Looking back at the decades of games we’ve played, a handful jump out not only as among our favorites, but as enormous time and money sinks. It’s not that the dollars and time spent were wasted, because we certainly enjoyed them all, but it makes for an interesting retrospective when we consider the lengths we went to in order to maintain our addiction. The top-five titles we can recall, in order of release, follow.
The Wing Commander series
Okay, so maybe it’s not fair to give the title to a series, but our time spent playing the Wing Commander games is one big blur of space combat. The experience bled right into our time spent playing the Freespace games, as well as X-Wing and TIE Fighter, making for a slightly hazy recollection, but one certainly based on the Wing Commander franchise of old. Arguably, our love for flight simulators was born with Dynamic’s Red Baron, and quickly grew to higher destinations. While Wing Commander I and II didn’t necessarily steal our hearts right away, Wing Commander: Privateer destroyed any hope we may have had for returning to earth, introducing us not only to sandbox-style gameplay (unmatched to this day in space sims outside EVE Online), but also solidifying the love we had for the Kilrathi. When Wing Commander III stepped up to the plate with live-action cut-scenes and Mark-fucking-Hamill (we were huge Star Wars fans back then), the franchise proved even more groundbreaking than Sierra’s Phantasmagoria (also a solid title). Indeed, Wing Commander III became such a must-have for us, that we spent over $200 on new RAM just to get it to run. (The game needed at least 8MB of RAM for its future-like space graphics.) That’s dedication.
That’s not all, though – we easily spent another $200 on flight sticks, from the Flight Stick Pro, to the Phoenix, to our final multi-part Saitek model. Maybe it was more like $300.
While we were already firmly hooked on first-person shooters (FPS), Quake took our obsession to the next level. Ironic, then, that when we first picked up Quake at a computer convention, we played through it and thought little of it, wishing that the game captured a hint of the fun we faced when playing Doom 2 with a friend. But then we went to college where we discovered the joys of real broadband, and finally saw the amazing graphics that 3Dfx video accelerator cards produced, breathing new life into old games. Another ~$200 purchase later, with new accelerator card installed, Quake took on its new life with Quakeworld, and dorm-room fragging became our new past-time, eating up our time in just as bad a way as booze and late-night college parties.
Again, not our introduction to a genre, but our continued obsession with it. In this case, Diablo 2 prevailed over our experience with Diablo and Darkstone, and may even have fallen into similar obscurity if it hadn’t been for the rather strange siren’s call it would produce every six to 12 months. Indeed, after playing Diablo 2 to death once, or even twice, it somehow kept wrangling us back as though we were some abused house-wife who just couldn’t will herself to get away. So it was with Diablo 2, playing first with single-player characters, then on Battle.Net a few times, and ultimately with hardcore characters who would inevitably die thanks to a bad-timed lag spike. Ultimately, this technical obstacle is what drove us away from the game, but more than once we’ve been called back to re-install the monster that influenced World of Warcraft. Indeed, if there wasn’t a problem installing Diablo 2 on the latest versions of OS X, we may be running a copy right now.
What Quake was to our first year of university, Counterstrike was to every year after its release. While Half-Life didn’t really do much for us, Counterstrike took our soul and replaced it with a frag-crazed maniac. It’s the only title we can claim to have played on an internationally competitive level (we’re talking tournaments here, not just skills), and we followed the game’s development from its early betas to what we consider to have been its decline circa 2.0. By the time Source came along, we were already out of the mix, but before that, a desire to min-max our performance resulted in $100 mouse purchases (Razer Boomslang FTW!) and countless hardware upgrades. Granted, those upgrades may have been for other games as well, but it was Counterstrike that remained the prevailing force. Funny that, since this is the only free game on this list (purchase of Half-Life not withstanding). It’s also the only non-commercial game on this list, even though some enterprising folks decided to release a boxed version later.
World of Warcraft (WoW)
Not only the most recent game obsession of ours, but also the one with our strongest memories of angst, aimed squarely at Blizzard for making some outright dumb decisions on the game’s evolution. But hey, they gave us Diablo 2, and much like that demonic enterprise, WoW sucked us in twice after we gave it up, so perhaps the fruit doesn’t fall that far from the tree. At the very least, it’s a solid testament to Blizzard polish that the company produced two of the games on this list. So addicted were we to WoW that we mostly ignored everything else out there, and for WoW to run adequately, we purchased at least one video card for our aging PC before dumping the system entirely in favor of pure-Apple goodness. Of course, to make this transition, we had to upgrade our PowerBook, so we effectively purchased a machine for over $2k just to have an Apple notebook capable of running the game. This, on top of miscellaneous buys like second-hand copies of the Collector’s Editions, a strategy guide, and a book of maps. These purchases combined clearly dwarf the money we spent on previous games, and that’s all on top of the huge amount of time we put into the game in order to reach, and continue playing, the endgame.