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| The Most Influential Game of the Past 20 Years (11 comments )|
by: HangTime (30) | Posted in cluster FiringSquad Editors Challenge Round 1 Prelim 2
Posted 76 months ago ( edited 75 months ago ) in category DEFAULT
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\"Reload\" at the True Gamers Invitational LAN, 1999
Over the years, there have been countless magazine articles, website editorials, forum discussions and even workplace/school-yard debates throughout the world over what the 'Best game ever' is. There are even lists of the worst games ever to grace our monitors. But one area which gets significantly less coverage, is the question of what the most influential games are. Not the necessarily the best, or even the most technically impressive; these are the games which have helped to shape the world of PC gaming as we know it today. Games which genuinely deserve titles such as 'Groundbreaking', 'Progressive' or even 'Revolutionary'. Games we will look back on in 5, 10 or 20 years time and not only wallow in nostalgia but also be able to put our finger on, and say "After this point, gaming was never the same again".
Now, while reading this you're probably sat there thinking "That's easy. Pong, Space Invaders, Elite...", all of which were undoubtedly groundbreaking games and regarded by many as among the grandfathers of gaming. But that's all a bit too easy. I've decided to look only at games from the last 20 years, for a couple of reasons. First of all, as someone who was born in 1980, I'd say my firsthand experience of titles released more than 20 years ago is somewhat limited, and it would be rather presumptuous of me to pass judgement on the influence of games I didn't play until several years after their initial release.
Furthermore, looking back more than 20 years into history, many games were seen as revolutionary simply because the gaming industry as a whole was new and developing. Pretty much any new release with a different approach was creating a new genre due to the fact that it simply hadn't been attempted before. The impact of games like Pong is clear for all to see, but a more interesting debate in my eyes is to look at what titles have shaken up the industry once it had already reached a certain level of maturity.
Rather than simply come out and focus on one title, I've tried to approach this methodically and look at some of the leading contenders as well - this gives us a sense of scale and illustrates just how influential my chosen game is, if it can best all the others.
Close, but no cigar
The Final Frontier
As a child of the 80s, I missed out on the initial fever which surrounded the 1977 release of George Lucas' swashbuckling space epic, Star Wars. But like just about every boy in the western world, I grew up watching the movie on TV and running around wishing I was Luke Skywalker, slicing my way through swathes of stormtroopers with my lightsaber before hopping in my X-wing to blast some Tie-fighters out of the sky. The former was a fantasy I had to wait until Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight to experience, but the spirit of the latter was captured by the 1990 title Wing Commander.
Elite is justifiably regarded as THE classic space sim, but it's open-endedness means that at times it feels like there is no real purpose to the game. Origin gave us something special in Wing Commander, a space shoot'em up with a story. Branching missions, where the outcome of one mission influences what happens in the next helped to create a sense of purpose, and that there was a real meaning to your actions. Classic titles such as Freespace 2, Freelancer and the more recent Darkstar One have followed in the footsteps of Wing Commander by combining space combat with an evolving plotline.
The influence of this game was also felt in the hardware industry, with it commonly being used as a display title to show off the power of modern PCs such as the 386, utilising a whopping 8bit (256 colour!) palette. At the time of release, 1990, the Commodore Amiga had established itself as the home computer of choice for gaming, but Wing Commander was one of a new wave of titles which helped to drive the emerging PC gaming market forward.
Last year we saw the release of a compilation pack from EA Games - nothing terribly unusual there, EA looking to cash in on a tried and tested formula. But this wasn't just any old compilation of a few randomly chosen titles thrown together. It was Command and Conquer the First Decade. When you are talking influence, any gaming series which can last for 10 years and almost as many titles has got to have something going for it. Now, while Dune 2 is critically regarded as the birthplace of the RTS genre, it wasn't until Westwood followed it up with Command and Conquer that things really started to kick off. The classic combination of resource gathering, base/unit building and godlike order-giving with the mouse has stuck with us, with many modern titles following a similar format.
The extensive use of FMV sequences featuring real actors as a way of telling the story is legendary - albeit somewhat cheesy! - and titles like Act of War have recently paid homage to the style. This also helped to make C&C sexy, appealing to casual gamers as much as the hardcore following. Multiplayer was supported too, and it gave us the skirmish gametype we still see in today's RTS titles.
Knee deep in the dead
The phrase 'killer app', denoting an application of such quality and desirability that it will promote sales of the hardware to run it, is sometimes overused. But in 1993, the killer app for a gaming PC arrived in the shape of Doom , a new title from the promising shareware developer id software, who had built up their reputation largely through their Commander Keen series, and, one year earlier, the violent WWII shoot'em-up, Castle Wolfenstein.
But Doom, this was something else.
Literally millions of copies of the first episode were downloaded from BBS, FTP servers and mounted on magazine coverdisks. Floppies were eagerly exchanged amongst students and work colleagues. Guys who had a PC, played Doom. Guys who didn't have a PC, went round a friend's house to play Doom and tried to figure out a way to persuade their parents/wife/boss to let them have one. School and corporate networks alike suddenly proved they were good for more than just Lotus Notes as furious out-of-hours or even surreptitious daytime deathmatches were fought out.
Mention that word 15 years ago and people would probably think you were referring to some kind of sick prank involving a phosphorus-tipped stick of wood, a bucket full of gasoline and your next-door-neighbour's pet. Mention it today and pretty much any gamer will know what you are talking about. It's just one of the many terms coined by Doom which have worked their way into the gaming vocabulary.... "respawn", "frag", "strafe" and many more have all taken on special meanings to gamers and remain in use to this day. But deathmatch is the most important word of all, as it represents what Doom gave us - a style of multiplayer which has remained largely unchanged to this day. It even gave people a reason to have one of those new-fangled modem thingies (ASCII porn not withstanding), allowing people to dialup and play against people remotely.
Not only was Doom a great game, it also established the First Person Shooter as arguably the most dominant, industry-leading genre in PC gaming. So much so that for years afterwards, we were subjected to wave-upon-wave of copycat 'Doom clones'. Prior to Doom, the PC was regarded by many as the domain of adventure games or perhaps some dodgy looking wireframe simulators. Doom made people sit back and take notice, realising that the PC was capable of displaying some awe-inspiring (at the time!) visuals and complimenting it with hectic, fast paced gameplay.
Doom also catered for modders, too, with custom WADs gaining huge popularity both on the singleplayer and deathmatch front. The thriving online modding community we have today across hundreds of titles has it's foundations laid, at least to some degree, in Doom. The Aliens conversion infamously became so popular that the franchise copyright holders even took action to have it shut down!
And the winner is...
When I first envisaged this article, I had in mind Doom for the top spot. Quake , while fairly influential in it's own right, was made by the same developer and on the face of it is merely an extension of the fast-paced gore fest created by legendary Dallas based studio, id software. However, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realise that the influence of Quake exceeds that of it's older brother, at least in my eyes.
First of all, consider this. More than 10 years after it's release, the basic structure of the vast majority of online FPS still follows that first used by Quake back in the mid-90s. While Doom brought multiplayer deathmatch to the table, it was Quake which first introduced the clientserver model over TCP/IP. It was Quake which spawned the concept of 'clans' - organised groups of players participating in team matches against rival clans - and above everything it was Quake which brought deathmatch to the masses.
Ever cursed your lag as you get ruthlessly shot to pieces in your FPS of choice, staring at the ping indicator on the scoreboard and furiously bashing the key to bring up your netgraph? Yeah, we can blame Quake for those little indicators dispelling our excuses :) Clientside prediction, the rate command and the incredibly powerful Console - previously the domain only of developers - were just some of the additions which are as valuable today as they were 10 years ago. And if you play games online, chances are you are using a server browser of some description, be it All Seeing Eye, Xfire or Gamespy. Arguably the first mainstream one of these to spring up was Quakespy, which evolved over time into the Gamespy client we know today.
Then we should consider the modding culture which exploded thanks to Quake. Doom, to be fair, laid the foundations with it's WAD file support but it was Quake which said to the player "This is just the beginning. The only limit to what you can build is your imagination". And by George, did the player imagine, fuelled by the new QuakeC language used to code, and design tools such as Worldcraft. Within months, hundreds of mods sprung up ranging from simple model tweaks to full-on total conversions (hands up all those who remember Painkeep? Or maybe Zerstorer?). Some of these mods were of such high quality that the authors ended up using them as a pathway into a career in games development! Memorable examples include Steve Polge, who's work on the Reaperbot, a computer controlled deathmatch opponent (internet access was very limited or expensive for many people in those days) landed him a job at Epic working with the AI in Unreal. Or how about Dave "Zoid" Kirsch, hired by id software themselves to continue Quakeworld development on the back of his Capture the Flag mod. Both of them still hold their jobs to this day. Custom skins were yet another popular modding feature which QW brought to the table.
Speaking of CTF, it's just one of the long-lived gametypes we are still playing today in a wide range of shooters, which was originally pioneered as a mod for Quake. There's probably people reading this who thought Team Fortress was the brainchild of Valve, due to their TFC component of Halflife and upcoming Source-based title, Team Fortress 2. But in fact, you guessed it, TF started out as a mod for Quake. Rocket Arena, a simplistic-yet-fun mode where players spawn will full armour and weapons, first saw the light of day in Quake too.
On the technical side of things Quake was brimming with innovation too. Doom gave the illusion of 3D, but Quake was pretty much the first FPS to give us a full 3d environment where one could look and move in all directions, together with a physics model to support it. I defy anyone to say that, after gleefully dispatching the first batch of zombies on the third level into a huge pile of gibs, they didn't spend at least five minutes later on attempting ridiculous bank shots off walls, round corners and down ramps with the grenade launcher! The physics model was so advanced (for the time) that it even had unforeseen benefits, such as the ability to 'rocket jump', using explosives to gain otherwise unattainable heights and speeds.
Then there was GLQuake, the patch which enabled 3d acceleration in Quake. I mentioned killer apps earlier, and GL Quake was the killer app for the 3dfx card. Going from 320x200x8 software rendering to 640x480x16 OpenGL was a tremendous leap forward, and as for many gamers, it was Quake which convinced me to take the plunge and purchase my first 3d accelerator card. We take 3D graphics and physics for granted now, and we owe that in part to Quake.
Look around a few gaming based websites these days and you won't fail to find some kind of reference to competitive gaming. LAN parties, the CPL (Cyberathelete Professional League), sponsored gaming.... heck, one player, Jonathan 'Fatal1ty' Wendall is a franchise in his own right, with all manner of items bearing his moniker. The foundations of this culture lie in Quake, a game steeped in competitive history. When legendary quaker Dennis 'Thresh' Fong (who, as I recall, co-founded this website, originally known as "Thresh's Firingsquad") beat Entrophy in the Red Annilhilation tournament, he wasn't just picking up the keys to Carmack's Ferrari, he was unlocking the door to the concept of professional gaming, the idea that a select few could actually win large prizes while blowing each other to pieces with nailguns and rocket launchers in a virtual environment!
There was also a classic LAN confrontation between Thresh's clan, Death Row, and the Swedish outfit, Clan Nine, which captured the imagination of gamers across the globe. It wasn't just DR vs. , or even USA vs. Europe, it was living proof that Quake owned the world of gaming, and that competitive play had a future. Quakers everywhere sat dreaming of glory, picturing themselves one day being flown half way around the world on their way to win fame, fortune and hordes of adoring cheerleaders (well ok, maybe not the latter unless your name's Reload!)
Well, there you have it - my take on the most influential games of recent years. It's quite a personal list, and I'm sure there are some of you who will take issue the choices I have made. Maybe you'd rate Doom above Quake, or maybe there are games I've excluded that you feel deserve a mention. There will doubtless be those singing the praises of Halflife, which had a profound impact on both single- and multi-player gaming. It ushered in new era of FPS with a strong emphasis on storyline and character development, cunningly using the first section of the game as a form of interactive introduction. The Counterstrike mod fuelled a rapid expansion of online gaming and proved so popular that CS1.6 is still the most played online FPS all these years later. Or, as I hinted at earlier, one could build a case for Dune 2 as being more influential than C&C, coming a couple of years earlier to found the RTS genre and inspiring companies like Blizzard to kick-off the Warcraft franchise.
But for me, Quake is the #1. Bearing my introduction in mind, if any game is going to live strong in the memory twenty years from now with it's influence still being felt, along with those granddaddies Pong, Space Invaders and Elite, it is id's masterpiece. Like a stone thrown into a lake, the ripples will continue to be seen and felt long after the source has sunk from our view.
Feel free to sound off in the comments section and let me know what I've overlooked, or if you think I've overplayed the influence of a particular game. I'm aware that my opening list of 'nearly' titles could be expanded on greatly, but I chose to focus more on a thorough analysis of a few titles, and besides, this article is long enough as it is (well done for reading this far!). On another day, I might have made different choices.
|12 User Comment(s) • 8 root comment(s)|
| HangTime (30) Feb 28, 2007 - 05:14 pm|
Following Jakub's comments, I've spaced out the paragraphs a bit more and added a few extra headings.
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| cptcaveman (3) Feb 25, 2007 - 01:44 am|
|I rated it as 6 because of its content, but it would have got higher if it stuck to the subject.|
OTH: I like the fact he talked about doom, it reminded me of when we played it in the office at lunchtime and the IT guys in the other department would say the it would crash the servers for national connection. It was doom 1.0 that would flood the network with lots of packets overloading the network.
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| trizzm (152) Feb 22, 2007 - 07:43 pm|
|whether it came late or not, half-life single-handedly turned a well-defined and established genre 180 degrees around, so half-life.|
half-life's influence is still very noticeable today, while on the contrary everyone who does online fps games avoid the traditional quake deathmatch model like the plague.
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