Monday, June 9, 2008

michael5000 at Play

For some reason, I recently made a list of the computer games that have won my heart and soul over the years. Here it is!

Category A: Games that had me for months in a state where they seemed more real to me than my biological life, and where I would think nothing of staying up until two, compulsively continuing play despite accumulating evidence that this might not be the best thing for my health, career, and/or relationships. And, that are still close to my heart, that I could easily go on another binge of anytime, if Mrs.5000 wasn't watching me like a hawk.

Civilization (I, II, & III): Empire-building, 4000 B.C. to present. Who needs reality? (1991, 1996, 2001)

Master of Orion II: Empire-building, present to 3000 A.D. Who needs reality? (1996)


Railroad Tycoon II: Empire-building, with trains. (1998)

Category B: Games that I found highly compelling for weeks, in which I would think nothing of staying up until two, compulsively continuing play, as long as there was nothing planned the next day. But I'd knock off by midnight on a worknight. And, that I still keep around and like to crack out from time to time.

Age of Wonders: Running around with wizards and hobbits and shit. Maybe not the most dignified of games, but well-designed. (1999)

Alpha Centauri: Civ II in space. Proper. (1999)

Tropico: Every Latin American stereotype you can imagine, packed into an odd political-sim-meets-city-builder with the best computer game soundtrack ever made. A niche product, but it works for me. (2001)


Civilization IV: The series tarts up its graphics, adds loads of interesting new features, and somehow loses its way. (2005)

Category C: Games that I found highly compelling for several weeks, with the compulsive play and all that, but then once I was finished with them that was pretty much it. No special urge to revisit them.

SimGolf: A hoot. We're still quoting it, years later. (1996)

Morrowind: Running around a pretty, pretty landscape, slaying things with magic swords. More fun than it sounds. Another fine soundtrack. (2002)

Black & White: It looks great! It's a terrific concept! It's quite absorbing for a while! It's impossible to play! (2001)

1602 A.D.: Such a sweet, mellow little game of imperial aggression. Very enjoyable. (2000)

Rails Across America: Of the many transportation games out there, this is not among the most memorable. But it was fun. (2001)

Category F: This is a special category for games that by all appearances seem like they should really appeal to me, but that I've never been able to get interested in at all.

Galactic Civilizations II: By the map for this game, Jupiter is halfway to Alpha Centauri. I couldn't get past that.

Homeworld 2: This is one of those games where you have to think fast. I don't think fast.

Europa Universalis: I think you have to be an actual smart person to play this game. I just got confused.


1. God, I'm a dork!

2. Old games is good games. They tend to be a lot more stable, and improvements in graphics since the late 1990s have been merely pretty, but irrelevent to gameplay and interface. In fact, you kind of have to wonder if the amount of effort expended on graphics comes at the cost of game design.

3. Under my live-and-let-live exterior, there is apparently a power-mad dictator howling to be let out and forge some kind of tightly controlled statist utopia.

4. As much as I despise the death of hours that comes from such time-devouring trivialities as Doing the Dishes or Mopping, I am gaga for games that often take in excess of 20 hours to complete.

5. However, I don't like games that challenge my physical dexterity or reflex speed. Because those are dumb.

Nor Do I Intend to Mend My Ways

Just like you, no doubt, I've been looking forward to Spore for years! I'm so excited!

Sins of a Solar Empire looks most tight. I will probably snatch it up as soon as there are cheap used copies floating around.

I just bought a copy of the legendary "The Last Express," often cited as the most underrated game of all time. This will probably be my next big binge.

How You Can Help

Gentle Reader: What are your favorite computer games? What do you love about them? And can you recommend any that might rock my world?

And, for those of you that find computer games pointless, or sterile, or unwholesome, or simply a waste of time: I recommend finding an old copy of Civ II or Civ III. There's a bit of a learning curve involved, but once you're hooked, you'll thank me.


Anonymous said...

I've not played any of these but all sound intriguing.

Wish I had something for you, but I quit a Super Mario Bros. 2. (That pink princess could fly.) These days a mind numbing Text Twist is about it.

I will check out a few of these. Thanks for the reviews and it does shed some light on the lost nations.

It's not computer, but I just listened to chatting about the 4e of D&D just out. Their verdict is: flexible.

blythe said...

carmen sandiego? oregon trail? that's pretty much where the games ended.

Christine M. said...

I was fond of The Sims and Zoo Tycoon for a while, but got too stressed out trying to make them all happy.

Mi esposo, Cartophiliac, however, took great joy in tormenting the characters in Rollercoaster Tycoon. First he would make all the drink prices free, then he would delete all the bathrooms and block the exit...not to mention drowning the dancing costumed animal characters in the lake...

Yankee in England said...

I am not to shabby at solitare and mine field. I am absolutly amazing at Tetrus but unfortunetly that is where my computer game skills end. I blame it on my brothers, they would never let me have a turn at the Nintendo growing up.

margaret said...

gosh, Michael, I never knew how geeky you were. Are. Do you never sleep?

Ben said...

Since your invitation to comment was addressed to "Gentle Reader", I don't know if I'm qualified to write here based on my game preferences. Those who know me are often baffled by my choice in games, but a lot of it has to do with being recruited into the LAN party scene, where first-person shooters are the main fare.

Far Cry and its current sequel Crysis. Beautiful graphics (if your computer can render them) and interesting plot twists.

Oblivion--sequel to Morrowind. Literally hundreds of hours of possible game-play. I'll play it for awhile until I lose interest, then I'll come back to it later with renewed vigor.

Battlefield 1942. WWII-era war game where you can drive jeeps and tanks as well as fly fighter planes. There are many sequels, but I liked this one the best.

Roller Coaster Tycoon. It IS a lot of work keeping all of those peeps happy though.

All of the games in the Myst series. I loved the puzzles and the graphics were cool too.

I also like racing games. These are especially fun in LAN parties.

Ben said...

I almost forgot to mention Portal! In this short game you have a special device which can shoot an oval-shaped "portal" onto a surface (wall, floor, or ceiling). You then shoot another "portal" onto another surface and you can step into one of the portals and out of the other. The game is full of puzzles for navigating a maze-like "testing" facility utilizing the highly creative physics made possible by these portals. And the computer guide is VERY funny.

jovaliquilts said...

My kids liked some of those, but I never got into them. One I loved (is it still around?) was of a very different sort -- You Don't Know Jack. Awesome game!

Anonymous said...

call me old fashioned (or just simple)...i am currently obsessed with tetris (

d said...

the last time i was really into video games pitfall on atari was all the rage.

there was a little bit of tetris in college, but it didn't really stick.

now, the closest i get is scrabulous.

however, i can spend a significant amount of time (and money) in a pinball arcade.

Michael5000 said...

You guys are sadly un-strategy-game-ized. What do you do with all the extra time?

Except you, Ben. We should talk.

Unknown said...

Hey Michael,

I've played nearly every game on your list, and I'm shocked at some of the games that are missing from it. Master of Orion 2 was amazing, but the original game,MOO 1, is also worth playing. And what about Master of Magic, a sort of medieval fantasy version of MOO? You missed out, Michael.
I agree with what you said about the Civ series. I played Civilization 2 nearly every day for a full year, and Civ 3 for a few months. Civ 4 was pretty but at the same time kind of soulless. Can a computer game have a soul? Well, let's just say that something vital was missing from the game.
I agree with Ben about Oblivion. It's a great game that I wasted many, many hours on. It does require a pretty hefty/modern machine to perform satisfactorily, however: you've been warned.
The Witcher is a great RPG import from Germany you should check out some time. More linear than Morrowind/Oblivion, but it has a great storyline, memorable characters, and a fun combat system.
Another strategy game series that is conspicuously missing from your list is the Total War series. The original game, Medieval:Total War, was a sophisticated war game that strived for a healthy balance between historical accuracy and fun. As for Europa Universalis, that sort of strategy game requires a certain type of gamer to play it: a grognard ( ).



DrSchnell said...

You're enough of a nerd that you probably also once upon a time got hooked on the text-only Infocom adventures (Zork I-III, etc.).

DrSchnell said...

In general, I've always been a fan of the puzzle-solving-and-quest sort of game - other long-ago favorites were the first three or four titles in the King's Quest series.

Anonymous said...

Your phrase "one you're hooked" is the reason I don't play games. Not because I don't like them, but because I think my life would come to a screeching halt, my child would go unfed, my dog unwalked, my students untaught, my ... well, you get the picture. I don't think I'd have the strength to just walk away after 4 hours.

Michael5000 said...

@Ben, Todd: See, the reason I haven't been interested in getting involved in Oblivion is the deal with the opponent scaling. The idea of matching opponents to the player's current abilities is to keep the gameplay at a reasonable level of challenge. New players won't get toasted by powerful opponents, and veteran players won't have to waste their time on diseased rats.

I have two problems with this. First, what's the point of gaining abilities if tout le monde simultaneously gains a suite of analogous abilities? You haven't really progressed. If I'm a veteran campaigner, stinking with special powers and weapons and phat armor, I WANT to have the occasional encounter with a hapless kobald berserker. That's why I went to the effort to get powerful: so I could be more powerful than the everyday.

My second complaint is far more important to me, although I recognize it will strike many as completely fatuous. This is, that scaled leveling strips the game world of its realism. "OK," I hear you saying, "we're talking about magic spells and elves and Daedric invasion here -- there is no 'realism' involved in this equation." But what I'm talking about is the sense that you are travelling through a world that exists independently of your character, a world in which things, beasts, and people are where they are, doing whatever they are doing, before they get there and after you leave. Maybe a better word is "veracity," or even just "consistency." And that consistency of the game world is a big part of what I'm looking for in my computer game. Having the world automatically adjust itself to my abilities wherever I go shatters the illusion for me.

CROQ Zine said...

Last Express is awesome! Also really cool (but not in your categories, but you might like it anyway) is "Grim Fandango" (just download the patch for it because computers these days are too fast and there is one puzzle that you can't do if your processor is too fast). It's really cool.

I agree w/your assessment of "Black & White".


Michael5000 said...

@croq: "Grim Fandango" is a name I've heard (and loved) for years, but I never knew anything about the game. It looks awesome! But oddly, it's still pretty expensive (michael5000 is not what you would call a "big spender") for a game its age. I put a couple of lowball bids on Ebay, maybe I'll luck out.

Bridget said...

Ok, so here's geeky for you - I don't actually play computer games, but I find the motivations behind gaming absolutely fascinating! What is the pull of the first-person shooter game? Why is it that we are all drawn to games that allow us to control or conquer the world? So, even though I've never played any of these games, I read through all of the comments . . . and have to tell you my boyfriend is VERY excited that the SPORE creature creator is ready for download (the game comes out on our anniversary!) and that one of the most frequent questions I ask him on the weekends is, "so, are you master of orion yet?"

So, I'm not geeky. I'm just a geek magnet.