Gaming has come a long way since those first two exalted gamers did glorious battle in Pong circa 1972. Undoubtedly, there were controller disconnects, many now-outlawed “Steve Perry” psyche-outs and other hilarious shenanigans which captivated a generation of gamers. Today, we play games with graphical effects that would have been deemed witchery forty years ago, major Hollywood personalities voice our favourite characters and games are given budgets, which rival blockbuster movies. But why are games like they are today? Why did GTA get made? Why are there thirty Halo clones? Why? Why? Whyyyy? Here are the top five games that influenced the way we play today.
Halo: Combat Evolved
Platform(s): Xbox, PC
Release Date: 11/15/2001
Ask anyone around, I despise Halo. Don’t ask me why, it’s a pretty irrational hatred. The game is pretty enough, it plays extremely well, is immensely fun in multiplayer and it has a half decent story. It has something to do with its insane success, both critically and commercially. And I’m a Sony man. So yeah, that’s why. But I’m a gamer first and foremost and I recognise what this SCE Anti-Christ did for first person shooters. Firstly, it made them capable of console play. Shooters on consoles prior to this point were always a messy affair with improbable aiming and clunky controls. Halo solved this dilemma , making runnin ‘n’ gunnin’ more than palatable – it was downright fun. The two gun system and rechargeable health were innovations that no contemporary game would dare be made without. Vehicles were also thrown into the mix and the enemies were various and reasonably smart. Halo set an amazing precedent that has set benchmarks for all shooters to follow, it even spawned the phrase “Halo Killer” to all games that subsequently followed… It still sucks, though.
Duke Nukem 3D
Developer: 3D Realms
Publisher: GT Interactive Software
Release Date: 1/29/1996
Controversy was Duke’s main asset and although controversy in gaming is hardly synonymous with the Dukester alone, his was the most influential. Duke Nukem 3D was by no means a revolutionary game, gory FPS’ were a staple for gamers throughout the 1990′s. It wasn’t even the first game to get our parents in an uproar about violence, that crown belongs to Mortal Kombat. Duke, however, was the most irreverent. Along with being catastrophically violent, it was the first to exhibit fairly obvious sexual themes to commercial success. (Custer’s Revenge on the Atari 2600 wasn’t exactly commercially successful) Duke showed us that you could simply pay money to see a woman’s nipples and if you saved the world, you got laid. Like, heaps. The Duke was also gut-wrenchingly hilarious. He is the righteous parody of every 80′s action movie. Duke’s charisma forged the paradigm that the character you played as could have a personality, not just be some dead-eyed gun merchant that lusts for demon blood. He made gaming cheeky. He kicked conformity in jatz and opened a path to more varied adult content in gaming.
Developer: Westwood Studios
Publisher: Westwood Studios
Platform(s): Sega Mega Drive (Ported to PC)
Release Date: 1992
Starcraft, Warcraft, Command & Conquer and every two bit hack in between owes royalties to this game. I don’t care how or what they pay with (they’d probably want it in spice), but they need to get paid lest Paul Atredis rocks up to somebodies door step on a sand worm demanding justice. When someone demands something from you on the back of of a sand worm, I’m pretty sure you give it to them. But I digress, Dune II was a stallion of a game when it was released. It combined the setting of the best Science-Fiction novel ever written with a unique format of video gaming that hasn’t been changed since its inception. Dune is and will always be responsible for: resource gathering, unique teams, specialised units and Super Weapons. Of the four gameplay elements that I listed, all RTS’ since have included these traits in their games. Dune does them as good or better. Seriously. Its copyright has expired, so I vehemently press upon you to download it and play it. And it’s EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD. Release the Fremen and watch them wrought their chaos… you’ll know what I mean.
Star Control II
Developer: Toys for Bob
Release Date: 1992
1992 was a downright amazing year for gaming. Wolfenstein 3D, Mortal Kombat, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Alone in the Dark, Super Mario Kart just to name a few, but the headline act in this menagerie of superstars has to be Star Control II. For anyone unfamiliar, think Grand Theft Auto in space, with a dash of Mass Effect and a little Civilization for good measure. This game redefines freedom. With the kick ass back story explained in the manual, you’ve basically gotten your greedy little paws on the framework for the greatest spaceship ever built. This is great news, you being a human and all, because humans, along with pretty much every other race in the galaxy have been enslaved by the Ur-Quan, a group of aliens so jerk-like they’re probably working for EA (Amirite?!?!). So, after convincing a group of human slaves who monitor earth to rebel with you, your adventure begins. Where do you go? Wherever! The universe is literally opened up to you when you start, but you need to upgrade your ship and pack enough fuel to get to the far reaches of space and uh, Star Control II is HUGE. I played it for like 40 hours and ran into all but two of the alien races. It is that big. Or I sucked. Probably the former, though. You solve the plot by connecting events independently, nothing is linear. Grand Theft Auto has nothing on this bad boy, but everything to thank it for. Again, its copyright has expired… soooo, why are you still here?
Sid Meier’s Civili — scratch that, Sid Meier’s Everything
Developer: Sid Meier
Publisher: Microprose, then Firaxis.
Platform(s): Almost everything to date
Release Date: 1982-today
I debated in my head, at work, not doing work about this for the last thirty minutes. Is it Final Fantasy VII, who perfected the RPG and sweeping stories or Mario, who brought gaming into our homes? What about E.T., the worst game ever made that influenced developers to never be so complacent again… But what finally made my mind up was the amount of hours I’ve sunk into Sid Meier’s games. If you’re any kind of gamer, you would’ve bumped into his work somewhere along the line. He’s the big dawg responsible mainly for Civilization and Pirates!, two of the most addictive things to ever hit the streets since heroin. He did away with the prototypical arcade point collection format and made games that rewarded you exclusively with their gameplay. It’s why his entire catalogue of work is the number one influential game(s). His drive for striking that balance between realism and fun is what made his games so utterly enjoyable. They were endless. No plot or story. You made your own, either in the Caribbean or in the world you created. That one more turn mentality as the clock roles over to 4am has cost me so many university degrees and jobs that I should really be lambasting him, but how could I? Games strive for Sid’s addictiveness today; look at World of Warcraft, an entire game built to enslave you to your screen. Any game which finds new and interesting ways to hook you is because of this guy. Sid Meier has made everything from flight simulators, to world builders, to golf games. He’s not constricted by genre, but by a deep yearning to demonstrate how things in real life can be fun when translated into pixels. He’s the big pappa, pay your respects.