Face Off: What was the best decade for PC gaming?

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Face Off pits two gladiators against each other as they tackle gaming's most perplexing conundrums. This New Year's Eve edition is a chronological throw-down: which decade gave PC gaming the most? Podcast Producer Erik Belsaas says it was the '90s—the origin of modern PC gaming. Executive Editor Evan Lahti insists it was the '00s, with its speedy internet, better PCs, and shinier graphics engines.

Evan: The 1990s had the CD-ROM and the McRib sandwich. The ‘00s had Windows XP and two terrible Star Wars movies. I think the latter birthed better games: the Battlefield series, Crysis, Company of Heroes, BioShock, Dragon Age: Origins, Guild Wars, The Sims, Rome: Total War, Star Wars: KOTOR, and the best Civilization games happened then. What've you got, Erik?

Erik: Lucasarts, id, Ion Storm, Interplay, Blizzard: the iconic names that created franchises that we still discuss today. “RTS,” “FPS,” and “MMO” had no meaning before the pioneers of the '90s came along with some-thing other than sequels and rehashes: Baldur's Gate, Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D, MechWarrior, Unreal Tournament and every LucasArts adventure game from Sam & Max to Grim Fandango.

Evan: This is going to devolve into who can name-drop more game titles, isn't it?

Erik: Pretty much.

Evan: Cool. In that case, let’s put the best we've got on the page. What are the top three games from your decade? Mine: WoW, Counter-Strike, and Half-Life 2.

Erik: Just three? How about X-COM, Fallout, and The Secret of Monkey Island. Timeless classics that we still play today.

Evan: Is that the best that the decade that gave us the Spice Girls has got, grandpa? The innovations of the '00s will last far longer. Half-Life 2 wasn't just the basis for the way modern action games tell stories, it’s the technological foundation for the most ambitious mods we have today and the preferred canvas for machinima creators. World of Warcraft’s meteoric rise brought PC gaming into popular culture, ruined innumerable marriages, and earned its own South Park episode. Top that.

Erik:Your great games are all parts of established franchises that began in the '90s. For that matter, the original Counter-Strike mod came out in 1999, before Valve turned it into a retail product! Take away the names that began in the '90s, the '00s would've created very little of their own.

Evan: Megabyte for megabyte, I’d rather replay Half-Life 2 than its predecessor. Likewise for Diablo II, Warcraft III, Fallout 3 and other major franchises that began in the '90s but matured in the '00s. I really think that the tech of the '00s (better operating systems, fast internet, faster PCs) produced better gaming experiences. EVE Online couldn't exist in the '90s. Team Fortress 2's dozens of free content updates couldn't have streamed down our wimpy modems—the same goes for 25-man WoW raids or a heavily modded playthrough of Oblivion or Morrowind.

Erik: You've got a short memory. EverQuest allowed 72-man raids. And before Oblivion and Morrowind came Daggerfall, which was amazing and heavily modded. Doom, the father of modding, came out in '93.

Evan: I’ll play your game, Belsaas. Here's my ace: Deus Ex, our most favorite game ever, happened in 2000.

Erik: Deus Ex is a good game...but how about StarCraft? Has any other game absolutely defined its genre or rallied an entire nation behind it like a sport?

Evan: I was worried you’d play the Korea card. What can I counter that with? The 100-million-selling main-stream success of The Sims? The booming popularity of independent gaming? ...Peggle?

Erik: Peggle? Well I’ve got...you know...uh...Carmen Sandiego. Fine. Peggle wins.