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The 10: Games That Changed The Game

Posted on May 23, 2012 AT 06:37pm

The video game industry has seen its share of advancements over its 40 years(!!!) of existence. Some of it in terms of sheer processing power offered by hardware manufacturers, but more often than not it has been due to the imagination of clever game designers. Many games are commercial successes that other branches of the entertainment industry envy to no end, but they will fade from memory as soon as the next great iteration of the series hits the market. Although, there are games that have left a mark not just in the memories of gamers, but in the industry as a whole. In loose order, these are the 10:

10. Guitar Hero: Music Gets Its Due

Sadly, rhythm games tied to music took several years to truly reach their potential. Remember the Nintendo Power Pad, spiritual precursor of Dance Dance Revolution? I bet you do. Remember the Miracle Piano? I bet you don’t. With its $500 price tag, I don’t think many readers ever came across it. Music games were limited by two nasty factors at the same time: 1) the technology to make them widely available wasn’t there; and 2) no market interest. What was needed was a rock n’ roll revolution, and Harmonix finally made dreams come true in 2005 with the first Guitar Hero. It was soon followed by its spiritual children: Band Hero, Rock Band, DJ Hero, and thousands of downloadable tracks that made guitar controllers a household item for millions of families. It has been a couple of years since a new retail release has hit the shelves, but the music game revolution is here to stay.

9. Street Fighter 2: The King of Arcades

Competitive gaming has been around ever since the likes of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man hit the arcades in 1980-81. While arcades were popping up all over the world, champions, the likes of Billy Mitchell or Todd Rogers, were one in a million, if not less. Ye Olde Video Games Of Yore did have a huge following at the time, but required an extreme amount of dedication for players to excel. These great players weren’t just a rarity; they were unimaginably good. When Street Fighter 2 hit arcades in 1991, it didn’t just bring with it the concept of character stats. It was accessible enough that everyone felt like they could become a champion with just a little practice. Champions sprouted, as all of a sudden every arcade had not just one but several great Street Fighter players. Tournaments weren’t the odd event organized in a land far far away, but regular events every weekend. Was it perhaps the real last massive success to grace arcades before their slow, painful demise? Probably, but its legacy in cementing competitive video gaming lives on.

8. Halo: Gameplay Evolved

The slow and painful death of the arcade brought a new playground for competitive gaming: a player’s own home. During the years when online gaming became the norm, PCs, LANs, and first person shooters were the undisputed kings of the land. The few titles that had a chance of being ported to consoles were mediocre at best. Who would ever dream of shooting with pinpoint accuracy using thumbsticks,  or cycling through weapons with a D-pad? Then Halo came along and it changed the landscape forever. A maximum loadout of two weapons? Halo. Regenerative health/shields? Halo. Vast environments instead of endless corridors? Halo. Each one of these innovations can be seen to a degree in every successful FPS since, from Call of Duty to Battlefield. They have revolutionized not only the way shooters are designed, but have been instrumental into turning the console FPS market into the largest slice of pie in the industry.

7. World of Warcraft: The Carrot and the Stick

How do you convince over 10 million consumers to buy a game for $50, and then pay $78 every six months for the right to play? Two words: epic loot. What Blizzard achieved with World of Warcraft has little to do with the imaginative world inhabited by millions of avatars and NPCs, the community built by players, or the quality of the writing. It’s all about the carrot and the stick: Blizzard’s team of analysts found that elusive yet diabolically perfect balance that encourages players to become involved with a game quickly, and keeps their attention focused even though the carrot gets further away with each level increase. In most cases, such a product would get the Surgeon General to slap a health warning label on the box. In the game world, it has inspired a whole new industry based on micro-transactions. Next time your mom asks you to get off WoW and do your chores, ask her how she’s doing in Farmville.

6. Mortal Kombat: We Drew the Line

One of the clearest memories of my life involves the first time I saw Mortal Kombat at an arcade. I could tell the kid playing was good at it. He never had to stick another coin into the machine. Scorpion throwing his spear followed by a bloody uppercut were already way too neat, but what happened next took the cake. It was against Sonya that the bloody letters “FINISH HER!” flashed across the screen. Sweeping distance, block, up, up, and the mask came off. It was brutal, it was unique, it was widespread, and it led to inquiries by the US Congress. There had been violent games in the past, but they were relegated to corners even darker than the kinkiest niches of porn. Mortal Kombat was mainstream and widely accessible by anyone at an arcade, and later a home console. In a way, it was the industry’s equivalent of the original sin. Now, they knew there was an invisible line that could be crossed, but they developed a collective conscience that told them when too much was too much. The subsequent creation of the ESRB was a direct result of Mortal Kombat’s infamy, which would eventually lead, in a roundabout way, to the US Supreme Court’s 2011 ruling protecting games as an art form.

5. Manic Mansion: Games Get A Personality

If you have never played any of the LucasArts adventure games, stop reading this very moment and find a way to play them. No, really, I’m not nagging. Get yourself the entire catalogue and play them, preferably in chronological order. Manic Mansion was the first of these games to run on the SCUMM engine, and it would be followed by the likes of Monkey Island and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. These point-and-click adventure games, often imitated but never duplicated, were successful due to factors that are commonplace nowadays. They contained great, fleshed out characters, intriguing, original stories, and a challenge for the player’s mind and imagination by handing them a stick and a length of string. Ask any modern game developer, from the indies to the Cliff Bleszinski’s, and they will all tell you that these games were part of their childhood. To many, the first inspiration that drew them deeply into video games.

4. Dune 2: Collect, Build, Recruit

Strictly speaking, not the first real-time strategy game, but certainly the first that set the staples for all RTS that followed. Players were creating settlements, collecting resources, building, and assembling troops. Heck, it even had different factions with perks, and was also the first truly great use of an IP license that made its source material proud. The strategy game market is extremely limited compared to other genres. Civilization, Age of Empires, Starcraft,  and Total War are the better known series nowadays. They all share one thing in common: whether your preference is turn-based or real-time, the basics of the games have remained largely unaltered since Dune 2 made its debut.

3. Super Mario 64: 3D No Longer A Gimmick

After two decades designing games of all sorts of genres in a 2D space, developers took a punch to the gut when 3D came around. It offered unprecedented possibilities, but making proper use of it meant adapting design concepts in a completely unfamiliar way. Should we follow a set path and just make the environments three-dimensional? Do we actually let characters roam around in a 3D space? Oh dear lord almighty, this is just one more dimension to get lost into, aaaaahhh!!! While Sony had the first 3D console but lacked the design knowledge to take full advantage of it, Nintendo had Shigeru Miyamoto who once again showed the world why he was – and still is to this day- the greatest of video game designers. Super Mario 64 brought 3D gaming from a mere technological advancement into a whole new set of tools for studios to design their games around.

2. Legend of Zelda: Save That For Later

My neighbor owned the first ever copy of The Legend of Zelda that I ever saw. This was way back when trading games with friends was the norm. Y’know, before online passes and product keys. Just being able to trade games with him increased my gaming knowledge twofold, to a grand total of like 16 games. We would trade anything, at any time, for months. Then one day I offered to trade him something (probably dismal, like The Legend of Kage) for that shiny gold cartridge and got the weirdest reply ever: “No, I don’t lend that game out or they’ll break my save”. Save? SAVE!? WHAT!? It would be years before I could actually get my hands on Zelda, and I finally understood what this whole “save” thing was. It was crude, consisting of a battery in the game’s cartridge, but it was the first time where saving a game truly mattered. No words can properly state its importance.

1. Pong: ka-ching!

Is it a tennis simulator? Is it a ping-pong simulator, as its name suggests? Are Clu and Sark battling for control of the ENCOM mainframe? Despite what many think, Pong wasn’t the very first video game, but it ushered a new term we are all familiar with nowadays: video game industry. Pong made its way to cabinets in 1972, before arcades even existed. In 1975, it reached the homes of America with Home Pong. 150,000 units of this very first game console were sold that December, before the term “holiday season” even applied to video games. Frankly, I have played it only handful of times in my life and my nostalgia sentiments don’t run that deep. I do have to give credit where credit is due: the world needed proof that video games could be profitable, and Pong’s successful launch was, by and large, the single most influential event in gaming history.

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