customers more value.

As always, I’m watching what the indie developers are doing. They don’t have the luxury of making these kinds of mistakes once, much less year after year. Indies don’t quite have access to cheap tools that can give us Golden-Age graphics without a lot of additional work, but the tools are getting better every year, and the gap left by big-name publishers is getting ever-wider.

It’s also worth noting here that Good Old Games is a new site that will be selling DRM-free versions of the classics for cheap. The public beta starts soon. I already own most of those games, but once the place opens up I’m going to go fishing and see if there’s anything I missed. For $5 – $10 USD, you probably can’t go wrong.

Just for fun: Name a few of your favorite games. I’m willing to bet if we collected a list of favorite PC games from people old enough to remember all three ages of PC Gaming, we would see that the games form a Gaussian distribution somewhere around 1997-2002.

Here’s to the Golden Age. May our emulators never fail us.

Comments (177)

1 2 3

  1. David says:

    My favorite ever was Majesty. And, well, it was published in 2000, with its expansion in 2002, if you believe Wikipedia.

    Then there’s the Total War series: Shogun (2000), Medieval (2002), Rome (sorta a flop, 2004), Medieval 2 (2006)

    Civilization series: 1991, 1996, 2001, 2005

    MOO2: 1996

    Total War, Spore, and the indies give me hope that you’re describing the *first* golden age of computer gaming, but I guess we have to wait and see on that one.

  2. Jeremiah says:

    Some favorites off the top of my head:

    Diablo 1 & 2, the original Pool of Radiance (1988), Planescape: Torment, System Shock 2 (currently playing through for my first time ever), Baldur’s Gate 1 & 2, Icewind Dale 1 & 2, Neverwinter Nights 1 & 2, Myst, Deus Ex, Warcraft 1 2 & 3, Morrowind, Oblivion.

    There’s probably more, but that’s a good start.

  3. Divra says:

    I will happily join you in that toast.

    I would however like to make 3 additions.

    1998 Baldur’s Gate.

    1999 Freespace 2

    2000 Baldur’s Gate 2

    I know the last two are sequels, but they are absolutely awesome games.

  4. Kevin says:

    Heh heh… you said Windows was stable.

  5. MikeSSJ says:

    Completely agreed.

    While there are some gems that were created in the “Dark Age” (Star Control 2 comes to mind, for example), as well as some very good ones from what you call the “Stupid Age”, there’s no denying that most of the REALLY good stuff comes from the late 90’s and early 2000.

  6. Hal says:

    You know what games I loved that I just can’t play anymore? The Quest for Glory series from Sierra. Yeah, they were the old pixel-hunt style adventure game, but they brought me into PC gaming, and I still remember them fondly.

    I haven’t played them in years, though. They relied on the processor to determine certain functions, so playing on a Pentium 2 or higher results in a game too fast to be playable. *Sigh*. I guess those disks can just keep collecting dust.

    • MidnightDStroyer says:

      Yeah, I’d consider the whole Quest for Glory series to be classics, that took us from stone-age DOS-based 8-bit graphics with arrow-keys character movement & text-parser commands all the way into 32-bit point & click navigation combined with drop-down menus with the first generation of 3D animated modeling & animation. The whole series had not only the greatest use of graphics of their time, but the gameplay itself was full of high-quality context & in-depth development of plots & storytelling with real substance mixed with it’s own humor. I have yet to see or hear of any series of games that pretty much set the industry standards for computer gaming so consistently throughout its entire run. there was even some real character development that required the player to actively improve the character’s skills to gain levels, rather than most other games that required gaining levels to improve skills that you might never have need for or use. The amount of character customization was astounding, in that I was able to build the character in a way that could utilize skills from all of the various classes, so that I could improvise & experiment with different ways to do the various tasks & actions. Not only that, but you could import your customized character from one game into the next of the series, and continue customizing the character for each new part of the series with newly-gained skills & continuing to improve old skills for better effectiveness.

      I’ve found that an emulator known as DOS Box is quite capable of not only running all of the QFG series that still relies on DOS to work, but as PC hardware improved, the older games would wind up running the animations so fast that you couldn’t see anything but a blur…But DOS Box solved that problem by including an adjustable timing delay to slow the processor down to whatever speed you like.

      I don’t care what anyone else says, the Coreys were geniuses in the concept-development of the QFG series.

  7. Shamus says:

    Hal: Recently someone sent me a link to this:


    Which is a re-release of QFG2. I haven’t tried it myself, though.

  8. Adam says:

    The Command & Conquer series. Early 90’s to present. With the exception of the latest two proper games in the series (Read: the first two created by the EA-controlled studio.) they were excellent examples of what could be done with nothing but 2d sprites. And they were REALLY FREAKING FUN to play.

  9. Jeysie says:

    You’ll get no argument from me on that factor… pretty much all of the games I own are adventures, RPGs, and a few strategy games from that Golden Era. (Well, and Wing Commander.)

    The “Golden Age” phenomenon was brought to my attention most sharply recently when I finally played the Tex Murphy games. Being an adventure gamer, the decline of the genre is a semi-popular topic. I commented that I’d like to see adventure games evolve to where 3D is actually used (looking over, under, behind, etc), borrowing from RPGs where dialogue choices matter, puzzles that are logical and fit in the narrative/enviroment, etc.

    Then I played Under a Killing Moon and The Pandora Directive and discovered that Access Software already did that, you know, 14 years ago. And with 3D graphics that were actually pretty nice considering there was no fancy texture mapping back then (certainly better than most 3D of that era). They’re not perfect games, but they’re still ahead of their time in many ways, at least in the realm of adventure games.

    But yeah… Torment, Fallout 1 & 2, pretty much all of LucasArts’ adventures, Beneath a Steel Sky, Wing Commander, Alpha Centauri, Gabriel Knight, The Space Bar… not to mention all the games from that era I haven’t played yet but people tend to universally say are good.

  10. Carra says:

    I played Planescape Torment & The longest journey last year, never played them before. They were awesome. And both still looked good! Besides being the most fun games I had played in quite some time.

    And yes, some of my favorite games:
    -> 7 kingdoms (1997)
    -> Anno 1602 (2000)
    -> Starcraft
    -> Medal of Honor: AA
    -> Majesty (2000)
    -> Diablo 2
    -> AoE2
    -> Broken Sword (1997)
    -> Rollercoaster tycoon
    -> Carmaggeddon

    Although I’d add some newer games too:
    -> Warcraft 3, Bioshock, World of Warcraft, Knights of the Old Republic.

    Some older too:
    -> Monkey Island
    -> Caesar 2

    None the less, the majority is from about 1997 > 2001. Also the period where I *started* playing pc games. Or, not much things to compare with.

    Ah, it’s just nostalgia :)

  11. Deoxy says:

    Heh heh… you said Windows was stable.

    Which is ridiculous, even today (though less so). I think a better term would be consistent.

    If you could get Windows running decently well on your system (and you reboot regularly, and defrag regularly, etc), most everything that ran in Windows would as well. Mostly. Most of the time.

    The alternative was each game being a roll of the dice – some might actually be stable (much more than Windows), but many would be just as bad or worse, and they would each have their own issues, as opposed to all sharing the same set of issues in the Windows world.

    One set of issues, even if just as bad or worse, is often better than many different sets of issues, even if they individually aren’t as bad. That’s the point, I think.

    Oh, and I agree with Shamus’ main point, as well.

  12. Deoxy says:

    The Command & Conquer series.

    You mean the Dune II series?

    Seriously, go look for the game “Dune II”. Same company, late 80s, I think it was, maybe early 90s?

    Command and Conquer is the SAME GAME. The graphics even look similar.

    It also explains where the whole silly resource concept in C&C came from – harvesting The Spice.

    Edit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dune_II

    At least some of that article is wrong (you most certainly COULD select multiple units, for instance, but it was limited to 9 at a time), but it gives the general idea.

  13. Nixorbo says:

    I would like to add X-Wing Alliance to the 1999 list.

  14. Corvus says:

    1992 – Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss
    1992 – Ultima VII: The Black Gate
    1993 – X-COM: UFO Defense
    1997 – Fallout

    Hm… I seem to be a fan of the Dark Ages. ;)

  15. ajw says:

    Heh: I remember making special Novell boot floppies just to play the newly-released Quake. That’s one step away from chasing kids off the lawn.

    Grim Fandango FTW

  16. Fritha says:

    The combination of Baldurs Gate 2 and Civilization II added a year (at least) onto my PhD. While Civ IV has replaced CivII in terms of hours played, BG2 is still a constant on my hard drive, and probably gets replayed every 6 or so months. Alpha centauri also gets played fairly regularly – I’d pay good money for a remake of that!

    One other game that I would add onto the list above would be Riven (1997). Beautiful game, and definitely a highlight for me.

  17. Strangeite says:

    The original Pools of Radiance (1988), although to be honest I should include all of the old TSR “Gold Box” games, Roadwar 2000 (1986), all the Civilzations, Blue Max (1983), Homeworld (1999) and SimCity 2000 (1993).

    Looking back at my list, I realize now how influenced my gaming habits were by the old Commodore games.

    Edit: Oh yeah, and Colonization.

  18. Nilus says:

    Man the dark ages. Having to figure out how to get more ESM memory, having to fiddle with drivers to get the CD-Rom to work. Man half the fun of playing a game was getting it to run.

    Of course looking back at the Dark Ages of the mid-90s, it was heads above the stone ages of the late 80s. At least VGA had become a standard. Am I the only one who remember CGA(4 colors that all seemed to be shades of orange) and EGA(8 colors this time, with a lot of developers loving green and blue).

    I look back 20 years and am shocked at how much has changed, then I look at my infant son and think about what he is going to think of all these technological marvels we swoon over now.

  19. Shinjin says:

    Not sure where to find the year a game was published. Off the top of my head, these are some that I spent an inordinate time playing (and replaying):

    Jagged Alliance 2
    X-Com: Ufo Defense
    Caesar n/Pharaoh/Zeus
    Star Control 1/2

  20. Mari says:

    Favorite games? The ones I keep going back to and playing over and over again? Or at least did until I got a bleeping 64-bit OS in pursuit of the shiny? Hmmmm…I know some of these have already been mentioned, but I’ll repeat since this is my list:

    Baldur’s Gate – 1998
    Majesty – 2000
    Dungeon Keeper 2 (never did play 1…probably a shame)- 1999
    The Sims (to my eternal shame)- 2000
    Zoo Tycoon – 2001
    Rollercoaster Tycoon – 1999
    Sim Tower – 1994
    Civilization 1&2 (never could cotton to 3 or 4, but I’m old-fashioned like that)- 1991
    Tetris and its many, many, many clones and spin-offs like Collapse and Bejeweled – circa mid-1980s
    You Don’t Know Jack (somehow as embarrassing as The Sims) circa mid-1990s
    Scholastic’s Microzine games circa mid-1980s
    Oregon Trail (not the ungodly bug-riddled, resource-intensive “updates”) 1971 (pre-dates my birth, but I was playing it from the early 80s to the late 90s)
    Doom (not the franchise, the original Doom) – 1993
    Castle Wolfenstein – 1981 (I didn’t start playing until the mid 80s)

    Obviously, many of these aren’t even playable on modern boxes. Until not too many years ago, though, I actually still had original 5.25″ install disks for some of them.

  21. Tim Skirvin says:

    Starcraft, X-Wing/TIE-Fighter, SMAC + Civ 1/2/4, X-Com, Star Control II, Wing Commander I/II, MOO 1/2, Starcraft, Scorched Earth, the EGA-days of Sierra On-Line, the Gold Box games. Those are the Games Of Yore to me. And it’s been a nice reminder lately that I don’t actually have to stop playing them.

  22. Duffy says:

    Interestingly enough my favorites do tend to be older:
    TIE Fighter
    Dark Forces
    Civ II
    Full Throttle
    Day of the Tentacle
    Commander Keen
    Quake 2 (my favorite in the Quake series for both single and multiplayer)
    Dark Reign (basically a C&C knock off)

  23. Tim Skirvin says:

    I did miss the Lucasarts days, specifically the Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis game.

  24. Matt K says:

    Oddly, I didn’t really get to play PC games until 2000 (in 1997 my family finally got a PC and it was good enough to play Doom but Fallout was well beyond the system specs). Then again, I’ve been playing catch up ever since (and that seems in not include recent games).

    My List:
    Great Games:
    Deus Ex
    Planescape: Torment
    Civ 2 (and I recently got a hold of Civ 4 and enjoyed it almost as much)
    Fallout (never got around to finishing Fallout 2)
    Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines (playing now, but great so far)

    Good Games (not quite as good in my opinion):
    Dungeon Keeper 2
    Legacy of Kain: Defiance (yes, I played it on the PC and actually the series itself was pretty enjoyable minus Blood Omen 2 even if it wasn’t exceptional in any way)
    Temple of Elemental Evil

    That said, oddly there have been some incredible console games fairly recently such as Prince of Persia Trilogy, Beyond Good and Evil, God of War and Shadows of the Colossus. Shadows especially is such a unique game that I have to wonder why we don’t get this kind of experimental games on the PC anymore (same with Katamari)

  25. Rubes says:

    What? No Marathon from Bungie yet?

    Oh yes. Sweet, sweet Marathon. 1994.

  26. Joel says:

    I have to point out Myth: The Fallen Lords, and Myth II: Soulblighter. Both of these were produced by Bungie before Microsoft acquired them, the first hitting the shelves in 1997 and the second in 1998 (I think).

    I still play Myth II today every few weeks with a bunch of friends who I’ve managed to convince over the years to give the old game a try. It has great multiplayer strategy, lots of plugins developed by the fanbase, and a captivating simgle-player campaign (with co-op). If I were to describe it in a nutshell, I’d say it’s like Warcraft, but better graphics, physics, and none of the resource collecting or building.

  27. Nihil says:

    But I'll bet for the budget of Quake 4 you could (if you dialed back the graphics to 2002 levels) build a breakthrough along the lines of Thief or System Shock 2, with the added bonus that just about every PC out there would be able to run the thing. Imagine, you could spend the same money and make more money and give customers more value.

    Interestingly, Tilda Swanson* said exactly the same thing in a recent interview, while talking about big-budget Hollywood productions versus underground/indie/art films.

    * the Witch from the Narnia films, whose entire career up to that point was spent in the underground scene.

  28. supermank17 says:

    Ah yes, the good ol’ days when everything LucasArts touched seemed Golden. Some of my favorites are still their adventure games (all of them, but Full Throttle, Monkey Island 3, and Sam and Max stand out), the X-wing series, and one of my favorite shooters of all time, Jedi Knight 2.

  29. Factoid says:

    It blows my mind to see those games lumped together by year like that. I can’t believe that Homeworld really came out the same year as Alpha Centauri. Looking at the two games today you’d swear that Homeworld was at least 3 years ahead because of graphics alone. Goes to show we really weren’t that obsessed with graphical minutia back then.

    I kind of blame Half Life 2 for starting the graphics arms race. Gabe Newell became a shill for the Radeon 9800 by saying that HL2 would run “best” on that card. So nVidia’s response was to start working with major developers on major titles to gaurantee “best” performance for nVidia cards.

    This led very quickly to graphics programmers and chipset designers getting together to create esoteric systems to make cooler, more impressive graphics. Which began to roll out into new production cards.

    That in itself isn’t a bad thing, but it snowballed out of control and we’d get some new version of the same old card that had some minor new feature but it somehow necessitated a new product number, so thats how we got cards called “Beefycard 6636TA” (TA stands for ‘teh awesomez’)

    I know it wasn’t all Gabe’s fault. Certainly this had been going on to various degrees before hand, but that was really the tipping point.

  30. mockware says:

    I can’t remember what year these came out in but I have to say that the PC game industry has left me behind due to their obsession with RTS and FPS.

    Ultima Series III, IV and V
    Warlords 2, 3, 4
    Freedom Force 1 and 2
    Baldur’s Gate 1 and 2
    Icewind Dale 1 & 2
    Panzer General, Fantasy General, … General
    Civilization Series

    Funny enough I am finding all my gaming needs are filled with the DS – I only bought it so I could play PuzzleQuest but now I have found all these new games that play like the old PC games I loved. They are even doing a lot of conversions from tabletop and old PC titles.

  31. Nickless says:

    My favourite games:

    Neverwinter Nights (2002)[The persistent worlds are addictive and a lot of fun, even now. Escape From the Underdark is win]
    Baldur’s Gate 2 (2000)
    Planescape:Torment (1999)
    Fallout (1997)
    Mount and Blade (????)
    Civilisation 2 (1996)
    Diablo 2 (2000) [At the time it was addictive, although now I can hardly stand the grind]
    Morrowind (2002)
    Civilisation 4 (2005)[It is a lot of fun, especially the multiplayer, but my machine can’t handle it after the industrial age]

    As for games nowadays, I’m really looking forward to Age of Decadence, which looks like it will be as good as, if not better, than Fallout.

    • WWWebb says:

      Reading through old posts, I started wondering about this “Age of Decadence” game being anticipated in 2008. Apparently it finally came out in Q4 2015.

      I wonder how it stacks up against the more publicized Kickstarter RPGs. Thinking about those and the main article makes me wonder if we’re in a another golden age for RPGs. That could be a fun post since there have been at least 3 “golden ages” of RPGs. Someone makes a really good engine for people to design games around, then you wait 2-4 years for people to push it as far as it can go.

  32. ThaneofFife says:

    My top ten PC games of all time:

    10. Master of Orion (the original)

    9. Alpha Centauri (all the fun of Civ II, and with a plot!)

    8. Journeyman II (one of the best uses of full-motion video I’ve ever seen, and lots of great atmospherics)

    7. XCOM (and Terror from the Deep, which is basically the same game)

    6. Millennia: Altered Destinies (a seriously-underrated time-travel role-play, puzzle adventure)

    5. World of Warcraft

    4. Grim Fandango (and I never beat it! Got close though)

    3. Warcraft 3 (and the Frozen Throne expansion; loved the user-made scenarios, especially Gem Td; I beat the game on hard, and once got to the top 100 on the East Coast for a couple of weeks)

    2. Sanitarium (probably the best adventure game ever made (though Grim Fangando gives it competition there) also probably the best atmospherics and weirdness of any game I’ve ever seen or heard of)

    1. Betrayal at Krondor. This is hands-down the best RPG ever made for the PC.
    It’s first-person, but with a party, and is largely text-dependent, which seriously ups the immersion in this 1993 release. It also introduced me to the world of Raymond E. Feist, which has given me additional reading pleasure. Best part: it’s been free-ware for 10 years courtesy of Sierra. Wikipedia should be able to point you to it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betrayal_at_krondor

  33. ngthagg says:

    I’ve spent a significant amount of time playing Caesar III and Heroes of Might and Magic III. They were published in 1998 and 1999, respectively, more confirmation of your theory.

  34. Tacoman says:

    Hands down, Age of Empires I & II. Also, Starcraft was pretty awesome. Those are pretty much my favorite games for the PC, even now that I’m addicted to WoWcrack.

  35. LintMan says:

    When Half-Life came out, it refused to work properly with my Matrox video card/Voodoo2 3D card set. (It was a Matrox driver issue and they had already stopped supporting my high-end 1.5 year old card, so no fixes were coming. I’ll never buy from them again). So I ended up buying one of those new-fangled 2D/3D Riva TNT cards just so I could play Half-Life.

    I felt like an idiot at the time, buying a new video card just so I could play one game I’d play for a month and uninstall. But, then, with all the expansions and mods – especially Team Fortress Classic, 5 years later HL still was sitting on my system and had outlived the video card I bought to play it. Not bad after all.

    My point to that story? Not much of one, really.

    But I do have a point to make. Shamus mentions the dumbed-down Bioshock and Deus Ex 2 vs their predecessors in the context of graphics fixation, but I’d place 100% of that particular blame on them being console-centric designs. For some inexplicable reason, developers seem to think that console games don’t want or can’t handle game depth.

  36. Patrick says:

    One thing I noticed on all these lists (and for which I think Shamus should do a special column) is that a lot of the games need no 3D component. It’s irrelevent to most Strategy games and RPG’s. However, even these games feel the need to invest in huge 3D budgets which really don’t do much. Are we really getting much by having a 3D Civilization? You could do very detailed 2D graphics which do the same thing. The Total War series put it to good use, although I was never entirely happy with somewhat messy Rome: Total War world map.

    In a related matter, I find I enjoy handheld DS games as much or more than big-name, partly because they’re 2D. Sprites tend to be relaxing, cute, and fun because the focus is not on the graphics. The game must be punchy and fun because gamers may only be paying in 45 minute intervals. I think the lesson here is that your graphics ought to be as good as they need to be, and no more, and always prefer useful detail over exotic but marginal gains.

  37. The people here who are complaining about Windows’ apparent instability are completely doing it wrong.

    I’ve been using XP x86 since it came out and Vista x64 since this past April and both of them have seen uptimes well past 30 days. My record was over 100 days, broken by a power outage.

    If you’ve experiencing BSoDs and/or crashes with a modern NT-based OS you only have third-party drivers, your hardware, or yourself to blame for it.

  38. JB says:

    The golden age of gaming was for me earlier than that, it was when I had my Amiga. Those were the days. I am lucky to have been young at that time. :)

    • MidnightDStroyer says:

      Heh! I still remember the original Sim City, for the old Commodore 64…Back when that was the top-o-the-line in home computing. I still remember the days when an internet connection required a telephone modem for dial-up connection & the only way to navigate online was Compuserve & Prodigy. I never did enjoy anything of Sim City past #2 though.
      A lot of what I still enjoy most has already been mentioned, such as Planescape: Torment, Dungeon Keeper 2, the Gold Box series of the AD&D adventures (Pools of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, etc), Civilization games up to Call to Power, Unreal, Jedi Knight II: Jedi OUtcast & a bunch of others, but my all time favorite has to be the entire series of Quest For Glory…All 5 games; they carried us from out of the stone-age DOS with CGA graphics all the way into the first generation of 3D animated modeling, doing so while combined with prodigious levels of game/story-telling content & RPG character-development.

  39. xbolt says:

    SimCity 2000 – 1993
    Myst – 1993
    Riven – 1997
    MDK – 1997
    Half-Life – 1998
    MDK2 – 2000 (The absolute best)
    Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force – 2000
    Return to Castle Wolfenstein – 2001
    Ominous Horizons – 2002
    The Hobbit – 2003
    Half-Life 2 – 2004 (And all sequels)
    Oblivion – 2006

  40. Ingvar says:

    I remember Hexen as being astounding. But, then, I replkayed it recently and it wasn’t nearly as brilliant.

    + Forsaken (the PC version; the PS version is, erm, not good)
    + Half-Life, Opposing Force and Blueshift
    + Return to Castle Wolfenstein (though, it has some issues, in that it contains some rather tougher than ideal bossmonsters)
    + Safecracker (this is, alas, fraught with issues, trying to run on a modern machine, as it refuses to start due to too much RAM being available).
    + Dungeon-keeper

  41. Deoxy says:

    Windows has problems FAR beyond BSoD.

    The most obvious is that it does not control memory worth a darn.

    The OS should OWN memory. That’s one of its primary jobs. Windows leaks, in every version yet put out.

    That’s why making it 30+ days without a reboot is so impressive for Windows. Unix and Linux systems NEVER need to be rebooted, unless you are changing out the hardware or some vital system software issue.

    Third party stuff should be INCAPABLE of breaking the OS, as the stuff that can break the OS should be inaccessible to them. Windows has never done that.

    And that’s without getting into the impressively bad registry management (if you want to call it that – the registry is essentially unmanaged, really). That’s a whole different pile of problems.

    Building an OS is hard work (I know, I’ve done it – small scale, in college), but Microsoft is the biggest software name on the planet, with the largest OS budget that has ever existed, and they can’t accomplish the basics? Don’t get me started on security (at least it has a little bit now)…

    And yes, I’m a Windows user – work and home – so it’s not just fan-boy raving, here.

  42. The Fallen says:

    I totally agree with you Shamus. Although I fondly remember the pre Windows era (I was mostly into Amiga games though) you can beat the number of defining, innovative or just plain awesome games that came around in the 1997-2000 period.

    Most of them were mentioned already by other people, so I would add one that is absent from their lists: Dark Forces 2: Jedi Knight. Not only is one of the best Star Wars games up to date, but also did a lot for the FPS games.

    Of course Half-Life really set the standards two years later, but a lot of things were already present in Dark Forces 2 (massive and very complex levels, interaction with objects, a lot more plot than was normal for shooters of that age)

  43. ThaneofFife says:

    I didn’t click edit on my original post as soon as I should have, so here are the dates for my games (all dates from wikipedia):

    Master of Orion (1993)
    Alpha Centauri (1999)
    The Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time (1995)
    XCom (1993); Terror From the Deep (1995)
    Millennia Altered Destinies (1995)
    WoW (2004)
    Grim Fandango (1998)
    Warcraft 3 (2002)
    Sanitarium (1998)
    Betrayal at Krondor (1993)

    Looking at this, I’d say that 1995 was my best year for gaming. However, I had a pentium 133 with 64Mb Ram and no video card from 1996 until 2000. Before that, I had a 486 DX/2 50Mhz with 32Mb RAM. So, I couldn’t play most of the games that were coming out in the late 90s.

    Also, I can’t believe I made this list without including:
    Master of Orion II (1996)–by far better than the original; can’t believe I forgot to include it
    X-Wing (1993)
    Tie Fighter (1994)–by far the better of the two space sims
    Warcraft II (1995 again!)
    Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight (1997)
    Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (2002; Jedi Academy was pretty good too, but no an all-time great)
    Starcraft (1998)

    Clearly I need to make a top 20 list.

    Shamus: a suggestion. Why don’t you make an online poll where readers will select the top 25 or 50 or 100 PC games of all time. The results could be interesting…

    As for the Diablo series, I’ve never played it, but listening to the people here, I’m beginning to think I should go back and play it. Same for Fallout. So many games, so little time…

  44. Strangeite says:

    Ian B: That is impressive; but, my G4 running OS 10.4 has not been restarted in almost three years. It is about two months shy of the anniversary. Granted it is now mainly a file and iTunes server.

  45. onosson says:

    2 questions:

    Does the Commodore 64 qualify as “pc gaming”?

    And, does anyone else have fond memories of Amerzone (1999)? I absolutely loved that game. True, there was no way to deviate from the path, but that path was so beautiful that it didn’t seem to matter (except if you wanted to replay it).

    Others on my personal list:

    Civ III (2001)
    Morrowind (2002)
    Shogun: Total War (2000)
    Medieval: Total War (2002: the first one, I replay it constantly!)
    Ultima III (1983: my first experience with Windows gaming)
    Tropico (2001: it’s a light game, but very replayable)

  46. Alan De Smet says:

    I happen to be re-playing No One Lives Forever 2 right now! And I must say, it’s aged really, really well. Having a modern machine means I can run it with all the knobs turned up. (Well, the shadows only at medium, but they look great there. Something about high quality shadows causes my high end gaming rig to crawl. *shrug*.) The gameplay is polished and solid. It’s funny. It looks good. They included surprisingly high resolution textures. NOLF1, which I just re-played, did not age so elegantly. It’s still fun and I’d recommend it, but it looks old and the mechanics are clumsy and unpolished. NOLF2 hit it out of the park.

    On the down side, I got regular crashes when trying to start it up. Lowering the resolution to a mere 1024×768 appears to have fixed it right up. A shame, for those few time I got it running at 1440×1080 it looked great.

    I hope Good Old Games has a good selection. There are a few holes in my collection I’d like to fill. In particular, my copy of System Shock 2 disappeared a few years ago, and I’m yearning to replay it. Quick searching online finds used copies… for $80. I think not.

    (Oh, and Escape From Monkey Island a Golden Age treasure? It’s far as away the weakest of the series. I replayed almost every LucasArts adventure game in the last few years, and EfMI is a pretty low point. It’s better than no Monkey Island, but only marginally so.)

  47. potemkin.hr says:

    My all-times favorites list:

    Heroes of Might and Magic 3
    Age of Empires 2
    Neverwinter nights (still playing it sometimes over the internet)
    Baldur’s Gate 2
    C&C: Red alert 2
    Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars
    Splinter cell: Chaos theory

    Soon I hope to play mass effect, another game that could be good is dragon age (if bioware doesn’t mess it up…).

  48. onosson says:

    I forgot to add Far Cry (2004) to my list. I know why Shamus didn’t like it so much, but I actually enjoyed it a lot and played it several times. That being said, it does stand as a good example of the Beginning of the End of the Golden Age.

  49. Nazgul says:

    Somewhat OT (or ironically on-topic): the Xbox 360 price cuts you were waiting for have officially arrived…

    Back on-topic, my fave oldies that still stand up are Myth II, the old Warcraft (pre-WoW), the original couple of Tomb Raider games, and perhaps most importantly Bungie’s “Marathon” on the Macintosh in 1994(!) as well as its later sequel. Marathon may not look as good as Halo 3 but the play was almost the same and it was just as much fun. Hard to believe it was 14 years ago….

  50. geogscott says:

    Baldurs Gate 1 and 2 (the splatter kills were awesome)
    Neverwinter Nights
    Icewind Dale
    Diablo 2
    Sacred (diablo 2 knockoff)
    Civilization series
    Dark Age of Camelot

  51. Mari says:

    Onosson – YES! Commodore 64 is totally PC gaming. I even included some games on my list that only ever ran on the Apple IIC, so I should think your Commodore counts way more than that. I feel kind of old now. And a little bit geeky.

  52. onosson says:

    OK Mari, in that case M.U.L.E. is my #1 game of all time, on any platform. Also memorable were: Boulderdash; Seven Cities of Gold; Heart of Africa; and of course, the Summer and Winter Games series!

    For those too young to remember it, I think the equivalent of M.U.L.E. these days is ebay.

  53. Spam says:

    I remember firing up my Apple 2 GS to play Kings Quest…
    I also remember almost failing out of college because I was playing Baldur’s Gate too much to bother going to classes.
    Good times.

  54. Don J says:

    My list (roughly chronological):
    Zork I, II, III, and Zero
    Bard’s Tale I and II (the Amiga versions only, though — sound and graphics were CRAP on the PC, as I learned years later buying the collection)
    Emerald Mines (apparently a Boulderdash clone?)
    Rocket Ranger
    Civilization I, II, and III
    Heroes of Might and Magic 2 and 3 (especially 3 — one of my all time favorites there)
    Baldur’s Gate
    Diablo 2
    Half-Life 1 and 2

    All of these are games I would happily play again if I had time and access. I especially miss the Amiga games — Bard’s Tale, Emerald Mines, and Rocket Ranger. I have spent time trying to get them working again in emulation, and looking for ways to buy them. I really miss the good music and colours on the Amiga Bard’s Tale games. Loading up the PC versions makes me very, very sad.

    I also kind of miss the sounds the old C64 drive would make when loading Zork. I can still hear them in my head. But that really has nothing to do with the games.

  55. Galen says:

    Morrowind, Starcraft, Baldur’s Gate, WoW. ’nuff said.

  56. Some random comments:

    Of the 23 `98 – `00 games you listed, about 10 of them used “obsolete” 2D graphics. And people have named plenty of other great games from that timeframe which were also 2D. No wonder you didn’t need to upgrade your video card as often back then! Gee, I wonder how many great 2D games came out this year…

    We had graphics cards that opened up a new age of 3d, but they were simple to buy and would last for years.

    Maybe you did, but since 1996, I’ve owned a Voodoo1, Voodoo2, Voodoo3, Voodoo5, GeForce 3, GeForce4, Radeon 9800, GeForce 6800, GeForce 8800, and now HD 4870; or an average of 1 new video card every 1.2 years. Granted, those upgrades were motivated as much by technolust as spiraling system requirements. Even so, some of us have been on the GPU leveling treadmill for a very long time. :-)

    I think some of the key factors back then to a GPU’s longevity were (A) plenty of great 2D games which didn’t require a 3D card; (B) id, Epic, and Valve – the Holy FPS Trinity of Yore – were pretty good at making game engines capable of running on a broad range of HW and those who licensed their engines benefited from that; and (C) GPU inequality (i.e., the difference between the slowest and fastest) wasn’t as pronounced as it is now. Also, as consoles eroded the PC’s dominance of FPSs, I think PC-only FPS developers chose to focus on what they saw as the PC’s strengths – namely complexity and the availability of higher-end HW – which partially drove the GPU arms race.

  57. freykin says:

    Master of Magic, Diablo II, Warcraft III(mainly for the map editor, but what a map editor!), half-life, and a million various rogue likes.

  58. Rhykker says:

    Favorite games:

    – StarCraft
    – Diablo II
    – Unreal Tournament
    – Unreal Tournament 3 (Sorry, Shamus. Yes, it’s got some serious issues, yes, Epic and Midway messed up big time on a lot of things, but I still really like the gameplay, and it’s the game I play most often presently – perhaps, to me, it’s a sort of “best of the worst” with regards to this current age of gaming.)

    Runners up include:

    – WarCraft II
    – WarCraft III
    – Duke Nukem 3d (the first game I ever played, at 8 years of age – probably not appropriate…)

  59. Mark says:

    I wasn’t ever much of a PC gamer. Probably too young. I loved TIE Fighter and The Incredible Machine, and miscellaneous shareware games that I can’t even remember how they got on the family computer before we got Internet access.

    Oh, and Chex Quest. Can’t forget Chex Quest.

  60. Tizzy says:

    Completely agree with the main point (predicatbly; my top faves: Baldur’s gate, planescape, warcraft2, half-life, fallout, starcraft)

    I’ll call you out on Quake 4 though: if I remember correctly, one of your posts pointed out how amazing the ally AI was. To me, it really made the game, gave it its own identity and made it stand out from the other FPSes. You have to give them innovative credit on this, *and* on some plot points, even if the overall gameplay wasn’t stellar. (But then again, my taste for FPS-type gameplay is not that strong.)

  61. Evan says:

    My favorite games would include Age of Empires II and the Total War series (particularly Medieval I and Rome).

    And I agree with David in the first comment: the Total War series gives me hope for the future of PC gaming.

  62. Tizzy says:

    And an unrelated comment: game companies probably have about as much leeway in what kind of games they design as filmmakers do: either you’re indie and easily ignored or you work in the establishment and so many people have a say in the final product that you can’t realize your vision even if you had one. With the financial stakes this high, trying to buck the established formula is simply not an option.

  63. Sludgebuster says:

    Most of my faves have already been mentioned: MOO2, AOE, Civ1+2, XWing, TIE Fighter, yadda, yadda….

    One that was buggy-but had a few features that were incredible was Frontier: First Encounters…

    Okay, from the start, the game was buggy- missions sucked, the time compression was, well, flawed; and combat was more on the shoot-and-pray method than anything else: One big ship with a large laser could really mess up your day…

    but the immersion was incredible! Flying around a solar system FELT like flying around a solar system: Nobody around, no traffic, and if you didn’t have some time bending technology to shorten the time, you’d go bonkers waiting for something to happen….

    One of myy favorite stunts was Sling-shotting around stars- especially white dwarfs. It FELT realistic- powering into a star to slingshot out the other side.

  64. Moridin says:

    Red Alert, Fallout(1 and 2), Morrowind.

    Of course, I haven’t had machine to run newest games since…2004? This laptop can’t run Oblivion in default settings either(128MB gpu)

    Original Red Alert is much better than Red Alert 2 IMO.

    Just recently got Fallout working on virtual machine(my laptop (with Vista) has some ATI graphics card which doesn’t support 256 colour graphics)

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