Modern video games enjoy the popularity of the top tier of entertainment media. In terms of profit, video games now even exceed even the film box office, and their ubiquity is only growing. Despite this position of a forerunner, it’s important to note that video games are still far from a settled medium. Much like with film they evolve over time, drawing from their predecessors in ways both subtle and overt.

Arcade: Pac-Man

With that in mind, we want to take a look at some of the most influential games which came out in various generations, and the legacy which they inspire to this day. It would be impossible to cover them all in anything less than a novel, but in terms of modern influences, these listed below certainly have earned their place in history.

Arcade: Pac-Man

Not the first arcade game, but certainly the most popular. Pac-Man has a simple premise, eat the dots, avoid the ghosts, and eat the power-pellets and then the ghosts. An utterly bizarre concept, this May 1980 release offered both approachability and a strong competitive element to arcade gaming – despite the fact it was a single player game.

Competing against friends to gain a high score became almost a national pastime in the years following Pac-Man’s release, with a few players even able to stretch a single credit out for hours. This game, alongside the likes of Donkey Kong and Space Invaders, would go on to enjoy enduring legacies which persist to this day.

Pac-Man has become such a classic that it drew in over $2.5 billion dollars by the end of the 1990s, and players still fight to obtain the world record perfect-score. Yes, in fact, there is a perfect score which can be obtained within Pac-Man. Because of this, the world record is measured in the time it takes to obtain this score of 3,333,360 before hitting the inevitable ‘kill-screen’ on level 256. At this point, the game glitches out, because of what is called a buffer overflow error.

Smartphone: Angry Birds

Originally underestimated as a platform for gaming, smartphones have gone on to become a billion-dollar component of video games with top tier and unique offerings. One of the biggest breakout hits on this front was Angry Birds.

While not unique in its own right, as it largely copied wholesale from flash games like Crush the Castle, Angry Birds popularized the formula on an entirely new level. A simple physics-based puzzle game at its core, Angry Birds tasked players with knocking down buildings and defeating bird’s natural nemesis’ – the pigs.

Now a major franchise which includes two feature films and a huge variety of merchandise, Angry Birds stands as one of the biggest names ever in mobile gaming. It may not have been the first, but in terms of bringing in attention and building infrastructure, it was one of the best.

Even related industries which have moved into smartphone engagement like AR and online casino gaming owe some thanks to Angry Birds in this regard. If it weren’t for the birds then gaming app stores would not be nearly as useful as they are today, meaning a far lesser variety to choose from. The same could be said for casino meta-websites like Oddschecker, which are similarly designed to help players track down entertainment like sports bets, bonuses, and promotions.

Nintendo Entertainment System: Super Mario Bros.

The much-loved plumber, originally a carpenter, found his way to super-stardom in this 1985 sequel to the 1983 arcade game, Mario Bros. This 2-D platformer had the eponymous brothers running, jumping, stomping on turtles, and traveling down pipes on their way to rescue Princess Toadstool, also known as Peach.

With eight different worlds this lengthy adventure, at least for the time, included areas of great difficulty, though astute players could find their way to the warp-zones to skip most of the game. Of all the elements within this game, perhaps the most engaging at the time were the smooth side-scrolling screen, the tight controls, and the incredibly catchy music.

These aspects help maintain a strong competitive element even to this day, with speedrunners fighting over the fasted time back and forth multiple times within the last couple of years.

Credited as helping bring back video games following the 1983 market crash, Mario has gone on to enjoy a series of games which still exceed as top examples of their fields. No other series, shy of perhaps the Legend of Zelda, has maintained such great quality and fan interest for this long, with each new iteration adding something fresh, even if the base concept remains relatively similar.

Personal Computer: Doom

While personal computers now far and away lead the battle of gaming technological prowess, this wasn’t always a case. There was a time where systems like the NES far outstripped anything home computers could manage, and it took the efforts of a few genius programmers to show the world just what PCs could be capable of.

This was the case when gaming legend John Carmack used a programming trick to make 2D games scroll smoothly on limited PC hardware. This was even more the case when he and John Romero, as well as the rest of the team at ID software, created the worldwide revelation known as Doom.

With different height ceilings, walls at angles other than 90 degrees, and texture mapping which blew away anything attempted before, Doom was nothing short of a technical marvel. Dealing with light and dark, a variety of demon and former-human enemies, as well as some of the best sound and music design in the business, Doom raised the bar not just for PCs, but for gaming a whole.

Having stood the test of time better than most early ‘3D’ PC games, Doom enjoys an enormously actively mod and map-making community to this day, with source ports like GZDoom helping it play nice on even the most recent of systems. With 2016’s much loved new entry and another coming soon with Doom Eternal, the future of this FPS series looks safe, even with most of the original minds now departed.

XBOX: Halo

Halo is a divisive game among hardcore gamers, though its influence can hardly be doubted. Among the less well-received of these aspects is how it popularized smaller weapon carry limits, and the often poorly implemented regenerating shields.

Less controversial, however, are the undeniable developments which Halo brought into the world of console multiplayer gaming. While Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 is generally ascribed with solidifying this basic potential of split-screen competitive gaming, Halo is the game which brought similar attention to the online sphere.

Together with the Xbox Live online framework, Halo and its sequels let the world know that online console games could not just work, they could excel.

Regular and team deathmatch, capture the flag, vehicles, and some great weapons made Halo something which many console players had not experienced before, making it widely regarded as the killer app for the original Xbox system. It might no longer hold the position of esteem it once did, but the Halo series remains strong, on both the competitive and friendly fronts.

Honorable Mention: Super Mario 64

Other than the aforementioned Goldeneye, we also have to give credit to Super Mario 64, which evolved the 3d platforming genre just as Super Mario Bros accomplished before. While this genre doesn’t exist on a level which it did back in the N64/PS2 generation, the improvements which SM64 lent are still felt to this day, across all systems and many other genres. 

nitendo super mario
N64 – SUPER MARIO 64 (16)” (Public Domain) by bensomarket

With the next generation of consoles just around the corner, we have to wonder – what new avenues remain unexplored where we might see similar trend-setting advances? Will Pokémon Go take this position for AR, and what might we expect as the first major breakout VR game? Only time will tell, and we can’t wait to see what the next generation of developers come up with next.

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