Andy Gainey

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I am finding that it is quite a challenge to rank digital games, even with the simplified system of tiers. Many factors influence my perception, and I'm not entirely sure which ones I wish to emphasize, and which I should de-emphasize. Total hours played, subjective memory of enjoyment, ability to return to a game years later and still enjoy it, how often one game is used as a basis of comparison for others, and the nostalgia factor.

I remind myself that one of the main motivations for these lists is to provide recommendations to others of games potentially worthy of their time. As such, I'm inclined to emphasize measures of quality as best as I can, however subjective they might be. Also, as a reflection of my personality, I am cautious against including games purely due to nostalgia alone. As a child, much of what I played was often merely what had access to arbitrarily; nor did I have any kind of mature critical judgment back then. As a result, I don't consider these games to be much representative of my personality; neither are they games for which I have a sound basis of recommendation. So I've excluded a number of games that would better belong in a biographical record of my childhood; that's not what these lists are about.

Tier 1

What are the necessary and sufficient conditions for making into this highest category? Many hours of play time helps a lot, so shorter games tend to be excluded. But that's fine, because it is very accurate to say I generally prefer long-lasting games with lots of replayability over shorter experiences.

Hours played alone would not be a good criterion, though, as I've poured a lot of low-quality hours into some games for various reasons (and I'm not particularly proud of those reasons). But even restricting this list further to those games that I have fond memories of might not be enough.

A certain degree of timelessness, however, does feel like an important and effective bar to set. The games I include in this first tier are games that I have put down and picked back up again at least once, thoroughly enjoying my second or third go-around for many additional hours on top of my first playthrough. I expect to play most of these games again in the future, because they're just that good.

Alpha Centauri
Civilization II, IV
Europa Univeralis III
Fantasy General
Jagged Alliance, Jagged Alliance 2
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Shogun, Medieval: Total War
SimCity (SNES), SimCity 2000, SimCity 3000, SimCity 4
Warlords 2

Tier 2

The second tier includes games that rate just as highly as the first tier games for at least one attribute, but might not be as solid across the board. For example, some games offered an excellent gameplay experience, but I doubt I'll ever play them again. Others have proven to have a solid degree of timelessness, with many hours sunk into them, and yet my memories of those experiences are only moderately good, not great. Nonetheless, I consider them all most definitely worth listing.

Caesar III and Pharoah
Defense Grid
Dwarf Fortress
Grand Theft Auto III, Vice City, San Andreas
Metroid II
Populous (SNES)
X-COM: UFO Defense

Tier 3

The bar of inclusion naturally drops lower for the third tier. It is only in this list that I explicitly allow the nostalgia factor to partially influence my decision to include a game here or not. But even with the aid of the nostalgia factor, I believe the games here offer some elements of high quality gameplay, though I will admit that this belief may at times be based on faulty memory.

  • Burnout Paradise
  • Chips Challenge
  • Desert Strike
  • Diablo II
  • Disciples II
  • Doom
  • Dungeon Keeper 2
  • Dungeon of the Endless
  • Excitebike
  • F-Zero
  • Freedom Force
  • Freelancer
  • Lords of the Realm
  • The Magic Candle II
  • Mega Man X
  • Midnight Club II
  • Mini Metro
  • Ogre Battle
  • Space Empires III, IV
  • Star Fox
  • StarCraft
  • Street Fighter II
  • Super Mario World
  • Tachyon: The Fringe
  • Tecmo Bowl (NES)
  • Tetris
  • Threes