December is a time for various lists and rankings. Tim Cain, an acclaimed RPG developer and one of the creators of Fallout, has shared his top 5 favorite games of all time. Spoiler alert: there is not a single title that is newer than 24 years old.
Cain discussed the top 5 on his YouTube channel. The list is in chronological order, and the games on it are not the greatest of all time, but rather the ones that influenced Cain and his view on video games in general.
Star Raiders (1979)
Created by programmer and designer Doug Neubauer, Star Raiders is a complex space combat sim originally released for Atari 400/800 computers. Although ships and asteroids were made using sprites, the game had 3D locations with correct rotation and shooting in a 3D space.
All of that fits into an 8 KB cartridge — as Cain noted, “to put it in perspective, the Star Raiders clone that I made in Unity a few months ago, the executable alone is 639 KB, which is almost 80 times bigger. When you throw in the data, it’s 500 MB, which is 62,000 times bigger.”
What Tim Cain says: “I was so amazed by it that I figured out how to pull the Assembly off the cartridge, and I would pour over it. That game is what made me learn the Atari 800 technology, the different chipsets it had, the extended graphics modes, and Assembly language, all of which led to me getting my first job.”
Ultima III: Exodus (1983)
Designed by Richard Garriott, Ultima III was the first game in the series published by Origin Systems and one of the first computer RPGs to feature animated characters. The overworld exploration was top-down, while dungeons were 3D. Tim Cain calls Ultima III his first CRPG love, and there are several things that amazed him when he first played the game in 1987, including its level scaling system.
What Tim Cain says: “The things you ran into over land were scaled to your level, but dungeons were not. The dungeons had a fixed difficulty, usually pretty high, so if you went in early, you just got destroyed. My old teenager brain noticed that, and it was in the back of my head the whole time, ‘Oh, you can do different kinds of level scaling, you don’t have to pick a level scaling model and apply it everywhere.'”
“Since the summer of 1987, have I played RPGs with better graphics? Yes. With better stories? Yes. With better characters? Of course. With better mechanics? Yes. But Ultima III is still better for me. It’s the one I remember igniting the CRPG fire in me.”
Star Control II: The Ur-Quan Masters (1992)
Star Control II is a space adventure game developed by Toys for Bob. It features action ship-to-ship combat, open-world galaxy exploration, and a strong writing focused on mature topics. Star Control II is often referred to as one of the most influential PC titles of all time, and Cain even considers it a true RPG because it has every characteristic of the genre, with a ship serving as a player character.
What Tim Cain says: “It was non-linear in its storyline, it was open world, actually open galaxy, it had a great story full of funny characters that were very memorable — a really dark storyline when you dug down. It was a funny game with a dark storyline. This game was a huge, huge influence on me for Fallout. I cannot understate how much Star Control II influenced Fallout.”
Star Wars: X-Wing (1993)
Developed by Totally Games, Star Wars: X-Wing is a space combat flight sim that allows players to control the iconic starfighters from the original movies. It is also one of the first games to feature 3D polygon graphics and is still considered one of the best games based on the Star Wars IP.
What Tim Cain says: “It went out and bought a joystick for my PC just to play this game. […] X-Wing was true 3D, and I loved it. The music and sound effects were spot on, they sounded right out of the movies. The weapons felt like they were from the movies. I love that you had to balance power between the engines, the shields, and the weapons, and that was under your control. It was just an amazing simulation of being in a starfighter.”
Developed by Verant Interactive and 989 Studios, EverQuest became the first commercially successful 3D MMORPG. It had reached 500k active subscribers by 2003, also influencing many other games in the genre and becoming a subject to sociological studies. In fact, thousands of people still play the first EverQuest today.
What Tim Cain says: “EverQuest was my first experience of playing a professional MMO, and it addicted me. It was big, it was hard, it was fun, it was really punishing and really rewarding. It forced you into groups. […] I was working my 14-hour days making Arcanum, and then I come home at night and play EQ for a few hours. I was totally addicted to this game and I learned all the ways that a single-player game differed from an MMO in diffculty, combat, exploration, and how to tell a story.”
For more of Tim Cain’s thoughts on these five games, watch the full video below.