I defy anyone to talk about PC gaming seriously without talking about Valve Corporation. They are massively important and have done nothing short of revolutionise this medium that we love. It’s easy to forget everything that they have put out there; classic game after classic game, and then a system that has even completely changed how many of us buy and play games.
Here we have every game they have commercially released, affectionately recalled by both us here at Gaming Daily and the people who these games mean more to than anything else out there – journalists, gamers, clan members, even developers. I’ve also included the peak amount of steam accounts concurrently playing each game on the 13th April 2010 – hastily grabbed from the steam stats page at 6pm when I first started this article just to give some sort of scale on how popular they still are. And as a reference, the highest ranking at this point in time was Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer with 94,997 accounts (
although it should be noted that this figure doesn’t take into account all non-steam versions of MW2, which I imagine is quite a significant number Droniac pointed out in the comments that MW2 is steamworks so this will, in fact, be all players)
A not so humble beginning
1998 – 2003
Half-Life – Nov 1998; 299 accounts
The game that started it all. Half-Life. It basically re-invented the First Person Shooter, showing the power of scripted sequences for both action and exposition. It also introduced us to Gordon Freeman, the silent protagonist now iconic with PC Gaming. Half-Life had a smart plot, good characters, and it was a solid shooter to boot. To try to summarise how important Half-Life was would be close to impossible here, but it’s up there with the best of them. Half-Life also had a couple of expansions, namely Blue Shift (2001) in which you play as Barney – a major character in the latter sequels; and Opposing Force (1999) in which you play as one of the enemy Marines from the normal game.
Craig Lager: A guilty secret of mine is that I’ve never completed Half-Life. I’ve played it a fair few times, but never to completion. That’s not to say that I wasn’t impressed by it though; the first time I saw it was around a friends house soon after release. I played through the opening section and was amazed – there was nothing like this on my N64 (I did get Zelda that same year, though). Unfortunately I couldn’t fathom getting off a ladder using a keyboard, so I fell and died, then never played HL again for many years.
Paul Millen: I’m not going to write about all the obviously brilliant things that make up the game Half-Life, there’s no more to say. I want to talk about one of its slightly more unusual characteristics: its cruelty. HL’s forefathers: Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem, Unreal, with all their nastiness – they were just fluff really weren’t they? Sci-fi melodrama, high concepts and cartoon killing. Half-Life was one of the first games I played that showed me real people; people beginning another mundane week at work, struggling with malfunctioning IT systems and tetchy vending machines – people just trying to get through the day. Half-Life introduced me to these people, then killed them in front of my eyes. Seeing that lift crash down the shaft leaving nothing but guts and metal, or watching helplessly as a scientist was overpowered by Xen creatures through the glass of a sealed room; very early on Half-Life lays its cards of cruelty on the table. Later, you meet these people again, and you’re thrilled to see them. They grant moments of comforting companionship amid the horror. But (one might say) cruelly, asking them to tag along imposes upon your earnest followers an almost guaranteed death sentence. To progress, they must die – the game causes it but you bear the guilt. The reason Half-Life is a superb computer game is that it pitches a sci-fi horror story but shows the effects in first-hand human terms as the events unspool and the resulting chaos and cruelty strike out at the poor unfortunates trapped within; characters you’ve met and talked to, people who have helped you. Half-Life wouldn’t be the great game it is without this vital caustic quality.
And then there was Blue Shift; generally perceived to be the lesser Half-Life expansion, lacking the team-based fun of Opposing Force or any particularly memorable set-pieces; breaking NPCs out of containers, that seemed to be Blue Shift’s big thing. Well, yeah – it didn’t set the gaming world alight but everything was still smouldering from HL and Opposing Force, and it’s not bad for an axed Dreamcast afterbelch. It’s also the only game in the Half-Life canon where Everything Goes Right. Playing as Barney Calhoun, you’re looking for Dr Rosenberg who’s the only science man able to crank up an old piece of Black Mesa hardware deep in a basement somewhere that’ll allow you all to warp out and escape the gory disasterfest. That’s the plan – what’s surprising is that it actually succeeds. In the finale, leaping into the escape portal, I braced myself for the signature Half-Life anti-ending and was pleasantly shocked to find myself, not in a situation of certain Xen death or the clutches of the G-Man, but next to two SUVs and my relived science chums miles from Black Mesa. Like, what was supposed to happen. It seems those scientists can get it right – once in a blue moon (teee). In closing, if you’re feeling a bit blue, play Blue Shift (ahhaha I am funny). It’s Half Life’s only happy ending.
Steve Peacock:I was sat in a Malaysian hotel room the first time I played Half-Life. My dad was working out there, and his computer was done up with a theme patterned around Alien. It was the perfect atmosphere for my first foray into proper, grown-up gaming: a dark room and a terminal that dragged me into the mindset of a resonance cascade victim before I even started the game. It was magical.
Counter Strike: March 1999; 69,495 accounts
Counter Strike is a phenomenon. Ten years old and still a staggering Seventy Thousand people playing at one time. It’s mind blowing. This is something that started as a mod for Half-Life pre-millenium. After the official release by Valve in 2000 it had one expansion in the west which was the rather unpopular Condition Zero (2004) and also a Japan Arcade exclusive Counter Strike: Neo (2004) that no one seems to talk about. The thing with Counter Strike is that it has the most hardcore fanbase that I know of, possibly outside of Starcraft. People still defend it to the death, even though most would consider it replaced with the later Counter Strike: Source. Someone far more entrenched in the community can explain it better than I can anyway:
Thomas Morgan – yegods clan: people play cs and css still because they have very clean strats, giving you an edge over individual skill. Key knowledge of angles and timing give advantages and getting angles and timing to work correctly while coordinating teams make it the best team game ever made. It just plays a hell of a lot better than most games .. even CoD doesn’t compare with cs or css for teamplay. Neither are better, it’s simply because it takes a long time to get a really keyed in feeling for the game. If you have played a lot of cs even the small changes moving to css feel huge, and as people where playing 1.6 a long time before source was out the game still had a big base; many people didnt feel like changing. There is a lot of stigma between cs players and css players so people tend to keep to their own camps. If you speak to cs gamers they will say css is too easy and not as fast paced, if you speak to css players they will complain about 1.6 hitboxes.
Steve Peacock: My first real online obsession. I’d dabbled with online gaming with Team Fortress, but Counter-Strike was where I really became one with the web, in the way only a self-important child can: clan matches! My years of Counter-Strike were devoted entirely to my position on the clan rankings ladder, it was more important than anything else. It was sadly brought to a sudden end when every other active clan member left to create a clan of their own. I wasn’t invited. I’M NOT BITTER.
Team Fortress Classic – April 1999; 226 accounts
Team Fortress started out as a mod for Quake in 1996 by John Cook and Robin Walker – names now synonymous with Valve. Later, TFC was ported over as a Half-Life mod in 1999, then in 2003 got a standalone release through steam and is still popular today, though not nearly following the continued success of Counter Strike.
thedancingpanda – TFC forumite: I play TFC because it isn’t about the graphics. I play a game depended on the gameplay and how fun it is. TFC is just fun. One of the biggest problems with the industry today is companies focusing more on making the game’s graphics next generation than the gameplay next-generation. and That is why I play TFC. For it’s time, the graphics and the gameplay were both fairly astounding. And in my opinion, they still are today.
sinnah – TFC forumite: [it's] the fact that this is such a multi-faceted game and there’s just so much to learn, and so many ways to improve on what you’ve already learned. Every time I play it’s a chance to practice and perfect upon any number of gameplay techniques, and it gives you a real sense of accomplishment as you see yourself begin to improve. Many other shooters (such as CS) only have a few core elements/strategies that need to be mastered before they become repetitive and boring.
Secondly, the fast-paced style of TFC suits me. It makes no attempt to be realistic, and frankly I find the COD/BF series of realistic strategy shooters to be pretty slow and monotonous by comparison. TFC, in my humble opinion, was the last great twitch-shooter. That’s not to say that other games don’t test your reflexes, but they’re nothing quite like TFC. If you’re not constantly thinking on your feet, you’re dead. There are times I’ve been so tense trying to break through an enemy team’s defense, or trying to hold off an offensive rush, that I was literally on the edge of my seat. No other game thus far has given me quite that level of intensity.
Basically, TFC is like a favorite shirt. Sure it’s old and worn, but it’s still your favorite, and even if you go out and buy a new one, it never really fits quite as comfortably.
Ricochet – November 2000; <150 accounts
Inspired somewhat by platformers and the arcade experience, Ricochet was simplistic, multiplayer shooter. It didn’t give the players full movement control, instead having them bounce between platforms which is possibly why it seemed to die a death. There seems to be no real active communities and the official steam forum has a grand total of 4 posts; this seems to be the one Valve game that’s pretty much dead.
Cainobob – ricochet forumite: I play it because with such a small player base there is more of a feeling of a community. It’s always more fun to play with some people you know and that’s what it is like most if not all the time in ricochet. Also it is really innovative and different so it more fun to play than all of your cookie-cutter WWII games.
Nlessvenom – ricochet forumite: I play it because I can get 45 kills in 5 minutes on a server with 150 ping.
Day of Defeat: August 2000; 1371 accounts
Released as a mod for Half-Life in 2000 then followed up with a commercial release in 2003 when the team joined valve - a template followed from Team Fortress and a pattern Valve would continue to use. Day of Defeat and the later Source version are Valves only forays into the ever saturated WWII genre, though the players of the original seem to hold a cut-throat contempt for the later release.
thegreatergood – DoD Forumite: [Source] was a joke and a slap in the face to dod players.There are still full servers and there still is a good community. I have not found a game with the level of competition that this brings, and it goes without saying that most of the players are older and more mature.
vlad211 – DoD Forumite: [Source] was more friendly to new players because there was less recoil on pretty much all of the weapons. The original has more weapons and more variety to choose from for each class. The maps were excellent but in Source, they were changed around quite a bit. Look at Colmar. Where did Valve pull out Demolition out of their *** for a map back in 1.3 that didn’t even have it?
Gabb – DoD Forumite: I have always been a FPS player and started playing quake and quake 2. Then I moved out from my parents in 2000 and didn´t have any computer. When I bought a PC in 2007 I played q2 mp but the lack of servers and players made me buy Counter Strike (most popular fps game in the world as I have heard) Bought it and played for 2 mins and got kicked because I asked things like how to play the game (had no idea how it worked, it wasen´t CTF or DM). I got kicked from some other servers because I were a NOOB. I were sad, but saw that there were another game that I could install, Day Of Defeat. Connected to a server, choose a weapon, and started spraying like it were death match. But this time were diffrent. There were a polite guy who told me over mic that this was a team game and that I should follow him around the map to know how the game was played. I were so surprised and glad that there were kind ppl on the internet that I started playing on that server. And to my big surprise, every new server I logged on to, I got help when I had questions and everybody was kind and SPEAKING. I have lots of other MP games but no one seams to care about anybody else then themself. So the thing that keeps me playing DoD is the community. We have so much fun together and it doesen´t matter if you are good or bad. Everybody helps new players and most of them get hooked into this old game. I think the reason is that it is simple, easy to learn the rules, you don´t need 20 buttons on your mouse or 400 macro keys. So my vote goes for a freindly community, where everybody is allowed to have fun.