Skyrim Northern Lights

Games

If I had to pick one form of media that has moved me more than any other, it is video games. It takes a huge effort to make a game, and teams pour their heart and soul into them. Films might show you a world, but games can take you there, let you wander around it, and experience its stories for yourself.

College of Winterhold #1

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim 2011

Sometimes, when I talk about games, I use the phrase "sense of place" - to me, that is defined by Skyrim. The environment, the architecture, the lore, the music - all of them combine to make somewhere almost tangible, where I feel I really could delve into the depths of the world, comb through all the small places, and uncover new secrets.

The part of Skyrim that has combat is almost inconsequential; to me, the exploration of the place is what makes it. I've spent hundreds of hours exploring this land and draining it of all its secrets, and all I want is for it to go on forever.

Outer Wilds cover #2

Outer Wilds 2019

There is an inevitability to Outer Wilds that belies its cute-looking exterior - it tells a powerful tale of life, death, and legacy, and in a good way, it left me with more questions than answers. I'm not even quite sure what genre it is, but whatever it is, it revolutionised it.

It's also a powerful example of an exploration game where the only thing you gain is knowledge. Once you have finished it, you can sit down and beat it in 22 minutes - I wish I could forget everything and play it from scratch, and be drawn to tears all over again.

Breath Of The Wild alternate cover #3

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2017

It takes a lot of bravery to take a series as beloved as Zelda and change it almost entirely. It takes an even greater amount of skill to make that game as lush, detailed, and rich as Breath of the Wild. The main story here is almost inconsequential; the real depth is in the side characters and the great land of Hyrule itself.

I adore everything about this game, from the minimalist sound design - where hints of themes from games past drift by on the wind - to the environmental design and sightlines, right down to the re-imagined character designs. It's a true masterpiece, and defines my view of what Zelda is, and could be.

Factorio screenshot #4

Factorio 2016

I dearly love any game that even verges towards being a programming or logistics game, and Factorio is the pinnacle of them - I have lost countless hours to endlessly tweaking my factory so I can get my iron plate line moving just that little bit faster.

In many ways, it's dangerous - I recommend it to friends with a warning that they may need to book some time off first - but it's also incredible. I can't wait to see what else comes of both this game, and this genre.

Mass Effect wallpaper #5

Mass Effect 2007

Many people love Mass Effect 2 the most of all the games - and it is fantastic - but there's something about the pacing and plot of the original Mass Effect that still gets me. You feel like the galaxy is open to you, the set-pieces are spectacular, and the story and lore it tells defines it as one of the science-fiction game stalwarts.

Sure, the shooting is bad, but I'd have loved this game even more if it had zero shooting. And, honestly, it gets a lot of points just for having Vigil as the main menu music.

Horizon: Zero Dawn poster #6

Horizon: Zero Dawn 2017

I did not go into Horizon: Zero Dawn expecting to be moved by the story - I went in expecting a fun action game with robot dinosaurs. Instead, I found a worryingly prescient narrative that still haunts me, years later, set inside a stunning landscape, with some of the best and most unique creature design I've seen.

There are points in this game's story that I think about almost every week. I'm not sure I want to replay it - I'm not so great at the combat, and I might dehydrate if I cry that much again - but it's still incredible, and a I am very glad for my time with it.

Minecraft #7

Minecraft 2011

In many ways, my experience with Minecraft was shaped not by the game, but by its community. For three or four years, I not only played Minecraft - I developed third-party server software for it, embarked on a digital archiving project of its myriad creations, and made many friends in its community.

Even past all that, it is a game that encourages creativity as its main mechanic - it does have a main objective, but it doesn't really need it. Despite being a ripoff of Infiniminer, and having a troubled development history, the community around Minecraft shaped it into something wonderful.

Spyro 2 Reignited key art #8

Spyro 2: Gateway to Glimmer 2003

The era of character platformers was a heady one, and the Spyro series defined my childhood - though I have played it many times since then. This second entry in the series is arguably the best, with some fantastic art design, great levels, and a general feeling of charm that so few games pull off.

Even better, if you're reading this, you get to play it as part of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy, where it has been lovingly remastered and looks better than ever. There's nothing quite like gliding around and collecting a whole boatload of shiny gems.

The Witness island #9

The Witness 2016

The Witness is a very... odd game. I went into it unsure what to expect, and left it perhaps even more unsure, but it remains brilliant in its conception and execution. I love puzzles and I love exploration, and this deftly blends the two, while keeping something of a mystery at its heart.

It's one of the very few games that I fully completed, all the way down to the final challenge - and if you've played it, you'll know just how hard that is - and I think it stands with the greats like Myst as a truly great puzzle/adventure game.

XCOM: Enemy Unknown key art #10

XCOM: Enemy Unknown 2012

XCOM took a beloved (but difficult) old game and applied modern game design to it, and the end result is a masterpiece. It was one of the first turn-based games that truly hooked me, and the visual and audio design just meshes so well with the setting and action.

I still fire it up occasionally to play a few missions, though I'm also a huge fan of XCOM 2 and its expansion pack War Of The Chosen. Any modern XCOM is good by me.

#11

Portal 2 2011

The rare sequel that outshines its precessor. Great environment design, good puzzles, and the legendary J.K. Simmons as Cave Johnson.

#12

Gone Home 2013

It quite literally defined a whole genre ("Walking Simulator"), and the story moves me to this day. A fantastic game made with a great deal of care and attention.

#13

Mirror's Edge 2009

The architecture, visual design, and sheer style set this game apart - plus, it was a rare first-person game (almost entirely) without guns.

#14

Into The Breach 2018

A near-perfect strategy game that prides itself on perfect information and lack of randomness. Every failure is your own, but there's always room to improve.

#15

Ori and the Blind Forest 2015

Incredible music and artwork, gameplay that is challenging but fun, and a story that made me cry. One of the best 2D platformers out there.

#16

Kerbal Space Program 2015

Taught me orbital mechanics, basic rocket science, and let me build ridiculous rockets. Secretly one of the best educational games ever made.

#17

Total Annihilation 1997

TA (and Supreme Commander) were the pinnacle of the golden age of real-time strategy games - expansive, complex, rewarding, and near-infinite possibilities.

#18

God of War 2018

The storytelling, character design, sound design and artwork in this game are phenomenal. Never did I think I would care about Kratos.

#19

Transport Tycoon Deluxe / OpenTTD 1994

I love tycoon games, and I love public transport, and this is still one of the best combinations of them both - and OpenTTD keeps the dream alive.

#20

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 2000

A really great RTS with fantastic unit and strategic design, and very... memorable FMV. Red Alert 3 is also great - in large part due to Tim Curry.