In the last week of research and writing about various games to put together my list of “The Best Games of All Time”, there are a number of game types and genres that I didn’t include much of, if any. In the same way that I talked about specific games that didn’t quite make the cut, I also wanted to talk about sections of the gaming medium that didn’t quite make it either.
If you’ve looked at the previous list, and wondered “why didn’t Tam include…”, read on.
Racing and sports games have a long history in video games. They’re some of the first games we made, and we make LOTS of them. Both genres are built upon slow, steady iteration, taking the boundaries set by predecessors and gently nudging them outward, but rarely if ever pushing well past them. innovations are subtle, small things: enhancements to UI, control sensitivity upgrades, improved physics, better customization. For a lot of people, the “best” racing or sports game is the one that got them into the genre; individual years blur together.
Additionally, racing games diverged very early on between the “arcade” racer and the “simulation” racer, and the choice between the two has long since been a matter of taste. With two fairly divergent schools of design that nonetheless heavily affect one another, slow but steady iteration, and the blurriness between the various iterations, I don’t know that I could pick out games that really stand out.
Classic Adventure Games
I’m talking here mostly about the point-and-click puzzle story games– the ones made by Lucasarts, Dynamix, Sierra, or a variety of other studios. So many of these kinds of games came out and iterated on each other so rapidly that it’s hard to establish a starting point or connecting threads, particularly once you reach back into text adventures or forward into action-adventure games. I think these games are important, but I also think they’re important as a whole, not individually. I don’t think it’s possible to pick out King’s Quest, or Full Throttle, or Day of the Tentacle, or Sam and Max, or Kyrandia, or Quest for Glory, or Police Quest as a particular stand-out.
For myself, I can come up with compelling arguments for pretty much any of that previous list, but it’s questionable how relevant any of them still are. We’re starting to see a resurgence of adventure games– Telltale’s games, Broken Age, Dreamfall Chapters, and others, but many of them define themselves by how far removed they are from the old style of point-and-click.
The predecessor to the modern MMO, BBS games and the MUDS/MUSHes (and eventually MMOs) they evolved into are certainly notable in gaming history. Like some of the above categories, however, there were a lot of them released in a very short period of time, with very similar feature sets. While popular for a time, very few of them endured beyond dedicated hobbyists, and most of them are notable only because they were online with other people, but did very little else well in the context of games as a whole, especially for their time. Perhaps the most notable one would be DIKUMUD, just due to its lasting influence on role-based games, but frankly even that I have a hard time holding up compared to its contemporaries.
Certainly important games, but difficult to claim as Best Games Ever.
Command and Conquer or _____craft? The two represent very different philosophies for RTS games, and while they both sit fairly high in terms of quality, they also tend to be somewhat monofocused. Given my own criteria, the vast majority of RTS games don’t make the cut, with Starcraft being one of the only notable exceptions, though Warcraft 3 developed the now popular concept of the “hero” unit. On top of that, RTSes as a genre have been sputtering out in a lot of cases, particularly with the rise of e-sports and MOBAs.
The RTS is such a divergent design model that it’s done relatively little to affect things outside itself, and there are very few serious stand-outs.
Shmups/Bullet Hell Shooters
This is another genre like RTSes, that has kind of absorbed into itself and doesn’t really cross-pollinate that much. It’s kind of an evolutionary offshoot that has its own subset of games but rarely breaks into the overall gaming consciousness nor really affects the medium as a whole a lot. There are many great games that fall under this umbrella, but it’s hard for me to recommend any of them as a “Best Game of All Time”.
I use this term to describe games like Metal Slug, (older) Ninja Gaiden, Streets of Rage, Contra, Battletoads, and a variety of TMNT games, many of which appeared first on arcades. Other than people playing them a whole lot, though, most of these were overshadowed by the real stand-outs of the 16-bit era, and especially the arcade ones were very, very similar to one another with only nominally different skins. Super Mario, Castlevania, Metroid, Sonic 2 and Mega Man fairly adequately cover all of the ground that these games cover (exception: co-op arcade which was notable and early, but about the only thing some of these games did), but there’s not a lot of variance or innovation. I have a lot of fond memories of these games, but I can’t exactly put any of them up on a pedestal; they were largely kind of shallow even for their time.
Still-Living PC Games
There are a small number of games that have stayed alive and kicking through PC hobbyists for a long time. I’m thinking of MMOs that have been resurrected by fans, popular classic shooters like Quake 3, and other snapshots of particular times in gaming history that have been preserved. While a lot of these have been ported multiple times and even still have tournaments every year, they’re also followed by pretty small audiences that are very insular. There’s a big difference between a game that’s relevant today because a small group of hobbyists has kept it alive and a game that is relevant today because new games are still copying its design.
There are a ton of mobile games. It’s still a very new market, and it’s really hard to pick out stand-outs, especially considering how far they’ve come in the last five years. You’ll note that there were very few early home console games on my list– much like early home console games and early arcade games, early mobile games are exploratory forays into the medium, but not terribly refined yet. Per my own criteria, simply being the first to do something doesn’t make a game uniquely notable, and I feel like we haven’t had quite enough maturation in mobile games to start pulling out true stand-outs.
I have absolutely no doubt that we’ll get there, though.
Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs)
This one rode a line for me. Technically, League of Legends was released in 2009 and available on multiple platforms and is therefore eligible for the list. What I don’t know is whether or not MOBAs are a briefly entertaining offshoot of RTSes, like skateboarding games that were huge for several years and then nearly all evaporated, or if they’re a new mainstay of gaming. It’s largely too early to tell, and it’s uncertain whether League of Legends will retain its stranglehold or whether DOTA2 will pull ahead. Both represent very different philosophies, and I don’t think any of the stand-outs have been around long enough to really claim Best Game Ever status, and the genre’s progenitor, the original DOTA, is frankly overshadowed by its successors.