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General Rainbow Bacon

The 10 Greatest MS-Dos games of all time

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I think the problem with such listings is that, other than the subjectivity/taste/genre preference involved, a single person/reviewer is unlikely to have stuck around long enough to really "savour" such a long era ("the MS-DOS era") in its entirety.

And those that have really stuck along for that long, usually tend to be too specialized or biased, e.g. towards adventure games or RPGs. MS-DOS is also quite a complicated case, as it was practically cut out of e.g. the mainstream platform and shoot-em-up market for an entire decade (all of the 80s), and only adventure or simulation games really kept it afloat, as those genres could run around the limitations of IBM PC compatibles when it came to 2D arcade games, and highlighted their points of strengths instead: relatively beefy CPUs and larger storage space than consoles/home computers.

I've not seen many "all-around" gamers professionally writing reviews: those that have been around long enough to be any good at it and/or have a good reputation, usually tend to focus on single genres, so by definition they are not really objective when asked to compile "top 10 lists".

This guy's top 10, if it wasn't for Doom and C&C (two no-brainers, really), really confirms what I said: a bias towards adventure games, RPGs and simulations or unusual game genres, which probably reflect his own experiences and tastes, rather than a balanced view. No 80s MS-DOS games, either (no Larry, seriously?). Blood is kinda of an oddball here (then again, it was released in an odd era...)

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Larry games were nowhere near as good as the golden era Lucasfilm/Arts adventures, it's just all those long legs and deep cleavages, heh. I wouldn't pick Day of the Tentacle either, I'd call that a childhood nostalgia pick. (Would that make Larry the puberty nostalgia pick?) The whole genre peaked with Monkey Island 1&2 and the king, Indy 4. Those are ridiculously polished products, even though some people hated the MI2 ending fiercely.

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-Blood (if you are going to include Blood, you would include Quake before IMO)

+NASCAR Racing from Papyrus (my heart says Indycar Racing, but NASCAR Racing was the big hit).

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Until the early 90s, MS-DOS was never much of a gaming platform, and didn't give birth to best-selling franchises in the mainstream video game genres. E.g. try as you might, but you won't find the equivalent of Nintendo's Mario or Megaman (though there were official PC ports of the latter even back then!), Sega's Sonic, not even TAITO's loosely coupled Bubble Bobble/Rainbow Islands storyline.

Hell, it didn't even have platform-specific franchises like the Amiga's Team 17's Alien Breed, Worms, Sensible Soccer or Zool franchise (though those games were eventually ported to PC, often with 1-2 years of delay). Only Apogee/id did make a difference in that domain but, let's be honest, even Commander Keen would've been considered way too basic if it was released on the Amiga at the same time.

The only games that were "born" on PCs and usually had their best versions in that format, were adventure games, and some simulations (e.g. Microprose's F1GP and MS Flight Sim, if you want to call that a game....I once got into a bitter argument with someone who did). This created a peculiar kind of "gamer" on IBM PCs/MS-DOS, who was mostly into adventure games or simulations and looked down on the users of other platformes, considering them as "game machines for kids".

Or, on the contrary, gamers that played mostly substandard PC-ported versions of famous platformers, arcades etc. along with a selection of random shareware picks, being effectively cut from the arcade/console (or even the PC's) mainstream, and making those titles their "personal best".

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To my surprise, I like the list.

And I liked Day of the Tentacle more than the first Monkey Island (both were fantastic). I didn't play MI2 or Indy 4.

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Personally I would have had Stunts and Lemmings in there somewhere, but not a bad list.

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I guess the only objective way to compile such a list would be the best selling MS-DOS games. But that would turn up extremely biased towards adventures/simulations/RPGs, especially for stuff released pre-Doom. Also, no Wing Commander? That was a best-seller, a technological breakthrough, and an MS-DOS original (even if it was later ported). And let's not even mention Under A Killng Moon...all of the above and then some (and HEY, MULTIMEDIA!!!).

The only constant, IMO, is that Doom would have to turn up #1 in any list about "best MS-DOS games", at least if you don't place genre limitations. Also, games that were "born" on other platforms should not "count" IMO, unless their MS-DOS version was acknowledged as their best version or became a best seller (but that was seldom the case, MS-DOS usually was given little consieration).

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I found many games on the list that I have fond memories. I don't know if my memories would be so fond if those weren't my childhood games but I'm glad I grew up with them.

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I'd object to Red Alert being on the list simply because it launched with a Windows 95 port on the same disc that let it be played in twice the resolution. It wasn't like the original C&C where that was sold separately, without any upgrade path for existing owners. I might be wrong though, maybe Red Alert DOS ran a lot better back in the day or something; I didn't play the PC versions until around 2000 or so.

They could totally put the original DOS C&C on the list, though. The game's still my favorite in the series and Red Alert was simply building on the innovation it brought the genre.

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Dragonsbrethren said:

I'd object to Red Alert being on the list simply because it launched with a Windows 95 port on the same disc that let it be played in twice the resolution. It wasn't like the original C&C where that was sold separately, without any upgrade path for existing owners. I might be wrong though, maybe Red Alert DOS ran a lot better back in the day or something; I didn't play the PC versions until around 2000 or so.

They could totally put the original DOS C&C on the list, though. The game's still my favorite in the series and Red Alert was simply building on the innovation it brought the genre.

At *least* call it something other than "9: Command" on the list.

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And don't forget that Warcraft II was originally a DOS game...as was Quake and Duke Nukem 3D. Too many cool games could be enterered into that list (especially after Doom), and there's surely going to be something fishy with a list that nominates an obscure shareware game from 1991 and no less than 5 adventure and RPG games. Maybe if the list was about "The top 10 MS-DOS games up to 1992, 1992 not included".

Now if there was a separate category "Best Windows games (pre-Windows 95)" then obscure gems could really shine (...or maybe not, seeing how crappy gaming on Windows was before DirectX). FWIW I nominate the shareware "Asteroids" port for Windows 3.1 as the best game I can remember playing regularly under that platform. The rest were pretty much forgettable.

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I think such lists fall into the "Grouse and Owl" pitfall: according to a Greek proverb, the Grouse asks the Owl to pick up her children from school. "How am I going to spot them?" asked the Owl. "It's simple: look for the prettiest and cutest ones". So the Owl went to school, but returned just with her own children. "What happened?" asked the Grouse, "Where are my children?". The Owl replied "Sorry, I couldn't find your children. You told me to look for the prettiest and cutest ones, and I saw no children prettier and cuter than my own".

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Making a list of best-selling titles wouldn't be very accurate, seeing as this is from an era where games were very easily pirated and shared with friends and colleagues.

The best imo would be to gather votes from a well-balanced population of gamers who played games in that era and tally the results. One also needs to decide what constitutes a "good" game. Does it also need to be good by today's standards or do we only/also look at how influential it was, or how widely played it was? For example, Wolfenstein 3D was certainly influential but I think we all agree it's not such a great game, Doom is much better of course (the fact that Doom was even more influential is beside the point). Pacman may be the most widely played game ever (or at least one of them), does it mean that it was also the best? I think not (personally).

On a personal level, I think at least the following should also be candidates:

- Quest for Glory (also known as Hero's Quest)
- The King's Quest and Space Quest series (Police Quest 1+2 were also fun)

There are of course more (not only adventure games) but I'd have to delve deep into memory lane (or archives) to come up with a few titles.

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Don't forget that MS-DOS was a very peculiar platform, for what regards gaming. It practically was cut off the mainstream genres in the 80s due to the hardware sucking ass for anything fast/action-packed, and the only points of strength of the platform lied on the -relatively- fast CPU and hard disk storage -even the lousiest XT's user would have a 20-30 MB hard disk, which compared to disk swapping on the Amiga, allowed for much larger games to be developed. Of course you're bound to find mostly adventure games on any "MS-DOS top 10 list", in particularly in the early era.

The 90s brought about too many changes, too fast. CD-ROM, multimedia, Pentiums, Windows 95....I think a more objective way would be to divide the MS-DOS in various eras:

  • Early era: from the first IBM PC and until almost the end of the 80s, where PC Speaker sound, text-mode and Hercules/CGA graphics were "kings" so to speak.
  • Golden era: marked from a slow transition to Multimedia, sound cards introduced, a decent demoscene appeared, VGA graphics etc. CD-Rom games are still a minority, major titles still use floppies as primary means. Runs about until 1993-1994, and includes Doom, which however marks the beginning of another era....
  • Decline/transition era: MS-DOS is slowly giving way to Windows 95. Some games are released with dual-OS .EXEs. Multimedia and CD-ROM is well rooted. Many new titles are 3D and texture-mapped. Pentium CPUs smoke 486s with double the power per clock cycle. System requirements quickly go up, early 3D cards appear. Some pure MS-DOS games are still released, but are clearly a dying breed.
That's only a rough approximation of course and one could find smaller and smaller subcategories, sub-eras etc. but the general gist is there, I think. And each of these eras had very different standards and trends regarding games. E.g. most of Sierra's "golden" titles are in the early era, Lucasarts only really took off in the "golden" era, while after Doom it was just a blur of FPS, 3D titles, multimedia etc.

The only period where game genres and average technology on the IBM-Pee Cee platform was somewhat stable was between 1986-1991, allowing companies such as Sierra to shine. Afterwards, others took the lead.

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No Duke Nukem 3D or Daggerfall(ok I can guess why Daggerfall is not any of the best dos games lists but still)

At least the guy put Doom and not Doom II

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Kotzugi said:

The best imo would be to gather votes from a well-balanced population of gamers who played games in that era and tally the results. One also needs to decide what constitutes a "good" game. Does it also need to be good by today's standards or do we only/also look at how influential it was, or how widely played it was? For example, Wolfenstein 3D was certainly influential but I think we all agree it's not such a great game, Doom is much better of course (the fact that Doom was even more influential is beside the point). Pacman may be the most widely played game ever (or at least one of them), does it mean that it was also the best? I think not (personally).


There used to be a computer games magazine in Poland (title: "Gambler") which organized a poll among its readers more or less resembling what you have written. It was a very popular magazine among all sorts of gamers so the poll was, in my opinion, as objective as one could organize back then. The rules stated that each person would choose 5 games and give them 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 points respectively. The main ranking was based on a total number of points received by a given game. However, there were also some other categories, i.e. "most commonly chosen game". It's interesting what you have written about Wolfenstein 3D, because that's what most of the voters thought as well: "Gambler" wrote that Wolfenstein 3D appeared on most votes, but it usually received 1 or 2 points only, so people acknowledged its role in starting the genre, but were far from considering it one of "the best" PC games ever.

I can't remember the whole ranking, because if I remember correctly it included "top 100" games, not just "top 10", but I do remember that "Civilization" took the first place and I'm 99% sure that "Doom" was second, or very close to that spot. Those two games also appeared in the article mentioned in the first post and were equally highly ranked so there is some truth behind those choices.

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So, their list:

10. Day of the Tentacle
9. Command (& Conquer: Red Alert, but their web authoring thingie probably ate the ampersand and everything after it)
8. Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss
7. Blood
6. Ultima VI: The False Prophet
5. Sim City (1989)
4. X-Com: UFO Defense
3. Scorched Earth
2. Sid Meier's Civilization
1. Doom

I'm a bit puzzled by some of their choices. Why C&C: RA but not the original C&C or even Dune II? If they felt it was a better game than its predecessors, then why not use the same logic for other titles, because come on, Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds was a lot better than Stygian Abyss. (Not that SA was bad, but it suffered from being a prototype hastily retrofitted into a series it was not originally designed for. LOW had a lot more depth, variety, and all-around interest.) Also, I thought Ultima VII was generally regarded as the peak of the series.

Man, I'd have removed Scorched Earth (a game I never even heard before) and put Daggerfall, X-Wing, or Elite II instead. Can't say I really ever cared much for Blood, either.

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Interestingly enough I consider Tiberian Sun the peak of the series, but RA became a huge multiplayer hit and it was a huge LAN staple until... well, RA2 and AOE2. Its concept of massive armies successfully competed with Starcraft's microing of small groups back then, so that one's probably justified.

You're correct to point out the inconsistency with UU/UU2 though, just pick the best one in the series, dammit. Same with Ultima. And Blood... now that's just personal preference. I like Blood, but picking it over DN3D? C'mon. Oh, and I prefer Sim City 2k.

Scorched Earth is a weird pick. It actually had a cult following in the very early 90's, so from some weird historic angle not applied on the list to this point it could be justified, but the game is just a fancified remake of Artillery. It's especially weird when you consider the author could've picked goddamn Worms.

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We're lucky they didn't put Alley Cat and GORILLA.BAS on that list. Don't be surprised, not all people are living vidoe game encyclopedias or even half-decent at research, and so they will compile such lists based on what THEY had access to on their daddy's or buddy's PC.

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I played quite a lot Scorched Earth, but I think Worms is more fun. Actually I just played Worms today.. damn those computer AIs.. they hardly move at all, and just shoot super accurate missiles, grenades and cluster bombs. I had a worm with full 100hp.. then the computer shoots a cluster bomb at my worm and boom, 100 damage! It was more fun with people...

From those 10, I'd only pick 2 games into the best DOS games list (Doom and UFO: Enemy Unknown). To me most games in that list sounds so underground. Also I'd try to avoid listing more than one game from the same genre, or make different lists for different genres..

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