A few weeks ago, the editors pondered write to us to tell us about your experiences and why the game left such a lasting impression on you. Your answer could appear in next week's feature. Last but not least, if you have a burning question about games or the game industry, send in your questions. We might select your inquiry as our next Question of the Week!
First: Planet Moon Studios' Nick Bruty has many memorable moments
President and Co-Art and Design Director, Planet Moon Studios
It's pretty tough to narrow down my choice to just one single-player experience. It would be easier if I were a bigger fan of adventure and strategy games, where the PC dominates. But I have never been a huge adventure game fan. Although I love the atmosphere, I simply don't have the time or patience. It's also hard to find a truly good story and dialogue. And it's even harder to make something funny, which is why Day of the Tentacle impressed me so much. It had me giggling for days. While I find these games more fun when I play them with a friend, it's always a mix of action and adventure that keeps me hooked as an individual player.
One of the greats for me was Star Wars: Tie Fighter. It was the first Star Wars game since the classic arcade game that placed me in the gameworld. There were great dogfights, and you got to go up against the Millennium Falcon. If only the writing had matched the action, this would have been my all-time favorite at the time.
Another was Half-Life came out? Fun story, good technology, nice visuals, but I couldn't get past the engine. I was too worn out by first-person shooters by then, which was a great shame, as this was one of the best first-person shooters ever made. If it had come out 18 months earlier, I would have felt so different about it.
Actually, the early first-person shooter days were the most fun for me. Duke Nukem was a great, wild ride: I loved the LA levels--absolutely great fun. I still enjoyed many of the later levels, but as soon as the game left earth-related culture, my interest dropped off.
However, it was about eight years ago when I had my most memorable PC-gaming moment. I was working on Earthworm Jim, a 2D platform game for the 16-bit consoles. I arrived at the office one morning only to have an instant angry feeling when I realized that someone had been using my PC. On my screen was a scene that looked like a low-resolution render. "Bloody sods," I thought. "Who's been rendering on my machine?" At this point I hit the keyboard, and the whole screen scrolled forward in all of its glorious real-time 3D. I was floored. When I finally realized that this was indeed a game and not a demo, all I could think was that someone had finally done it. Doom.
In a way, it's odd that I end up picking a game with no plot or defined characters for my most memorable single-player experience. If Doom were released today, I wouldn't look at it twice, but the impact it made on me at the time was the strongest reaction to a game I had felt since Elite. Games just took a step forward.
Next: Trey waxes nostalgic for a land called Sosaria
My fondest single-player memory is playing Ultima III: Exodus until the early hours of the morning on several different occasions. Ultima III was my first experience with computer role-playing games, and while it didn't (and still doesn't) replace pen-and-paper role-playing games, it definitely held my interest for several months. I played the game on my dad's 512K Macintosh, and since I was living with my mom most of the time, I only got to play it every other weekend, and thus I was determined to make the most of it. I never finished the game, and I wasn't particularly interested in the storyline--I was only 10 or so and was far more interested in exploring the gameworld, fighting monsters, and gaining levels.
Ultima III showed me the fun of long games. Most of the games I had played before it were either fast-paced console games or graphical adventure games like Deja Vu, Uninvited, and Shadowgate. While I enjoyed both kinds of games, they didn't keep me interested for very long. The action games relied too heavily on fast hand-eye coordination, and the adventure games were fun until I arrived at a puzzle I couldn't solve. I didn't have the patience at the time to keep trying for very long, and I hadn't discovered the magic of game guides. As a result, none of these games captured my attention for as long as Ultima III.
The part of Ultima III I enjoyed the most was the sense of progress I felt as my party of characters advanced in level. In the beginning, their lives were so fragile, and any encounter with a wandering monster in the wilderness was nerve-racking. I remember carefully using the combat rounds to protect the weaker and wounded characters while letting the fighters take the brunt of the damage. Later in the game, when my party had become powerful, I remember going into towns just to pick fights with the town guard, because I knew the characters could survive.
The game's combination of turn-based tactical combat and world exploration was addictive, and it boosted my interest in both computer and tabletop role-playing games. I just found out about an official shareware version of the game for the Macintosh, and I'm planning on giving it a try again sometime. Even though the shareware version has been enhanced some, I know the graphics won't compare to those of today's games, but the gameplay might still be fun, and it will be interesting to try to remember my way around Sosaria.
Next: Craig's remembrance of things past: Ultima VII
Downloads and Media Editor
My most memorable single-player experience was playing Ultima VII. Ultima VII: The Black Gate was the first game I played on our 486 computer, so I remember it vividly. Ultima VII, Part Two: Serpent Isle was probably the game I anticipated the most in my life.
I remember almost everything about Ultima VII: The Black Gate--except the sound, of course, because I couldn't get the game's sound and music to work. (There was always an unsolvable memory problem.) It's a pity because once I heard a few of the Guardian's lines, I knew they would have added a lot to the game. This didn't deter me from thoroughly enjoying it, however; it was the best-looking game I had ever seen. I remember thinking at the time that the game was graphic when I saw all the blood spilled near the murder victim in Trinsic at the start of the game. I remember being amazed to see Skara Brae devastated as well.
Ultima VII, Part Two: Serpent Isle was a great game in its own right. It had the same engine and essentially the same feel as Part One. The "paper doll" system that let you place equipment directly on the character portrait was a nice addition. I remember my jaw dropping when a lightning storm took away all my starting items, even the blackrock sword! Even worse was when I had to release the demon to escape the prison dungeon; the sword never was the same. It took me forever to escape from the prison dungeon. I even pulled off my first gaming all-nighters trying to escape from there, and I had to sneak to bed before my parents woke up.
The best thing about Ultima VII was the characters. I hadn't played an Ultima game since the fourth game, which was on the Nintendo, so it was interesting to see all the characters again. I don't remember the names of the new characters, but the one I remember the most was the little boy who was the murdered blacksmith's son. I equipped him with the musket, and that was about all he could carry. It was hilarious seeing this little boy in the party with a gun that was about as tall as he was. The characters in Part Two were also memorable, especially Boyden. He was the one that you "built" out of spare body parts. I also used a lot of the automatons. You could get around the maximum number of party members by killing your own automatons, recruiting someone else, and then raising the dead ones. It was annoying at times when a party member would leave and try to join again because the process took so long. And I found that you could crash the game by having too many members.
The weapons and spells were fun to play with, too. Not only were there guns and cannons, but there were also stranger things like the Hoe of Destruction and blackrock. Most of the time I didn't use these weapons, but whenever I got frustrated with the game I'd take it out on townspeople. There was nothing like taking a cannon out of your backpack, which was absurd, to blow up a square full of villagers. And it was a good time to check out newly acquired spells like death vortex when the guards came after you.
Next: Amer remembers his date with an Apache
I think most of the other editors will mention
With the exception of the Xen level, every stage in
Here, the Marines really pulled out all the stops and sent everything they had at you. You were shot at by everything from an M24 sniper rifle to an F-16 Falcon. I'll never forget the slight sense of terror I felt when I realized that I had to expose my location to the buzzing AH-64 Apache and sprint about 50 yards to reach cover--in a minefield no less. Throughout Surface Tension, that Apache became the bane of my existence: It strafed me at every opportunity, and it even blew up a dam to impede my progress. When I reached the cliff wall, with nowhere to go but down, I knew that it was all over. Miraculously, there was a small cave located a few feet down and to the right of where the chopper had me pinned. With a couple of graceful bounds, I was able to make it to the mouth of the cave with the Apache nipping at my heels. Of course, anyone who's played Half-Life will know what's coming next--inside the cave, I found my savior: a laser-guided rocket launcher.
As the metallic green bird continued to swoop and strafe the outside of the cave, I knew that our little dance was nearing an end. One rocket meant that I had only one chance, and since I was down to about 10 percent of my total health, if I missed, my life would be forfeited. Timing would be extremely important. I waited until the Apache completed a strafing run of the cave's entrance and then sprinted to the mouth of the alcove. With a click of a button, I activated the launcher's laser designator and trained it squarely on the Apache's left engine. Its belly-mounted cannon had already picked me up and had started to fire. Without wasting any more time, I squeezed the trigger (well, a click of the mouse) and let go a single screeching rocket. The Apache fell to the earth in a mass of twisted, flaming wreckage, and I breathed a hefty sigh of relief.
That's my most memorable single-player experience ever.
Next: Greg's most memorable is most recent
I've played a lot of memorable role-playing games, adventure games, and action games, but I'd like to talk about first-person shooters in particular. This is a subgenre that's extremely popular and also very broad--the first-person shooter subgenre actually comprises many other subgenres, including team-based multiplayer shooters, deathmatch shooters, and story-driven single-player shooters. Of all these, apparently the single-player shooter has become the underdog; critics are always quick to point out when particular shooters don't have a good multiplayer component (or any multiplayer component). Yet I think that single-player shooters can make for some of the most exciting, most immersive, and most memorable gaming experiences. And I think a lot of people feel the same way. Since shooters are very popular, and since a lot of people expect a lot of different things from them and remember them for different reasons, I think they're particularly interesting these days--especially because as yet they're still often not clearly labeled to prospective consumers.
I recently had the pleasure of playing through Clive Barker's Undying, which is certainly one of the finest single-player first-person shooters to date. In my recent review of the game, I concentrated on explaining why this is the case. Ultimately, I thought Undying was outstanding. Its release ties in fortuitously with our Question of the Week topic about memorable single-player experiences. Even though it was published early on in 2001, I'm sure that Undying will come up in December when all of the gaming publications decide on which were the best action games of the year.
I've since read a review of the game in which the author had a somewhat less satisfying experience with the game than I did. He felt that Undying fell short of fulfilling its potential as an interactive story, and, as such, he was somewhat disappointed even though he recognized the game for its great action sequences. I can see the point, because Undying is essentially a pure shooter. Someone who buys the game because he's a fan of Clive Barker's fiction first and foremost and not necessarily a fan of first-person shooters may be surprised to find that the game isn't very story-driven. As in shooters such as No One Lives Forever, then I'm sure you'll also like Undying although the game is definitely more similar to Doom than these more recent games because of its horror theme.
I think the difference of opinion over Undying brings up an interesting question: What's the perfect balance between storytelling and action in single-player first-person games, anyway? All of a sudden, even single-player shooters seem to be broken down into distinct subgenres, which emphasize either the action or the story elements. A memorable single-player gaming experience must certainly involve both an element of action and an element of narrative. The action gives the game a sense of urgency and immediacy, which is important or maybe even necessary in an exciting game, while the narrative gives the game context--together the two can make a game memorable. A lot of people really enjoyed last year's shooter No One Lives Forever. I'm one of those people. But in hindsight, I thought No One Lives Forever was a little too heavy on the story sequences. It's true that the dialogue in the game was almost universally excellent, but it got really long-winded at times, almost as if the designers realized just how good all the dialogue was and were loath to cut out any of it against their better judgment. Maybe a small part of the reason I thought Undying was so good was that, unlike No One Lives Forever, it actually didn't have many noninteractive sequences to break up the action. The action in the game is good enough by itself, that's for sure.
Half-Life is still widely considered the best single-player shooter to date, even though No One Lives Forever and now Undying both came pretty close. The not-so-subtle secret to Half-Life--this was recognized as the most innovative thing about the game--was how it integrated its cinematic story sequences into the actual gameplay. During the game, you never lost control of the character or saw anything except from his own perspective. This was a remarkable achievement, and ultimately I think the effective use of the technique, together with the game's great scripted sequences, makes Half-Life one of the most memorable single-player games to date.
Next: Giancarlo reminisces about orcs and humans
Looking back, I find it really hard to picture a game where the single-player experience alone was worth remembering. Most of the games that come to mind have used a single-player mode as a means to enhance your skills so that you weren't obliterated every time you tried to play a multiplayer game online. Two perfect examples of this are MechWarrior 2. Both of these games had great single-player campaign modes. As for Warcraft II, it was fun just to play through the human and orc campaigns in single-player mode to get a different perspective on Warcraft II's central plot. So really, Warcraft II's single-player could stand on its own fairly well. MechWarrior 2 was a little less inspiring in single-player mode, but it did an excellent job of preparing you for the game's more popular multiplayer feature.
The initial barrage of first-person shooters--at least the ones that had a multiplayer mode--pretty much fell into the same category. Doom II actually had a decent single-player mode for the simple reason that the multiplayer audience wasn't quite in place yet, but the great character and level design was enough to keep you playing through to the end. Also, the fact that Doom II did not have an especially strong story showed how much fun it was to play through Doom II's single-player mode.
Unfortunately, when multiplayer became a stronger draw for first-person shooters, developers started to pay less attention to the single-player mode and instead focused their efforts in the other direction. The result is a game like Quake, which did have a few memorable moments in single-player albeit not necessarily good ones. For example, the last boss character you fought in Quake was a weird treelike octopus object that you defeated by simply running into the portal whenever a small spiky ball flew inside the odd-looking tree. Needless to say, a few people were probably puzzled, disappointed, and possibly even disturbed when they reached this last level. A few years later, some developers realized that the single-player modes of first-person shooters were suffering, so they refocused their efforts and attempted to produce first-person shooters with incredible single-player modes like Clive Barker's Undying.
But in the end, probably my most memorable single-player experience comes from a genre that can't really branch into multiplayer gaming. The adventure game The 7th Guest ranks high on my list of all-time memorable single-player experiences because it was a good game on so many levels, and it was the first game that I wouldn't play in a dark room alone. The initial hook for The 7th Guest was the story, and although the ending was incredibly disappointing, it was fun to go through the old mansion to find out what happened to the other guests. In addition, the puzzles were incredibly hard, but for some reason I always found myself spending hours trying to figure some of them out; whereas in other puzzle-filled adventure games I would get bored rather quickly, give up within a few minutes, and go look for a guide.
Next: Jennifer's stardust memories of Marathon
My list of memorable single-player experiences would be kind of long and boring. When asked to look back and choose the most memorable single-player experience, I immediately think of my earliest gaming experiences, and many of those involve the local arcade, where I seemed to be a permanent fixture after school. I think that one of the earliest and most memorable single-player experiences is still playing Tempest and learning how to get past the first stage of levels to the later stages, where the polygonal grids changed color and sections of the grid would randomly disappear to impede your movement in a certain direction.
In general, nothing beats the experience of playing arcade games when arcades were first growing in popularity across suburban shopping centers. Maybe it is pure nostalgia. Looking back at that time, I guess I had a small sense of what was happening and how important it was. My most memorable single-player experiences involve a whole range of sensations: standing for hours on end in front of the Tempest, Ms. Pac-Man, and Tron machines; feeling hungry and thirsty due to not eating and drinking for hours; growing tired and bleary-eyed from staring at the same colored pixels over and over again; getting hot in an extremely crowded place; getting pushed and shoved accidentally; hearing the same synthetic bleeps and screaming kids; and of course, becoming stressed out by both the game and the thought of losing my place at the machine, where other kids had already lined up their quarters on the glass. Thus, it wasn't just the game (for the most part, Tempest); it was the whole sensory experience and psychological tension that have been burned into my mind.
Later, when I began playing games on the home computer, the experience seemed fairly tame and almost boring in comparison to wild arcade living. Seated in a comfortable chair, able to get both food and drink--free food and drink--and all alone with no crowds and no clash of sounds from a hundred machines, I made the transition. One of the most memorable single-player experiences from this time came from playing Marathon.
Marathon was released for the Mac in December 1994, and it was the first-person shooter that launched the independent, young, and small Bungie to greener pastures, which would later include a sequel, Marathon 2, then a third game to complete a trilogy. One of the reasons for which Marathon has stood out in my experience is that it was very much story-driven. Its sci-fi plot and setting were reminiscent of certain themes found in action movies like Aliens, and the game had a lot of interesting twists involving artificial-intelligence characters. And most of all, I can remember being genuinely frightened of things hidden behind corners and doors or in dark places, aliens that would jump at you and attack you. The first-person perspective also immersed me into the gameworld, and it was like playing in a movie. I don't think that I have had the same memorable experience since then--except for Unreal. In one of the very first levels, you had to run down a corridor, and the lights go out around you. A Skaarj comes out of nowhere and jumps you, and the first time I played this level, I panicked in the dark and died. But I'll never forget that scary moment.