You know what they say about all work and no play. So this week we've decided to count down the best computer games of all time.
There's a growing body of research which shows that game playing can improve productivity by allowing the brain to concentrate on other things for a while. It makes sense to me; we have after all evolved by playing games that allow us to try out new mental strategies.
Originally we'd considered doing this last week to coincide with the Games Developer Conference in San Francisco. But we'd been planning the women in IT feature for weeks and that took precedence. However, with the game Baftas in the UK tonight we had an excuse to do the Top 10 list we've been mulling over for a while now.
This list was the source of much debate and a bit of anxiety. After all, there's an entire branch of the publishing business dedicated to nothing but gaming, and who are we to count down the best games of all time? The only answer is that, as techies, we love to play on our systems, something computer users have been doing for over 60 years.
Then there's the issue of sheer quantity. Had we gone with all the initial suggestions, it would have easily been a 'top 50' list. So we had to narrow it down a bit: PC games only and no sentimental favourites (well, OK we cheated on that but with good cause, as you'll see later).
Some of the games here did appear on consoles but we've kept the focus on the computer front, so you won't see Pacman, Donkey Kong or any other arcade favourites on the list. While these games may be important in terms of personal favourites, the list would have been too complex with them. Maybe that's something for another time.
Eventually we were able to whittle it down to 10 games and two honourable mentions, though we may not be able to eat at Morty's for a while due to all the shouting.
mention: Escape Velocity
Shaun Nichols: So when I said there were no sentimental favourites, I wasn't entirely being sincere. This relatively obscure space trading RPG may not have racked up the sales in the 1990s, but did manage to take up dozens of hours from my childhood.
A Macintosh-only shareware title from indie developer Ambrosia Software, Escape Velocity and its successors obtained a devoted niche following among Mac enthusiasts. While the graphics weren't flashy, the game was ahead of its time. Escape Velocity sported a huge game world and dozens of player missions, providing a level of variety and replay ability that rivals most modern RPGs.
Additionally, the game was highly customisable. The developers made it possible to edit almost every facet of the game, from ships to weapons to missions, even the game's title screen, through Apple's free ResEdit tool. This created a huge crop of user created plug-ins and even a few total conversions of the game.
Iain Thomson: I'm ashamed to say I'd never even heard of this game until Shaun brought it up yesterday. When we were compiling the list I suggested cutting it but Shaun hung on like a rabid pit bull on steroids and several hours of research later I have to say I'm gutted I missed it.
Escape Velocity is a precursor to Elite in many ways. It's a fight or trade space adventure game and is much loved by Mac enthusiasts. I can see why Shaun likes it so much, but if it means buying an Apple system I'm not on board.
Iain Thomson: RobotWar is possibly the ultimate geek game, in that you had to code the participants.
This probably explains why it never really took off. After all, a tiny percentage of computer users can actually code so the appeal of the game was very limited. But it certainly deserves a spot in the Top 10 list, even if it is just an Honourable Mention.
Created in the 1970s the principle behind the game was that by 2002 war had been made illegal (hollow laughter) and countries settled their disputes by robot combat. You built machines that could detect and fire at each other, and may the best software win. It's a very cute idea, and one that has been blatantly stolen by the Robot Wars TV series.
The game has spawned many offshoots but remains at heart a tool of geeks. Check it out.
Shaun Nichols: Back before the hardware to build robotics became powerful and affordable enough to reach the hobbyist market, would-be robot builders had to make do with a simulation.
RobotWar was a novel idea from Silas Warner, the brilliant programmer who would later create another iconic title with the original Castle Wolfenstein games.
Warner created RobotWar for the Illinois University PLATO computer as a sort of cross between a game and a programming exercise. Players use a simple programming language to script out instructions for their software 'robots' which are then placed into an 'arena' program and pitted against one another.
While the language was simple, things can get very complicated when players try to account for movement and velocity, providing a constant challenge as players push one another with new tactics and ideas.
A later version of the game emerged in the 1990s under the name RoboWar and became so popular that more than two dozen official tournaments were held.
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