For PC, 1999 Was The Golden Year

We've had a bit of a discussion about golden years, particularly the massive string of games that dropped in the late '90s. But if you were a PC gamer in particular, there was one year that changed the shape of the market permanently.

It's hard to imagine a gaming world without internet, or one where online multiplayer wasn't the primary focus. And for a large part of the '90s, that was the case. Not only was implementing online multiplayer difficult - and a powerful factor in licensing other companies' engines - but most people barely had quality dial-up connections.

Some were fortunate to have ISDN or cable - Optus Netstats was the holy grail for a few years - but for the large part, gaming on 180ms or higher was the way to go. And different games handled that differently. Unreal Tournament was more favourable for dialup users, while you needed proper broadband to enjoy Quake 3 online.

And up until 1999, that was largely OK. There were plenty of cracking games with good multiplayer - Quakeworld and StarCraft are still kicking around for a reason - but nothing really captured the imagination quite the same way that Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 did. Not only were both those games hugely enjoyable in singleplayer, but they pretty much dominated the LAN scene the second they launched. If that wasn't enough, this was also the same year that Counter-Strike and Team Fortress Classic dropped.

On top of that, 1999 was enjoying the best part of the strategy clone craze. After the rise of games like Command & Conquer, Civilization 2, Age of Empires and Total Annihilation, TAstrategy games were still one of the hottest genres. You couldn't comfortably replicate a 4X on the N64 or Dreamcast - it's still tough to do on consoles.

And by God, did 1999 get some cracking strategy games. For example:

Heroes of Might and Magic 3

Possibly my favourite video game manual, thanks to the wonderful sketches and concept art of each of the creatures scattered throughout. You can see that yourself if you own Heroes 3 through GOG (but not the HD version released by Ubisoft). Here's a manticore and phoenix from the original and Armageddon's Blade's manuals:

Image: Heroes of Might and Magic 3 / New World Computing / Ubisoft

Image: Heroes of Might and Magic 3 / New World Computing / Ubisoft

The game itself also happens to be the most beloved in the series by a considerable distance, and one of the best TBS fantasy games for many. Really wish the developers didn't go with Conflux for the AB expansion, though.

Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri

Beyond Earth was a disaster, but at least we'll always have Alpha Centauri. Sure, the psychobabble was a bit much, but that's part of its charm.

Age of Wonders

Like HOMM, but for the Tolkien nerds. A great game that still holds up well today, although the crowdfunded AOW3 is good fun too.

Homeworld

This isn't a shot from the original Homeworld - it's from the Remastered Collection - but you get the idea. Needless to say, there have been very few games like Homeworld, before or since.

Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun

It wasn't Red Alert 2, sure, but are you really going to complain about more FMVs with Kane and James Earl Jones?

Warzone 2100

An open-source version of Warzone 2100 has been kicking around for the last few years, having been released to the public in 2004. It's got campaign, skirmish and multiplayer, and worth firing up for some nostalgia. Warzone did launch on the PS1 as well, but really, this was a PC game through and through. (Finding good footage of the original is difficult, so here's a 1v1 from the open source version to give you a taste.)

Jagged Alliance 2

Yes, this is still some of the strategy games that launched in 1999. The footage above is from the HD version, but if you want to see the vanilla in all it's glory you can see that below.

The Cheek Of Jagged Alliance 2's Character Creator

A good character creator is like a powerful first scene, or a good first page in a book. And while there have been many takes on ways to make a character, Jagged Alliance 2 is still far and away one of my favourites.

Read more

Rollercoaster Tycoon

Image: RogueLeader23

Strategy of a different kind, it would be criminal not to mention Chris Sawyer's genius here. Possibly the best game coded in x86 assembly, which — having a dad who used assembly code to program commercial projects of his own, and someone who tried to pass that code onto me — is an astonishing accomplishment. (Also, good luck porting assembly code to consoles.)

Dungeon Keeper 2

Image: Good Old Games

Exactly what you wanted from a Dungeon Keeper sequel: a huge graphical overhaul that brought the underworld alive, better sound, more trap varieties, more enemies, improved combat (although not that improved) and a bunch of hidden secrets to find as you worked your way through the campaign.

Oh and while there were other PC classics that dropped in 1999, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this...

Age of Empires 2

And that's just the strategy games that '99 had to offer. The PC also got all of these...

System Shock 2

Unequivocally, a genuine masterpiece.

Aliens vs Predator

Whoever kept sneaking this onto the John Therry PCs in the IT lab - you are an absolute legend. The multiplayer for AvP was an absolute cracker - it's still good at LANs today, once you get the controls downpat - and having three separate FPS campaigns with very different playstyles was a blast.

Freespace 2

Legendary perhaps not for Freespace 2 itself, but what modders were able to do with the game in the many years afterwards. The Battlestar Galactica and Wing Commander mods were especially wonderful. Star Wars fans, however, had something else...

X-Wing Alliance

Yes: all these games came out in 1999.

Baldur's Gate

BG technically launched at the very end of 1998, but most Australians wouldn't have seen the game on shelves until early January. Fun fact: this was the highest selling PC game in Australia for the year. Also completely unsurprising. (And yes, I know the above is from the Enhanced Edition.)

Omikron: The Nomad Soul

Where David Cage convinces David Bowie to turn up in a video game.

Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver

The PC version launched shortly after the PS1 version, but still a cracking adventure. Another fun bit: Amy Hennig was the lead director, one of the lead writers, designers and producers, having worked as the design manager on Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain previously.

GTA 2

Still prefer the original, although the inclusion of gangs and factional warfare did change the dynamic up neatly.

Planescape: Torment

Image: Beamdog

The Wheel Of Time

Would still love to play a copy of this (only because I could never get into the books).

The Longest Journey

April Ryan's adventure has 30 screenshots on the Steam page. I can't actually think of another game that has so many screenshots uploaded.

Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned

Granted, the menu music is more memorable than the actual adventure. But still, a good transition for the series away from FMVs.

Quake 3: Arena

Unreal Tournament (1999)

It's probably not a good sign that I'd rather play UT99 than the new version Epic has been working on for years. Partially it's because I've moved on a little, but also just the sheer affection I had for rounds of instagib on Morpheus and Deck16.

Everquest

A game that the gaming industry owes an awful lot to.

Midtown Madness

Remember it being a huge thing that passengers would always jump out of the way at the last second? Microsoft couldn't have people going full GTA, after all.

Ultima IX: Ascension

OK, this is the other side of the coin. Possibly the most botched release of the decade; it was kind of spectacular how poor a state the game actually shipped in. It was so broken that it would barely qualify for Early Access these days, given how unfinished and buggy it was.

The long review from Spoony Experiment (at the end of covering each of the older Ultima games) touches a bit on the troubled development history, particularly the part where Origin staff were redistributed to work on Ultima Online and then forced to rush Ascension out the door. (Note: lots of swearing and off colour stuff in the video, but Spoony does do a neat job of illustrating how pissed Ultima fans were in the day.)

Asheron's Call

The MMO that kept going, until the servers were shut down last year. Not bad, given that the last content update was pushed out in 2014.

Counter-Strike

How can you not love a game that let you stack five nerds in a corner?

SimCity 3000

Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer

The best thing to come out of the Star Wars prequels.

Team Fortress Classic


I could go on - like, honestly. There's a ton of games still coming to mind, like Silver. Or Disciples. Or Heavy Gear 2. Christ, Descent 3 let you fly outside. Opposing Force was the best Half Life expansion by miles. Starsiege was a surprisingly good mecha game, more of a Mechwarrior 2 flavour for those who weren't in the more action-heavy styling of Heavy Gear. And Pandora's Box will always have a special place in my heart. (As will Drakan, even though that game was genuinely rubbish.)

But for a single platform in a single year, it's actually an insane amount of quality top to bottom. And so I put it to you: 1999, for PC fans, was the year. If you were on the PS1 or were looking at things more broadly, maybe the situation would be different. But if the PC was your platform of choice, if you had a decent-ish 3D accelerator (nothing like a cheap Riva TNT2) and a good Athlon/Celeron to back it up, you were spoilt month after month.

Hell, some of these games I wish I was playing right now. Anyone still got a copy of Wheel of Time lying around?


Comments

    Its telling that good chunks of that list I've played this year.

    Warzone 2100 is always a goto with its expansive tech tree, and intuitive but in depth command system (including artillery) that has yet to be displaced to this game. The PSX port worked really well for a console RTS too strangely enough.

    Omikron: The Nomad Soul

    Ummm, have you played Omikron? The Bowie part is the only thing good about it, it is a confusing mess that tries to be an FPS, a Fighting game and a serious story all at once and fails completely.

      I kinda enjoyed it for its off the balls kookiness.

      Oh, it's a complete mess for sure. But it's also that janky odd mix of ... everything that kind of makes it special too.

      My favourite part of Omikron is how it doubles down hard on how you, the player, have had your soul sucked into its world.

    Given how much time I dumped into Everquest back then, I'm surprised at how many of these I still managed to play. Some of them I still install today, like RCT and SMAC.

    Everquest. Asheron's Call. So much of my life .... but damn they were good.

    When did Deus Ex and Half Life come out? Those, System Shock 2 and Dark Forces 2 were my late 90s jam. I feel really lucky to have gotten to play those games at a time in my life where i had the time to really enjoy the hobby.

    90s in general was the best

    Last edited 13/08/18 4:16 pm

      Late 90s early 2000s for me. I don't find the early 90s stuff very playable anymore. anything 3d in particular really benefited from the take up of 3d accelerators.

    Great year. I was in year 9 and my PC was adequate, I think I played games for about 90% of the hours I wasn’t at school (during which times I was talking about games and thinking about going home to play games).

    I remember getting a new CRT monitor at the time that was MASSIVE (like 21 inches I think) but it went all black for a good two seconds and made a very audible *click* every time it changed resolution. I used to play for so long I would hear the noise in my subconscious if I blinked at school….

    I swear I'd be a doctor now if '99 wasn't my graduation year.

    I have Wheel of Time lying around somewhere. From memory, wasn't that great, but I don't think I played it that much. Had way too many other games to play.

    Last edited 13/08/18 5:48 pm

    Fucking solid list. Topping it with Facing Worlds is a good way to start, too.

    The best part about 1999, is that this list is only the PC stuff! It gave us Silent Hill, Pokemon Snap, Super Smash Bros, Donkey Kong 64, Spyro 2, Mario Party, and of course, the one, the only

    Pepsiman!

    lol, first year at uni that year, but have definitely played/still own most of the games listed here. And have actually finished Ultima 9 on the family (primarily mine) computer.

    That was a pretty good year. Even if 2/3 of the list aren’t my thing. XD I’d be interested in an 80s or early 90s retrospective.

    Funnily, having played various older series in the last few years, System Shock 1 is subjectively superior to 2, as 2 shoe horned Fighter / Mage / Thief onto what was a good cyberpunk hacker game.

    And while it may have released buggy, the current state of U9 as per the GOG release is far more enjoyable than U8. Doing a complete Ultimate marathon really destroyed any rose coloured glasses I had for the series as a whole.

      Oh Ultima 8... yeah... that game was hard to enjoy even in the day.

      Crusader No Remorse however... what a blast that was! (Same engine)

        I had a friend with a much better computer than mine (IE. his computer could actually run the new releases of the time) that played Crusader heaps. I picked it up on GOG once it showed up but haven't gotten around to giving it and No Regret a spin yet.

    What a bunch of strategy games. I probably spent the most time playing Age of Empires 2, C&C Tiberian Sun and Alpha Centauri there, in that order. X-Wing: Alliance is not as good as its predecessors but is also still underrated and holy cow, I never realised Amy Hennig worked ok Legacy of Kain Soul Reaver. That explains a lot.

    But really, Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament, can't go past those! I definitely spent more time playing UT. Morpheus is definitely my map pick there.

    To this day, I am yet to play a game with a more satisfying gun to use than Q3A's railgun.

    So many good games, and that's just from all the ones I recognize!

    Was going to argue but God damn, that's a list of solid gold. No arguments here, 1999 was awesome.

    I had turned into a full Might&Magic fan by this time - MM6, HoMM2, HoMM3, MM7,.. I loved that the timeline continued from the rpgs to the strategy games (even if the sci-fi elements were a bit weird).

      MM6 dropped in 99 as well. I nearly included it, but passed because I thought it might have been a fraction too niche (it wasn't back then, but these days more so).

    I still have some PC Powerplays from 1999. My favourite issue had the review for both Homeworld and Tiberian Sun.

      I had that one! I threw them all out about 10 years ago. Wish I'd kept them now. It was a solid read.

      And I bought Homeworld not long after reading the review. Super great game. WC3 I think was around the same era? Spent many an hour on that bad boy.

    I've said it before and I'll say it again - '96 was the year for video games. 3 of my top 10 games of all time (marked with !!! for easy reference!). Also loads of classic console games as well.

    PC:
    Diablo (!!!)
    Duke Nukem 3D
    TES: Daggerfall
    Civilization 2 (!!!)
    C&C: Red Alert
    Quake
    Master of Orion 2 (!!!)

    Other:
    Super Mario 64
    Mariokart 64
    Crash Bandicoot
    Resident Evil
    Tomb Raider
    Metal Slug
    Tekken 2

      I think it's better to go by era than just year. You lose good stuff that just scraped past.

      I still play StarCraft. Never been any good but that's just a well produced game. I think that was '98.

        True... if we just said 'The 90's was easily the best era for PC games', then everyone would be like 'well... duh!', and you wouldn't be able to nerd out and debate why your favourite year for games was marginally more impressive than the other guys favourite year... and where's the fun in that?!

    Brand new gaming laptop.

    And The Longest Journey was one of the first games to get installed.

    I so happen to have a boxed copy of Wheel of Time lying around. I bought second-hand in around 2002 IIRC when I was starting to get into the books. The game is alright, though I never finished it. You might want a Win98 box to run it - it can run on newer versions of Windows but you might need to jump through a few hoops to get it running acceptably.

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