Recently, the SomethingAwful forums started a thread in their Games subforum called "The Best Games Ever: EffortPost Your Favorites" which encouraged people to post about their favourite games, and discuss the posts made by others of course, provided that effort was put into such posts (mainly because the SA forums are plagued by people that just drop a lol or a single emote and then move on)
I wrote something for the thread, and thought it'd fit here too, so I thought "why not create a similar thread?"
With props to the original poster on SA, Harrow, I've copied his opening post so you can get a feel for what it's all about:
What’s This Thread About? In this thread, we will write, opine, rant, and otherwise discuss at length our favorite games ever, or even just games that fascinate us. This thread will be a repository of long-form writing by forum posters about the games they think are the best, or at least the games that are most special to them. All games as welcome, as long as they’re games you care about!
Long-Form? I Gotta Write Words? Yes! Well, as many words as you feel like.The idea is to bring up games in this thread that you have something to say about. In other words: if a game is one of your favorites ever, or a game you just can’t stop thinking about, tell us why! You don’t have to be exclusively positive--even the greatest games have flaws that are worth discussing, after all--you just need to have something to say.
It’s up to you if you want to just rant for a while, or focus on one feature you really love, or try to write a sales pitch to get other people to play a game you think is overlooked, or even go for a more structured essay, article, or review. All are welcome.
You are free to talk about as many or as few games as you want. If you want to do a big post about your ten favorite games ever, great! If you’d rather do one post about one game, and write about another one later, hell yeah, that’s cool, too!
What If I'm Not a Very Good Writer? That doesn't matter! Just post!
I'm sure some of us will be using this thread to write our Very Important Video Games Thoughts in as well-constructed a form as we can, but that's not the only purpose. If you have a lot to say about the games you love, you're welcome to say it here, even if you're not confident in your writing skills. This isn't a writing critique thread, after all. It's a Talk About Good Games thread!
Will There Be a Ranking? Nope! Unlike the annual GOTY threads, there will be no end-of-thread rating, and in fact no defined ending to the thread. This thread will hang out for as long as people want to post in it.
Can We Talk About Games? I sure hope so! While the point of the thread is for people to post a bunch of words about the games they love, we also welcome more casual discussion about the games that have been brought up. However, please see the more specific rules below about what kind of discussion is okay!
The specific thread rules are as follows:
1. If you bring up a game for discussion, please have something to say about it. I’m not going to put a word or sentence count on it, but the goal is for this thread to be a place where we can write and read about why these games are special.
2. Don’t be a dick about other people’s choices. Like the annual GOTY threads, this thread is a place for gushing about games we love, not a place to try to land sick burns about other people’s favorites. It’s okay to not like things, just don’t be a dick about it. If people are posting about a game they love that didn’t work for you, and you want to ask questions about what they loved, or just generally discuss in an honest, good faith way, that’s okay. To boil this down to one enforceable criterion: if discussion is changing more into people defending a game from negativity, we will ask you to change the subject.
3. Please use spoiler tags if you bring up spoilers. Ideally, readers of this thread will find new games that they can try out, so please don’t spoil people on games they may not have played!
And that’s all! Go ahead and get posting, everyone. I promise I’ll pitch in my own rants as well--you couldn’t stop me if you tried.
And here's the thing I wrote (and I'm planning on doing more for some of the other games I have in my head rent-free):
So, I'm very much what I'd these days call an "old-school" gamer - I first started playing computer games back in the very late 80s on my Sinclair ZX Spectrum+, and although there are a number of games I played on that venerable machine that I consider to be amazing to this day, I'm not here to talk about any of them.
After my Speccy, I upgraded to a Commodore Amiga 1200 and I loved that machine like it was no other. I got it in 1993 when I was 10, and I reluctantly sold it around 2005 after a messy divorce meant I needed money to relocate. It was a completely different machine by the time I sold it - upgraded from the base 14MHz 68020 processor with 2MB of RAM and in-built graphics and no hard disk, to a monstrously fast 50MHz 68060, 16MB of RAM, a 40GB hard disk and even a Voodoo 3 graphics card.
I spent pretty much all of my time on that machine, gaming and learning how to code, and although I don't work in gamedev I have dabbled in it and my day to day job is in software dev.
But enough of all that bollocks, you didn't come here to read my life story - but this preamble is basically my way of saying that the games that follow are ones that I played a LOT and they all pretty much had some lasting impact on my life in subtle (and not so subtle) ways...
So, what's first?
Let's go with a game that was the cause of much controversy when it was released, with some UK newspapers calling for it to be banned. No, it's not Grand Theft Auto - that never made it to the Amiga (despite the developers, DMA Design, cutting their teeth on the platform with games like Lemmings and Walker) - I'm talking about Sensible Software's most infamous title, Cannon Fodder.
The game with one of the catchiest title songs ever (and even a typically Sensible music video to go with it), Cannon Fodder is a game about attrition and the futility of war.
There's no plot to speak of, just that you are commanding a military force and must complete missions, each with varying objectives and more often than not split up into multiple phases. These objectives might be as simple as killing all of the enemy soldiers, but often you'll have to destroy all of their buildings and sometimes avoid killing innocent people (although that's surprisingly rare, there's generally no penalty for collateral damage in this game - much like real life, eh?)
The visuals might look simplistic, but remember this game came out in 1993.
You start each mission (and phase) with a set number of soldiers, usually 1-5, and if they all die you have to start the phase again. The game's concept of "lives" is taken very literally, before each mission starts you see Boot Hill, your recruitment centre and memorial ground all in one:
There's always a willing queue of folk looking to join the war effort, and even though initially Boot Hill starts off completely empty, chances are it won't be long before headstones of fallen soldiers appear as above, and as you progress further it likely ends up more akin to this:
After every successful mission, some more people join the queue of recruits (15 I think) but as the missions get harder, the quicker your soldiers start to die and with every restart that queue of recruits starts to get shorter and shorter. Run out of willing cannon fodder, and it's game over.
And boy, do those missions get harder.
There are 24 missions in total, and 72 phases between those. As with all good games, the missions start out relatively easy and get you used to the various game mechanics quickly (but this was before the age of in-game tutorials, so you've still got to work a lot out for yourself!)
Missions 1-3 are generally fairly painless, with mission 3 being the first to introduce the dreaded "slippy slidey ice world" trope - snow-filled levels that cause your soldiers to slip a little while walking at seemingly random intervals, but always in a tight spot when you really can't afford them to slip.
Missions 4-7 are a little harder (one phase in mission 4 in particular leaves you very little breathing room to get your bearings when you first start!) but they're never unfair.
Everything changes at mission 8 - quite famously so. The difficulty level for Mission 8 suddenly ramps up to being ludicrously steep, with countless near-invisible booby traps, rocket-toting baddies that keep you constantly on your toes lest you get blown up, and again very little time to get your bearings before things start going south. Should you somehow manage to get past it the rest of the game stays at around that level or easier.
An excellently intuitive control scheme helps with the difficulty - left click to tell your soldiers where to move, hold right click to shoot in the direction of the crosshair, and left click while holding the right click to launch a grenade or rocket. What would eventually be called twitch gaming has, as the title music suggests, never been so much fun.
I played this game for YEARS and never saw the end of the game. In fact, I don't recall making it past mission 16 so I still had a good quarter of the game left to go. It was just punishingly hard, yet still strangely enjoyable.
It received a sequel - the imaginatively titled Cannon Fodder 2 - which was really just a "mission pack" more than an outright sequel, there were no new features per se, just a new set of 24 missions, a decidely weird plot about alien invasions and, of course, a new title song. The 24 missions of the sequel were designed specifically to be less punishing, but ironically enough (and as would be seen again in games like Half-Life) the alien levels in the game were generally awful and probably made a lot of players stop playing.
So, why did it have an impact on my life? Well, to my 11 year old self (I didn't get hold of the game until a year after release) it was the first time that I'd played a game that made me think - and I don't mean in a "puzzling" sense, I mean truly think about what the game was saying.
The game had a stark anti-war message, pretty much everything that it did was designed to foster this idea that war was futile, horrific and not A Good Idea.
From the aforementioned Boot Hill showing the headstones of the dead, to the way that some enemies didn't die when you shot them and instead lay on the floor bleeding out, screaming in agony until either time or your rifle put them out of their misery, to the lack of penalty for killing civilians, and even down to the (originally unskippable) "Lost in Service" screen that appeared after every successful mission:
Every soldier in the game has a name (and a first name, at that) and if you finally manage to complete a tough multi-phase mission after losing hundreds of recruits in the process, then the game will scroll through each one of those now-dead soldiers on this screen, really driving home the point.
As your soldiers successfully completed missions, they would be promoted up the ranks (with bonuses to shooting distances and other attributes) and by Christ it was genuinely upsetting to lose a soldier that had been with you for 12 missions.
To my 11 year old brain, this was something that I hadn't really had to think about before, but it changed my outlook on such things. Not that I was particularly pro-war or anything, you know, and I wouldn't call myself a pacifist or even an activist, but I'd never really given it much thought up until playing Cannon Fodder.
So, why was it controversial, and why was it almost banned? Was it the (some would say) gratuitous violence, or the very adult themes on display? Perhaps something as silly as the title music claiming that war has never been so much fun?
No, it was stupider than even that.
You'll note that the title screen of the game way up at the top of this post features a poppy - known across the whole of the UK (and I assume the world?) as a symbol of remembrance, and a reminder of the horror of war. Nowadays of course, it seems to come with a solid helping of jingoism as well, but these were simpler (and less divisive) times.
The poppy also featured on the game's original box art - and the Royal British Legion, the UK charity that organises yearly Poppy Appeals for Remembrance Sunday, took exception to the use of the poppy ("their" symbol) and before long the media picked up on it, decrying this awful game that "glorified war" and trampled all over the memories of our war dead, and (of course) called for it to be banned.
In the end, they changed the box art but were allowed to keep the title screen poppy, but they had to add a disclaimer at the start: "This game is not endorsed by the Royal British Legion."
It seems that many of the people that you'd expect to have picked up on the not-particularly-subtle messages within the game actually missed them entirely and came to the complete opposite conclusion - but I suppose this is hardly a surprise, how many other times have the media had a knee-jerk reaction to a video game and run with it?
And a second post that I've just added to the SA thread...
Second in my list of Games That Changed My Life is a part of a game franchise that (probably) needs no introduction.
This particular game was first released in late 1993, as the sequel to a stone-cold 1984 classic.
A threequel followed for MS-DOS just under two years later, although this entry in the franchise never made it to the Amiga - in 2000 a small Amiga publishing house by the name of Alive Mediasoft claimed that they were working on a port with the permission of the original team, but it never came to fruition (and the publisher was often said to be a serial bullshitter by some of the die-hard Amiga fans that were left by this point, so I didn't have high hopes for it anyway)
Most gamers of today are probably aware of the most recent entry in the franchise though, which launched on PC in 2014 after a decently successful Kickstarter and has seen a couple of sizeable expansions released - most recently just a month or so ago in early 2021.
Some of you will have probably figured it out by now, but for those still not sure, I am - of course - talking about the Elite franchise, the brainchild of Ian Bell and David Braben (the latter of whom is the series' current custodian with his team at Frontier Developments)
To be more specific though, I'm talking about Frontier: Elite II
This game is probably the one I played the most in my time as an Amiga zealot. Somewhat ironically, its only through regular playing of Elite: Dangerous (the current entry in the series) that I've come to realise that actually, there wasn't a huge amount of game to be played - but somehow it didn't stop me from enjoying every last minute of it, and in many ways I still prefer playing Frontier (FE2) over any of the other games in the series.
If you've been living under a rock since 1984 and don't know what Elite is about, then it's simple - you are a lone spaceship pilot who has to blaze his or her own trail through the galaxy. There's no end goal to speak of, at least not as far as the game is concerned, so you're left completely to your own devices and must make of it what you wish.
What sets the series apart from pretty much every other space sim is the sheer size of the playing area. Every game in the series, right back to the 1984 original, has used procgen (procedural generation) heavily, meaning that computer algorithms dictate where planets and star systems are.
In the original Elite, the universe was entirely procgen with eight galaxies, each with 256 planets. For Frontier, Braben wanted to go one better and create as near-as-damnit accurate (for the time) model of our actual galaxy, so almost every known star is included in FE2, with procgen being used to populate the remainder of the galaxy and to add planets and space stations outside of the known ones.
That he managed to do all of this and still pack the Amiga version down onto a single 880 KB floppy disk is nothing short of incredible.
Starting a new game in Frontier, if you choose the recommended of the three start positions, puts you in the cockpit of an Eagle Long Range Fighter, sitting on a landing pad at Sirocco Station on the planet of Merlin in the Ross 154 system. You have a measly 100 credits to your name, and nothing else.
(the fact that I can still remember all that detail is testament to the effect it had on me as a kid)
Your first few hours of play would typically involve trading commodities between stations for a profit - Animal Meat sold from Sirocco Station can be sold for a tidy profit at Birminghamworld in the nearby Barnard's Star system, and Farm Machinery is a good commodity to trade on the reverse journey.
Sometimes, if you're lucky, the bulletin board at each station will have someone looking for these items urgently and they're willing to pay significantly over the odds for them - a good way to make a quick buck.
Before too long though, endlessly shuffling stuff back and forth starts to grow old and you start to wonder about becoming a Mighty Space Pirate or an assassin for the Federal Military or the Imperial Navy. Missions for these factions are available at station bulletin boards, as well as missions for independent contractors, including passenger missions that turn your simple ship into a glorified space taxi (provided you have enough passenger cabins)
A lot of the missions that you do can be dangerous, with rival factions or even just mercenaries and pirates coming after you (and the same can be said for just general travel too - some systems are not as law-abiding as others and straying into an anarchy system can cause no end of pain - I vividly remember accidentally jumping into an anarchy system near to Sol (our own system) called Lalande 21185, only to swiftly regret it!
Combat in the game is... well, to be charitable, not great. On paper, you'd think it would be fantastic - essentially a space dogfight, like it was in the original Elite (and also how it is in Elite: Dangerous)
However, FE2 (and the sequel, Frontier: First Encounters) placed emphasis on realistic physics above all else, and consequently flight in the game is based on Newton's laws - you don't (and can't!) stop and turn suddenly when you're travelling at hundreds of thousands of metres per second, and neither can your opponents - so combat largely ends up with you and your attacker endlessly slingshotting against each other, trying to line up a decent laser shot as you do. It's passable, but exciting it is not:
You can also mine materials from asteroids if you find some, especially if you have a mining laser fitted to your ship. It's quite time consuming and the rewards aren't great, but it makes for a nice change of pace if you need to take a break from combat or from being a slave for the Empire.
There's a decent assortment of ships available in the game, ranging in size from small to "Christ, how am I supposed to fly that thing":
Upgrading your ship usually gives you enhanced cargo space, more hardpoints for more weaponry and other tools, and in some cases an enhanced "jump range" (the maximum distance you can travel in a single hyperspace jump)
I used to make it a priority to upgrade ASAP, with my ship of choice being the gorgeously sleek Imperial Courier, the ship that features in the game's expertly crafted intro sequence (including some excellent music from Dave Lowe)
I played this game so much that I could basically "touch type" my way around the user interface, streamlining my trading efforts and reserving my mouse movements for combat only and the odd bit of mining.
But how did it affect my life?
Well, two ways really; the first is that it really kickstarted in me a deep fascination with space and the science of it. Being set in a model of our own galaxy really helped here, of course, and I always remember my teachers at secondary school being surprised at my knowledge of the stars that were near to us.
It's a fascination that's stuck with me, especially with the release of Elite: Dangerous.
The second way is a bit more subtle. It still boggles my mind that Braben managed to do all of this within what was essentially 420 kilobytes of code, and the depths that game developers of the era went to to optimise their products (out of necessity if nothing else) has always inspired me to try and do the same with the products that I develop. Obviously it's less important these days because memory is so prevalent that just me writing this post is probably using more than I'd ever need otherwise, but I still get a kind of perverse pleasure out of writing optimal code.
So, would I recommend Frontier: Elite II to modern gamers?
To be honest, probably not. It's really not that different to Elite: Dangerous all things considered, which is hardly surprising. And, just like E:D, FE2 suffers from being a mile wide but an inch deep in terms of content and gameplay - one of the downsides to being mostly procedurally generated I expect, is that once you've done a few missions you've really done them all.
Frontier: First Encounters tried to avoid this problem with the introduction of story missions to add an overarching plot to the game - and, by most accounts, it did a pretty good job. I never really got into it though, and I think it was even bugged to such a degree that some missions weren't finishable when it was first released.
Nevertheless, despite all this, Frontier: Elite II holds a special place (spatial?) in my heart. I still go back and play it every so often just for that sweet, sweet hit of nostalgia and it's incredible to me how I don't even have to try and remember what I used to do, it just all comes flooding back as if it were only yesterday I was booting it up from my Amiga's floppy drive.
And finally, to round this off, I want to make you guys aware of a review of the game, from issue 32 of Amiga Power (which, by an odd coincidence that I've only just realised, was the same issue that generated controversy over the poppy cover mentioned in my earlier Cannon Fodder post!)
Their review for the game was headed up by "FRONTIER: ELITE 2", followed by what I can only describe as the greatest subheading I've ever read in a gaming magazine...
"You know, they said that Elite was pretty fronty. But Elite 2 is Frontier!"
I could never get on with Frontier or FFE, which is a shame as I absolutely loved the original Elite.
A friend of mine was the son of the local primary school's caretaker which doesn't sound all that relevant, but it meant that in the school holidays he could borrow one of the BBC Bs with a disk drive. We'd spend hours exploring the galaxy (and playing Frak or Chuckie Egg when we wanted a break, and compared to the Dragon 32 I had at the time it was pretty mindblowing.
When I got a Commodore 64 I was hooked again, even though the frame rate was a bit shit, but it had a few extras so you could feel superior. One was hunting down a secret prototype ship - the Constrictor, and the other was the clearly Star Trek inspired Trumbles. https://elite-dangerous.fandom.com/wiki/Trumble
I had it again on the Amiga and it finally started to look like the game I'd had in my imagination so I played it all the way through to Elite a few times.
[quote="BikNorton”]I want to focus on my initial reaction - holy shit, something awful still exists?![/quote] I don’t think it’s anywhere close to as popular, but yeah the forums in particular are still pretty active.