Some games in the canon stand on the shoulders of great innovations,
which often go unrecognized. Next Generation picks out five unsung
innovators. Pictured is Executive Suite (1982).
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
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
Disagree with this article? Know of any more unsung innovators? Drop us a line at .
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