30. Half-Life (PC, 1998)
There are two ways to handle a videogame protagonist. You can either create (or co-opt) a character that players love so much that they want to keep them alive: Lara Croft, Mario (or Batman). Or you can develop a character that is neutral enough that the player can see themselves in the game. Gordon Freeman, despite technically ruling out 51% of humanity by dint of gender alone, is the classic example of that second type. Not given to speechifyin’ but quick to action he is the quintessential strong and silent hero.
Despite the taciturn nature of its hero the Half Life saga boasts one of the most compelling narratives in videogame culture. And yes, I have played the Marathon games. Half Life was one of the games that helped expand gaming from just ‘pew pew’ to interactive fiction. And the underlying engine has helped drive more than one hit game, too.
29: Farmville (Online, 2009)
Part ‘The Archers’ simulator, part virus, Farmville has run rampant through Facebook, infecting every timeline with requests to visit imaginary smallholdings. Its appeal is now on the wane, but through its long reign Farmville has inculcated the gaming habit in millions of virtual sharecroppers. The Farmville model has been re-used by originators Zynga and myriad imitators to flood social networks with casual games.
On the one hand nobody likes Farmville, and everyone you talk to you about it complains about the pester-power of game requests in their timeline. On the other hand, somewhere in the world, 63,370,436 people every month are planting hypothetical tomatoes and praying they don’t wither.
More after the break...
28: Wing Commander (PC/Various, 1990)
Wing Commander was one of those turning points where videogames grew beyond their pixellated origins and started becoming something more like an interactive movie. While its Space Opera setting owes something to predecessors such as Elite, the branching story structure and (from Wing Commander III onwards) elaborate, cinematic cutscenes took things to a whole new level.
27. Virtua Fighter (Arcade/Saturn/Tiger R-Zone, 1993)
Just how exciting can a side-on view of two cartoon characters punching one another in the head be? Well, if it’s done right, very exciting indeed. Such is the reach of the Virtua Fighter franchise that its characters pop up all over the gaming universe. Jacky Bryant and Akira Yuki compete in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing and Akira makes another guest appearance, along with Sarah Bryant and Pai Chan, in Tecmo's Dead or Alive 5.
Virtua Fighter was the first of the 3D fighters, the arcade cabinet version earned itself a place in the Smithsonian Museum for technical innovation. It was also ported to the first Playstation, where its unique attributes encouraged Sony’s designers to focus on 3D gaming — a decision that ironically helped the fledgling Sony console compete agains Sega’s Saturn. That battle has arguably shaped the entire history of console gaming.
26: Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved (X360, 2005)
The what now? You’ve heard of most of the games on this list. Chances are you’ve played a fair percentage of them. Now what’s with this frankly trippy-looking Geometry Wars caper? This little extra side-project from Project Gotham Racing scores its much-coveted place on this list by dint of of its pioneering delivery system.
Microsoft’s Xbox Live Arcade points the way to how most games will be bought in future. Not through high street stores or even anonymous cardboard-box-sending conglomerates. The games of tomorrow will be delivered through our broadband connection. Better for manufacturers because as well as cutting down on down on dead inventory and transportation costs, it ups the difficulty level for game pirated considerably. Better for us because…um…we like getting our games from happy manufacturers.