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Gaming's most important evolutions

Monster Collecting

First seen in: Dragon Quest V (1992)


Above: Monsters join your team in the DQV remake for DS

Important because: Though you may think collecting monsters began with Pokemon, the first title to actually feature monster that could be defeated, captured and then added to your team was the fifth entry in the colossally popular Dragon Quest series. The DQ bestiary had, by that point, been filled with many popular and recognizable monsters, so why not have some join your team for a change?

Which beast actually joined up with you after being beaten in battle could be pretty random, but they leveled up along with the main character, and became integral parts of the team as players got attached to the reformed creatures during their dozens of hours together. At the time, it was just seen as an interesting one-time addition to a long-running series, but few knew what would follow in its footsteps.


Above: Monster friends that followed you around onscreen were another feature swiped by other, later games

Legacy: DQV’s monster catching didn’t really play up the idea of “gotta catch ‘em all,” but that spirit had been long present in gaming, and also in much of Japanese culture, like with the M.U.S.C.L.E./Kinnikuman toys. It was only when Pokemon married the monster-battling/capturing/RPG formula of DQV with the collector’s ambition to have everything that monster collecting as we know it now became clearly defined. After the international explosion of Pokemon, a million pretenders and also-rans popped up, like Digimon, Dokapon, and even Dragon Quest: Monsters as the originator became the imitator. Even when games aren’t directly copying Pokemon, the need to get or see or do everything in a game (driven largely by Achievements or similar rewards), including getting all the monsters to be your friend, is more omnipresent now than it ever was before.


Regenerating health

First seen in: Wolverine: Adamantium Rage (1994)

Important because: It killed the traditional health pickup. If there’s one part of gaming history that’s better left forgotten, it’s the works of Acclaim subsidiary LJN. Notorious for its truly awful licensed games, LJN operated on the theory that kids were dumb and would buy anything as long as the X-Men or Spider-Man were on the box. They were right. Wolverine received the LJN treatment in 1994 with the SNES/Genesis title Wolverine: Adamantium Rage, a horrifically difficult and painfully generic action platformer. To do a better job of making this pile of mediocrity feel like a Wolverine game, LJN included a new idea based on Wolverine’s mutant regeneration ability: If the character avoided taking damage for a little while, his health would slowly replenish itself. (This was a marked improvement over LJN’s NES Wolverine game, in which using his claws actually drained his health.)

While the idea was interesting, and circumvented the idea of having to pick up floating health icons all the time, Adamantium Rage was a poorly designed, nearly unbeatable mess. The idea also meshed very poorly with the game’s ultra-traditional, bland game design; taking cover from enemy fire in an FPS makes sense, but in a platformer, you’re actively doing nothing just waiting for your health to come back. This new gameplay idea would quickly be forgotten, dragged into obscurity by the miserable game it was attached to.


Above: DERP

Legacy:  Regenerative health remained an unused, obscure feature until the 2002 release of Sony’s GTA-inspired The Getaway. All you had to do was lean against a wall and chill out for a few seconds, and your health would restore itself automatically.

While Adamantium Rage had the original idea, The Getaway introduced the more practical, modern version that gamers are familiar with. The idea was pushed even further into the mainstream by Halo’s regenerating shields; as long as you held back a second and let your shield recover, you wouldn’t have to worry about losing health.

Since then, it’s been almost unthinkable for a modern FPS to not include regenerative health. Modern Warfare, Battlefield, Call of Duty – all of them traded in their first aid kits years ago, and the days of Doom-style stimpacks lining the map are long gone. While regenerative health has become the standard, though, it’s important to recognize how it’s changed FPS gameplay. It’s a good fit for the slew of gritty, modern FPSes trying to capture “realism” by removing floating pickups, but healing now means constantly having to take a break from the action and hide when your screen gets too red. Old-school FPSes like Quake and Unreal were constantly in motion, as you could pick up healing items while on the move; any player that stopped to compose himself was a dead man. But that play style is a thing of the past now, and it’s all thanks to Adamantium Rage. Sort of.


Mouselook

First seen in: Marathon (1994)


Above: A Marathon montage with screens from the 360 version of the Macintosh classic

Important because: Years before Halo and Master Chief, Bungie was best known for Marathon, an early first-person shooter for the Macintosh. The game may look terribly dated by today’s standards, but it introduced something that hadn’t been seen before in 3D shooters: the ability to use the mouse to pan the camera left and right and up and down.

Although Wolfenstein 3D, which released in 1992, let players mouse the camera left and right, Bungie’s Marathon featured the first true mouselook, adding a Y-axis to truly experience and explore a three-dimensional world in a videogame.


Above: Look. It’s you, looking

Legacy: Marathon’s execution of the mouselook was one of the most important advances in the first-person shooter genre, influencing every title and franchise that followed it. Quake, Unreal Tournament, Call of Duty, Left 4 Dead, and Team Fortress 2 are just some of the more recent series that couldn’t exist without the mouselook feature. It seems so insignificant, but without a proper mouselook, you wouldn’t be able to look down at an opponent as you teabag his face, running and gunning would be an impossibility, and arguments over whether the Y-axis should be inverted would not exist. 


3D camera control

First seen in: Super Mario 64 (1996)

Important because: In a 2D game, the “camera” usually shows you everything you need to see. You’ve got a direct path, a ceiling and floor, maybe some obstacles and that’s it. In a 3D world, you need to be able to look in any direction at any point, and until Mario 64, that was a huge pain the ass (or simply not possible). Here, you had some measure of control over the placement and proximity of the floating camera, giving you the ability to adjust the view to your liking, as well as truly soak up the view. At last, you could frame shots and play mini-director in addition to merely running, jumping and stomping on enemies.


Above: Mario 64 treated the camera as if it actually, physically existed in the game world, meaning you needed a bit of room to make full use of it

Legacy: Mario 64 didn’t have true camera control; it merely let you move the camera to one of several pre-set locations. Later titles would let you rotate the camera a full 360 degrees at will, or use the second analog stick to further tinker with the view. But, without a doubt, Mario 64 set the standard for 3D camera control, affecting hundreds of subsequent games released from 1996 onward.


Sniper zoom

First seen in: Outlaws (1997)


Above: The introduction of the sniper scope would go on to make cowardly gaming the norm in shooters

Important because: Real men kick in the door and stomp into the room with guns blazing. They’ll spray your face with bullets before following up with a rifle butt to make sure the job’s done. They’re always doing awesome things, like capturing control points, leading the charge, and scoring legitimate frags. That’s because real men aren’t cowards. Unfortunately, not all of us can be real men.

Every shooter needs its cowards, the guys in the background who conserve their ammo and hide until a real man comes along to put them out of their misery. Enter the sniper, the ultimate coward who crawls through tall grass, camps spawn points, and picks you off from a safe distance because he’s too much of a wimp to face you head on. The coward’s weapon of choice: the sniper rifle, of course. We’re glad the sniper rifle exists, because without it, we wouldn’t be able to kill snipers.


Above: Either a real man who became curious about a sniper rifle, or a careless sniper who’s about to get bludgeoned

Sniper fans will try to explain how their weapon of choice brings an element of strategy and elegance to the battlefield, but we bet they couldn’t tell you that the first true sniper rifle appeared in LucasArts’ Outlaws, one of the first FPS Westerns ever released.


Above: Before Red Dead Redemption, there was Outlaws and its gorgeous animation

Legacy: Since the release of Outlaws, the sniper rifle, and the cowards who use them, have been ruining fun in games with guns for years. Whether you’re trying to lead the charge as a Heavy in Team Fortress 2, trying to capture the flag in Halo, or just trying to score some frags in Modern Warfare, there’s always some bastard camped out on a ledge somewhere looking for easy kills and confusing their cowardice for cleverness.

61 comments

  • cptnoremac - September 26, 2014 9:56 a.m.

    Geez, did you get teabagged one too many times by a sniper in Halo 2? So much bitterness.
  • bungalo-dave - October 6, 2011 7 a.m.

    I did the Sprites on the Mega Drive version of Wolverine and yes, the regenerating bar was just the best way to represent his mutant regenerative powers. And yes it was too hard which made it suck, like many companies at the time we had one tester in a room playing this all the time, he didn't think it was too hard because he played it all the time and we didn't verify if it was too hard because we were sick of looking at it, Sorry everyone..............
  • kuashio - December 23, 2010 9:02 p.m.

    If I remember correctly, the original X-Men game for the Genesis (1993) had regenerating health for Wolverine before Adamantium Rage (1994). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-Men_%28Sega%29 I believe Wolverine's mutant power (healing) was the key element in this breakthrough for videogames.
  • Rowdie - October 19, 2010 7:27 p.m.

    The list is awesome save one selection. Quick Timer Events are not an important evolution. They are in fact the anti-game play. Rather than appearing on a list of important mile stone they should be at the top of the list of wrong turns and missteps. QTEs are for when you're not good enough to create a real game play mechanic. It's awful putting that in this list and who ever is responsible should be sacked.
  • The - October 15, 2010 1 a.m.

    Great article. Thanks for all your hard work.
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  • RAYZOR12 - October 12, 2010 8:54 p.m.

    Hahahaha!! ">cry I don't know that word" Ha! That is awesome....
  • Tomsta666 - October 11, 2010 9:37 p.m.

    I wish "Sticky Cover" as you put it, would fuck off. Seriously. It's like every 3rd person action game since Gears of War has to have a cover system. What's the fun in hiding? I wanna go guns blazing, not cower round the corner. It's fine when done in moderation, (tips hat to Red Dead Redemption.) But it's a game killer for me at times (scowls at Mafia II) I may be in a minority of people who found Gears to be a big pile of shit, but the effect it's had on that genre is shocking.
  • GamesRadarJuniorWildlifeEditor - October 11, 2010 9:14 p.m.

    exhaustive and exhausting.
  • Sy87 - October 11, 2010 6:55 p.m.

    Now Resident Evil can advance it by being able to move while using over the shoulder aiming. Oh wait other games have been able to do that! Bring zombies back!
  • 510BrotherPanda - October 11, 2010 4:08 a.m.

    The little girl in the Outlaws clip sounds like she was voice acted by the same lady who voiced Gosalyn in Darkwing Duck; Christine Cavanaugh, I think.
  • Jarednotthesubwayguy - October 11, 2010 3:53 a.m.

    A few non-troll corrections: Sniper zoom was on SkyNet in 1996. One of the weapons, some sort of pulse rife if I recall, had a screen permanently zoomed in a few notches from reality. It's not a sniper scope per se, but it does function as a zoom and helped greatly with accuracy. Z-lock was on many flight sims of the early nineties. Called "padlock view", it centered the camera on an opponent while the cockpit moved around. Over the shoulder aiming was on Fade to Black (1995), Flashback's sequel. Definitely long before RE4.
  • V13Dragongal - October 11, 2010 2:12 a.m.

    WOW. So many things. So many people and games to thank for so many things.
  • TommyG - October 10, 2010 10:40 p.m.

    What is Link doing in Dodongo's Cavern with an empty bottle, two bombchus and only three life hearts?!? I don't like it.
  • NeelEvil - October 10, 2010 7:57 p.m.

    Body Harvest on the N64 had over the shoulder aiming many years before Resi 4. Other than that it waas an interesting & well written article.
  • FinalGamer - October 10, 2010 7:18 p.m.

    What an awesome list that was. I love finding out this kind of gaming history, and some of that just blew my mind. Great research GR.
  • GangsterJew92 - October 10, 2010 3:35 p.m.

    Fantastic article guys
  • NEPAL - October 10, 2010 1:26 p.m.

    I had no idea polygons existed so long ago!
  • astroPastel - October 10, 2010 8:55 a.m.

    pretty tenuous a lot of these 'innovations'. Pretty sure I,Robot wasn't an important step in polygonal gaming, they didn't invent polygons. If anything they proved that the latest graphical technology doesn't make a game popular which will always be the case. Also Disney didn't rotoscope, the animators used video references in particularly difficult sequences. However, for the most part they pioneered the majority of the techniques used in animation across the world to make fluid motion. You can keep your badly motion captured huge budget games, a good animator will really bring a character to life.

Showing 1-20 of 61 comments

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