Today is a very special day for me, as I finally take my first step into being a proper, legal adult who can drive a bus and go to a strip club. What a fantastic day.
But in my 21 years on this planet, I’ve spent a frankly ungodly amount of time sat flat on my arse losing myself in a good video game; so much so that certain titles, like I’m sure has happened to many of you reading, have come to define periods of my life. Today, I’m going to share with you what those 21 titles were, and why they were so special to me.
PC/PlayStation 1 (Young Childhood)
1) ‘Alex builds his farm’
So, this is a really obscure title, I guess – A Playmobil licensed title designed primarily to sell their range of farm-themed toys, ‘Alex’ was what essentially amounted to minigame collection, albeit one spread across the small open world that was the main character’s farm home. Not an ambitious or remarkable game at all- but it does hold the distinction of being the first game I ever played and still remember thoroughly to this day. I remember the various areas- the ponds, the fields, the barns and the stables, I remember riding a horse through the forest, herding chickens, navigating a maze and driving a tractor up and down a field to plant crops. Nothing special to most, but for me, it’s where it all started.
2) ‘Gex 3D: Enter the Gecko’
‘Enter The Gecko’ was one of the three games I had on the original Playstation, and still has a spot on the shelf in my bedroom. The game was a simple enough 3D platformer, albeit one starring a suave-talking gecko who made constant pop-culture references I as a 3-year-old had zero chance of understanding.
The game’s hub world was essentially divided into different instances of several TV channels – a cartoon world, a Sci-Fi World – but also, tragically, a Horror world. This game had several levels I had to complete full of Frankenstein’s monsters, screaming ghouls, and haunted armour that I played at an age where I could barely read, never mind cope with horror.
But nonetheless, I faced my fears and managed to pass several of these levels every time I played- something that I’m still proud of myself for, 18 years later. But then came the game’s second boss. A horrifying monstrosity knew as ‘MooShoo Pork’.
Seriously, look at this bad boy. Even as an adult, he makes my skin crawl.
But here’s the thing: Overall, my memories of Gex 3D are super fun and positive, and if I could get it working with analogue sticks I’d probably replay it! No, the game I HATED as a kid, the one that gave me HORRIFIC nightmares, is…
3) Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey
OK, here’s one you may have heard of! Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey, a weird puzzle-platformer that started on the PS1. By most accounts, good wholesome fun (It even had a button that made Abe do a little fart, if I remember correctly), but there was one problem – Abe himself looked like this.
You see, to you and me today this looks like a cute-in-a-gross-way cartoon alien, but to me aged 4, it was Absolute walking nightmare fuel.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I would see Abe in the corner of my eye, peeking out at me, imagine that he was behind me, or even imagine hearing his voice in the dark. Not for a few days, or a few weeks, or even a few months.
This guy haunted the corner of my eyes for over a decade. I didn’t stop pseudo-hallucinating him until I was around 14.
There was something very specific about Abe – maybe it was the intestine on his head or the fact his mouth was stitched closed – that traumatised my young mind in such a way that it was the mere thought of being alone would trigger a deep-rooted fear somewhere in my psyche, even at the age I started studying for my GCSEs. It’s possible that this game is the reason my 21-year-old ass is an anxious wreck when he’s left alone in the house after dark. Thank god I have a dog to keep me company.
So, yeah – Hardly a wholesome memory, but a significant enough game that it breaks into the list. Let’s talk about something more fun, shall we?
4) ‘Lego Rock Raiders’ (on PC)
If there is a game I could remake, officially or simply in spirit, it would 110% be ‘Lego Rock Raiders’, a 1999 RTS that appeared on the family PC at some point and devoured hundreds of hours of my childhood.
It’s a fun little title- in that it isn’t really about combat, or strategy, or even skill. It’s a game in which you send little mini-figures to dig up resources, build bases, spawn vehicles, and then repeat. Some levels had a limit on how much air was available, making it a rush to build the machine that recycled air. Some missions had you delving deep into cave systems, finding some lost miner or piece of equipment. Later levels had attacks from monsters, with you building laser towers and weapons stores to fight back – But Starcraft this ain’t. This is a game about exploring caves and building bases. Even watching the gameplay back again, I’m instantly his by how fantastic the 1999 sound design is, and how damn catchy the super minimalist soundtrack – much of which is just rhythmic water droplets – is even 2 decades later.
Yeah, screw the Spyro and Crash remasters, and screw modern Lego games – This was the real shit right here. Get me it in 1080p resolution, and do it now, please.
And, yeah – It did help the charm that every unit in the game was a real LEGO set you could buy. That was cool.
Playstation 2 / GBA (Childhood)
5) Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon Pearl
I WANNA BE
THE VERY BEST
AT LEAST, IN MY PRIMARY SCHOOL
At 7 years old, I was a walking talking Pokemon encyclopaedia – I could tell you at what level Torterra learned earthquake, exactly how and why Riolu would evolve, the complete list of every Pokemon on every route in Sinnoh, and I even knew how to get a Shaymin.
What I could not tell you, however, was where my maths homework was. But that didn’t matter, because I’d managed to get all my friends hooked on a series for which I was the sole expert in my tiny little village. I felt like a king.
6) Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly & Spyro: A Hero’s Tail
God, I loved a bit of Spyro as a kid. The original PS1 trilogy was juuuust out of my reach as a kid, given I was 3 when the PS2 came out- but my entry came a little later, with the fantastic ‘Spyro: A Hero’ s Tail on PlayStation 2, followed up when I picked up ‘Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly” a year or two later.
There’s no special revelation, no childhood trauma, and no inner realisation here – Spyro was just good, wholesome fun that I still look back on fondly a decade and a half later. What a fantastic game. Guess I’m picking up the Reignited trilogy as soon as it hits Switch, eh?
7) Crash: Wrath of Cortex, Crash: Tag Team Racing, & Crash Twinsanity
You know what I just wrote about Spyro? Yeah, that again for Crash, but twice. I loved Crash Bandicoot as a wee lad. He’s my master chief, my Link, and my Sonic.
‘Wrath of Cortex’ also holds the distinction of having that one boss fight from my childhood that had NO DAMN BUSINESS being so difficult – the game’s second boss level, ‘Drain Damage’, which only lasts 1.5 – 2 minutes if you can do it properly.
But it won’t. I’m not kidding when I say that the second half of the game might as well have been a sequel to it – because I didn’t see it until almost a year after first getting the game.
Nothing deep here – Crash was just some good shit. I’ve gotten hold of a Switch as a present from my parents, and the N.Sane Trilogy is going to be on top of my list.
Oh good lord, Runescape.
I played Runescape back in 2007, the era the retro 2007scape we have today tries to emulate- and it was perfect.
What did I do in this vast open world? Did I do quests? Level up my skills? Collect gear?
Nah, I wandered around for what amounted to basically a full calendar year chatting to people. It was my introduction to social media, more than anything.
And because I was forbidden by my parents from interacting too deeply with people online, my friendships were often fleeting, lasting minutes or hours.
I attended virtual weddings, gave n00bs tours of the big cities, and even set up a charity at one point to help new players get sorted with some decent gear – I’d walk around areas like the Grand Exchange or the banks near the wilderness asking for donations of a few hundred gold – which is nothing, to most players – and then buy full sets or armour and go hand them out to new players.
I’d like to think, on some level, that at least one of them remembers that weird dude CatScartchFevr. (A friend of mine made the account for me and misspelled “CatScratchFever”). You’re welcome, fellas.
Wii/PS3/PC (Teenage years)
9) Modnation Racers
Want to know what I think of Modnation Racers? I wrote a whole piece on it here!
10) LittleBigPlanet & LittleBigPlanet 2
Oh my oh my, LittleBigPlanet. What a beautiful time.
Have I ever mentioned how I love game design as an artistic study, and how I want to be a project manager on game projects when all is said and done?
Yeah, LittleBigPlanet is why. Never before has a game made me feel purely, innocently, and wonderfully happy. LittleBigPlanet II was my game of the day when the Playstation Network was hacked in December 2011, and I made the most of it- crafting a 5-hour series of platforming levels I called ‘Zombots’, and it was worth every one of the 100+ hours I put into making it.
LittleBigPlanet is a shining example of what games can be as an art form- not an overly scripted borderline action game, not an engine for microtransactions – Just a sandbox placed before you, waiting for you to run free.
11) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 & 3, Call of Duty Black Ops and Black Ops II
This may be one of the more obvious ones, but just like every other teenager at the time, I was pretty much obsessed with Call of Duty for a fair few years. It was the go-to party game, my introduction to online play, and the ultimate chill-out game. Get the boys over, crack open a can of coke, and go a few rounds on Rust, Interventions only.
Before you ask: no, I have never owned a Halo game.
12) The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
This is where it all started. All the game design, the love of game storytelling, my passion for writing and deep immersive worlds. This is where I fell in love with RPGs, where I fell in love with Modding, and when I truly fell in love with PC gaming.
If any of you have read my piece on the monetisation of game mods, you’ll probably know I’m hella passionate about Skyrim as not just a fantastic game, but as a platform for intense customisation, as a guinea pig for new industry practices (We have mods on consoles now! How fantastic is that?), but most of all as a system through which creative souls can begin to tinker under the hood of a real, breathing video game.
13) Heroes of Newerth
Heroes of Newerth had no business being as good as it was back in the day. A lesser-known MOBA released at the same time as League and DOTA 2, HoN was my jam for 2 years or so throughout secondary school. I had a group of maybe 6 or 7 friends – Some of whom I knew from school, and some of whom I’ve never met face-to-face but still considered great and close pals.
Most nights, we’d hit the Forests of Caldevar for some good wholesome competition. Some of us were Salty, some were clearly better than others, but we had a group dynamic that worked.
HoN devoured a thousand hours of my youth, and I don’t regret a second. It’s just a shame that the game has changed so much nowadays that I simply can’t get back into it.
What is there left to say about Minecraft? Nothing I can say will be original – You all know exactly why this is here already.
Minecraft wasn’t a game, it’s a defining piece of media for an entire generation… And I played it most days from the day I first played it in 2011 until the arse end of 6th form five years later.
We did it all – Vanilla survival, then some minigame servers, then some bigger servers focused on economies and towns, and later on again mod-filled Tekkit servers. Me and my pals would construct gigantic cities, some of our friends would dig deep into server engineering and mod management, and then design and implement giant industrial systems – We even had one guy who I can only describe as a politician, making it his mission to find the best way to engineer alliances with other groups of players and play the economy while we built out empires on the resources he brokered for us.
No gaming experience before or since compares to those wholesome memories.
15) Borderlands 2
This slot was highly contested between Borderlands 2 and Diablo III, for one very good reason – They were the peak of co-op gameplay for me and my aforementioned Minecraft friends. With myself as the Commando, along with a Gunzerker, a Siren, and an Assassin, me and 3 of my classmates played Borderlands 2 for the first time together from start to finish, and it’s remained firm in my mind as a fantastic example of what great co-op gameplay looks like. Frantic gameplay, a tone that doesn’t take itself at all seriously (Because your friends certainly aren’t), and a fantastic set of memorable moments (I still rank B.U.N.K.E.R as one of my all-time favourite boss fights for no particular reason) and you’ve got a recipe for success.
I also replayed the whole thing, DLC and all, with another friend when the Handsome Collection came out on PS4. Just as good a time, because Borderlands 2 is the gift that keeps on giving.
Now, where’s Borderlands 3? Gearbox wasted 3 years on ‘BattleBorn’ (Remember that?) So we’re well overdue by now!
PS4/PC (6th form years)
16) Fallout: New Vegas
As I approached my time at University in the closing year of my secondary education, I would often spend long afternoons sitting in my 6th form’s PC lab with my fellow IT classmates, working through whatever project it was we were assigned that week and chatting merrily along the way – It was quite possibly the most chilled out set of lessons I’ve ever taken. One day, the topic turns to Fallout: New Vegas, a game I’d heard of but never played.
Thankfully, it was on a Steam sale that weekend, and I was in the mood for something new.
Not only were the memes and anecdotes we’d share along the way goddamn hilarious, but New Vegas remains the most useful game I’ve ever played. How you ask? Well, I’m a student, so I go to a fair few house parties, and by some uncanny luck, most of them contain some group of people who are massive Fallout fans. Go figure.
My awkward ass has gotten more social mileage out of New Vegas than any other game, is what I’m saying.
17) Life is Strange 1
My first ever article for Respawning was all about Life is Strange, so you can read that if you want an in-depth view of what this game means to me
To put it shortly, though…
‘Life is Strange’ isn’t just a game, it’s proof that games are high art. And as a piece of art, it has affected my lookout on life more than any song, poem, film, or painting ever has, and probably ever will, because it taught me something very important.
This video game came to me at a very difficult time in my life and changed my outlook for the better. It is quite possible that ‘Life is Strange’ saved my life.
PS4/PC (University years)
I’ve known people in-game before, but ‘Overwatch’ is the first time a game has brought me close to a unique group of people with whom I share a passion for that game and can rely on to play with most days.
And in case the fact I wrote a 4500+ word essay on the topic didn’t tip you off, I’m super passionate about this game’s design, its’ place in the industry, and just what it is like a damn fun game I can safely come back to over and over. An Overwatch poster sits loud and proud between David Bowie and the door to my bedroom, and that’s fine by me.
Hearthstone, the ultimate procrastination tool. The killer of coursework, the thief of attention spans, and the subject of my dissertation.
But the real reason I love Hearthstone so much is due to a tenuous connection that changed the course of my life- on the first day of University, a young lad noticed that another dude was playing Hearthstone on his phone. Wanting to make friends, the first lad pretends to receive a call from his dad, and says “Yeah we just had a welcome talk, I’m gonna sit down and PLAY SOME HEARTHSTONE while I wait.”
The two made friends over the next few minutes, and eventually one introduced me to the other – the kid on the phone was Respawning’s own Josef Jakubiak, without whom I wouldn’t even write for this magazine (I’ve been at it for 14 months now!).
Thank you Josef, and thank you Hearthstone!
20) Fallout 4
500 hours deep, and I will still defend this game to the death. As a lover of Fallout (Hey, it’s the only series on this list with multiple entries!), I was hyped as all hell when the reveal trailer dropped – As me and all my ‘New Vegas’-loving classmates crowded round an iPhone to get our first glimpse of this new game, I was instantly in love.
Fallout 4 is not a perfect game, but it has some fantastic characters that, to me, rival that of Mass Effect, it has a fun RPGlite system which allows me to tinker around with some fun playstyles, and it lets me dress in a fedora and stop gangsters from selling drugs to children.
21) The “Let’s drink lots of Cider” game
Alright, alright – I may be cheating here… But this is the one I’ll be doing tonight to celebrate my birthday. Thanks for joining me, guys. To the pub!