I included BBS Door games as I consider these to be the precursor to the modern day MMORPG, and I have a soft spot for nostalgia. Honestly, they are just as much a precursor to Farmville as well... Sysops of BBS systems (we are talking pre-net here guys) often looked for ways to keep people dialing in. What better way than to encourage all your users to kill the horrible red Dragon in LORD. Flirting in the bar, user battles, random encounters, and cool swag - all in 15 turns a day. Once your turns were up, you had to wait until midnight to adventure again, so it wasn't uncommon to have a LORD characters on multiple BBS's. But what happened when you had already played all 10 characters? Well, for me, that is when I started testing out all the other door games. Offworld mutants, fishing, pimp wars, trivia; there were all types. But the best were always the RPG games. While the versions here won't have random people from all over your area code dialing in, you can at least see what the game was like. LORD fans have kept the game alive, and you can still find games going on the web.
Dungeon Keeper, Theme Hospital, Theme Park, Syndicate
Bullfrog is generally considered the inventors of the "God game". While their entire catalog is full of gems, strategy and simulation was their forte.
Theme parks full of puking children, hospitals over run with bigfoots, and cyber soldiers carrying out assassinations are only a few of the worlds Bullfrog created. Dungeon Keeper is still one of my favorite games to this day.
Here the player competes with other Keepers to lure demons and creatures to their dungeon by creating an underground pad that puts everyone else to shame. Gathering creatures is just the beginning though. Now you must train them, use them to research spells, and fortify you walls. The player competes against other keepers, do-gooding Lords, and even their own creatures (Vamps & Wizards just can't get along).
Amazing art, humour, and challenge define one of the best strategy games ever developed for any system.
Other must-play Bullfrog titles in this collection: Syndicate, Theme Hospital, ThemePark, Populous, Populous II, & Powermonger.
X-Com UFO Defense, X-COM Terror from the Deep, X-COM Apocalypse
Microprose released several squad based games. X-Com is arguably the most successful.
The X-Com games are tactical squads= games in a turn based worlds. Players must hunt invading aliens by building up their base, scouting for incursions, and even researching alien tech through autopsies on the corpses you manage to retrieve.
The learning curve can be steep and the difficulty can be unforgiving at times, so make sure to save often. Take the time to learn the game though, and you will easily loose several nights sleep to this series.
Command & Conquer, Red Alert, Warcraft 1 - 2
Real-time strategy games as we know them would not exist without the original C&C and Warcraft games. Blizzard went on to craft one of the most balanced RTS series, while Westwood gave us some of the most innovative weapons/units in the genre. Blizzard became synonymous with cutting edge CGI while Westwood cornered the market in hilariously bad FMV. Both series have their superfans and their haters, they are the Street Fighter & Mortal Kombat of the real-time strategy world.
Red Alert, a C&C spinoff, has created it's own cult following by exploring an alternate future with soviet tesla coils and time travel. Warcraft 2 however paved the beginnings of a story line that would launch the most successful MMO ever.
SimCity, SimCity 2000, SimAnt, SimIsle, SimEarth
Will Wright hates your free time. SimCity 2000's sole purpose is to destroy any and all free time you may have. Just writing about it makes me want to fire it up and make sure all my people have water and electricity... at least until I send the aliens to eradicate them. The game is simple genius. If you want a break from being Mayor, you can always jump into your SimAnt colony, try your hand at evolution and ecosystems in SimEarth, maybe see if you have a green thumb in SimFarm, take a vacation to SimIsle, or bore the living hell out of yourself in SimHealth... a game about healthcare that even the authors admit didn't work so well.
Or just go back to SimCity classic and see where it all started. While they are all (except that horrid Simhealth) amazing games, SC2k just never gets old, and somehow never seems to age.
Civilization, Colonization, Pirates! GOLD, Railroad Tycoon
Sid Meier wants to make sure the Sim games aren't the only series in town stealing free time. Civilization is a behemoth in its own right, although I don't really feel like it came into its own until after the DOS era. Pirates! and Rail-Road Tycoon however are easy to jump into, polished, and easily stand the test of time.
Star Wars: X-Wing (CD Edition), Inperial Pursuit (Expansion)), Star Wars: Tie Fighter (CD Edition), Defender of the Empire (Expansion)
X-Wing and it's 2 expansions gave players the ability to jump into the cockpit and fight for the rebels while it's sequel, Tie Fighter, allowed you to work your way through the ranks of the empire. Both versions are present in their CD special editions which include all expansions, new cut scenes, enhanced resolution, and extremely well acted speech (especially for the time!). While Wing Commander was still pushing pixels around, this series debuted with a full polygon engine for the ships. The story line is engaging. I fondly remember rising through the ranks of the empire, starting as a lowly pilot and eventually flying as wingman for the man in black.
The series is remembered by many fans as the best Star Wars space sim ever released. Even today, many will argue that they stand as the best Star Wars flight sims ever released.
Sensible Golf, Sensible World of Soccer, International Sensible Soccer, Sensible World of Soccer '96/'97
You can't have a pack of DOS sports games without mentioning the Sensible series. They stand out against the multitude of soccer simulations released in the early days of DOS, while maintaining character that the dominant EA Sports of the late 90's never had. It is quite charming to watch the little pixelated fellows go about their soccer games or play golf.
The Sensi games really stood out due to their multiple club levels and high customizable aspects. The soccer games introduced a gameplay mechanic known as aftertouch which allowed the player to cause the ball to swerve after the kick, creating some very interesting (albeit unrealistic) goals.
The first game, Sensible World of Soccer is regarded as one of ten most important games of all time by a committee of game developers that included Warren Spector and Steve Meretzky.
Carmageddon, Splat Pack, Max Pack
Racing sims were some of the most abundant early dos games. They were simple to code, and sold fairly well. Franchises like Test Drive began to break away from the clones and later games such as Need for Speed began to push the limits of realism (well, as far as dos goes). But none of the above captured the fun of driving like Carmageddon did. Inspired by the 70's flick Death Race, Carmageddon allowed the player to win races a multitude of ways. Sure, you could always try to get first place.... or you could lie in wait and ambush the other drivers until there are none left standing. Or just go and run down every single pedestrian on the level and win that way. Destruction and mayhem earns you cash, which earns you better cars. The cars feel heavy and fairly realistic for the time.
The games soundtrack is notable for featuring tracks from Fear Factory. Also included is the Splat! Pack which adds more cars, tracks, and environments.
Jane's Combat: US Navy Fighters, Marine Fighters, Advanced Tactical Fighters, NATO Fighters, AH-64D Longbow, Flash Point Korea
Jane's Combat Simulations (a brand released by EA) immediately became known as some of the most realistic combat flight sim's on the market, however many of them retained an arcade mode for the more casual gamer.
AH-64D Longbow in particular garnered very high reviews at the time of it's release. No other helicopter sim came close to it's flight model. The original missions span several key battles, while the expansion adds a new campaign set in Korea, as well as a new co-pilot. ATF and it's expansion gave PC gamers the first chance to jump into the cockpit of some of the world's most advanced and secretive planes.
Apart from the flight sim aspects of the games, they also include in depth information on the aircraft, weapons, vehicles, ships, and locations culled from the Jane's Information Group.
Wing Commander Deluxe, Wing Commander II: Deluxe, Wing Commander III: Heart of the Tiger, Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom, Wing Commander: Privateer (CD-ROM), Privateer 2: The Darkening
The Wing Commander series hardly needs any introduction. Starting as a pixel based flight sim in 1990, the series spawned a movie, spin-off franchises, and even fan-made sequels that were good enough to be approved by EA as Wing Commander canon.
The games are notable for their space opera storylines and distinct races, such as the often villianous Kilrathi (which resemble felines). Starting with Wing Commander III, the games began to make heavy use of FMV and Hollywood actors. John Rhys-Davies, Mark Hamill, Thomas F. Wilson and Malcolm McDowell all portrayed characters in the Wing Commander series while Christopher Walken, John Hurt, and Clive Owen were brought in for Privateer 2.
Arguably the most original thing to come from the series was the spinoff Privateer series, which allowed the character to be a freelancer in the Wing Commander universe and play as a pirate, a merchant, a mercenary, or any combination of the three. There is a campaign plot underlying, however the player may choose to play it at their own pace and even continue their game after the campaign is complete.
Commander Keen, Wolfenstein, Spear of Destiny, Doom 1 - 2, Quake
Doom and DOS are practically synonymous. While some gamers previously warmed up their trigger fingers on Wolfenstein 3D, Catacomb Abyss, and their cousins, it was Doom that sold new computers. It is not a coincidence that an entire generation of gamers can recite the IDDQD mantra with their eyes closed. id didn't cut their teeth here though, they also released the wildly successful Commander Keen series prior to defining the FPS genre. And after Doom they released, arguably, the first successful polygon based FPS: Quake.
As a publisher, id also got several other successful games to market such as Heretic and Hexen. Carmack, Romero, and Hall are still (generally) fondly remembered for their impressive track record.
Caverns of Kroz, Monuments of Mars, Arctic Adventure, Paganitzu, Secret Agent, Bio Menace, Monster Bash, Duke Nukem 1 - 2
I couldn't pick just one here, even though Duke Nukem is the most famous. Starting with ASCII based adventures in the world of Kroz, Apogee stormed the shareware scene. Soon games such as Monuments of Mars, Arctic Adventure, and Paganitzu upgraded the ASCII characters to animated sprites. Before long, Secret Agent, Bio Menace, Monster Bash, and Duke Nukem himself were giving Keen a run for his money.
Seeing a new Apogee game hit the BBS scene was a big event in those days. Every kilobyte you downloaded was time, and you knew you were getting a quality game with these guys. Apogee's FPS, Rise of the Triad, was an underdog FPS that was over shadowed by the released of Duke 3D, but definitely deserves some playtime.
Duke Nukem 3D, Shadow Warrior, Heretic, Hexen, Blood, Star Wars: Dark Forces
Where Doom opened the door for FPS games on the PC, Duke kicked it off it's hinges with a girl on both arms. Duke's one liners are legendary and still quoted. If Duke threatens to rip off your head and crap down your neck, well... you might want to take that literally. For many gamers, Duke was a breath of fresh air from the nameless and voiceless space marine fighting back the army of hell. Here was a full blooded action hero with enough ammo and jetpacks to fulfill his sole mission: save Earth's women.
Duke had an Asian cousin in Lo Wang who also spit out one liners while slicing foes in half with samurai sword. Technically superior to Duke 3D; Shadow Warrior was buried in an avalanche of Duke & Doom clones due to the industries move towards polygon-based games and not standing out enough from the flood of Duke & Doom clones.
The Herectic and Hexen series combines the gameplay of FPS with RPG elements, including a class based weapon system. One of my favorite FPS games of the era was Blood. It was built on Duke's 'build' engine and added some extremely unique weaponry while continuing the tradition of loner/sarcastic 90's anti-heros.
Star Wars: Dark Forces is a must mention as it marks the first really successful licensed FPS. Before Dark Forces, Star Wars fans had to settle for console platformers or pc flight sims. Now suddenly they were in the shoes of Kyle Kataran and experiencing the Star Wars universe from a whole new perspective.
Prince of Persia, Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow & The Flame
It is not a stretch to state that aside from Mario, the Prince of Persia series is one of the most influential platform games ever made. Animation like this was unheard of in 1989. From Radio Shack to Sears, this game was running on computers to show off what they were capable of. Extremely responsive controls, beautiful animations, and unforgiving gameplay (with a 60 minute timer!) define this game. Don't let the difficulty dissuade you from playing this iconic DOS game.
Mortal Kombat, One Must Fall 2097, System Shock, Raptor: Call of Shadows, Tyrian
In many cases the DOS port of Arcade titles like Mortal Kombat were, at the time, the closest thing you could get to the Arcade version. Dos exclusives like One Must Fall 2097 showed the ugly side of PC fighting, proving that keyboards were never meant for button mashing.
It is impossible to talk about DOS games without mentioning System Shock, a genre bending game that combines adventure, action, hacking, survival horror, and puzzle-solving into an experience that gamers remember and talk about nearly 20 years later.
And of course there are the amazing Shoot Em' Ups: Raptor: Call of Shadows and Tyrian stand shoulder to shoulder with their console based cousins of the time. They offered complex storylines, selectable pilots, stores full of power ups, and bosses that filled the screen. There was also an influx of gorgeous Korean shooters towards the end of the DOS era that are must play for Schmup fans.