Monday, 1 October 2012

Seminal Games

These are a handful of the most influential and important games in the development of the games industry, though there are much, much more. So in no particular order:

-        Spacewars

One of the earliest games made, created for use in MIT on the college computers in 1961, it featured two ships on a black screen which could turn, move forward and shoot. The object of the game was to shoot the other ship while avoiding the star in the middle which pulled the ships towards it. The game had no colour or any particularly interesting features bar the ability to teleport your ship away from danger a few times during the game, yet it was extremely popular.

Even today if you find a ported version online somewhere and give it a go yourself (which I highly recommend to get a feel for what games went before today’s games, in fact if you haven’t already you should definitely play all the games on this list, even just for a few minutes.) and you can get it working, as the controls are a little tricky to master at first, play against someone and you will still enjoy it even 50 odd years later.

There are a few reasons for its popularity when it was released first. Number one is no game like it had been made before and it was a relatively simple concept to grasp and play. Another is the theme. It was released during the space race so anything to do with space and the great unknown was going to be popular at the time.

-        Pong

Even if you’ve never played it you’ve more than likely seen or heard of pong. Released by Atari in the early 70’s pong was an extremely popular game which was played on home consoles and in arcades alike. The game was ridiculously simple consisting of two paddles which were just two lines of white squares, and a ball that moved over and back, which was one square, and a “beep” sound when the paddle hit the ball – and that was it. The whole game took a few days to code.

All you had to do was move your paddle up or down to hit the ball and stop it going into the goal behind you. Yet it became a craze and one of the most popular games of its time with competitions being held in arcades and people everywhere playing it. For one reason – it kept a score. It played on our human nature to be competitive.

The game was so simple that anyone could pick it up and play and all you had to rely on was your reactions. This shows how important a tool adding a competitive edge to a game can be, online leaderboards and multiplayer modes to games are all there in modern day games for this reason.

-        Wolfenstein 3D

Wolf 3D was one of the first FPS games released, and featured a “fake” 3D engine. The game looked as if it had 3D models but this was only an effect. Yet the player could move around and explore the areas in the game just as with subsequent FPS games. The game featured an American soldier who has to escape from a Nazi stronghold. This setting was quite controversial and the game was censored quite a bit.

The player begins with a pistol and three lives and must try to escape the compound, shooting enemies as you go. As you progress through different levels you rack up points and find new weapons, unless your health drops to zero which results in losing all ammo and weapons bar your pistol. In each level you could also find treasure and extra lives.

Now on its own that doesn’t seem all that impressive, but consider that this was one of the first FPS games out, and even today a lot of games have lives, a score counter, a variety of weapons for you to find etc. so it really set out the guidelines for all future FPS games to follow.

-        Zork

Zork is a text based game. This means there are no images, no characters to look at, only text to read. Now initially you may wonder how this could make an interesting game to play, but consider a book, the readers imagination makes the book come alive. Much is the same for text based games, you have a limited amount of controls you type in, for example go west, pick up lamp, open door etc. with the game only reading designated commands.

 This type of game is not as common nowadays as it was when Zork was originally released, but text based adventures are still being made today, at a whole new level and I recommend anyone reading this to at least give one a try. What Zork did so well was it showed how engrossing you could make the most basic of settings if the player could interact with a variety of objects and use them in interesting ways to progress to the next area. The only way of getting through Zork was to think outside the box.

Go to this site below for a good introduction to some modern text based games (or interactive fiction) or to play Zork if you so wish.

-        Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario is possibly one of the most well recognised names in the games industry, I can nearly guarantee if you’re reading this now you have at least heard the name if you haven’t played any of the games (which is unlikely). Super Mario Bros was first released in 1985 by Nintendo, and subsequent games (Super Mario Bros 2 and 3, and Super Mario World) were all largely the same apart from a few extra features and slight improvements in graphics.

The game is a side-scrolling platformer that puts you in control of Super Mario, the small Italian plumber who must pass through the levels in front of him to get to his nemesis Bowser and rescue Princess Peach. Each level see’s Mario jumping from platform to platform, avoiding or jumping on a variety of different enemies and manoeuvring through obstacles. There are also boxes to hit which can give you coins which you collect to get an extra life, or mushrooms which make you bigger and stronger and a flower which lets you shoot fireballs, with the next games in the series adding a few new power ups.

And that’s it. However the gameplay is fast paced and fun and in the more difficult levels can get quite hectic, but in a gradual way, so you can complete the earlier levels and improve as it gets harder and harder. Also there is a nice variety of levels including underwater, underground, cloud levels, and each one (particularly in 3 and World) are beautifully drawn despite the basic graphics. The main positive about this game though is that it’s fun. Even today I could happily pick it up and spend a few hours of my afternoon happily playing away.

Super Mario World

-        Final Fantasy VII

This has been critically acclaimed as one of the best RPG games ever released.

Gamefan mag called it “quite possibly the greatest game ever made”   

IGN said “The RPG by which all others are to be measured, FFVII is a cinematic wonder”

 Released in 1997 by SquareSoft (now known as SquareEnix) this game introduced the RPG format to Europe and really set the standard of what could be done.

Final Fantasy VII (FFVII) is an RPG that puts the player in control of a band of rebel soldiers who are fighting against the corruption in their city and against a bloodthirsty company that is damaging the earth. The game uses a turn based system, where you pick a move (or attack) for a character, and then have to wait for a bar to fill up before you can choose another action for that same character, but fighting flows quite well. In the game you use “materia” orbs which grant different abilities and powers to customise each person and fight how you want to, and the combat is quite fun and can be very tactical and challenging at times, keeping you on your toes.

The graphics do certainly leave a lot to be desired, even for their time they were not fantastic, but FFVII makes up for it in how it makes you feel. Every character is really fleshed out and you get a really good impression of their personality, everyone has a back story and you learn about everyone which is impressive for a game that has no voice acting in it. You can relate to the characters and they mean something to you in the story, and it is the story that is one of the game’s strongest aspects, it is told beautifully and keeps you hooked the whole way through with plenty of twists and surprises.

The main character, Cloud as well as trying to save the planet, has to deal with his relationship with the people around him and his own dubious past. There are also sub plots going on the whole way through the game and it really ties everything well together. Few games have engrossed me as much into the story of a game.

Also you can explore a huge game world with plenty of hidden surprises and extra activities to keep you busy, and every area feels unique and distinctive in its own way. This is helped in part to the music which sets the tone for each region and event in the game and is an example of how important music can be in a game. Try finding some of the music from the game and just listening to it and seeing what kind of mood it sets.

So if you haven’t played this gem of a game yet I highly recommend doing so if you are any way a fan of RPG games.

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