When you look at video games in 2014, it’s hard to believe that they belong to the same medium that gave us Pac-Man 30 years ago. We’ve seen incredible advancements, technically and artistically, in those few short decades. But those advancements didn’t happen in a vacuum.
Much of what we consider “modern gaming” was created in fits and starts, as developers used the tools they had available to make the best games they possibly could. Some of those games were more ambitious than the hardware of their era could support, unfortunately. But the developers pushed forwards anyways, doing their best to produce titles that would catch the attention of fickle gamers.
As gaming grew and developed, designers introduced new ways to control them, new ways to display their graphics and new ways to deliver their narratives. They took bits and pieces from previous games and blended them together to create something innovative, and sometimes they pulled ideas seemingly out of nowhere.
In this feature, we’ll spotlight 10 games that pushed the world of gaming forward ahead of schedule. Some were commercial successes, some were cult hits, and some were all-out flops. But they all helped predict where gaming would take us in the coming decades, and for that we salute them.
1. Perfect Dark:
Goldeneye laid the groundwork for console shooters, but it was Rare’s follow-up, Perfect Dark, that really showed PC gamers what they could do. A number of innovations that are now standard in the first-person genre made their bow here, from reloading animations for weapons to multiple fire types. But the biggest addition was the incredibly robust multiplayer modes that the title shipped with. Perfect Dark let you customize just about every variable, from weapon loadouts to bot behavior.
2. Magic Carpet:
It’s undeniable that games have been one of the driving forces for graphics technology, as clever coders find new ways to squeeze new functionality out of hardware. 1996′s Quake gets a lot of props for deploying a fully textured 3D world, but two years earlier Bullfrog’s Magic Carpet did all that and more. In this fantasy flight combat game, the player guides their wizard over a 3D-modeled world, each polygon textured, that can also be deformed in real time with a number of different magic spells. Games like From Dust would employ this feature to great extent in the future.
3.Trespasser: Jurassic Park:
trespasser jurassic park
A game doesn’t have to necessarily be good to be ahead of its time. Trespasser: Jurassic Park, developed by DreamWorks Interactive, was widely hailed as the absolute worst game of 1998. But this first-person adventure introduced a number of innovations that are all over modern games. One of the most notable was the lack of a heads-up display – no numbers, health bars, ammo gauges, and the like ever appear on the screen. Also important was the game’s reliance on its physics engine for puzzles. Unfortunately, said engine was an utter disaster, but once technology caught up, physics-based challenges became par for the course in first-person titles.
Early games were primarily linear, leading players down a pre-defined path to the ending. Sure, you could skip levels sometimes, but true freedom to explore at your own pace wasn’t common. Modern “sandbox” games are all about that freedom, but their foundation was laid way back in 1986 by Starflight, a PC game developed by Binary Systems. The title casts the player as the captain of a spaceship exploring a vast galaxy trading, fighting, and discovering a conspiracy to make stars go nova. From the start, you can go just about anywhere, and that ability was hugely enticing. The writers of Mass Effect have described it as a huge influence.
5. Dune II: The Building Of A Dynasty:
dune ii the building of a dynasty
Every so often a game comes along that singlehandedly defines a genre. In 1992, Westwood Studios stunned the world with the release of Dune II, a strategy game unlike anything the world had ever seen. Set in the world of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic, the title defined almost all of the elements of the real-time strategy genre, from resource collection to a technology tree that defined what units commanders could build. Different factions with different abilities, fog of war, and solid AI were the icing on the cake. There would be no Starcraft without this game, among dozens of others.
The Sega Dreamcast was the little system that tried everything, and it had dozens of experimental, progressive games that pushed the medium. Yu Suzuki’s 1999 Shenmue was a pioneering open-world game that featured a day/night cycle, NPCs who followed their own schedules throughout the day, and real-time weather effects. But the game’s biggest innovation is a bit of a double-edged sword: quick-time events. At tense points in the story, the player would have to press a button based on an on-screen prompt to accomplish an action. Now it’s almost impossible to visualize modern games without those annoying QTEs.
As I write this, everybody knows what an “alternate reality game” is. Microsoft scored big in 2004 using ilovebees to promote the release of Halo, but back in 2001 Electronic Arts pioneered the concept with Majestic. The game tapped into a world of conspiracies and was played through phone calls, text messages, chats, and even faxes. Instead of being used for marketing, EA expected players to pay $10 a month for its Platinum Service to experience the game, and it quickly died from lack of interest, only to have its basic concept dug up and used dozens of times since.
8. Ultima Underworld:
People generally credit Wolfenstein 3D for ushering in the first-person revolution in PC games, but something that might come as a shock is that Ultima Underworld, the 1992 spin-off of the legendary RPG franchise, introduced the perspective to the RPG genre first. The innovative game even let players look up and down in the environment, something FPS games didn’t pull off until later. It also included rudimentary physics and crafting systems. The advanced level of simulation made Ultima Underworld a hit.
9. EyeToy Play:
The Kinect was an integral part of Microsoft’s marketing for the Xbox One, and motion controls are a big part of many games. But did you know that Sony was on the camera-controlled gaming tip all the way back in 2003? That’s when it released the EyeToy peripheral and accompanying game EyeToy Play for the PS2. The camera was significantly less powerful than modern versions, but games were pretty similar to its Kinect equivalents. A few dozen games were made for the EyeToy until 2008 when the PS2 was phased out.
10. System Shock II:
system shock ii
When System Shock II was released in 1999, first-person shooters were still firmly in the model of Doom and Quake – fast-paced combat experiences that made the player feel superhuman. SSII, developed by Bioshock impresario Ken Levine, went in a different direction. The game stranded players on a massive spaceship trying to fend off an infestation of mutated monsters, but it was the introduction of survival horror and RPG elements that made it influential. The ability to customize your character over time made every playthrough different, a feature that is now integrated in a vast majority of modern first-person adventure games.
Source: PC Mag
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