As well as seeing a flood of good games, 1999 has also seen some important developments for gamers everywhere. We take a look at a few of the key events of this year...
The Rise And Rise Of Pro-Gaming
Professional gaming has really taken off this year, despite (or perhaps because of) the apparent demise of the PGL, one of the trailblazers of pro-gaming.
In the USA the CPL have come through with a series of large events, including the recent Frag 3 tournament which was won by Europe's own Hakeem. The promise of CPL qualifiers in Europe and elsewhere means that future events should be even more international in flavour.
Meanwhile here in Europe we have had events ranging from the massive LAN Arena 3 party in Paris to the UK PC Gaming Championships in London, unique in that it was a gaming decathlon, with teams of players taking part in a range of different games.
The recent founding of the OGA has also given gamers an independent body to represent them for the first time, with hundreds of players from around the world already signed up as members, and a series of OGA affiliated leagues and tourneys imminent.
"The people with the skills are finally hooking up with the people with the money, and raising the profile of gaming as a whole", according to Geoff Richards, one of our regular contributors here on EuroGamer.
"It is already 'cool' to play games, shedding the past geeky stereotypes. But now even more people are taking it seriously. Ł50,000 in prizes up for grabs in the UKPCGC is not to be sniffed at, and prize-money in the PGL and CPL in America is also rising."
We are rapidly approaching the point at which gamers will be able to make a living out of playing computer games at a professional level, something that very few people even dreamed of just a few years ago!
Multiplayer Gaming Reaches The Mainstream
Meanwhile the next generation of potential gaming stars are being brought into the fold, as multiplayer gaming enters the mainstream.
"Games such as Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament are introducing the mass market to the joys of multiplayer gaming", according to our gaming evangelist, Mat Bettinson, and this has to be good news for everyone.
Then of course there are less violent multiplayer titles such as the excellent Nerf Arena, based on the Unreal engine but replacing the traditional rockets and bullets with the harmless foam and plastic ammunition of Nerf guns, and so opening up multiplayer gaming to a younger audience than ever before.
Even consoles are getting in on the action. "Turok : Rage Wars" was recently released on the venerable Nintendo 64, doing away with the traditional dinosaur hunting single player action of previous Turok games, and instead concentrating on split screen multiplayer and computer-controlled bots.
And although the Dreamcast's launch might have been something of a disaster, with their claims of "up to 6 billion players" being scuppered by a lack of good multiplayer games and connection problems in many countries, in the long run internet-ready consoles like the Dreamcast and Playstation 2 will bring a whole new audience to multiplayer gaming.
Faster And Faster
This year has seen hardware reaching new heights, with AMD taking the CPU speed crown from Intel, and NVIDIA taking the graphics card throne from 3dfx.
Just a year or two ago AMD processors were avoided like the plague by most gamers, and it was common knowledge that Intel chips outperformed their AMD equivalents in most games. Today the AMD Athlon processor is rapidly leaving Intel in the dust, bringing gamers the kind of performance that we had previously only dreamed of.
Meanwhile NVIDIA are taking some of the load off of your CPU with their GeForce 256 graphics chip, which introduces hardware "Transform and Lighting" acceleration to consumer graphics cards for the first time. The power of the GeForce's T&L unit means that it can throw far more polygons around your screen than your CPU alone would be capable of, allowing game developers to create more detailed characters and settings.
What this means for the gamer is better frame rates and better graphics, and the increased competition should mean more rapid advancements over the next year as both 3dfx and Intel try to recapture their market lead.
Is Gaming Bad For You?
Of course, it hasn't all been good news this year. Computer games have been blamed for a recent shooting in Brazil, the hijacking of a jumbo jet in Japan by a flight sim fanatic, and of course the shootings at a school in Colorado by a pair of teenage Doom players.
"It's a sad state of affairs when we have to find something to blame unfortunate events on", according to Jay, our resident web designer. "It is stupid to think that games create violent psychopaths, but I do think that there needs to be an age rating enforced on games"
Here in the UK (as in most European countries) we already have a legally enforced ratings system on games, and you can be fined for selling games to underage players, just as you can be taken to court for selling cigarettes or alcohol to children. But in the USA the ratings system is entirely voluntary, and shops don't have to enforce it.
Like many of us, Geoff believes "that age-ratings on games should be at least as enforced as the restrictions on movies. Just say NO to censorship, but make sure that little munchkins are not playing Resident Evil."
As long as computer games are treated the same as movies, we are very much in favour of a legally enforced ratings system for computer games. The problem comes when the ratings board refuses to allow a game to be released at all, even with an 18 certificate.
This is common in Germany, where many games are either "listed" or banned outright, and clearly this situation is ridiculous. As adults we are legally responsible for our own actions, and should be allowed to play whatever games we choose, in whatever form the developers see fit to release them.
It is not the job of the government to censor violent games, or to dictate morality for a media that in many cases they know nothing about. What they should be doing is ensuring that games are rated according to their content, and so keeping the most violent and explicit games out of the hands of younger players.