In a past issue of DotCom Magazine, we looked into some of the newest technologies and products in the video game industry. Often enough, these can give us good indications of where consumer technology is headed. And besides that, they’re just plain interesting! That said, it can also be interesting now and then to look back at the history of this unique corner of the tech world, and how we got from Ms. Pac-Man and Pong to fending off alien monsters in virtual reality.
We won’t outline that entire history in this post, because to properly do so would require an entire magazine issue, if not a book. But we will look at five particularly relevant video games from history that have helped shape the industry over time.
While it’s far from the first video game ever created, Tetris can perhaps be described as the first global hit in the industry, and the first lasting game that wasn’t created in the United States or Japan. Rather, it was created as a sort of just-for-fun computer project by Russian software engineer Alexey Pajitnov back in 1984. The game would go through numerous iterations in its earliest years, but it ultimately migrated to the U.S. in what was effectively a sort of beginning to international game development and sharing.
Tetris is also noteworthy because it may be the most enduring game of all time, alongside Ms. Pac-Man. Even today, the game is still being adapted into new forms. Tetris apps put new and exciting twists on the same old, recognizable game, and a blog post on Foxy Games cites Tetris as one of a few popular titles that have influenced casino gaming adaptations. In that case, the game has essentially inspired a slot machine built around a Tetris theme.
2. Wolfenstein 3D
There’s an almost odd amount of debate about which game truly started the first-person shooter genre that is now one of the most popular in all of gaming. Without diving too deep into this debate, we’ll note that Wolfenstein 3D was certainly not the very first. However, by employing 3D graphics and certain game mechanics and controls that are still recognizable in FPS games from the mobile arena to major consoles, Wolfenstein 3D did set a certain standard.
It is relatively likely that without this game we still would have gradually progressed toward the shooters that are so prevalent today. We may even have still seen the release of Doom in 1993 (one year after Wolfenstein 3D) or GoldenEye 007 (sometimes hailed as the first modern FPS game) in 1997. But we can’t really know for sure, which is why it’s fair to look at Wolfenstein 3D as an essential pioneer in the gaming world.
3. Super Mario 64
Wolfenstein 3D may have “3D” in the name, but it’s Super Mario 64 that is largely credited with establishing true, 3D-plane gaming the way we think of it today. Indeed, a piece at The Versed exploring the impact of the game suggested that it may just be the most influential of all time. The same piece acknowledges that Super Mario 64 was not the only 3D platformer of its time, but crucially points out that it was the first game to have a camera angle that could be controlled independently of the main character.
This sounds like a small, simple thing, but the reality is that it’s become standard practice in modern games. This lone innovation effectively opened the door to games as we know them today, from Grand Theft Auto, to Minecraft, to the latest Assassin’s Creed hit.
Speaking of Minecraft, it’s another game that simply has to be mentioned here, because its reinvention of the “sandbox” concept changed what we imagine a video game can be. Prior to Minecraft, this concept essentially referred to games in which players could make their own decisions and pursue their own interests within a larger game. So, for instance, the beloved Grand Theft Auto III would have qualified. In that game, players complete missions to progress through a core storyline, but can get up to all kinds of chosen mischief in the process.
What Minecraft accomplished, however, was essentially turning a sandbox into something infinite. Granted, this is hard for other games to imitate; the infinite nature of Minecraft is effectively the whole game. Additionally, we should specify that Minecraft is far from the first “open world” game in which wide exploration is possible. But the game did suggest the possibility of virtual experiences in which the exploration is the point, rather than a side perk.
5. Pokémon GO
Pokémon GO is a game that is sometimes misunderstood, but which is incredibly important nonetheless. The misunderstanding is that this was not the fist mobile augmented reality game. As Retail Dive points out in a helpful piece on the subject, there were mobile AR games as early as 2009, and even Niantic — the company behind Pokémon GO — produced another game of this type in 2013 (called Ingress). What ultimately matters however is that Pokémon GO broke through, capitalizing on a uniquely powerful franchise as a way to bring augmented reality to the masses.
Despite the fact that it wasn’t first to market then, Pokémon GO was first to the public consciousness, in a sense. It familiarized the public with AR, which effectively spawned the entire “mixed reality” category of gaming (consisting of augmented and virtual reality). VR was coming one way or another, but Pokémon GO gave this category a better chance to succeed. And if as many predict near-future, AR-enabled devices (aside from our phones) bring about a whole new selection of games, people will likely give them a shot because of the success of Pokémon GO.
These games are all recognized as hits. But if you look back at them in this way you also begin to see them as innovations in creativity, psychology, and even technology. Collectively these five titles made game development more international, expanded the horizons of 3D play, shifted expectations about virtual worlds, and introduced entirely new mediums of gaming tech.