This is the second and final entry in a series highlighting the games that helped define me. You can check out the first entry by clicking this handy little link.
My goal with these articles is to let you know a little bit more about me by discussing the games that helped get me here in the first place. Be sure to join in on the conversation by letting me know which games have meant the most to you in the comments section below.
There was a period in college when I moved away from gaming and, for a time, thought the hobby and I would be parting ways for good. I still played the occasional game (sometimes as ravenously as ever), but I was finding it hard to make room for gaming while trying to keep up with classes, a job and friends.
The one thing that actually helped keep gaming in my life were those very friends I just referenced. We'd all get together and play multiplayer games pretty regularly, making for some of the brightest memories I have from those four years that were pretty stellar to begin with.
Of all the games we played, though, Mario Kart: Double Dash consumed most of our group time. We played that game like our grades might somehow depend on it. Entire weekends would disappear on Baby Park and Rainbow Road. We all got scary good but, just like back when I played so much Bomberman with my family, absolutely nobody turned into a sore loser.
For months on end, my dorm room was constantly occupied by a group of 10 close friends sharing laughter and blue turtle shells. Our most vivid life memories usually involve the ones we love. I think that holds true in gaming, too.
I distinctly remember the first time I walked into Ben's room my freshman year of college and saw him playing Counter-Strike. I was new to computer gaming and first-person shooters, so watching him play was like witnessing a magic show for the first time. His fingers flew across the keyboard faster than I could keep up and his aim was spot-on. I never got that good, but I certainly came a long way after Ben convinced me to buy a copy of my own and taught me the ropes.
Counter-Strike didn't introduce me to first-person shooters, but it certainly helped me fall in love with them. It was also the first time I had played a video game online. The fact that I was teaming up with other actual human beings to compete against other actual human beings blew my mind. Ben also introduced me to the inverted Y-axis. Let's face it, folks: It's just the better way to play.
Like many of the games on this list, Counter-Strike also stands out because of the memories it created. I couldn't afford a headset and Ben lived right across the hall in my dorm. Our buddy Owen also got in on the action and he only lived a couple of doors down from the both of us. Despite living in a dorm with 24-hour quiet rules, we would frequently open our doors and shout to one another while playing. I grin every time I think about what our dorm-mates must have thought of us, shouting things like "He's on your left," "Help!" and "Is anybody guarding the bomb?" up and down the hallway.
Castlevania: Lament of Innocence
Let's get one thing straight: Castlevania: Lament of Innocence is a wonderful game. I know many Castlevania purists will disagree but, were it not for Lament, I probably would have never gotten so deep into the series or the Metroidvania genre to begin with.
I had played Castlevania games before Lament, but only as the occasional rental or while visiting family. I was intrigued by the series, but not to the point I would actually ask for one of the games come Christmas. By the time I was old enough to know better, it was a bit too late. The used market wasn't what it would later become and, as a result, I had no real way of getting my hands on anything in the Castlevania universe. I desperately wanted to play Symphony of the Night, but not when the only copy of the game I could find was selling for around $100.
Then along comes Castlevania: Lament of Innocence. It came to me as a gift and actually helped me through some pretty troubled waters. I remember being curled up on my bed in a dark room, door shut to the world, stereotypically emo college romance thoughts running through my mind, only able to escape from that nonsense when there was a whip in my hand and a horde of the undead to dispose of.
I fell in love with the music, the characters, the gameplay and all of those wonderful Castlevania tropes that helped make it one of the most recognizable series in gaming history. Maybe it was this freshness to the series that allowed me to enjoy Lament far more than most people I hear from and read about. Either way, I was sold on the series after that. I went on to play every Castlevania game I could track down, including a copy of that fabled Symphony of the Night.
The Castlevania series has entertained me, gotten me through some hard times and given me a lot of good memories. That all started with Lament of Innocence, which is kind of funny now that I stop and think about it.
Shadow of the Colossus
Shadow of the Colossus hit the scene when every game seemed to be striving for "bigger is better." Worlds were massive, more enemies were crammed onto the screen and the back of game boxes were frequently populated with bullet points that boasted "More than 100 hours of gameplay" or "65 weapons of destructive awesomeness."
While the titular Colossi certainly adhered to the idea of bigger being better, everything else in the game was stripped down to its bare bones. You only had a couple of attributes to upgrade and this was done on the fly rather than through a skill tree. There were no items to manage or hordes of enemies to muscle through. A simple story was accompanied by a simple premise: Find and kill (ONLY!) 12 bad guys in the hopes of rescuing someone you care about. No side quests. No villagers to talk to. No crafting or searching for the best suit of armor.
I credit Shadow of the Colossus for teaching me that video games didn't always have to be what I expected. There are different ways of telling a story or getting a point across, and sometimes the subtle approach is the best. My favorite games of the current generation include the likes of Journey and Limbo, two games that similarly present the player with a new experience while opening the door to more possibilities of how developers and players can approach their video games.
I doubt I would be open to such titles had I not taken that first step with Shadow of the Colossus. It was a game changer for me in every sense of the word.
I mentioned in Part One of this series that I might not be a gamer today if it were not for the dramatic impact Metal Gear Solid had on my life. That holds true for one more title, and it was actually the doing of the same friend who introduced me to MGS.
My brother and I were hoping for a new game console for Christmas and had pretty much settled on the Nintendo 64. It came from a company we knew and we had both been floored by the Mario 64 display in Wal-Mart. I mentioned this to my buddy, Michael, and he decided to step in and show me the ways of the PlayStation.
Mike made me read an article about Resident Evil in his latest copy of Official PlayStation Magazine and explained that it came from a whole new genre called "survival horror." I was already a huge horror movie buff and a constant reader of King, so Mike now had my full and undivided attention. He wanted me to play Resident Evil so badly that he went so far as to loan me his own PlayStation and a copy of the game for a weekend. Two days later and the decision on which console I wanted to upgrade to had been made.
I would have never guessed at the time that a video game would be able to literally terrify the player, but Resident Evil had me on edge from start to finish. The first time I saw that bald, pale zombie look over his shoulder at me, I felt my flesh crawl. The dogs coming through the mansion window made me scream like a small child. Playing in a dark room in an empty house, I remember spazzing and knocking the phone off the couch and clear across the room when it happened to ring at a particularly tense moment in the game.
Similar to Mortal Kombat before it, Resident Evil helped me understand that video games were a constantly evolving form of entertainment. It taught me that games could evoke real emotion and, like several of these titles I've discussed, started a lifelong love affair with the genre it belongs to.
Infinite Ammo is a weekly column by Ryan Winslett about video games, the industry that make them and the people who play them. He can be stalked via his blog at staticechoes.com and followed on Twitter @RyanWinslett.