Jlawrence's Reviews > 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die

1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die by Tony Mott
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Jul 29, 2011

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Read in July, 2011


I really wanted to like this book more. It's glossy, nicely put together, fun to flip through, generally well-written, and most entries are accompanied by attractive color screenshots. Some entries evoked nostalgia, and there's also a number of games I'd never heard of that I now want to check out because of their mentions here.

But...the book posits itself not just as a collection of 1001 'must-play' games, but as a chronological catalog of the *evolution* of video games. This is stated in the introduction, and seen in numerous entries that give caveats about, say, an early game's primitive gameplay or graphics, but still note a game's historical importance. Given this, there's a number of gaps and inaccuracies that take go beyond 'acceptable idiosyncrasies of personal taste on part of the editor' and into WTF land.

*Nit-picking nerd ranting follows*

Bizarrely missing: the original Adventure, and Ultima IV. Adventure (aka Colossal Cave) was the first, well, adventure game ever -- an all-text, parser-based affair that invented a genre. That genre had its commercial hey-day in the '80s (thousands of titles published) and is still sustained today with a very active fan community as "interactive fiction" (see the documentary Get Lamp for a look at all that history). Adventure's obvious influence is seen in how a number of other entries in the book reference it, even though it is sadly without an entry.

Ultima IV took the unprecedented step of being an epic RPG in which there was no grand baddie to beat. There was still a huge world to explore and a variety of evil monsters to route, but the ultimate goal was to improve yourself by following ethical principles, becoming an example for the people of the land by attaining Avatar-hood (as opposed to robbing all the town-folk blind and slaughtering town guards left & right, which was the norm for the RPGs of the day (earlier Ultimas included)). The game also established the the expansive geography of Britannia which remained constant through the series up to and including Ultima Online. The CRPGAddict blog has a good series of posts that investigate the innovations of this game.

The original Adventure and Ultima IV are such oft-cited and obvious landmarks in the history of video games that leaving them out is somewhat akin to forgetting to mention Gilgamesh and The Odyssey when listing the great works of Western literature from the B.C. days.

Other head-scratchers: the entire contribution of Activision to Atari 2600 gaming being represented by H.E.R.O. (as opposed to say, Pitfall). Wizardry is neglected completely, it could have stood for the 'popularizing D&D gameplay in the 8-bit era'' game that the Ultima I entry stands for (that entry rightly complains of how this first Ultima's gameplay is rather lame -- so why not include Ultima IV instead?). The Art of War, one of the earliest if not the very first real-time strategy game (in the Warcraft / Starcraft gameplay sense), is also absent. All those game I've mentioned are totally uncontroversial as innovative classics. These other omissions might be chalked up to its overemphasis on recent games in the overall selection pool.

Then there are historical slips like not mentioning Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak's role in developing Breakout for Atari, and saying that the Atari 2600 Adventure game was a translation of the Adventure game, when what was interesting about it was that it mutated the gameplay of that text adventure into a visual format, inventing the action-adventure genre (paving the way for Zelda and beyond), making it real-time and changing all most every aspect of the original's content.

Finally, there are a *few* entries that make it clear through questionable descriptions that the entry writer was depending on secondary sources instead of actually playing the game in question, which on top of just being sad, also casts some doubt on the accuracy of the entries of games I'm unfamiliar with.

So, as a book that's fun for a video game fan to browse through, it succeeds. But as video game history or the super-cool reference guide it could have been, it falls short.
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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by Ed (new)

Ed Wow, great review! I completely agree with you on Adventure (both of them), Ultima IV, etc.

Jlawrence Thanks, Ed! I'm actually planning to replay Ultima IV later this year...

message 3: by Ed (new)

Ed I just dusted off the Mac port (see xu4.sourceforge.net) a few weeks ago and reminisced in the halls of Lord British's castle for a couple hours. It's a lot harder than I remembered from playing it on the Apple ][e. For one, there's little to no hints at all as to what you can ask the NPCs about.

Jlawrence I remember asking every single NPC about the SHRINES, MANTRA and the virtue of the particular town, which I thought was fair game since Lord British mentioned those in his 'you must be an example to the people' main quest speech.

message 5: by Ed (new)

Ed Good memory. But I think you only get that speech after you die the first time and wake up in the hall of Lord British's castle. Some of it came back to me as I spoke to various NPCs, of course. It's still a huge shock though after recently playing a bunch of Bioware games with their discussion trees. :-)

Jlawrence Oh yeah, it's a far, far cry from Bioware. :) But it was pretty extensive *for the time* in a RPG.

Also, NAME and JOB are the two default things to ask about. JOB usually leads to additional keywords you can ask about, for important NPCs.

Jlawrence Oh, and one other the thing - reading the manual *really* makes a difference, for filling in some things they couldn't squeeze onto those 113KB floppy disks. ;) I do like how modern games allow you to jump right in, but there was also an art in those days of having the supplementary materials "fill in" a game world and give tips in those days. I remember the descriptions of the different geographical regions of Britannia from the manual coloring the way I thought about them as I moved through them in the game, even though those details weren't actually on the screen...

message 8: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller Do you still game, Jlawrence, and on which platform? I'm a PC strategy/adventure (not to be confused with action-adventure--the kind with puzzles, but not HOGs) and RPG-er.

Jlawrence Yes, too much (considering other things I claim to be working on ;)). PC primarily, also some Mac and PS3. I'm mostly into RPG, strategy and adventure too, as well as sandbox-y toys like the Sims. Action stuff I seem suck at these days, unless it's a FPS shooter with pause and heavy RPG elements like Fallout 3.

message 10: by Traveller (last edited Apr 11, 2013 10:38AM) (new) - added it

Traveller Oh nice! Yes, well, I've had to kick the habit a bit-wasn't getting enough sleep at night. I'm not really into shooters, but I loved ME1 (2 not so much but I started 3 and it looks nice).
I very much enjoyed Fallout 3, but FO New Vegas, not so much. It seemed too much of the same. But maybe I made the mistake of roaming the desert too long before getting tired of the game.

Of course Skyrim is an ongoing thing, and I'm quite excited about what might be in store for us with the new upcoming M&M RPG.

Also, I love Good Old Games, not only because they fix up old games for modern PC platforms, but also because of their DRM-free focus, so I'm strongly considering getting this http://www.divinitydragoncommander.co... through them.

Oh, btw, I loved the Divinity 1 & 2 RPGs, but the strategy game mentioned above looks up my alley too. Although I enjoy RTS, turn-based strategy holds a special addictive attraction for me...

Jlawrence I've recently re-installed Skyrim and it has indeed had a bad impact on my sleep cycle, but I'm really enjoying diving into it again with fresh mods (especially the UI improvement one) applied.

I really wanted to like ME1, but I found the combat pretty consistently un-fun, and some early story cut-scenes got triggered in the wrong order when I played, which ruined their effect, so I abandoned it...but I may go back at some point.

Yes, I totally love GOG.com, and have quite a large backlog of games purchased from there on my to-play list. Dragon Commander does look quite great, but I'm still going to wait for reviews of it first.

If you haven't played it, I definitely recommend grabbing Planescape: Torment from GOG - it has the most memorable characters, story, world and writing I've experienced in an RPG, rivaling some of my favorite fantasy/sci-fi fiction (in fact, it reminded me of BOTNS on more that one occasion). There's a 'spiritual successor' to it in the works, involving some of the original team: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/i....

And since you mentioned Ultima elsewhere, I recommend Dungeons and Dreamers: The Rise of Computer Game Culture from Geek to Chic - as a general chronicle of 'computer game culture' it's wildly uneven in its focus, but it's a *great* resource of info on young Richard Garriott and the evolution of the Ultima games.

Garriott's just finished his own kickstarter -

I backed it, but I really wished he decided to concentrate completely on a new single-player RPG like his classics *or* on a new MMORPG experience. Instead this project seems to be trying to do both at once - we shall see...

message 12: by Traveller (last edited Apr 12, 2013 01:26AM) (new) - added it

Traveller Ah, yes, of course I have the famous Torment. Unfortunately never played it when it was released, but played some of it at least,(though I know the best part is the ending) and I have the GOG version too, since I think one had to start fiddling with patches to make it compatible with modern hard-and software a few years ago already.
Time is the problem, though... so many books, so many games, so much work, so much to do, so little time.. :(

Have you played Arcanum, btw?

I'll definitely make a point of supporting those kickstarters and I'll do my best to promote them with other gamers-- PST and Ultima were keepers!

Btw, did you play Baldur's Gate/Sword Coast series and what did you think of DA:O and DA 2? I loved DA:O but hated DA2. I prefer an RPG-like combat system to an action based one. For instance, to me ME2 was simply a shooter, but ME1 has a lot of RPG elements.

Oh, and btw, I try to avoid MMORPGs. I find them a total time-sink. I'd rather play a SP with a proper story and get done with it. I guess MMORPG's are more about the socialising aspect, but then, I'm more of a loner.

message 13: by Jlawrence (last edited Apr 12, 2013 09:11AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jlawrence No, both Baldur's Gate and Arcanum are on my GOG shelf, as part of that backlog of to-play games. Baldur's Gate is *high* on my to-play list, though, hope to try it soon.

I started DA:O and liked it but got distracted from it - I'll probably go back to it at some point.

Yeah, I've only dabbled in MMORPGs, fearful of the time-sink as well. It's just with Garriott's kickstarter, he seems to want, with the same game, to please both single-player story-centric players *and* the MMORPG ethusiasts who have fond memories of Ultima Online. That's a very tall order, so I wish he'd chosen just one route or the other. If he's able to pull off the combo, it would be quite an amazing feat!

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