Top List: History’s Most Influential Video Games

Top lists are always a good bit of fun, but additionally, they can be tremendously useful in identifying key lessons. At Crafting Worlds, we’d like to approach Tuesdays with this thought process. Be the lists be something all can learn from, or just something amusing to read through, we hope them to be enjoyable for everyone. That being said, the first list on our agenda is one of significant importance. Obviously highly based on opinion, we’re looking into the top most influential video games of all time.

Whether you’re a gamer or a game-maker, there’s one thing that you share: A love for games. Moreover, if you’re looking to become the latter, or become better at it, then you need to understand games. Of course, to do that, you must play them. That doesn’t mean playing whatever is the “hot topic” of the month though. While Assassin’s Creed, Gears of War, and Halo are all well and good, it’s crucial to take a step back and at least try to learn about the games of years past and what they did to change the face of game design. Each title on this list is a game that has done so. For the record, there is no order to this list other than ascending, and we are not focusing on titles that were the “firsts” such as Pong or Super Mario Bros. (which started and popularized home console gaming respectively). Instead, we are looking into games that took the status quo and changed it for the better.

Ultima – Origin Systems (1980)

UltimaThe first item on the list today dates back over 30 years with a franchise created by game designer Richard Garriott, Ultima. Also commonly known as “Lord British,” Garriott garnered inspiration from the popular Dungeons & Dragons table top game in order to create what is considered the first ever role-playing video game. Yes, it is the granddaddy of titles like Final Fantasy, The Elder Scrolls, and even Mass Effect.

Ultima basically challenged the conventions of what a game should be. Prior to this, players were playing games in which they controlled only a single avatar. However, Ultima gave players control of several that filled multiple roles (tanks, healers, damage, etc.). What makes this series even more significant though is that over time, it would be continually iterated upon with new versions and eventually evolve into, the first massively multiplayer online game, which paved the way for more well-known titles such as EverQuest and World of Warcraft.

SimCity – Maxis (1989)

SimCityLet’s fast-forward a bit to about a decade later. Here we will find the next major challenge to “conventional” game design, courtesy of Will Wright: SimCity. SimCity was perhaps one of the most boring sounding games ever in terms of a written concept, something we mentioned in our Breakdown of Fruit Ninja. It was a game summed up in two words: “city planning.” However, in the spirit of the saying “style is king,” Wright managed to stylize it in a way that was surprisingly engrossing, lighting the way for the sandbox games that many have come to know and love today.

SimCity exemplified a concept known as “emergence,” meaning that the game had few rules to govern it, but such could still be used in many deep and creative manners. It was Wright’s belief that he didn’t make “games,” but that he made “toys,” and SimCity was his first. It was this philosophy gave players more control then they had ever previously had in any game, and it was one Wright would continue to use with both The Sims and Spore.

Wing Commander – Origin Systems (1990)

Wing CommanderThe next jump forward is a short one with Wing Commander. For some, highlighting this space combat simulator might come as a surprise, but it’s included in this list for the sole reason that it is the game that truly began to bring storytelling to the table. It wasn’t a simple presentation either. In Wing Commander, everything was presented in a highly cinematic manner and actually crafted characters that players cared about.

This characterization made the game better as well because not only was the narrative was strongly crafted, but it was not completely linear. Wing Commander actually made fantastic use of branching story arcs influenced by player choices. Affecting the lives of interesting characters has since become a major component of story-based games and thus this is the title that set the other half of the stage for the top titles of studios like BioWare and Bethesda Softworks.

Alone in the Dark – Infogrames (1992)

Alone in the DarkWhile Wing Commander started things along the cinematic presentation path, Alone in the Dark made it better as it was to become, for all intents and purposes, one of the first true survival horror games. Technologically, 1992 wasn’t exactly primed for “horror” games, but Infogames did the best it could to unnerve players by taking in some Hollywood lessons in cinematography. Not only was it the first to use 3D polygonal models, but it attempted to create a true sense of style and atmosphere. As an example, it used techniques such as unconventional camera angles to create moody and claustrophobic settings that would eventually pave the way to Resident Evil and Silent Hill. The influence doesn’t stop at survival horror though. Many games now make use of dynamic camera angles such as the counter attack kills in Assassin’s Creed. This more sophisticated camera work simply increases the style of the play experience and affects its mood; making it more epic, heroic, or terrifying. Along with new lighting and shading technology, games using such techniques have become truly immersive.

Doom – id Software (1993)

DoomThough Doom was not the first first-person shooter – that honor goes to Wolfenstein 3D in 1992 - but it was the game that really brought the genre to the public. Unfortunately, it wasn’t for the best of reasons as the violence, demonic visages, and ”gore” made for many a concerned parent. Nevertheless, it was a game that set a standard for FPS titles, focusing solely on the style of combat and the gratification that came with blowing the brains out of hellish minions. Admittedly, it wasn’t the most sophisticated design ever created, but it was certainly fun and such made Doom II one of the top-selling titles of the era. Doom also influenced more than just game design, but game creation as well. Its “level builder” was the first to incorporate advanced level design tactics such as lighting, animated textures, and actual angles for the physical aspects of a level.

Myst – Cyan (1993)

MystIf modern gaming has shown us anything, play is only part of the game-crafting equation (albeit a more important part). Visuals and sound design make up the rest and it was the adventure game of Myst that took this to the next level. Nowadays, saying a game has good graphics is about the same as saying it comes in a box… well, assuming people don’t purchase the digitally distributed version. The point is that it’s an expectation at this point for most core console and PC games. Such wasn’t always the case though and Myst was the title that showed the world just what a game could become. It showed us that games could be more than pixellated bits of “programmer art.” It showed us that with the right artwork, games could pull us in to some of the most encapsulating worlds in all media.

One of the most beautiful games ever crafted, Myst also proved that a successful title didn’t have to be all about combat. Instead, its core play was centered more around exploration, puzzle solving, and storytelling. Similar to Wing Commander, Myst too had multiple story outcomes based on player choices.

Diablo – Blizzard Entertainment (1996)

DiabloBefore World of Warcraft, there was Diablo. At a time when the action-RPG was dying, Blizzard Entertainment made the decision to take a stale genre and completely revive it with this PC title. On top of this, Diablo pretty much rewrote the book on online game play. Similarly to Doom, everything about Diablo was centric to slaying the creatures of hell in the most stylized and over-the-top fashions imaginable. More than this though, the game also focused on things like player-choice and reward. It made Diablo a double threat as it was the core combat that initially hooked players, followed by deep character customization and the ability to constantly collect new items, in order to better their avatars, that kept them addicted.

Scale was exceedingly important too. Unlike Doom, players didn’t fight one or two creatures at a time, but dozens of them, online, with friends. Unfortunately, online games’ connectivity was tenuous in the mid-90s, thus Blizzard also released its platform, the free online gaming service that set the bar for all future online gaming.

Super Mario 64 – Nintendo (1996)

Mario 641996 was a big year for gaming with both the launch of the Nintendo 64 and the absurdly popular title of Super Mario 64; perhaps the most significant 3D release in gaming history. For argument’s sake, yes, Doom was technically a 3D game. That said, it wasn’t exactly the most sophisticated release, and prior to the N64 console generation, most developers opted to stick with 2D titles. Nintendo broke out of this shell though and with Mario 64, they upped the ante on the status quo and truly made the realm of 3D platforming shine. Despite not being the first of its kind, it was the first to do it well and showed the world just what could was possible in this new dimension. There are few that having anything other than fond memories of Mario 64, be they the first time they launched from a cannon or just merely bounding around the castle courtyard for 10 minutes before actually “playing” the game.

Half-Life – Valve (1998)

Half-LifeValve is one of the more loved companies in video gaming. Well, their games are loved… not their release times. It would be nice to see Half-Life 3 sometime before doomsday. Nevertheless, the reason it’s so highly demanded is because the Half-Life series is just so well crafted! While stories in games have been improving ever since Wing Commander, the realm of the FPS really didn’t do much. At best they were pretty bland. Half-Life changed this.

Out to prove that the FPS story stigma was just that, Valve broke the mold and put players into an immersive realm as they wandered around the facility of Black Mesa. The significance though was that it was just a space for mindless shooting. The game actually felt like world complete with believable characters exhibiting an AI and animations beyond anything that had been seen to date. With no real cut-scenes to break the flow, players became completely immersed in this world, and the in-game scripted events and narrative inspired nearly all of today’s modern shooters. Since Half-Life, the FPS genre has focused more on making the player feel part of the game, rather than someone on the outside looking in.

myFarm – Take(5)Social (2008)

myFarmIt would be nearly a decade later that Facebook would start to become a platform for online games and with that birth came an entirely new genre: Social games. While still not wholly accepted by the gaming community, social games are going nowhere any time soon as they now seep into the mobile spaces. However, it was the beginnings of the social “farming game” that was most significant with the title of myFarm from Take(5)Social. Now, when farming games come to mind, most think Zynga’s FarmVille. However, the first of these was myFarm, which was shortly followed by Chinese app Happy Farm. Only after this did FarmVille come about and popularize the concept. Regardless of which title is the most influential, the social farming game has influenced more game designs for the booming mobile and social spaces than any other. Players cannot spend five minutes on such platforms without coming across some variation of growing and selling crops (be they buildings, zombies, pets, or anything else really). Some might argue that Harvest Moon should have this honor, but it is important to note that Harvest Moon did not have the social networking integration or the asynchronous play capabilities that these “farming” games have nowadays.

It was through the social farming games that developers truly began to find a link to the non-gaming market (kids, parents, grandparents, etc.). It proved that simplicity could still be disturbingly addictive and when combined with cooperation with friends – even if asynchronously – social play was the path of the future. Even now, it has influenced core games such as World of Warcraft’s latest expansion, Mists of Pandaria, which contains a similar mini-game via a new faction’s reputation (the Tillers). More likely than not, this social farming influence will seep its way into more future games as well.


Posted on October 16, 2012, in Casual Games, Core Games, Crafting, First Person Shooters, MMO, Social, Top Lists and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.