It was 1982. AT&T had just divested itself into 22 subdivisions after an antitrust ruling, Sony launched the first consumer compact disc player, Michael Jackson released Thriller, and Atari began selling an infamous video game based on the movie E.T. which had come out earlier that year—an unmitigated disaster that almost destroyed the entire industry (read an interesting summary here). Yet, more importantly, 1982 marks the year I was bestowed with my first video game console—an Atari 2600.
It wasn't long before I developed an unmistakeable affinity for that wondrous wood-grained technological wonder. ColecoVision was the next stop in my gaming progression, followed closely by the NES in 1986, which single-handedly transformed my generation. I remember many a day reading through the most recent issue of Nintendo Power magazine with my friends, learning new strategies and cheat codes.
Since the days of my Atari 2600 console, video games have played a sublime role in my life—providing endless hours of abject fascination and amazement. Growing up, everyone had video games, and it was a common medium through which we would not only bond, but also compete against each other. In fact, when I was younger, I ate, slept, and drank two things: baseball and video games; if I wasn't running the bases or swinging for the fences, you can bet I had a controller in my hand.
My video game pedigree has, in a sense, been partially cultivated by certain games that I've spent an inordinate amount of time playing. Below is my autobiographical attempt at delineating, in chronological order, the game titles I've spent the most hours playing. An asterisk (*) denotes that most of the time was in multiplayer mode. If you are a gamer, I imagine you will recognize most, if not all, of the titles.
Super Mario Bros. (NES) - This was the game packaged with the amazing NES, and it’s all I needed for months. Platforming was changed forever, and an icon was born.
Doom (PC) * - Not only was the first-person gameplay and content totally mind-blowing at the time, but it’s multiplayer mode (“deathmatch”) was as addictive as anything on the planet. This was the first game I played over the modem (14.4k) against friends. Quite simply, a game of firsts. In fact, I still remember the evening in 1993 when it was installed on my beasthouse 386 by a local college guy who worked as a computer technician for my parent's company. He and I would chat about video games and he asked me if I'd ever heard of Doom...and the rest is history. Side note: Doom chugged a bit on my system, so my dad brought me to CompUSA and I bought another 4MB (MB, not GB!) of RAM for the unbeatable price of $250. Once I had a total of 8MB of Ram, I was golden baby!
Baseball Stars (NES) * - Customizable players, free agents, upgradable abilities, and great gameplay to boot. My friends and I spent many a Summer afternoon playing against each other, sometimes for baseball cards. I remember one day my buddy bet an ’87 Fleer Will Clark card that he’d win, and I of course crushed him. He refused to give me the card. Consequently, it got physical.
Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega Genesis) - When I first got my Sega Genesis, this is the game that kept me coming back for more. I had never seen screens jet by that fast! Oh, and when you got the red boots, forget it. Altered Beast sucked.
Unreal Championship (Xbox) * - This was the first game I played online with a console--also the first time I could communicate (other than typing) with the other player--and it was a blast! Trash talk at its finest. I focused on bombing run, and got pretty good at it; even joined a clan.
Super Mario Bros 2 (NES) - Contrary to the general consensus, this was one of my favorite games of all time--not only did I like how different it was from the original, but it wasn’t a difficult game and could be played through fairly quickly. I also liked the slot machine in-between levels.
Mario Kart 64 (Nintendo 64) * - My roommates and I played this incessantly in college. Talk of my unnatural power-slide skills spread across campus like a grassfire on a windy day. I could not be beaten. Ever. Ok, rarely.
Duke Nukem 3D (PC) * - My buddies and I played this game over the modem a lot in high school. It was the first game where the user could attach their own .wav files to the multiplayer session (you'd package them into an RTS file), and then press function keys to activate them. For example, if I smoked my buddy, I might press F4 and it would play Arnold Schwarzenegger saying “Terminated.” It was a great way to really, really infuriate the other person (trust me, I was on both sides of the coin). It was fun to hunt for sound clips, it was insult to injury, and we loved it.
Counter Strike (Xbox) * - Strangely enough, I didn’t try this strictly-multiplayer game until it hit the Xbox and, even then, I did so reluctantly. It had been popular in the PC world for years prior to that and, although I was very familiar with it's premise, I recall knowing it had been developed by college students and that lessened its appeal to me. Well, suffice it to say, I couldn't have been more wrong. Counter Strike taught me that level design alone can make-or-break an online multiplayer game experience.
GoldenEye (Nintendo 64) * - This is the other game my college roommates and I played quite a bit (but not nearly as much as Mario Kart). The only negative being that it was easy to cheat because both people played on the same screen, and obviously everyone always claimed they wouldn’t dream of looking at the other person’s whereabouts. Whatever.
Quake IV (Xbox 360) * - Quad damage! My cousin and I played this 1-on-1 quite a bit--and it would get pretty heated. Sometimes he’d smoke me, and sometimes it was the other way around. Either way, you never wanted to be on the losing end--trash talk was relentless. One of my greatest memories of this game was when I annihilated him 15 frags to 0 in one match--it was obscene. I was trying so hard not to laugh, and he was completely silent after kill 10 or so. To say he was furious would be a grave understatement. I could hear him pounding his couch pillows through the headset. Oh, and getting fragged while you have quad damage...well...just disconnect, put the controller down, and go to bed. The onslaught of verbal ridicule you'd have to withstand just wouldn't be worth it, and there's no way to redeem yourself.
Farcry (PC) * - One thing I always liked about Farcry’s multiplayer is that (aside from gorgeous, sunny environments) you could take long-distance shots--hundreds of yards away in some instances. Most of the maps were expansive with dense foliage, so that you could really put together a plan of attack (or defense). It was also one of the first FPS multiplayer worlds where water played a significant role on certain maps. Most weapons have powerful alternate firing modes which added another level of strategy to the game.
Doom 3 (PC) - Most of the time I spent on this game with within the single-player campaign, which I really enjoyed. I wasn’t a huge fan of the multiplayer maps--they were usually vast in size and difficult to memorize, plus very dark and gloomy. So, I did what any hardcore gamer would--I created my own map. The level design tools took a few hours to learn, but eventually everything came together, and after some fine tuning things really took shape. In the end, I was pretty proud of the result, and my cousin and I spent about a week playing it online. It was a great learning experience--I wish I could find where I saved the map. I really regret not implementing a secret compartment that only I knew about, where I could ammo-up and refill health, leaving my bewildered opponent in awe of how difficult it was to take me down. Evil? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.
Pitfall (Atari 2600) - This was truly my first video game, and as such, I played it exclusively for months. Sure I had a few other games, but Pitfall was king. I still have a sealed copy of this game.
Elder Scrolls: Oblivion (Xbox 360) - I enjoyed “taking the scenic route” in this game, especially the side quests. Sometimes I’d just walk for virtual miles looking for adventure off the beaten path, and I saw things that I never would have as a result.
Half Life (PC) -The single-player campaign blew my mind, but the multiplayer was a great experience too. My roommate and I set up a home network (back when it was a real pain) just so we could play each other. We spent many a night battling amongst the crates in the Black Mesa research facility.
Mortal Kombat (Sega Genesis/PC) * - So, who wasn’t playing this in the early 90’s? It was best on the Sega Genesis, but if you can believe it, a couple high school buddies and I used to play it on the PC too--one of us would use the PC controller, and the other would use the...wait for it...wait for it...KEYBOARD! The funny thing is, it didn’t stop any of us from trash talking when we had the controller (which was infinitely easier to use than the keyboard). But, once in a while the guy using the keyboard would win, and that was truly humiliating for the one using the controller. Make sense? Good times.
Heretic (PC) * - Many of you have probably never even heard of id Software's Heretic, but my high school friends and I thought the multiplayer was pretty fun. We’d play each other over the modem, and would eagerly type taunts after just about every kill, kind of like adding salt to a wound. There was a strange special weapon you could pick up that would literally change the other player into a little chicken for about 15 seconds--running and clucking, feathers flying. When one of us would dust the other player after turning him into a chicken, we’d type, “KFC.” Three letters; nothing else was necessary to light the fuse of anger within the other person. It was something we relished.
Hydro Thunder (Sega Dreamcast) - If you’ve read the FAQ you know I’ve spent many hours trying to pass Lake Powell, to no avail.
Bionic Commando (NES) - Also in the FAQ, for years I wasn't aware that I didn’t have to play every stage in this game to complete it—live and learn.
Combat (Atari 2600) * - When I had friends over, we’d play this over Pitfall since it was a better multiplayer experience. I still have a sealed copy of this game.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted (Xbox 360) - I’ve never been a huge racing game fan, but this game hooked me. The sense of speed was almost palpable.
Madden Football '92 (Sega Genesis) * - My friends and I were addicted to this game, and always argued over who would get to use the Bills (Bruce Smith at DE, Thurman Thomas at RB). The Lions were pretty good to play too, since Barry Sanders was unstoppable--I remember racking up 394 rushing yards in one game using him. Yes, I was pleased. I also remember how satisfying it was, albeit rare, if you could injure the other team's star player—an ambulance would come crashing in and remove the victim.
Tecmo Bowl (NES) * - Did anyone actually rush in this game? Hail Mary-fest at it’s best.