Isn't living in the future sweet? We can trade gameplay videos in Halo 3 and Forza 3, race open-world style with Burnout Paradise, screw over our compatriots in EVE Online, or wreak havoc on bustling cities in Grand Theft Auto. Except, most of the aforementioned features have been around for decades. You see, the games that actually pioneered these mind-blowing features that we take for granted today have been unjustly forgotten. Well, we're here to remedy that with the unsung heralds of progress: games that were truly ahead of their time.
What it was: Forget Wing Commander, forget Freelancer, and forget most any game featuring a fat dude named Wedge. Elite was making the Kessel Run before most other space sims made the hyper jump to three dimensional space. In Elite, budding smugglers could traverse eight procedurally generated galaxies loading and unloading cargo while fending off raiders. The objective is to sell enough cargo at a profit to reach the vaunted "elite" status, but once that's achieved you could keep on playing.
What made it ahead of it time: Such open-ended gameplay was unheard at the time, but 3D space and objects rendered in wireframe polygons with hidden line removal looked revolutionary, raising the bar for the visual representation of 3D objects in games.
How would today’s games be different without it: Without Elite we'd still likely be kicking around 2D space blasting pixelated sprites. Elite also came packed with a short novella, explaining the game’s moral code and setting while fleshing out its universe. Think about that the next time you see a Halo novel.
Gone but not forgotten: If you're eager to take a peak at the genesis of the space sim genre you can still download a freeware version of Elite from the creator Ian Bell's site.
What it was: While Elite advanced 3D visuals in space games, it was Tradewars 2002 that brought corporate espionage to the table. In the turn-based strategy game, players focused on developing profitable trade routes across thousands of discrete sectors. Once established, these routes could enrich individual players with massive amounts of cash for ship upgrades and space colonization. From there, they could mobilize an armada to either defend their territory or wage war on other player corporations.
What made it ahead of it time: In addition to granting players free reign to backstab members of their own corporation, Tradewars 2002 utilized an alignment system that kept tabs on the player’s good and evil actions. Blasting hostile aliens: good, very good. Pillaging a peaceful spaceport: most definitely evil. A player's alignment affected their standing with the Federation, effectively turning them into either an upstanding trader or a kill-on-sight fugitive.
How would today’s games be different without it: Although CCP has cited Elite as a direct influence on their space-trading MMO EVE: Online, its very difficult to deny that the Tradewars laid down the groundwork for the corporate structure and framework that makes the traitorous conspiracies in EVE so dramatic. Similarly, think about Fallout, Mass Effect, Dragon Age: Origins, or even Fable. Just about any game that experiments with player choice and repercussions can be traced back to Tradewars.
Gone but not forgotten: User incarna over on the SomethingAwful forums has set up a Tradewars 2002 game server. To play, simply download Putty and telnet into arcadia.servebbs.net on port 2002. Happy trading.
What it was: We're not out of space genre yet. Spaceship Warlock, one of the earliest CD-ROM adventure games, placed the player under the command of Captain Hammer, a Nick Fury clone bent on freeing humanity from enslavement under the murderous Kroll. Players could explore a rich future world and interact with various NPCs using a free dialogue system.
What made it ahead of it time: Spaceship Warlock piloted the adventure genre into the age of optical media and VGA graphics utilizing full voice acting and robust textured animations. It eclipsed other adventure games of the time graphically, besting popular hits from Sierra and LucasArts. A PC port was released to crack a wider market, but by 1994 Myst had already taken the world by storm.
How would today’s games be different without it: Sparking interest in the CD-ROM format, Spaceship Warlock and others prompted not only a tsunami of CD-ROM based videogames but also an avalanche of CD-ROM accompanied books and software that led to one of many tech sector crashes.
Gone but not forgotten: Spaceship Warlock remains an overlooked classic. Copies are widely available on eBay and Amazon and will run on Windows XP. Do yourself a favor and grab one.
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