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History is made of this...

Posted by jeffpk on April 27, 2004 at 4:44 PM PDT

History is made of this...

Another week, another games ramble.

The history of computer games can be viewed a myriad of different ways. For me, the big “historical events” have been the growth of new genres.

Once a genre is established it will get worked in every possible manner but to me those have always been the boring details. I find DOOM far more interesting a phenomenon then Quake4 or DOOM2 because all these games add is technical refinements to a fundamental formula that was established by DOOM. At the end, the experience may be refined and enhanced but its still an experience I've had before (running around with a gun in my hand trembling at whats around the next corner) and that bores me.

To me games that were really historical landmarks are relatively few and far between. Just to illustrate, I have below a short list of games I feel fit into this category and why. It is of course a subjective and personal list and it is biased to some degree by the kinds of games I like to play and thus knew best. These are all computer games or arcade games that I believe directly influenced computer games. I've also left out education which again is a separate category for another time.

  • (1)Pong, Atari. The first game to recognize that moving dots on a TV screen inert actively could be fun.
  • (2)Tanks, Atari. The first (very privative) combat vehicle sim.
  • (3)Adventure, (student at MIT whose name escapes me). The genre setter for interactive novels and the root of all adventure games.
  • (4)Code Wars. The first programming combat game and the granddaddy of all the programmable robo-sim games of today.
  • (5)Riddle of the Sphinx, Activision. The first graphic adventure game.
  • (6)Wizardry. The first CRPG and the fundamental genre setter for all CRPGs to follow.
  • (7)Pool of Radiance, SSI. The first CRPG with a third person combat mode.
  • (8)Hack (later Rouge). The first all third person RPG.
  • (9)Donkey Kong, Nintendo. The first platform game.
  • (10)Bill Budge's Pinball Construction Set, Electronic Arts. The first “game” that was a toy to build your own games with. (Ignoring BASIC and other languages.)
  • (11)The Sub-Logic Flight Simulator, Sub-logic (later acquired by Microsoft). The first flight sim for a mass market micro-computer.
  • (12)???, Electronic Arts. I can't remember the name of this but it was the first submarine-simulator game.
  • (13)Need For Speed, Electronic Arts. Set the standard for driving simulations.
  • (14)Crush Crumble and Chomp, Automated Simulations. The first “you play the monster and destroy things” game.
  • (15)Whatever the first SSI hex war-game was. (I can't remember they had so many and they were all so much alike.)
  • (16)The first sailing simulator, whose name again escapes me.
  • (17)Warlords. Arguably the first strategic level battle simulator and the granddaddy of the RTS category today.
  • (18)Balance of Power, EA (Chris Crawford). Set the standard in grand-strategic political games.
  • (19)Trust and Betrayal: The legacy of Siboot, EA (Chris Crawford). The first experiment in real machine opponent personality and AI. Arguably the granddaddy of games like “Good and Evil.” (Also one of the only games ever to be released first on Macintosh ;) )
  • (20)Maze Wars, (freeware, many versions). The first multi-terminal real time game and one could argue the granddaddy of all FPSs.
  • (21)Xtrek, (freeware). The first multi-terminal third person shooter.
  • (22)DOOM, ID software. The first environmental horror survival game. Yes I know most people consider it the granddaddy of FPSs but I'd actually disagree slightly. Maze Wars had already established the “run around the maze and shoot things” genre. What was really new about the DOOM experience, I'd argue, was that it made you AFRAID to turn the next corner. Genre wise I'd argue that DOOM has more in common with House of the Dead then with Max Payne.
  • (23)Summer Games, Electronic Arts. The first sports game.
  • (24)Impossible Mission, Electronic Arts. The first sneaking game.
  • (25)Hitman: Code Name 57. The first “sneak up and kill someone” game ;) Okay its really a mix of pre-existing genres but I couldn't resist it. This game DID gie me a fundamentally different experience playing it then any game I had played before.
  • (26)Neverwinter Nights (the original), SSI. The first “massively” multiplayer on-line RPG. (After multiple enhancements, massive topped out at about 500 simultaneous players as I recall
  • (27)MechWarrior. The first giant robot sim.
  • I'm sure there are others but I'm going to stop here and ask all of you to add your own. Keep in mind that to be part of this list the game should have defined a truly new genre with a genre being defined as a fundamentally new experience and not just a twist on an old one. Just better graphcis (or graphcis v. text) shouldn't be enough to qualify it. Thats an incremental imrpovement. Adventure for instance made me think I was physically somwhere else doing something else and thus no other game can lay claim to originallity just on that score. This is all of course subjective but I think its interesting to think about.

    Now what I really wanted to get to is... what next? We haven't had a real genre burster for a long time. I think one might argue that City of Heroes for instance is at least partly a genre buster being the first massively multiplayer supers game. Doing a world of Supers is a whole different problem then doing a game where there is only one super hero-- the player. How they've approached it is interesting. While large parts of it are derivative of previous RPGs, they've come up with what might be considered a new synthesis that gives a fundamentally new play experience.

    I contend that there is huge untapped potential in the online space and the next big leaps are likely to occur there. Online games are fundamentally different from single player games .In single player games, you primary job as game designer is to craft an interesting and engaging experience. In online games though arguably more important then the challenges are designing an environment that creates a functioning and engaging community.

    A friend of mine in high-tech policy (he was a senior high-tech ad visor to the Clinton administration) once said to me: “The killer app of the Internet is each other.” In retrospect think he was right and it will be interesting to see what new genres of games emerge as game designers Grok this.

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