In the hit-driven economy of videogames, the logic behind industry growth seems simple. It starts when a single title becomes a hit. Other games, seeking to emulate its success, borrow its best ideas; a genre is born.

Over years the genre is refined and perfected, but the lineage is clear, and the root of the family tree, in most people’s mind, is the first game of that type to go platinum.
This view causes some true innovators to go unrecognized; games that had ideas ahead of their time but nevertheless failed in the marketplace. These games deserve a voice.
Jumping Flash (1995, PS1)
Innovation: Early 3D Action/Platforming
Who gets the credit: Super Mario 64 (1996, N64)

Super Mario 64 deserves all the credit it gets for ironing out 3D platforming’s major issues. There was a time before the N64, however, and it was in this time that Jumping Flash solved these issues on its own. The route it took to do this was distinct. Camera issues were made moot by making the perspective first person, and the platform jumping issues inherent to that compromise were eliminated by making the jumps incredibly high; the camera then panned automatically to show your feet. It’s an odd but excellent platformer, and one of the few that doesn’t feel anything like a Mario game.
Car Battler Joe (2002, GBA)
Innovation: Vehicular combat/RPG hybrid
Who gets the credit: The upcoming Auto Assault (2005, PC)

The victim of a Game Boy Advance market glutted with quality RPGs, Car Battler Joe is worth a look for its unique take on the genre. While it shared archetypal stat-building and item-collecting elements with its more conventional contemporaries, it disregarded both the overworld map and random encounters. In their place were winding tracks and cars bristling with weaponry, making this game feel more like Twisted Metal than Final Fantasy. Very few games before or since can claim to play like Car Battler Joe, though the upcoming Auto Assault looks to take a similar experience online.
Robotrek (1994, SNES)
Innovation: Customizable RPG aimed at children
Who gets the credit: Pokemon (1996, GB)

Long before Pokemon made it big business, Enix was trying to sell RPGs to young children with Robotrek. This game had a lot in common with Nintendo’s franchise; although robots were used instead of creatures, team customization was just as simple and almost as varied. The main character could not himself fight and instead used his robots to battle, as any child with robots or pocket monsters would do. These robots were kept in balls, and as the game progressed they became characterized less as tools and more as friends. Robotrek, however, lacked the portable multiplayer that made its descendant a star.
Dark Edge (1993, Arcade)
Innovation: First 3D fighting game
Who gets the credit: Virtua Fighter (1993, Arcade)

There may not have been a single polygon in it, but Sega’s Dark Edge was the first 3D fighting game to see release. This Japan-only arcade battler did not run on hardware capable of creating a true three-dimensional space, so Dark Edge used sprite scaling and rotation to render its one-on-one confrontations. In doing so, it made achievements in camera movement and style that birthed a genre. Virtua Fighter vastly surpassed this game when it was released only a few months thereafter, but Dark Edge is its direct predecessor.
Executive Suite (1982, PC)
Innovation: Ethics and morality as a core element
Who gets the credit: Ultima IV (1985, PC)

Games like Knights of the Old Republic have recently brought morality and ethical decisions to the forefront of game design. The RPG classic Ultima IV is largely credited with being the first game to explore such complex themes. It was three years prior to that game, however, that Armonk’s Executive Suite was dealing with these issues, though in the context of a large corporation. This game admitted that in corporate America ethical decisions can be complex, and choices that helped someone may have hurt another--or even worse, the bottom line. Come promotion time, none of your actions went forgotten, and poor decision-makers ended their careers in the mailroom.
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