Traditionally gamers attribute the advent of gaming to PC. Though it’s true to certain extent, the reins dates back to early ’50s. While the first game was a really simple version of Tic-Tac-Toe- ‘Noughts and Crosses’, gaming has evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry.
Today, we’re going to take a look back at the evolution of the gaming industry over the years.
After the successful launch of Nought and Crosses by the University of Cambridge, many scientists started focusing on developing new gaming systems.
Exactly 9 years after the first successful game, a few MIT students introduced the first shooting game(*ahem*), Spacewars in 1961 on a PDP-1 mainframe computer. This game had 2 player-controlled spaceships maneuvering around a star fighting against each other.
This went on to become the first arcade game when some students at Standford University set up the coin-based Arcade game- Galaxy Game. Needless to say, it was a spectacular debacle, owing much to huge operating cost and poor marketing strategy. But, they’ve shown the way, the path to glory to the gold diggers.
Many competitors followed suit with widely popular titles such as Space Invaders, Pac-man, Donkey Kong and made the arcade a $8bn industry by early ’80s. This phase also witnessed some remarkable improvements in vector graphics.
Fall of Arcade
As Moore once famously predicted, hardware specs started improving at a phenomenal rate, enabling home computers to run more complex games. With the breakthroughs in 3D graphics and declining cost of PC’s, PC gaming was estimated to roll.
People started realising the potential market for this and started commercializing what once had been for pure academic research. MicroChess was the first game to be released to the general public, which went on to sell 50,000 copies in early ’80s. This triggered a sharp decline arcade gaming.
PC gaming attained a new peak during the first half of ’80s and there were many legendary titles getting released- Prince of Persia, Legend of Zelda and the first 3D game- 3D Monster Maze. With the success of Apple II, so many companies flooded the PC market triggering a price war.
In the technological front, when most of the companies were boasting with 8 color, IBM raised the bar with their 256 color PS/2, taking it to the next level. PC was all set to soar high.
Rise of PC
The gaming industry hit a slump in 1983, bankrupting several gaming agencies until Nintendo managed to revive the industry with the next-generation consoles.
A few years later when Capcom released Street Fighter II, it was a huge success. This led to the next wave of fighter games- Mortal Combat sparking a chance of revival. But the technology advancements in the home PC segment had cut the dream short.
’90′s was earmarked with remarkable innovation on the gaming industry. Developers had finally started moving towards 3D from their decade long obsession with raster graphics. There were a few improvements in storage as well.
Manufacturers started packing their games in neatly packed CDs. Many games like Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Sims were released and was a smashing hit.
But again there was this one problem- advanced games required advanced hardware. So whenever a new game was released it demanded more power. But a typical user would not be able to afford to change their hardware that often. The games had to be streamlined for certain hardware.
This paved way to the humble beginnings of the fifth generation consoles including the first PlayStation. We’ll see more about the evolution of consoles in the next part of this series.
Mid ’90s also saw the first glimpse of graphics cards. At a time where all the hardware advancements were streamlined towards arcade machines or the consoles, 3dfx Interactive launched the world’s first 3D accelerator Voodoo Graphics PCI chipset. And the world was never the same.
The First Wave
With PCs gearing up to compete with the second generation arcade machines, franchises started pouring in dollars for PC game development.
Though developers were focusing on all kinds of games, FPS rose to prominence with popular titles like Quake and Doom. Let’s revisit some of the early games that turned the industry around.
Wolfenstein 3D was the first FPS game for DOS. The game was based on an arcade game- Castle Wolfenstein. The game was designed after WWII reins and the objective of the game is to escape a prisoner from a Nazi prison and destroy the Nazi empire. The game is often recogonised for having created a new genre in PC gaming.
With the phenomenal success of their first FPS- Wolfenstein 3D, ID Software decided to develop a more graphic intesive, violence stridden series to woo customers. Doom was launched in 1993 for DOS, amid huge fanfare, and was rated ad one of the besst games ever.
Doom was one of the early games which pioneered 3D graphics and networked multiplayer gaming. The game was so popular that all the FPS were called as Doom Clones, in fact the term FPS was coined much later.
Another interesting feature that attracted many fans was the ability to create your own scenarios with custom WAD’s(Where is all the data). With this, the users were able to create many custom levels and characters.
Backed heavily by John Carmack, lead programmer at id Software, this was introduced in 1994 and went viral. Many enthusiasts joined the community and created thousands of expansions, hundreds of new characters and much more.
I still remember the first time I saw the original Star Wars DOOM mod. Seeing how someone had put the death star into our game felt so amazingly cool. I was so proud of what had been made possible, and I was completely sure that making games that could serve as a canvas for other people to work on was a valid direction. – John D. Carmack
Doom was notorious for having high level of violence, blood gore and satanic imagery. It was called as “mass murder simulator” among other things. Many religious organizations rallied against the game. The protests intensified after the infamous Columbine High School massacre, which saw 12 people killed.
Regardless of the controversies, Doom is considered as a game well ahead of it’s time, in many respects.
Quake, the most popular FPS series, was launched in 1996 for DOS. With impressive gameplay, solid graphics and an awesome soundtrack, it attained near universal acclaim with a MetaCritic score of 94.
The story is simple– A government experiment goes wrong and you’re the only survivor. You’ve to fight against a vicious army of monsters at each level and destroy them to proceed. As with their other games, id Software didn’t spare any expense in creating a beautiful 3D environments(it was indeed beautiful back then), overwhelming violence and some compelling gameplay.
If you’re into action games, or even if you’re not, you should be playing Quake right now – it’s as good as PC gaming gets. – GameSpot
Quake had revolutionized modern day gaming in its own terms. It had taken multiplayer gaming to the next level with their hugely popular Death matches. Some intuitive features like rocket-jump added to the fun. Quake- Multiplayer turned out to be a huge hit and many other developers followed suit, including the incredible Unreal Tournament.
And Quake has set a new trend in terms of shooting precision. Back then most of the games were played with a keyboard or a game pad. So, games just used to point in a general direction and shoot to watch the enemy blast away.
Nothing feels good than watching the monsters die.
Apart from the gameplay, Quake series had a pretty solid game engine. It was so popular among game developers and was used in various other games including the most famous Call of Duty series.
GTA is the most notorious action, open-world game developed by RockStar North(DMA Design then). The game play constitutes of various levels with the objective of reaching certain points. The gamer work closely with various crime syndicates and completes various missions for large sums of money.
The most attractive part of the game is its openness, i.e there are no pre defined events — you can play it the way you want. It’s totally upto you, if you want to take up a mission or not.
The game was a huge commercial success but some reviewers were critical about it. With mafia link up and violence, this too stirred many controversies.
Half-Life is undoubtedly the most popular game in the game universe. Half-Life was developed on top of the Quake engine and was later modified it to include Direct3D support. The game was not only technically superior, it employed a intuitive approach to the game play. Instead of relying on cut scenes, Half-life uses pre scripted sequences to detail their plot line.
Half-Life had a far superior Artificial Intelligence engine than the other games in its time and had received several accolades. The bots were a lot smarter than the other games released during that time. Half Life is one of the best games under the Sun and has changed our gaming experience for ever. We’ll be seeing about that in a later of this series.
Valve is a ground-breaking company in many respects. First they fought against the stereotypical gaming industry with their innovative Half-Life even when most of the publishers refused to sign them up. After the huge success of Half-Life, they came up with a free mod and showed the world that it doesn’t take huge resource to develop a game.
Counter-Strike is addictive. It’s one of those games that I still play from my school days. I’ve burnt the midnight oil far too many times and spent countless hours to perfect the art of sniping. With real-life recoil velocity effects, I learnt more about the weapons and gradually improved my aim.
It didn’t take long for the folks at Valve(incidentally they’re old Microsoft alums) to realize its potential and they released a standalone version. It sold more than 27 million copies by the latest data and one of the most popular games even today.
As with the other shooter games, CS was sued for excessive violence. It was blamed for the Virginia Tech attack. A Brazilian court had banned the games salea in 2010 but the order was revoked back later.
Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
Daggerfall is the second part of the Elder Scrolls sequeal and a fitting sequel to The Elder Scrolls: Arena, developed by Bethesda Softworks and was released for DOS and Windows in the Spring of ’96. It’s an action, role based, open world game is set to take place on a fictional continent of Tamriel.
It was one of the few bold games that had different endings based on the players actions. It was one of fore-runners of role-playing games and set up the trend for the other Elder Scroll games.
The ’90s was a great decade for gaming. It saw the evolution of consoles, video cards and a a lot of exciting games. And as we know things just got better in the new millennium. We’ll be talking about that in the next part.
The list here is no way complete. I’ve focused most important PC games that changed the course of time. I’m sure there are many other awesome games that are not in this list.
Have I missed something here? Do let us know you thoughts by joining us in the discussion below. Thanks a lot for reading and stay tuned.