I’m going a little off pattern with this latest favorite game mechanism in choosing several game innovations. This writeup skirts the boundaries of a list and the semi-weekly “My Favorite” series. I’m also kicking it old school with this video games as these are the first time a game style or game feature was used, so these won’t be so much modern innovative video games—I could see that as another writeup in the future—as much as it’ll be video games that shaped how they’re designed and played.
I could go on, but let’s talk about some games.
The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda is an easy one to include, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t shaped modern video gaming in many ways. It’s one of the first open-world role-playing games. Without the original Legend of Zelda there would be no Bethesda as we know it. Sorry, no Fallout or Elder Scrolls. I played Morrowind a lot like I played The Legend of Zelda. I skipped the first dungeon and found one of the more difficult ones in the world and got my butt kicked. Who says I learned anything since I was a kid?
This game also created the first save file. Before The Legend of Zelda, players had to remember or write down codes to continue a game. When I first loaded the original Zelda, I wondered what a save file was. How far we’ve come.
Grand Theft Auto III
Speaking of open world gaming, no game captured the idea of “sandbox” gameplay than GTA3. Players could go anywhere and do anything. Unfortunately for your uncle Geekly, all I wanted to do was drive around town and listen to the radio. What do you mean the DJ’s name is Michael Hunt, but you can call him Mike?
Oh. That’s naughty. And players could be as naughty as they wanted to be with this title. Freedom, beautiful freedom. Now if only players could take the role of a woman like they could in the first Grand Theft Auto.
Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 didn’t try a lot of new things in terms of a platform game. All it did was become the first game to effectively immerse gamers in a 3D world. Players could make Mario jump, flip, and run in 3-dimensional space. If they didn’t like the camera view, they could move the camera for a better angle. You know, the things gamers take for granted today.
This title took the easy way out: let users create content. Okay, with a user-friendly creation tool, LittleBigPlanet ushered in the era of “user-created content” in video games. There have been other games that have put design in players’ hands for the PC, but LittleBigPlanet made it as easy as I can remember and brought this idea to consoles. Power to the people.
Super Tecmo Bowl
No. I’m not talking about the first Tecmo Bowl where players cheated by using the Raiders and Bo Jackson. I’m talking about the follow-up game Super Tecmo Bowl where the game kept track of players’ statistics for the first time—something sports gamers like—and it simulated a full season of games—another something sports gamers like. If only Super Tecmo Bowl used real names for every player.
This game gets bonus points for modders who update the classic with modern NFL rosters. J. J. Watt is in our featured image at the start of this post, and Stefon Diggs is in the one above. Those are actual screen grabs from a Super Tecmo Bowl with updated rosters. What?
Metal Gear Solid
Sure, I could focus on Metal Gear Solid’s stealth gameplay, which was revolutionary at the time, but I’m going to concentrate on MGS’s storytelling. The game played out like a series of short films that included some topical themes and did a lot with developing characters, even if the dialogue was wanting at times. Metal Gear Solid showed that video games could thrive as a storytelling medium.
Doom’s biggest contribution must be its immersion. There were first-person games before Doom, but this game was the one that immersed gamers in its world. It’s the first game that made the environments their own characters, but it didn’t stop there. Doom introduced the world to multiplayer gaming via the internet. It also popularized a “shareware model” or a “try before you buy” system that game companies still used today.
That’s my first list of innovative video games. I’m sure there are plenty more that I could make another fifty to hundred lists. If you have a problem with any of the games on this list or take issue with an omission or five, come at me with a thumb war. Or you could leave a comment.