In no particular order:
Created by Cambridge students Ian Bell and David Braben, Elite is Britain’s Mona Lisa videogame, a masterpiece of game design and flawless programming.
Elite revolutionised gaming with its 3D graphics, expansive and open-ended game world and balanced blend of space trading, combat and intergalactic morals. Players could trade commodities (some illegal) across space with different socio-economic systems, fight pirates or become fugitives themselves – all to earn enough credits to upgrade their ship and equipment in a quest for kills and the ultimate “Elite” status.
Selling almost 150,000 units on its original platform (coincidentally the number of BBC Micros in the world at that time), Elite is epic, filled with dazzling surprises and hidden adventures. No game before or since has been quite so immersive.
Britain has produced a stunning catalogue of sublime text adventure games, and even taken on the Americans at their own game with point-and-click titles such as Broken Sword from Revolution Software and Simon The Sorcerer from AdventureSoft.
Choosing one Level 9, Delta 4 or Magnetic Scrolls game is impossible, but Jinxter’s rich writing, revolutionary parser and state of the art graphics make it one of the outstanding candidates.
The most notable feature of Jinxter is that the player cannot die. It works extremely well, and allows you to explore and experiment without fear of death.
Jinxter has a wacky story, a nice balance of puzzles and a fantastic cast of supporting characters, including a megalomaniac gardener, a postmistress who thinks she’s Calamity Jane and a rather dim-witted postman.
Manic Miner (1983)
No top ten would be complete without one of Matthew Smith’s groundbreaking platformers. We’ve overlooked Jet Set Willy for the original Miner Willy adventure, a far tighter platformer, with clever level design, psychedelic colours and a dollop of surreal British humour.
Animated telephones, roving lavatories, gently collapsing platforms and an oxygen meter gave the game its distinctive flavour, setting it apart from other titles around the same time. It was also the first ZX Spectrum game to feature extensive in-game music, plucked stylishly from the copyright-free back catalogues of maestros Grieg and Strauss.
Smith remains an enigma, and his loss to British gaming after the demise of Software Projects leaves a trail of “what ifs”. The mystique surrounding him has given the game legendary status – and rightly so.
DMA coders Scott Johnston and Mike Dailly had an argument about how small a sprite could be and yet still retain character. Dailly was experimenting with a bunch of tiny 8×8 pixel characters walking up a steep slope and being blasted by a big gun. As the animation played, programmer Russell Kay saw it and pronounced “There’s a game in that”.
Lemmings is a rare game with the Tetris touch – the ability to appeal to hardcore and casual gamers alike. A masterpiece of sandbox design, it allows a multitude of creative ways of completing the vast number of levels – over which the player must guide a set number of Lemmings from the entrance to the exit, avoiding hazards such as lava pools and large falls.
Released to critical acclaim and successful sales, Lemmings remains a true gem in the British gaming canon.
Football Manager (1982)
The ancestry of every single football management game can be traced back to Kevin Toms’ 1982 genesis of the genre. Written purely in BASIC, with flickering match graphics featuring stick men and a square ball, Football Manager went on to spawn an entire industry.
Your task is, of course, to ascend the league and capture the FA Cup. FM featured three positions (defence, midfield, attack), two ratings for each player (skill, energy), a simplistic transfer market and seven skill levels. That was it, but it didn’t matter. The game had an emotional pull that converted many kids – not to mention their dads – to the home football management craze.
Countless players up and down the country spent hours shouting “SHOOOT!” at those aforementioned stick men, and trying to buy Kevin Keegan for the astronomical fee of £25,000.
Released almost a year and a half after the film, GoldenEye’s missions followed the plot of the film closely, adding a certain amount of artistic licence to ensure that its first-person action was a little more lively than its celluloid counterpart.
The games scenarios are diverse: bungee-jumping from that Russian dam, defusing bombs, infiltrating enemy installations and stealing secret weapons.
In single-player mode GoldenEye is highly playable, but the game’s split-screen support for up to four players stood it apart. There are five scenarios inspired by films, such as ‘You Only Live Twice’, where players have only two lives; ‘The Man With the Golden Gun’, in which one hit from the eponymous weapon proves instantly fatal’ and ‘The Living Daylights’, essentially a flag tag game.
It’s a game that leaves you definitely shaken and stirred.
Medieval II (2006)
The superb Total War series mixes real-time strategy with turn-based campaigning to spectacular effect. Medieval II sees you take control of one of the major medieval forces and ascend to power between the dates 1080 and 1530.
With a stunning 3D graphics engine, the battles look incredible, offering richly detailed landscapes with distinctive and varied looking soldiers and units.
The fantastic thing about Medieval II is that you have three games in one. Play just the battlefields for real-time strategy, just the campaign mode for solid empire turn-based strategy or mix them both for a game that could last you weeks.
Epic doesn’t describe the scale of the Total War games. There’s a wealth of strategic nuances and combat to enjoy, making it perhaps the most involving war game about the Middle Ages ever made.
Tomb Raider (1996)
Tomb Raider’s success owes less to the pneumatically breasted, pistol-packing protagonist and more to the fact that it’s simply a fine platformer.
Britain’s Toby Guard created Lara Croft and Tomb Raider. He did not call for a female version of Indiana Jones, but he wanted her character to have strength, mystery and danger – in comparison to other female game characters that were basically sex objects.
As Lara, players walk, run, jump, dive, swim, roll, hurtle, shoot, and dodge their way through temples of doom, unveiling a mystery that seems to lead to a sunken continent.
Playing Tomb Raider is a pure joy. Great visuals, a compelling storyline and superb cinematics – and the appearance of the Tyrannosaurus Rex remains one of gaming’s defining moments.
Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009)
Batman has been converted to pixels many times, with almost every single game starring the caped crusader being utterly awful (apart from Jon Ritman’s classic isometric puzzler in 1986).
Rocksteady’s sublime experience holds true to the DC Comics creation; the different facets of Batman’s character informed the gameplay mechanics, which moved seamlessly from puzzle-solving, to agile platforming and brutal thuggery. You play ‘The Bat’, and you’re up against the Joker – the series’ signature villain – and henchmen from the comics, films and animated series.
With voice acting from a stellar cast (Star Wars’ Mark Hamill is the Joker, Kevin Conroy is Batman, and Arleen Sorkin is Harley Quinn), a fantastic story and all the Gotham City trimmings you could ask for, this is easily the best Batman video game of all time.
Worms is a turn-based combat game in which teams of four try to kill one another with an assortment of wacky weaponry.
Every game is different, thanks to the game battlefield being randomly generated and fully destructible.
It’s not as simple as lobbing bombs at the enemy. It’s about how you use hiding places, create safe tunnels, and use the bungie rope, the teleporter and the girders. The mayhem is accompanied by ridiculously cute and funny sound samples. Worms regularly shout “oi nutter!”, “revenge” and “I’ll get you”, and when dynamite is dropped they giggle maniacally.
Worms is in the same mould as Lemmings, but with the added benefit of being able to invite friends round for multiplayer laughs. Its relatively simple, with engaging and involving play. Be sure to give it a go.
First published as part of the Games Britannia festival in 2012.