TIME’s tech team put more than 150 nominees through a multistage ranking process to compile a cross-section of gaming’s best ideas across nearly four decades. Here are our picks for the 50 greatest video games of all time. 50. King’s Quest III: To Heir Is Human MobyGames In the 1980s, the years that led up to Nintendo’s reign were dominated by PC titles, and of these none were better imagined than Sierra’s. When honoring their adventure line, critics typically laud the original King’s Quest. But it’s the third installment released in 1986 that deserves the most acclaim, because it was also twice as big as the first two installments, and as clever as any in the series. Following the adventures of Daventry’s 17-year-old Prince Alexander, the game hit closer to home with its primary players, who like it or not were pretty much boys. Yet despite the outmoded graphics (or maybe because of them), the keyboard-controlled adventure is still a joy to play (try it yourself). From amassing all the ingredients to make potions, to avoiding the wizard’s evil black cat, to stealing the pirate’s treasure, it’s pure magic. 49. Dota 2 Suzi Pratt—FilmMagic/Getty Images The improbable sequel to a fan mod for a Blizzard game that came out in 2002, Dota 2 stormed the e-sports scene in 2013 with its sophisticated twist on real-time resource management and turf control. Arguably the pinnacle of the multiplayer online battle arena genre (or MOBA, which is just another way of saying “competitive real-time strategy game”), it sees two teams of five jockey for sway over lush, jungled terrain beset by ever-spawning computer armies, locking horns at a river that cuts diagonally across a symmetric map. Difficult to master but thrilling to watch, Dota 2 matches unfold like frenetic attention-deficit sprees, camera views pinballing around battlefields flush with antagonists converging on dozens of flashpoints, as players battle to demolish the other team’s “ancient.” 48. Angry Birds Rovio Rovio’s debut 2009 mobile game, now one of the most recognizable franchises in the world, definitely benefitted from being one of the earliest titles for the iPhone. But the studio’s quirky avian-flinging physics puzzler—players have to slingshot roly-poly birds at likewise rotund, entrenched pigs—also honed in on key elements of smartphone gaming’s then-nascent purview: bite-sized levels for on-the-go play, easy to pickup (if grueling to master) gameplay, and eventually a free-to-play biz model built on micro-transactions. It’s safe to say Angry Birds established the template for all the untold numbers of mobile games vying for our e-wallets since. 47. Guitar Hero MobyGames Guitar Hero reanimated the music video game genre when it launched in 2005, magically transmogrifying players into bona fide fret-shredding, tremolo-slapping Rock Gods. Sure, you had to provide your own sweatbands, eyeliner and hair extensions. But for the price of the game and its eponymous accessory, players hammering buttons on faux guitars were able to rhythmically glimpse what it might feel like to be a Stevie Ray Vaughan or Jake E. Lee. While games like Dance Dance Revolution had proven popular with smaller audiences, it was Guitar Hero‘s rolling collection of classic and modern rock anthems that drove it to mainstream accolades (to say nothing of all the impromptu house parties). 46. Resident Evil 4 MobyGames Who can forget the moment they first shot the face off a possessed farmer in Resident Evil 4, only to conjure a lively Lovecraftian horror with tentacles squirming from its neck? This was Resident Evil reborn, its creaky fixed perspectives and klutzy directional controls supplanted by a freer over-the-shoulder, shoot-first perspective that felt at once elegant and intuitive. Instead of cheap haunted house scares in claustrophobic spaces, the story shifted to organic exploration of delightfully creepy areas, punctuated by frenzied scrambles to fend off the series’ most inspired adversaries. Capcom’s timely embrace in 2005 of action-oriented principles stole nothing from the game’s cheerless ambience, and actually amplified the sense of trudging through a phantasmagoric nightmare. 45: Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec Sony Interactive Entertainment As Microsoft Flight Simulator to the flight sim genre, so Polyphony Digital’s Gran Turismo series to hi-fi motorsport hot-rodding. Of all the Gran Turismo games, 2001’s Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec for the PlayStation 2 remains the series’ apotheosis, a madly ambitious encyclopedia of lovingly modeled vehicles and vistas surpassing the wildest gear nut fantasies. Here was a racing game to rule all others, that on its surface promised endless championship events framed by thrillingly realistic physics and painstakingly replicated visuals, but that also catered to armchair grease monkeys, who might spend hours fine-tuning then gawking at their drop-dead gorgeous rides. 44. Super Smash Bros. Nintendo Since the original launched on the Nintendo 64 in 1999, the Super Smash Bros. games have become no-brainers for Nintendo fans. The game, which borrows from Nintendo’s stable of iconic characters, introduced something radical to the fighter genre: Rather than pounding the bejesus out of your opponents until they bow out, you’re basically playing an elaborate variant of King of the Hill, trying to successfully knock your enemies off platforms in a given stage. What’s more, players could romp through stages freely, expanding the canvas upon which to doll out whuppings. And unlike other fighters that require players memorize arcane buttons combos to execute a character’s special maneuvers, Super Smash Bros. employs the same button template for everyone, making pickup simpler, and mastery about learning how best to synthesize all of the above. 43. Call of Duty 2 MobyGames The Call of Duty franchise epitomizes everything a modern first-person shooter ought to be: A game with a compelling, story-driven single-player campaign along with a multiplayer mode that can steal hours of your life. The newer incarnations are more complex and prettier, of course. But they owe a great debt to Call of Duty 2, which in 2005 took what made the original title great and doubled down. Grand cinematic sequences gave players a sense of scope, while the realism—fallen soldiers would sometimes try fruitlessly to crawl to safety—drove home the horrors of war. Iron sights on the guns, meanwhile, made this a favorite of hyper-accurate PC gamers. 42. BioShock 2K Games BioShock‘s gripping metaphysical plot, over-the-top art deco levels and motley cast of hauntingly broken personas intermingle to furnish an experience so riveting and simultaneously disturbing that it fueled (at the time perfectly reasonable) conversations about games as more than dopamine-fueled diversions. Studio Irrational Games’ 2007 first-person shooter takes the player on an imaginative journey through the fictional undersea city of Rapture, built by fanatical industrialist Andrew Ryan (whose name references Atlas Shrugged novelist and self-described objectivist Ayn Rand). The game set new standards for video games on so many levels, from its horrifying forms of self-augmentation, to its ecology of intersectional enemy behaviors and its sublime ways of channeling what amounted to a withering deconstruction of extremist modes of thought. 41. ESPN NFL 2K5 MobyGames Sorry, Madden NFL fans, true football gaming fanatics know this is the best gridiron game ever made. Released in 2004 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, ESPN NFL 2K5 featured a standout franchise-building mode and in-game on-air talent from the eponymous sports network. It also marked a watershed moment in sports gaming lore: Publisher Sega priced the game at just $19.99, a fraction of what EA was charging for Madden NFL at the time. A frightened EA later scooped up the exclusive rights to the NFL and its players, making Madden the only name in town.