Games That Influenced Modern Genres

by Kimberley Wallace on Sep 21, 2012 at 12:00 PM

Everything has its roots, even video game genres. Sometimes all it takes is one avant-garde idea to completely shape an entire genre. The games below are highly influential in the video game genres we see today. Plenty of game development hinges on taking inspiration from other games that did things well, so we’re looking back on some significant games that helped shape genre standards.

Dragon Quest: The Father Of The Console RPG

Surprisingly enough, Dragon Quest’s standard gameplay was inspired by western RPGs, such as Ultima and Wizardry, but Dragon Quest carved out its own identity with its elegantly simple battle system. Part of what the creators wanted was easy, pick up-and-play mechanics. That’s exactly what they achieved with their combat interface that’s still used today with its command setup, such as attack, magic, and items. More importantly, though, it gave birth to the console RPG, and many of its mechanics are still the backbone of modern RPGs, right down to story progression. Dragon Quest not straying from its roots is really not all that surprising – letting go of a formula that influenced a genre so strongly must be hard.

Megami Tensei Teaches Pokémon The Monster Pursuit

Pokémon often comes to mind when gamers think of monster collecting; Pikachu is one of the most iconic gaming mascots, after all. But here’s food for thought – the Megami Tensei series focused on monster recruitment before Pokémon. The series does not have cute monsters like Pokémon’s Jigglypuff. Megami Tensei’s demonic monsters are for those looking for darker friends. Digital Devil Story: Megami Tensei first introduced players to demon collecting when it hit Japan in 1987 (though it never released in the U.S.). It wasn’t until the 1990s that the series made its way to the U.S., around the same time as Pokémon. Many games have since followed the monster recruitment trend like this year’s Final Fantasy XIII-2, and the upcoming Studio Ghibli and Level-5 collaboration: Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

Alone In The Dark Sets The Standard For Survival Horror

In 1992, Alone In The Dark set the groundwork for the survival horror genre. In fact, many consider it the first real 3D horror game. Alone In The Dark has all the things that make the survival horror genre thrive – focusing on exploration, starting you off weaponless with only your fists and feet, using your wits to complete puzzles, and creating a suspenseful atmosphere with slamming doors and booby traps abound. One unfortunate thing that has been lost, though, is Alone in the Dark’s non-linearity; you didn’t have to find the octagon crank to get where you were going. Silent Hill and Resident Evil no doubt took a page from Alone In The Dark’s gameplay and psychological thrills to surge a genre all about surprising you with jump scares.

Street Fighter II Inspires The Fighting Genre

Almost all games contain some sort of fighting, but what if a game distilled that gameplay to its purest form? In 1987, Street Fighter entered the arcade arena to mass appeal. But the true explosion of fighters didn’t come until the release of Street Fighter II in 1991; that’s when the game caught fire worldwide. Maybe it was the easy rules, the competitive charge, the martial arts mastery, or getting your initials on the leaderboards, but Street Fighter II inspired the ‘90s fighting craze. Several developers took note, and we see Street Fighter’s roots amongst series such as Mortal Kombat, Dead Or Alive, and Tekken. Even more to its credit, Street Fighter is still around today and it’s still on top, showing many fighters how you keep the fighting genre inspired.

Gauntlet: Why We Hack-And-Slash

In a world with Castle Crashers and Marvel Ultimate Alliance, who would have thought that a multiplayer dungeon crawler would work on an arcade machine? But 1985’s Gauntlet pulled it off and it did it with one of the best lines in gaming ever, “Red warrior needs food badly!” Gauntlet’s overall influence on the hack-and-slash genre today includes classes, multiplayer, and loot. Simplistic and all about hacking-and-slashing the night away, it’s amazing how many games still successfully follow Gauntlet’s formula. Little did Midway know that Gauntlet’s addictive setup would fuel games like Diablo, where countless gamers have lost hours upon hours dungeon crawling all in the name of more loot.

[Next Up: The birth of the first-person shooter, a new dancing pastime, and a hockey game that changes sports games ....]

Wolfenstein 3D: The Birth Of The First-Person Shooter

We’re saturated with military shooters, but Wolfenstein 3D is the game that set the trend in 1992 using the backdrop of one of the vilest wars to date: World War II. Escaping a Nazi fortress was one feat, but toss in the run-and-gun gameplay, and it set the stage for first-person shooters to come. Wolfenstein 3D’s influence is hardly ignored, as many credit it for popularizing the genre on PC, as well. Developer id Software went on to produce the even more popular Doom and Quake titles, both evolutions of their original concept. Even games like Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Unreal Tournament all have Wolfenstein 3D’s influence running through them. The first-person shooter remains one of the most popular genres to date, and we have John Romero and John Carmack’s Wolfenstein 3D to thank.

Bemani Setting The Rhythmic Stage

Where would rhythm games be without BeatMania and Dance Dance Revolution? Both came out around the same time in the late ‘90s and wonderfully meshed two of our favorite pastimes, music and video games. Maintaining your rhythm and timing while listening to popular music is now a pastime thanks to Bemani. Konami’s BeatMania games set the stage for just about every major music game trend, even pre-empting Guitar Hero by several years with Guitar Freaks. DDR remains the reason games like Dance Central and Just Dance are around, making fools of all us as we try to keep up with the beat. Thank BeatMania and Dance Dance Revolution for inspiring plenty of people to dance who never should have in the first place.

NHL ’94 Slaps Sports Games Into Reality

NHL ’94 is often referred to as the greatest sports game of all time. The game’s iconic reputation is well-deserved; NHL ’94 uses both the NHL and NHLPA license for the first time in the series, allowing you to actually play as Wayne Gretzky on the Los Angeles Kings. The game stepped outside the box with goal celebrations, one-timers, and using team-specific songs such as Chicago’s “Here Come The Hawks” and Hartford’s “Brass Bonanza.” NHL ’94 brought the spirit of the sport to a video game, giving other sports games a higher standard to live up to. Only three players from NHL ‘94 remain in the NHL today, and much like Jaromir Jagr and Teemu Selanne, NHL ‘94 is headed to the Hall of Fame.

Sid Meier's Civilization: Making Strategy Complex Since 1991

Sid Meier’s Civilization stands the test of time. Today, the franchise is still one of the best at what it does, but let’s not forget how it forged a new path in the strategy genre. In 1991, Civilization showed us that games could push all corners of your brain. Complex and deep, the series rightfully earned its “one more turn syndrome” catchphrase.  Most importantly, Civilization laid the groundwork for the 4X genre (empire-building games based on four objectives: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate, as coined by Alan Emrich). Although games like Sins of Solar Empire have greatly changed the formula, most 4X titles still play much like the original Civilization. Let’s not forget how it also introduced simulation into the strategy genre – it places you in the role of a great historical figure and makes you feel like a leader by forcing you to make the difficult decisions. Managing military tactics, diplomatic treaties, and exploring relies heavily on your wits. Civilization set a standard that’s only been matched by a few other titles – most of them also produced by Sid Meier.