Monday, 16 January 2012

Pivotal and Landmark games: from the beginning up

This post looks over what were, in my view, the landmark industry-changing games from the early years up until present day.

Of course everybody’s idea of this will be slightly different. I suppose the writer's age and game preference will always play a part in this type of thing (even if it is subconsciously).

I have tried to be as objective as possible, and the choices definitely contain games I both personally like and dislike.

I’m not claming this selection  is definitive in any way, and there are a lot more games that almost made my list.
Feel free to let me know if you think I’ve missed something important, or if I've added something you think is largely irrelevant.

Pong – 1972 :
No I’m not going to start with tick-tack-toe (OXO) on the EDSAC or Space Wars on the PDP 10, because how many people played those?
Even the Space-Wars based arcade cabinets were strictly niche compared to the mighty PONG.
It was PONG inspired TV-Games console that first brought video-gaming into people’s homes, and that was a very big deal. There may never have been any computer games or console industry without all those early ‘TV-games’ systems.

Zork – 1977 :
Zork was Infocom’s first text-based adventure.
This game is widely seen as the text  adventure that really opened the genre up to ordinary people. 
 Zork 1 was arguably responsible for spearheading the text-adventure boom of the eighties.
 Without it we may never have seen the growth of adventure games, or their subsequent metamorphosis into the various sub-genres like static and then animated graphic-adventures, which eventualy lead to the inception of the point-and-click games.

Space Invaders – 1978:
Now a household name and probably the most well-known computer game in history. 
 Space Invaders was the game that people wanted to play on their TV-Games Consoles and early home computers. 

 It was perhaps the single most important game ever, responsible for bringing electronic arcade games to the general public's attention.

Pac-Man – 1980:
And this was the other... 
 If Space Invaders needed any backup, then Pac-Man was the other game in town, also largely responsible for bringing arcade games into the public consciousness, not to mention causing people to flock to the arcades to the point of causing a Yen shortage in Japan.

Even in the gaming backwaters of Brittan, these two machines were often to be seen amidst a huddle of goggling teenagers.

Phoenix – 1980 :
Although not quite as well known as the three games above, I think Phoenix did play a fairly major part in shaping the early shoot-em-up genre into the familiar SHMUP families that we recognise today.
Phoenix took elements from disparate existing games and combined them within one framework as different levels. 
But perhaps most importantly it was the first shooting game to come up with the concept of the end-of-level boss.

Donky Kong – 1981 :
This did for platform games what Space Invaders and Pac-Man did for Shoot-em-ups and maze games before it...
i.e. it provided the mass appeal springboard ‘killer-app’ that raised the visibility of the genre and shot it  into thousands of bedroom consoles and home-computers throughout the planet. 

And it was of course largely responsible for intraducing Mario to the world.

Jet Set Willy – 1984 :
Was this game single-handedly responsible for the birth of the arcade adventure? Many people would say a resounding 'yes.' It was definitely the game that seemed to coin the ‘arcade adventure’ phrase at the time. 
Before JSW platform games tended to be single-screen affairs or, in some rarer cases, multi scroll/flip screen but still single level puzzle/goal based. JSW introduced the ‘adventure’ element to the game-play, where the played could chose to ignore certain screens in order to explore or attempt to do other parts of the game first. The true birth of sandbox? This really was a phenomenon in its time and had a huge influence on many other games to come after it.

Elite – 1984 :
Not just a new genre maker, but a new games concept and style maker. Elite was the first truly open-world open-ended free-roaming game. It  really did  bring ‘sandbox’ game-play decades before the term would be coined. The influence of Elite is massive and runs across many game styles. Surely this is an undoubted high-point in gaming history in anyone’s opinion.

Monkey Island – 1990:
For many people The Secret of Monkey Island (and its sequel) was the panicle of point-and-click adventure gaming; although it was nowhere near the first, or last, game of its type; people still ask ‘Is it as good as Monkey Island’ when talking about point-and-click games. In my view only the Sam & Max series comes close to this in terms of sheer game-play. It deserves its place because of the impact it has had on the genre and in humour in games in general, ever since. Some twenty+ years on this game is still a huge yard-stick by which others are measured, and is still commercially available!

Doom – 1993:
Surely this is the undisputed FPS daddy. If it wasn’t for the sheer style and deserved success of Doom, the modern gaming industry may be a very different place. Indeed much of it may not even exist. Yes, I do believe this game had that much influence. Maybe you had to be there, but Doom was a phenomenon, possibly only eclipsed by the mighty Space Invaders.

Myst – 1993:
For what many people saw as a simple find-the-objects game Myst became a true phenomenon. This was possibly the first game that really heat-up the ‘is it art’ argument. Certainly Myst is very much about the story, as told and shown by the striking pre-rendered visuals. As such it represented a new approach to graphics-based adventure games, which indelibly left its mark on a lot of games to follow, not to mention the industry in general.

Resident Evil – 1996:
This is the game that brought an entire genre into the mainstream, if not actually technically inventing it. I think it’s fair to say the most influential games in a genre are not always the first to come up with the concept. And while there were some good games that used the same basic ‘survival’ game-play principles before RE it was definitely this classic series that first laid-claim to the name and brought the ‘survival-horror’ phrase and concept into the common vocabulary.

Fifa 98 – 1998:
Ok, so all the Fifa-Fans are now shouting “What are you talking about; the latest one is obviously far better.”
Well, what I’m talking about is innovative games, and I think the ‘FIFA: Road to World Cup 98’ version was where the innovation took off. Since then it’s been updated graphics and tweaked/rewritten versions of the same engine and game-play style. This in itself is a testament to the quality of the basic game, not to mention the influence it has had over other football games as well as over how other sports games in general are now made.

Shenmue – 1999:
Arguably the game responsible for much of today’s 3D; story-based, ‘sandbox’ implemented, real-world, object-manipulation centric; third and first person games, and famously the most expensive game ever made (in real terms). What isn’t disputable is than Shenmu was certainly the first ‘free-roaming’ story-based game that implemented much of the concepts used in many modern games. I think this game is starting to be forgotten now, which is a shame as it deserves its place in gaming history. It was way ahead of its time, and is the only game in this list that was considered a commercial flop.

Vice City – 2002 :
The first two Grand Theft Auto games gained their notoriety for the content, but this one was perhaps the first game to take the lessons learned by Shenmu and make a smash-hit game from the concepts and game-play. 

Love it or loath it, Vice City wholly deserves its place in any games ‘all time hall of fame.’

BioShock – 2007:
This did for FPS what Myst did for Point-And-Click, e.g. it took an existing games concept and built a very artistic and engaging story around it, to the point whare it become more than the some of it’s parts, and also re-spurred the 'is it art' question.
Like playing Myst, playing BioShock became a very immersive and different experience for many gamers. And like Myst it has had an influence on what it’s genre could be that has rubbed off on subsequent games.

Portal – 2007:
What do you get if you wrap a rather obscure physics-based puzzle game up in a nice shiny First-Person wrapper... complete with cool gun? Obviously, everyone now knows you get Portal. And again I believe this was a game-changer. It’s unfortunate that the mainstream gaming industry is much more ridged now. In the old days portal would have spawned many more derivative games, but at least we got a sequel.

Braid – 2008:
How do you re-do retro with attitude? You write a game that looks like a simple 2D platformer, but is in fact a devilishly clever time-based puzzle game. I think Braid truly deserves a place here partly due to its sheer innovation and partly because of its influence over the increasing Independent developers market. Games like this are gathering real momentum through on-line sales and are helping to shake up the current FPS stagnated mainstream gaming market.

And that’s where I’d stop...
Now I know all the fans of modern systems are going to say there are many more great games that should be added to this list, especially in the FPS genre. And I’m not disputing that there are many-many more truly great games, many of my own favorate game, and game series, did not make this list. 
This post was all about games that were influential by introducing something new to gaming as a whole. In many cases other games have went on to improve upon and implement those concepts created into better games. Now, can you really say anything in the mighty Halo, Battle-Field or any other popular recent series has brought some truly innovative concept or game-play style to gaming?

If so I would be very interested to hear your views.

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