Nine games that were ahead of their time

What it was: Not content with Sonic, Sega created Seaman, a virtual pet fish sporting a freakish humanoid mug. Players could raise their own Seaman and talk to him with the bundled microphone.

What made it ahead of it time: Even today, voice recognition is still a severely under-utilitzed and often embarassing feature in games, but Seaman's more lasting contribution was its lack of clear defined gameplay and objectives.

How would today’s games be different without it: Without Seaman we likely wouldn't have games like Flower, Endless Ocean and Electroplankton, which put aside objectives in order to focus squarely on the player's interaction with the game world.

Gone but not forgotten: Recently, has come across a cache of sealed Dreamcasts (opens in new tab). What better way to celebrate that woe-begone console than by verbally berating your Seaman?

What it was: Motor City Online aimed to be the definitive MMO for classic car buffs. Players could race hot rods from the 1930s through the 1970s, gaining money from each race to customize their ride. Unfortunately, the game hit the skids in 2003.

What made it ahead of it time: The idea of a racing MMO is certainly a head scratcher and one that even a solid developer can bungle. We can all applaud EA for jumping head first into the concept even if it had disastrous results.

How would today’s games be different without it: Clearly, EA hasn't given up on the automotive MMO dream, but without Motor City Online crashing and burning we'd likely have never see the idea resurrected like a phoenix in Need for Speed World Online.

Gone but not forgotten: Despite EA's commitment to the racing MMO genre, community members have kept Motor City Online alive with an unofficial port called Motor City Offline (opens in new tab).

What it was: An online dungeon-crawler based on the beloved JRPGs for the Master System and Genesis.

What made it ahead of it time: By 1999 online lobbies were commonplace in PC games like Diablo, but still unheard of on consoles, which still had no good solution for hard disk based storage and rudimentary networking capabilities. Phantasy Star fans went gaga over the MMO-ish lobby system where players could chat and share cutesy anime emotes with one another before jumping into instanced games.

How would today’s games be different without it: We certainly wouldn't have Phantasy Star Universe. Ditto for Final Fantasy XI, but more importantly, every single console multiplayer game might not have had such a robust lobby system were it not for the groundwork laid in Phantasy Star: Online.

Gone but not forgotten: Sega powered down the PS:O servers in 2003 but that hasn't stopped enterprising community member schthack from starting a free (and rock solid we might add) PS:O server (opens in new tab)for PC, Dreamcast and Gamecube users. Don't say the internet never gave you anything, kids.

May 20, 2010

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When players and devs work together, magic happens

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It’s not going away, so it needs to get better