10 Games That Revolutionized The Industry
1. Metroid (NES 1986)
Among the first titles to come on the original Nintendo, Metroid was earth shattering in originality and presented never before seen game mechanics at the time. One of the first games that featured scrolling along both X- and Y-axis and non-linear gameplay. The goal of Metroid was to direct female protagonist Samus Aran in navigating the planet Zebes and stop nerfarious space pirates from using a parasitic organism called a Metroid against a galactic civilization. Metroid featured many collectable power-ups, and the non-linear world design encouraged backtracking to previous areas to advance the game. The complex design of the game and it's sequel, Super Metroid, has been the inspiration of many game developers and serves as an example of creative design.
2. Ultima Underworld (PC 1992)
Developed by Blue Sky Productions (Looking Glass Studios), Ultima Underworld is one of the first games to feature first-person action in a true 3D environment with CRPG style gameplay. Players could look up and down, the engine allows for walls at 45 degree angles, and uses physics to calculate the motion of thrown objects. The advanced engine is said to have inspired developer John Carmack from before Wolf3D was even in development and was leaps ahead of it in terms of technology. Ultima Underworld had real time physics, lighting, fog, actual 3D polygons, jumping, swimming, and more before id Software did.
3. Chrono Trigger (SNES 1995)
Developed in 1995 by Squaresoft (now Square Enix), Chrono Trigger was a video game that comes only once a lifetime. It employed a "dream team" composed of several famous Japanese developers including Hironobu Sakaguchi (final fantasy), Yuji Horii (Dragon Quest), Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball Z), Masato Kato, Yasunori Mitsuda, and Nobuo Uematsu. They came together to create a perfect RPG much like a skilled swordsmith hones a perfect sword with masterful artwork, coding, music, and writing. The game improved on the RPG formula of random battles by allowing the player to see enemies, and included multiple endings, plot sidequests, and a new game option carrying over player data. The time travel gimmick was also something not seen in many games at the time.
4. Shenmue (Dreamcast 1999)
Ask anyone who had owned a Dreamcast their favorite games on it and a good many will probably mention Shenmue. Billed as one of the most expensive games at the time, Yu Suzuki took us on a journey through a Japanese neighborhood in 1986. The storyline was interesting, but what made the game stand out was the open world that the players could interact with. The main character got an allowance of money to spend, his home was decorated with draws you could open and a Sega Saturn you could buy games for. Players could buy things in stores, from soda machines, play in arcades and NPCs carried on their own tasks each day. There was a detailed weather system based on the actual recorded weather of Yokosuka, Japan from 1986/1987. The game introduced QTEs to the gaming industry for better or worse, but the biggest impact it had was it's realistic feeling of interacting with the world something which obviously influenced future Grand Theft Auto games.
5. Half Life (PC 1998)
Developed by Valve Software and published by Sierra Studios, Half-Life was an ambitious project. It's so famous now that almost everyone who plays PC games knows it or who Gordon Freeman is, but at the time it was just a new FPS coming off the wings of Quake 3 and Goldeneye. Half Life was designed to be a fast game and had a sci-fi plot with interesting mechanics, and it's game engine was a largely modified Quake 1 engine. The reason Half Life was so remarkable though to the industry was that one of the largest modding scenes ever exploded from it because the game was so easy to mod for and Valve included a decent editor with it. Several of the mods were picked up by Valve and became official games which continue to be played to this day including Counter-Strike, Day of Defeat, and Team Fortress. Several mods became commercial games including Natural Selection and Insurgency, and Contagion.
6. Street Fighter 2 (Arcade/SNES 1991)
The game that birthed the fighting game genre. There had been fighting games before SF2, but it highhandedly crashed onto the markets and dominated. There's been countless fighting games since, but Street Fighter has always been held up as the perfected series like an Olympic sport. The characters and music are iconic and memorable. The design depth and balance of the game helped to pioneer the competitive fighting genre and continues to be popular 20 years later.
7. Cave Story (PC 2004)
Cave Story is a Japanese freeware "Metroidvania" game developed and released in 2004 by a single person and the reason I include it in this list is not because it broke any new ground in it's genre, but because of the effect it had on the indie game market. Created by Daisuke "Pixel" Amaya over a period of 5 years by himself, the game was very polished and largely paid homage to Metroid and Castlevania with it's gameplay style and exploration. Cave Story became very popular through word of mouth, and it sent a message to regular people that they could create video games on their own if they felt ambitious enough. This helped to open up a large indie game market of small games created by small teams of people or solo. There had always been games created by small teams before Cave Story, but it motivated a lot of people to get into game designing.
8. Mario 64 (N64 1996)
One of the launch games for the Nintendo 64, Mario 64 pretty much invented the 3D platformer genre and is still one of the most perfectly done ones. Very few 2D games made the jump to 3D smoothly during the transitioning period in 1993-1995 when 2D was phased out. Sonic games for instance took a lot of effort to "work" right with their gameplay and still have a lot of problems. Mario 64 made it work so well it signaled to other game companies "hey this way that we did it works you can do it too if you try". There's so many 3D platformers nowadays that we hardly think back to the significance of this game, it's just an afterthought now which is why Mario 64 was so important at the time.
9. Resident Evil 2 (PS1 1998)
1998 was a great year for the video games industry and many gamers consider this year to be the "golden year" when dozens of 5-star classics were released. Capcom had already reinvented the survival horror genre in 1996 with the first Resident Evil, but it was perfected in 1998 with RE2. Many modern horror games as well as PS2/PS3 games fashioned themselves from Resident Evil 2's mature characters, gritty storyline, and freakish monsters. The inventory system has also been copied in many games as well as the puzzle/item fetching.
10. World of Warcraft (PC 2004)
I must admit I've never played World of Warcraft, but I thought long and hard about it's place in this list. I have a deeper place in my heart for MMO such as Ultima Online and Ragnarok Online, but even I can't deny the impact World of Warcraft had on the game industry. It's the highest grossing video game of all time, and has 10 million subscribers, and although some say it is in decline, it's impact on the MMO genre is still felt. Most MMO are placed on a scale compared to it not just in terms of gameplay, but also longevity. Few MMO last past 8 months and end up closing shop or going free to play, but WoW has lasted 11 years and still going and also popularized the MMO genre for millions of people.