Like most people on AtariAge, I have been playing computer games for a long time, since the late 1970s. However, I have always been more interested in how games work, rather than the games themselves. I tend to play each game for a short time, until I have figured out the mechanics and mastered the controls. Once I know that I can beat the game, I tend to lose interest and move on. Every now and again though, a game comes along that I really enjoy playing. These games hold my interest long after I have mastered them, and I tend to return to them again and again. I have created a list of these games below, together with a brief explanation of why I find them so fascinating. So, in no particular order, here is my top 10:
1 - Dungeon Master (Atari ST)
I tried hard to get into role-playing for a while. I played D&D, AD&D, Warhammer, Cthulhu, etc. However, every game inevitably descended into arguments over distance measuring, rule interpretations, and personal skills (i.e. typical nerd arguments). Dungeon Master was the first game that captured the pure dungeon-crawling experience for me, without all of the petty squabbles. I was instantly hooked, and I packed away my dice forever.
2 - Super Mario Bros (NES)
I wanted to hate Super Mario Bros. At the height of its popularity, I was playing games on the Atari ST and Amiga. The NES seemed primitive by comparison, and the cutesy Mario graphics seemed to be designed for kids. Eventually though, I reluctantly played the game and was quickly hooked. It is difficult to say why the Mario games are so appealing. I think it is because they give you so much freedom, both in terms of the movement of the player, and the ability to explore the environment. The controls are simple, the movements are fluid, and the collision detection is perfect. When you die, you know that it is entirely your own fault, and this keeps me going back for more.
3 - Frogger (Atari 2600)
This isn't my favourite Atari 2600 game (it is probably Stargate), but it has a place here as it was one of the very first video games that I ever played. At the time. a friend had an older brother, who owned an Atari 2600. He reluctantly let us play a game of Frogger, in order to demonstrate his own game-playing superiority. We were never allowed another game after we both crushed his best score. At the time it seemed impossibly hard as my twitch reflexes hadn't yet been honed from years of game playing - there was always something about to kill you! I now find the game rather simple, but I still enjoy playing it regularly.
4 - Castle Quest (BBC Micro)
I doubt many people here have played this game. It was only released for the BBC Micro, which was the computer used in all British schools in the 1980s. At the time, there were two main BBC Micro software houses (MicroPower and Superior Software) - neither of which still exist. The competition between them was fierce, and some great and original games were produced as a result. Castle Quest is my favourite of these games. It is a platform game, set inside a castle, with complete freedom to explore. The puzzles in the game are very complex, not just key collecting, and it also requires twitch reflexes. I played this game endlessly back in the day, until I had solved all of the puzzles, and I still find it enjoyable to play. Unfortunately the game was clearly rushed for release, and so there is no proper ending, but it is fun just to solve all the puzzles one more time.
[Edit: The screenshot above shows the depth of the puzzles in Catle Quest. At this point in the game you have been imprisoned in a cell. To escape, you need to throw the stool upwards to get the torch. You can then use the stool to jump on to the ledge over the door. You then throw the torch onto the bed to set it on fire. At this point the guard will rush into the room, and you can hop down from the ledge behind him to escape. By moderns standards, this isn't too advanced, but back in the day this level of detail was very rare.]
5 - Doom (PC)
Doom wasn't the first fully-immersive 3D game (e.g. there were those dreadfully-slow FreeScape games), but it was the first that really sucked me in. There is no need to say much about this game, as I'm sure everyone has had a similar experience. However, the feeling of anticipation and terror, while playing Doom late at night in a darkened room, is one that few other games will ever capture.
6 - Prince of Persia (PC)
Before Prince of Persia, most games seemed to have either great graphics, or great gameplay. Prince of Persia was one of the first to combine great gameplay, awesome graphics, and eye-popping animation. The ability to jump a gap, miss, but still manage to cling on to the edge with your fingertips, was something that had not been done before. These days, the graphics look primitive and the gameplay seems simplistic, but it is still an enjoyable game that I play regularly.
7 - Super Mario 64 (N64)
I was very late to the 3D console revolution. For a long time, it seemed (to me) that all 3D games were just FPSs or dubious 3D translations (like 3D Tetris). Super Mario 64 was the first game that convinced me that 3D could be used to produce truly original games. The beauty of Mario 64 is that it captures all of the elements of the previous Mario games, but adapts them perfectly to 3D. The controls are still fluid, there is still freedom to explore, and the puzzles are still devious.
8 - Tempest 2000 (Atari Jaguar)
In case you think this list is entirely platformers and dungeon-crawlers, I do also enjoy a good shooter. In my opinion, the master creator of the shooter genre is the British programmer Jeff Minter. You can argue that he hasn't done anything that wasn't already done by Eugene Jarvis. However, he has consistently managed to capture the pure zen of the shooter, in a way that is totally immersive and engaging. My favourite of his games is Tempest 2000 for the Atari Jaguar, and until recently I owned a Jaguar purely for this title.
9 - Goldeneye (N64)
Movie tie-ins are usually rubbish - designed for parents and grandmothers to purchase for their offspring around the holiday season. They frequently bear little resemblance to the movie, and are just any old game with some movie branding added. However, there are exceptions, and Goldeneye is definitely my favourite. It actually manages to capture the essence of the movie on an almost scene-by-scene basis, without feeling forced. It also requires puzzle solving, in addition to the gun-and-run FPS formula. Its sequel (Perfect Dark) is arguably a better game, but Goldeneye remains my favourite.
10 - Ikari Warriors (C64)
I really enjoy this game, but I am not sure why. It is devilishly hard, but also rewarding. A long time ago, I spent nearly a whole summer playing the C64 version until I finally completed it. I have never completed it again, but at least I know it can be done! The C64 version remains my favourite, as it is a near perfect arcade port. The 2600 version is unfortunately rather poor, and I haven't played the 7800 version yet.
This list is nowhere near complete, but I think it gives a good idea of the kind of games that I enjoy, i.e. mostly games that give you lots of freedom to explore. Also, many of them are favourites because of the situation that I was in when I first played them (e.g. I doubt that I would enjoy Frogger so much if I only discovered it now). There are also many games that nearly made this list, but I wanted to include only those that I have actually played recently. Also, I certainly have not played all of the games on every platform. There are still many games even on the Atari 2600 that I have not played. I'm sure there are many games that I would enjoy, but have never played - feel free to make suggestions!