Given all my talk of the NES mini in the past month or two, I thought I’d drag myself back to our usual subject matter by considering what a PC-gaming equivalent might look like. A little emulation device containing about thirty classic titles.
The approach I’m thinking wouldn’t involve new hardware, but would rather be a bundle of software for Raspberry Pi. You’d have an archive of games packaged with dosbox and a convenient installer that puts the whole lot on an sd card, ready to boot up on the Pi.
You can already do this by installing Retroarch (or dosbox standalone) then deciding on and finding some games for yourself, but this would be a lot more convenient. A package of great games chosen for the user, ready to go after a few clicks. I might call it a curated selection but “curated” is a buzzword that I find oddly irritating.
The time period I’m thinking is the first-half of the 90s. We’re looking at the height of MS-DOS gaming before windows 95 took over. The late 90s – the days of Half Life and Starcraft – can be a topic of discussion for another day.
You might well ask if this is just an excuse to list my top thirty games. Some personal bias will creep into this, inevitably. Still I’d like to think I can reasonably consider games that were classics even if I never played them much myself.
Also, it’s only going to be twenty or so. I’m hoping Rik can chip in with suggestions, particularly from genres I don’t know much about, but also any other worthy titles I may have missed.
Goblins and Axes
Let’s tie on our imitation dwarf beards to start with cRPGs. There are a few long-running and successful series from which we could take candidates. From the Ultima line, the seventh seems to be a favourite with its large, detailed and open world. (I played for about 30 minutes and wish I had time for more).
Another stalwart of the genre was Wizardry, taking a different approach with turn based combat and a first-person view. We’ll have the seventh (okay I am including a personal favourite here), where it broke through into VGA.
For a more action-oriented third example I’ll return to the land of lord British for Ultima Underworld, known for its revolutionary first person 3D engine.
On My Six
Flight sims were one of the few genres where PC always did better than consoles. For some fairly hardcore realism in a modern setting, let’s have Falcon 3.0. I’m also taking Gunship 2000, to represent both helicopters, and Microprose’s balance of authenticity and accessibility.
For the second world war, those days of propellers and machineguns, we could have Dynamix’ Aces of the Pacific.
Launch all Tie Fighter Squadrons
Sometimes we were flying in space instead. X-Wing was an important title, from the days when the PC was first establishing itself as a powerful gaming platform. However I’m taking TIE fighter instead as it was rather better polished and balanced.
We must take Wing Commander a onboard. I’m thinking either the first title or the third depending on whether we want to see the VGA origin of the series, or enjoy some of the most lavish FMV cutscenes of the 90s. Rik can advise.
Knee Deep in the Dead
It’s essential to include the early days of the first person Shooter. iD dominated in these days so let’s have a few of their milestones. Wolfenstein 3D was for many of us the first game of this sort that we experienced. Doom was of course enormously influential, one of the single most important PC games of the decade. It provided smooth, intense run and gun action, us from flat mazes to sort of-3D, aand introduced multiplayer.
Then there’s… Quake. Its brown. I never loved it. Yet it brought about the next generation of shooters, and was clearly loved by many. See, I can be objective!
Looking to other developers, we could also take Duke Nukem 3D. It starred one of the PC’s most iconic heroes of the day, goofy humour, and some first efforts at “real world” level design.
For more old-school action gaming, like platform games, I’d prefer to stick to PC-native titles rather than ports from other systems. That does limit our options a little, though. I suggest Commander Keen 4, the finest of the Keen series with a varied set of levels and some real visual charm beyond its 16 colours. A slightly more advanced counterpart would be Jazz Jackrabbit.
What are your orders?
There are a bunch of different flavours of Strategy to consider. We’ll have Civillisation as the granddaddy of 4x empire building. UFO, with its mix of global management and squad-level combat, is still inspiring remakes today.
These were the early days of realtime strategy, so we probably want Dune 2. Clunky as it seems now, it did launch a genre. We must also include Command and Conquer, with its much improved interface and extensive FMV.
Use Rubber Chicken with a pulley in the middle
Now an indie hipster niche, graphical adventures were once a proud part of mainstream gaming. Two big companies were responsible for the majority of the most popular adventures. We’ll look first at Sierra, who churned out an awful lot of Quests. I feel King’s Quest should be represented, since it pioneered the entire genre, but the really old ones are annoying to play so I’ll stay in VGA times and pick KQ6.
Since we’re fans of officer Sonny Bonds with his sensible haircut and dedication to serving the public, we’re also taking Police Quest 3.
Then we turn to the Lucasarts stable. There are so many great games here it’s hard to pick a couple of the best. I’d say The Secret of Monkey Island with its whimsical humour and clever puzzles is essential, though. It established Lucasarts more forgiving approach to adventuring, as compared to Sierra’s constant threat of failure and death for screwing up.
Then for a slightly later example I want Day of the Tentacle, with its antics across one house in three different time periods, plus three of adventuring’s greatest heroes. Hoagie has been kind of a mascot for this site since the early days
That’s twenty-two games so I will stop for now. Feel free to put in your own suggestions in the comments, or tell me why I’ve made lousy choices.