The Captain's Top 100 Games of All Time - Part One

Sep 27, 2006 (Updated Feb 19, 2008)

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The Bottom Line Great games, great memories... and so many of them!!

Since this is going to be quite a lengthy trip down memory lane, I’ve split it into 4 parts, as follows:

Part 1 – Introduction and Games 1-20
Part 2 – Games 21-50
Part 3 – Games 51-80
Part 4 – Games 81-100 and conclusion

Incidentally, the numbers are there purely for me to keep track of how many games I’d put in the list, they don’t mean a thing. Spanning nearly three decades of gaming, how could I possibly directly compare all the games I’ve ever played?!? That would just be impossible. These are the games that I thought were the best at the time and, most particularly, have the strongest memories of. One or two I may have only played in the arcades not home computers, but I’m still including them. Others I’ve included both a game and its sequel, if I loved both games and couldn’t decide between them. There’s also a bit at the end about who I think the most influential game programmers have been over the years.

Just my opinion, folks. If you grew up in the eighties and were into gaming in the nineties then I’m sure this will bring quite a few golden memories back!! (Writing it certainly brought a lot of memories back for me.) I can’t absolutely guarantee 100% accuracy with what I put down here, it’s all from my memory which is far from perfect. Looking everything up could take me a lifetime so it’s here as well as I remember. When I’m really not sure of something I’ll either leave it out completely or put a question mark in front of it. Most games on my list are going to be from the computers I’ve owned, the Commodore 16, Spectrum 2, Atari ST, and PC. Some others are included if I played them on someone else’s system and really enjoyed them. One or two games I’ve played only on the coin-ops are here too, because at the end of the day they’re all computer games whatever they run on.


Bits of this and Bits of that… a brief history lesson.

The terms ׆-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit” refer to the number of bits the CPU could shift in a single operation (or possibly clock cycle). Thus the early computers could only deal with Bytes (8 bits), the 16-bits with Words (16 bits) and the 32-bits with Longwords (32 bits). Actually that’s not quite true in an absolute sense – for instance, the Atari ST was so named not after Atari boss of the time Sam Trameil, as some might have thought, but because it could deal with 16-bit data registers internally and 32-bit data registers externally (ie. Outside the CPU). Sixteen Thirty-two. Not fun, but interesting.

8-Bit computers

The humble Spectrum from rubber-keyed 48K variety to the mighty 3.0 inch floppy disc wielding Spectrum 3 (why not just use the industry standard 3.5inch??), Commodore 16/16 4/64, the Amstrad CPCs, and other miscellaneous machines like the MSX and Atari 400/800 machines. The game console counterparts that gained popularity were the Sega Master System and Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

16-Bit computers

The main ones where the Atari ST / STe and Amiga 500/500 /600. The battle between these two competitors (and their owners) was fierce indeed. I think the original Apple Macintosh was also 16-bit. All were based on the Motorola 68000 chip. Atari brought out the STe later on (the “e” standing for “enhanced”, which had a bigger colour palette, far better sound, and a Blitter chip (Block Image Transfer) which allowed for faster graphic updates and smoother screen scrolling, but by that time the Amiga was really king of the castle and few of the bigger developers took advantage of the greater capabilities of the STe (although smaller companies revelled in them for a while). The Sega Megadrive and Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) paralleled these computers, and I think the first Sony Playstation came out towards the end of this era (not sure if it was 16 or 32-bit though.)

32-Bit computers

Unlike their 8-bit and 16-bit predecessors, the 32-bit machines never really ruled the roost due to the predominance of IBM PC-compatible computers being so dominant by now, and the greater competition from games consoles. (Admittedly the 16-bits and even 8-bits also had consoles to contend with, but people in those days were far less likely to want a machine that was purely for gaming.) The first of the 32-bits that I know of was the Acorn Archimedes, a brilliant machine for its time by all accounts. This used the RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Chip) as its CPU, but against the popular Commodore and Atari computers of the day it never caught on, even though technically it was a better machine. Few developers took it on. Towards the end of the era of non-PC computers being widely available, Commodore released the Amiga 1200, and Atari released the Falcon with its much vaunted DSP (Digital Signal Processor). The Falcon might have done better but Atari ignored the advice and set their base model memory at 1Mb instead of 4Mb, thus putting a lot of developers off who had initially been quite excited about the machine’s capabilities. The Sega Dreamcast – or perhaps it was the Saturn? - I think came out about that time but never seemed to be as popular as the Megadrive, with stronger competition from the Nintedno GameCube and Sony Playstation 2. The Atari Jaguar was, I believe, the first ever 64-bit game console but Atari’s financial difficulties meant that it never made the impact it deserved. The Nintendo 64 and, Playstation 3, and Microsoft X-Box are the current batch (as far as I’m aware).

Handheld consoles that could play more than one game probably started with the original Nintendo Game Boy, with its horrible monochrome screen. Then came the Game boy colour, Game Boy Advance, and now the Nintendo DS which faces strong competiton from the Sony PSP. Again Atari released a machine that was ahead of the competition but failed to really catch on, the Atari Lynx (which was 16-bit).

What does the future hold – portable virtual reality devices? Machines that hook straight into your consciousness (Like the “Better Than Life” game in Red Dwarf)? Who knows, but many people are looking more and more at retro gaming because those games were fun, something a lot of modern games seem to leave out. Emulators about and old consoles are being rehashed to play old games. Perhaps it will go full circle – who knows? True classic games never die, they just get re-made, re-released, and impersonated…



1. Pirates! (Atari ST, PC) Microprose

This is probably the game that stole most of my life during the school years. Many hours I spent playing this on my trusty ST, and the real joy of it was that with its different time periods, nationalities, objectives and dynamic game world, each game really was different. There were also missions that could be played, seeing if you could re-enact memorable exploits of seafaring legends like Henry Morgan. Oh yeah and you had different difficulty levels too, the top ones of which seemed totally impossible at first but could be conquered with practice, practice and more practice. The updated PC game worked so well after so many failures by other companies to create a really playable pirate game because it kept true to the spirit of the original. (Having Sid Meiers at the helm again was a definite advantage, of course!!) Even though I said that the numbers don’t matter in this list, if I had to pick just one game to be trapped on a desert island with, I think it would have to be this one (the Atari ST version). You can play the game a hundred times and have a hundred completely unique game experiences.

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2. Populous (Atari ST) Electronic Arts -Bullfrog

Fancied being a deity ruling a small group of people, in opposition to another deity with a different small bunch of people? Fancied being able to help your people by building lovely flat land for them, and cause earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, tornadoes, and other disasters to befall your opponent? Then Populous is for you! Of course, your opponent is also capable of wreaking destruction on your little guys, and if they develop technology quicker then they’ll probably be better if it comes to a fight… Still a great game, had a huge following at the time.

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3. Speedball 2 (Atari ST) Bitmap Brothers / Imageworks

A futuristic sports sim, this improved on the original and against the best teams was one of the most intense (and joystick-busting!) games of all time. The trademark Bitmap Brothers brilliant playability and graphical style gave the game even more polish. Beating Super Nashwan, the best team, was always a challenge no matter how good you were at the game! It included team management options as well, and in order to do well at the game you needed to understand how to make best use of the various facets of the pitch, especially the score multiplyer. And not forget to collect the temporary power-ups scattered around the pitch and, of course, the all important coins so that you could buy enhancements for the following match.

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4. Xenon 2 (Atari ST) Bitmap Brothers / Imageworks

Probably the best vertical shoot-em-up of its time – or perhaps of all time. Classy graphics, quality music and sound effects, and maddeningly addictive gameplay combine to make a truly classic game. This was an earlier game to Speedball 2, and the ultimate weapon – lasers, bombs, bells, whistles, you name it – all together – was called “Super Nashwan” – which became the name of the best computer-controlled team in Speedball 2. Good, innit?

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5. 3D Monster Maze (ZX81)

Well it was a pretty hopeless game in many ways – wander round a maze searching for a key and evading the monster – and the dodgy ZX81 power pack usually fell off 2 minutes into the game after its 5 minute loading time!! – but somehow this game remains in the memory of so many people for whom it was the first attempt at a 3D game. Probably pushed the ZX81’s motherboard to breaking point too.

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6. Pang! (Coin-op, Atari ST) – Ocean, ?Midway

Harpooning balloons might not sound the most obvious idea to make a great game from, but this one remains one of my favourites either as 1 or 2 player. The classy graphics, fun soundtrack, and immensely enjoyable and challenging gameplay combined to make one of the all-time great games.

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7. Rainbow Islands (Coin-op,Atari ST, PC) - Taito

Available along with its predecessor Bubble Bobble in this compilation, Rainbow Islands took the humble vertically scrolling platform games to new heights. The rainbows could be used as bridges, weapons, or simply to collect items. Extra features like different coloured diamonds you could collect for extra credits, enemies with differing AI (and different again when they got grumpy), and secret levels added hugely to its replayability factor.

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8. Kick Off 2 (Atari ST) Anco

Kick Off was the first football game that I remember that didn’t use the “magnetic feet” technique that every other game up to that time had used. What it lacked in pretty graphics and sound (that whistle screech was awful!!) it more than made up for with breakneck speed, amazing playability, and a control system that was very easy to use and difficult to master completely, with decent AI of the opposing teams. Add a few niceties such as designing your own team kit and this was a game that footie fans could play again… and again… and again…

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9. Player Manager (Atari ST) Anco

This game used the same basic game engine as the first Kick Off game and married it up with a simple yet enjoyable management game. This was a pretty original concept at the time and I’ve still rarely seen it done better. I don’t know how many hours of my life were spent on this game when I was a kid but I remember spending a whole summer holiday devoted to it. The only drawback was that it became far too easy after a while – but that didn’t stop me from playing it!

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10. Kickstart (Commodore 16) Mastertronic

Based on the popular children’s TV programme of the time, this put you in charge of a bike that had to perform all sorts of manoeuvres to complete each level – from riding on logs to using trampolines to jumps over buses! (Okay so it wasn’t strong on realism…) One of the earliest games I remember, and still remembered with much fondness. I also remember playing the sequel on the Spectrum, but that didn’t match the original.

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11. Asteroids / Asteroids Deluxe (Coin-op) Atari

For sheer playability, you simply cannot beat the original asteroids coin-op or its successor (which is slightly better). The graphics were unimpressive even for the time, the sounds minimal, but the game was just so damn addictive! Somehow the original(s) had a charm and appeal that none of the infinitely more aesthetically impressive games seem to have come close to matching. (An authentic coin-op conversion can be found on the PC in the Atari: 80 Classic Games in One compilation.

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12. Taipan (Spectrum 2) Ocean Software

This game based on James’ Clavell’s novel of the same name puts you in the role of a trader in the China sees, intent on making your fortune. You do this by visiting ports, trading, maybe a little illegal dealing here and there, etc. Pay for your crew or go round bopping passing strangers on the head and Shanghai-ing (press-ganging) them. Don’t let the policeman see you though. It took a full 5 minutes for this game to load on tape on the speccy, but it was well worth the wait.

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13. Head Over Heels (Spectrum 2 / Atari ST / PC [freeware remake]) Jon Ritman & Bernie Drummond - Ocean Software

Isometric games were quite popular in the late 80s / early 90s, and the partnership of Jon Ritman and Bernie Drummong produced 2 of the most loved, Batman and Head Over Heels. In this game you played two intergalactic agents who have been imprisoned and must escape, join up, and find a crown to save the world – on several different worlds. Heads can jump fast but is slow, Heels is fast but can’t jump very high. Once you get them together, they can both run fast and jump high, but of course are twice as tall. Avoiding the baddies, solving puzzles, freezing enemies by blasting them with doughnuts, and remote controlling robots that looked like Prince Charles are just some of the things you do in this game. It had some of the best puzzles ever designed for that sort of game, though some of them were so good that I never solved them!

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14. Match Day 2 (Spectrum 2) Jon Ritman – Ocean Software

Following the success of International Matchday, Jon Ritman followed up with a sequel that was surely the best football game on the 8-bit computers. The graphics managed to look a bit 3D, which was quite an achievement for the time, and the gameplay was better than the first with added depth to the tricks you could do with the ball. One of my all-time favourites on the Speccy.

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15. Elite (Atari ST) David Braben / Ian Bell

Most people were introduced to this game on the 8-bits, with the BBC Model B version probably being seen as the definitive “classic” version, but I only played this game on the 16-bit ST. The space trading-combat-exploration combination was just as much of a winner, with vastly improved graphics – using solid 3D polygons instead of the old wireframe models. The open-endedness of the game won it many fans although I suspect that few had the patience to find and complete all 8 missions, and reach “Elite” status (your ranking climbed as you won more dogfights in space, and as you progressed, at the right time – and possibly the right galaxy as there were 8 of them – you would be offered missions by the space navy). With ship modifications galore to buy and thousands of planets, each with its own political and economic structure, this was a game that could go on for weeks, months, or even years if you wanted it to. Watch out for the nasty Thargoids and get a docking computer as soon as possible – the toughest part of the game was at the beginning before you had one, trying to match your ship’s rotation with the orbital space station so you could dock without crashing! Never quite got into the sequel, “Frontier”, quite as much, even though it was a superior game in some ways.)

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16. Bandits At Zero (Commodore 16)

Another classic C16 game, Bandits at Zero puts you in control of a little fight plane above a scrolling sea, battling your way through other little fighter planes, bombers, and warships that all have an annoying habit of trying to kill you. Apart from the clever graphical effects (the sea movement and the slow change from day to night, and back again) and the fact that you had complete freedom of movement (as far as 2D graphics would allow), the thing everyone who’s ever played this game will remember is the tricky midair refuelling section – nearly as challenging as the docking sequence in Elite!

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17. Millionaire (Commodore 16)

This strategy / management game for the old C16 put you in control of a software house. You had to research and develop new games, bring them to market, and manage the stock of your company. You could get cassettes really cheaply from “Honest Harry”, but if the police caught you things would be difficult… An excellent little game and probably the first of its type that I ever played (the only other challengers for that not very sought-after title are Kingdom on the BBC Micro at primary school, and one about running an osprey reserve, also at school!)

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18. Shogun: Total War - Warlord's Edition (PC) - Creative Assembley / Electronic Arts

Not specifically based on the book by James Clavell, this game puts you in the place of a Daimyo in Japan. Be careful management of your resources, development of technology, and tactical superiority in battle, you can rise to become the Shogun – complete ruler of Japan. That’s not the end of it though because then you have scenarios to defend Japan from Kubla Khan and his Mogul hordes, as well as re-enact famous battles from Japanese history. A perfect blend of real-time and turn-based strategy.

(Too late for this list unfortunately, but Paraworld is even better and a must for fans of Real Time Strategy games.)

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19. Defender of the Crown (Atari ST)

This was one of the first games I ever played on the Atari ST, and remains one of my favourites. Taking the role of a Saxon Lord, your task is to defeat the evil Normans and liberate England. You choose from one of 4 lords, each with their own skills such as leadership, swordplay, and jousting. The other Saxon lords can be a hindrance or an aid in your task, and random events such as peasant uprisings and Danish attacks on the coast keep things interesting. Will you steal the Normans’ gold to aid your quest, or rescue a fair damsel from their clutches to form a marriage alliance with a fellow Saxon lord? Will you be a champion of the joust, bastion of the battlefield, or castle-crasher with the catapult? The only real downside of the game is that it was practically impossible to win completely unless you started in the right county!! Remade by the re-launched Cinemaware, the PC updated version called “Robin Hood: Defender of the Crown” recreates much of the atmosphere of the original and adds some extra features. (In fact that is technically the third version of the game – in between the original and that one, there was a version that was true to the original but with updated graphics.) The original, despite its age, remains one of the most graphically impressive 16-bit games of all time.

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20. Railroad Tycoon (Atari ST) – Managing a railway might sound like a lot of fun, but this game makes it so. Select your continent and time period, keep up with the latest technological breakthroughs, upgrade your stations, make the most of local supply and demand, play the stock market and try to take over your competitors, get bonuses for special deliveries, wage a price war with your competitors and charge double prices thereafter if you win… There were four difficulty levels in addition to several options to change the overall difficulty, of which I never had “Dispatcher Operations” turned on, as I’d get engrossed in another part of my game and suddenly find that my trains had collided! I hear they’re remaking this game for PC, which is great news but slightly puzzling as I did have “Railroad Tycoon II” for the PC ages ago (which wasn’t a patch on the original, though it tried hard.)

Read Part Two
Read Part Three
Read Part Four

See also: My Top Ten Freeware Adventure Games (September 2007 Edition)

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