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My Gaming World ’98-’99

I didn’t become a serious gamer until 1998. I’d played lots of games before then, but it wasn’t until 1998 that I started to invest a serious amount of time and energy into the hobby. I began investing in video game magazines, playing more games than ever before and started classifying myself as a gamer, proudly.

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I picked a hell of a year to start – 1998 was a year that launched some of the largest franchises today. My career as a serious gamer launched in early February. I became enamored with Parasite Eve watching commercial after commercial and my fascination led me into my Electronics Boutique one day to finally pick it up. Looking back, it’s amazing that they let a 12-year-old buy Parasite Eve without my parents around, but I quickly fell in love. I wasn’t any good at the game – I had a PSOne for a while, but didn’t play it very often as my collection until that point mostly consisted of really bad wrestling games. I cheated with a GameShark the first time through. But Parasite Eve’s plot ensnared me and I spent dozens and dozens of hours and a few playthroughs in the role of Aya Brea.

The early quarter of the year was a glorious period for gamers. Resident Evil 2, Final Fantasy Tactics and StarCraft came out within just a few months of each other, and the year wasn’t slowing down. Unreal, perhaps one of my all-time favorite first-person shooters, launched just a few weeks after Panzer Dragoon Saga. But the real juggernauts were still coming. A little series from Nintendo soon launched: Pokemon Red and Blue hit the States in the middle of 1998, going on to be one of the best selling games of all time. Fallout 2 was released the same day.

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Perhaps the most important releases, at least for me, were still yet to come. At some point in 1998, I convinced my mother to go to Pizza Hut to get a special demo disk that had a sample of Hideo Kojima’s masterpiece, Metal Gear Solid, on it. For months, I played this demo over and over again, reminding my mother every day that I needed the game from Santa. I eagerly anticipated stepping into the shadows as Solid Snake and started scouring my mother’s bedroom for any presents. I was so excited when I found the game a few weeks before Christmas, and relieved when I still received the game despite her catching me snooping. I spent my holiday vacation as Solid Snake, beating the game over and over again. Metal Gear Solid became one of my favorite games of all time over that week.

The tail-end of the year brought even more gems. Half-Life came out in November, launching one of the most important PC games of all time. It also set Valve on a trajectory of becoming one of the most important forces in the PC gaming scene. And just one day after arguably one of the most significant achievements in PC gaming, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was released, one of the few games that can stand toe-to-toe with Half-Life and probably one of the greatest games of the generation. Ocarina of Time went on to be one of the most critically regarded games ever produced, successfully translating the classic gameplay of the earlier entries into a fully 3D world. Galloping across the fields of Hyrule was truly awe-inspiring and like nothing seen before.

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Two extremely significant IPs arrived to close out the year. Thief: The Dark Project offered players options in how they took on objectives as they worked through a challenging, original and captivating experience. Baldur’s Gate was released on the same day, helping launch BioWare’s reputation as the preeminent Western RPG developer for over a decade. In particular, Baldur’s Gate demonstrated Bioware’s amazing ability to create memorable, likable characters (Minsc is one of my favorite Bioware characters ever – largely due to the excellent voicework of Jim Cummings). Perhaps more importantly, Baldur’s Gate used the Infinity Engine, which would go on to power several other extremely significant RPGs, including Icewind Dale and Planescape: Torment.

I don’t think any year of gaming proves to be quite as amazing as 1998 was. The number of significant and influential games released over those 12 months is absolutely astounding. But 1999 was no slouch either, and by the start of the year I was totally invested in gaming. I had multiple consoles and a PC to play on. Konami launched the Silent Hill franchise and, armed with a strategy guide, I descended into an incredibly tense ride through one of the most memorable gaming worlds I’ve visited. EverQuest, perhaps the most influential MMORPG ever, launched in early 1999. I logged 24 days of time into my first character, a Halfling Druid, after one summer of playing day-and-night. EverQuest was the first game I’d played that I felt I could explore in, and I spent hours just wandering around through the world.

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Final Fantasy VIII was released in 1999, but that game was a total disappointment. I hadn’t been a gamer for too long, but I was starting to figure out what I liked and what I didn’t like, and Final Fantasy VIII definitely skewed toward the “do not like” side of the spectrum. While I was initially captivated, the plot fell apart and the flashy cutscenes couldn’t save it.

But even if this dismal experience put a chink in 1999’s armor, at least the year brought us three significant shooters. Counter-Strike demonstrated the flexibility of Half-Life‘s engine as a team of coders took Valve’s work and built an incredibly compelling and addictive multiplayer shooter. Medal of Honor was a huge success on the PSOne, launching a World War II craze that has only been matched in popularity by the current round of Call of Duty clones. Unreal Tournament was released toward the end of the year and I proceeded to play the demo over and over again almost every day. CTF is just about the only mode I like in online games because of that demo.

The end of 1999 was dominated by the Dreamcast. This was particularly exciting for me because I’d never been around a console launch and I got to witness the hype machine in action. My bedroom floor was quickly covered with gaming magazines with Sega’s sexy new console adorning their covers, and by the time nine-nine-ninety-nine rolled around, I was incredibly pumped. When I finally got my hands on the system shortly after launch, I was absolutely floored by the graphics of Sonic Adventure. I was impressed with how well Virtua Tennis simply felt and played. And I developed a love for The Offspring through Crazy Taxi.

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I got spoiled. The first two years of my gaming life were absolutely incredible, with 1998 being arguably one of the best years in gaming, period. I came in right at the right time, getting in on the ground floor of so many franchises that I still play regularly today. Playing all of these games, I liked some more than others, but even when I wasn’t a huge fan, I couldn’t help but appreciate the artistry behind all of them. And it helped that I wasn’t a jaded video game reviewer like I am today because back then, I let myself get carried around by the hype and, amazingly, everything that I had my eye on in those early days actually turned out to be excellent. 1998-1999’s fantastic schedule of releases made me the gamer that I am today.

Was there another event or title for these years that changed your gaming life forever? Let us know in the comments below.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in February 2003.

Gentle persuasion

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