I worked for a brief period at 3DO, on a game called Crusaders of Might and Magic.

CoMM wasn’t a great game. It pains me to say that, because the guys who were working on it were all really nice, and I thoroughly enjoyed working with them. The game just didn’t come together properly, as least partially because it was the first PSX game for a lot of them. And of course it was rushed.

But I have a particular memory from working at 3DO. We were all sitting around a table discussing the game, which was a third-person medieval hackfest. The game was really hard to play, and people were suggesting ways to make it easier. I suggested that we make it possible to “lock on” to enemies, like in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

I got blank looks. No one else at the table had played Ocarina of Time. And they called themselves “game designers”.

At the Disney studios they have a vault that contains the rough animation for every Disney feature and short, all the way back to Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. Disney has done so much stuff over the years that when an animator gets a task, the first thing he does is to check the vault to see if something similar has been done before. That gives him a leg up on what he’s doing now – he doesn’t have to start from scratch.

We game designers also have a vault. It consists of all the games that have been done before ours. If you want to be a game designer and you don’t know gaming history and you haven’t played the classics, you’re going to spend a lot of time re-inventing the wheel, and yours is guaranteed to be less round.

But Badman, I hear you say, where can I learn about gaming history? What are the classics, and how can I play them?

Excellent questions, both. As much as I’d like to write a history of gaming, a) I don’t really have time, and b) it’s been done much better than I ever could. I hereby present a linkstrip in my navbar, sorted by group, and the first group is The History of Computer Gaming.

General Gaming History
Gamespot’s The History of Video Games
The Dot Eaters – Videogame History 101

The Classic Consoles
Intellivision Lives!
Creating Adventure for the Atari 2600
Programming NES Games for Konami
Programming MC Kids for the NES

More forthcoming. I haven’t yet found a good “history of PC gaming” link yet – if you know of one, email me.

And what are the Classics?

Well, there’s a lot of opinion involved here (of course). But I’m going to start by providing a list of games that differ across platforms and genres but have one thing in common – they are all brilliantly designed. If you want to be a game designer, playing great games and both and experiencing what they have to offer and analyzing them to discover how they provide that experience should be one of the first steps you take.

I’ve tried to pick games that are commercially available and on still-common platforms. I’ve also tried to pick at least one game from every common genre. This list is also not exhaustive – I’ll be adding to it as I find games that merit the list.

Ultima VII – Traditional Role-Playing Game – PC
Quake and Scourge of Armagon – First-Person Shooter – PC
Deus Ex and System Shock 2 – First-Person Role-Playing Game – PC
Ratchet & Clank – 3D Platform Game – PlayStation 2
Age of Mythology – Real-Time Strategy – PC
The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time – Third-Person Adventure/Role-Playing – Nintendo 64 and GameCube
Civilization III – Turn-Based Strategy – PC
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – Third-Person Open-Ended Gameplay – Playstation 2 and PC