Video games date back to the 1960s, but Pong (1972) was the first big breakthrough. Since then, every few years (or a few times in a year) comes along a title that redefines gaming or a specific genre. This is the story of the most important video games ever made, told through 37 images.
Space Invaders, 1978: A game that is as simple as it gets. A 2D shooter with a ship firing a laser at descending aliens. The initial release was in black & white, later receiving a color treatment. It helped the video game industry deviate to the action-genre after the less fantastical pong-like games in the 70’s.
Pac-Man, 1980: Another arcade game, this time launching the maze genre, becoming one of the biggest pop culture icons of the 1980s, and is credited for opening the world to new video game ideas, even such as GTA and sandbox games.
Donkey Kong, 1981: Donkey Kong is important in two major ways. It was the basis for the Super Mario Bros. series, which we all know is incredibly popular, and was the first successful platformer. In a way, we wouldn’t have Uncharted without Donkey Kong.
Tetris, 1984: The most successful video game of all-time (probably, no one can be 100% sure of these things), Tetris introduced the puzzle genre in a simple yet addictive way, that’s still going strong over 30 years since it first made the way across the Atlantic from the USSR to the USA.
Super Mario Bros., 1985: Donkey Kong was the first taste of the character, but the first Super Mario Bros. game probably saved the video game industry during the 1980s in the United States, launched an incredibly successful franchise and took the side scrolling platformer into a whole new stratosphere.
The Legend of Zelda, 1986: Originally known as The Hyrule Fantasy, it wasn’t the first action-adventure game, but it was one the world has never seen, setting the groundwork for the modern RPGs.
Out Run, 1986: Racing or Driving game (big argument at the time), Out Run stood out thanks to its graphics, nonlinear play and themes of luxury and style, which weren’t really part of gaming up to that point.
Double Dragon, 1987: Not the first beat-em-up to hit the market, but the one that made the genre extremely popular, so popular it got an animated series and a live action film adaptation (a terrible one), which wasn’t such a common thing over 20 years ago.
Tecmo Bowl, 1987: The first really good sports game, only it became a hit two years later on the NES. Of all the things Tecmo Bowl is famous for, including finally making a good NFL game, is the dominance of Bo Jackson in comparison to everyone else.
Street Fighter II, 1991: Probably the most important fighting game of all-time, and not because of the Van Damme movie. SF2 introduced a joystick and button scanning routine that was never seen before, and resulted in almost every company trying to build a franchise of their own.
Sonic the Hedgehog, 1991: Sonic was a hit thanks to a combination of graphics, music and gameplay, establishing the Genesis as a player in the 16-bit market of the early 1990’s, and making rival companies to SEGA try to come up with an animal mascot of their own.
Final Fantasy IV: A landmark game, not just in the history of the series, but RPG games in general, with character driven plot and the famous active time battle system.
Doom, 1993: Doom wasn’t the first 1st person shooter, but it changed the genre in its horror/sci-fi approach, with violence, 3D graphics and overall gameplay unseen before. It didn’t just help popularize the genre, but also helped create the gaming subculture, which has grown immensely since.
Resident Evil, 1996: Like Doom did for 1st person shooters, Resident Evil did the same for the Survival horror genre, only with a much more successful franchising into film and, well, every possible media branch.
Tomb Raider, 1996: Tomb Raider took the Action-Adventure genre to a whole new level, but maybe it’s most important contribution to gaming was the female protagonist. Not unheard of before, but oh so rare, especially when it came to success, sequels.
Pokemon Red and Blue, 1998: Pokemon didn’t do anything new, it just did in a cooler, better way than anyone else. This game came out on the Game Boy, and the rest, as the cliche goes, is history
Starcraft, 1998: Starcraft might be the most important game in the second half of the 1990s. Not just because of what it did to strategy gaming and especially real-time strategy, but its place in the popularizing of e-sports, first in South Korea and later all over the world.
Counter Strike, 2000: Originally known as Half-Life: Counter Strike, this game helped make the team vs team FPS games popular, and in this case, controversially having a playable terrorist team.
Super Smash Bros: Melee, 2001: The game showed how to do a “Royal Rumble” in video games the right way, with a unique damage counter system, and the crossover of most Nintendo characters into one action packed fiesta, still influential today.
Silent Hill 2, 2001: As far as survival horror games go, few do the job of Silent Hill 2 in terms of puzzle solving but mostly psychological effect it has on the protagonist and the player, even 15 years later.
Grand Theft Auto 3, 2001: GTA games already made an impact in the years before, but III introduced it in 3D, which meant the nihilistic approach only got better, bigger and clearer, growing with each game in the series.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, 2003: This is still the best Star Wars game ever made in my opinion, giving the franchise a much needed RPG twist after going Simulator and action in previous installments, with storytelling and world/galaxy building that is still one of the best ever made.
Half-Life 2, 2004: Unlike other game on this list, the speciality of Half-Life 2 isn’t in introducing something new to the world, but by setting a higher standard of narrative, physics, A.I. and animation. Still no sequel though.
GTA San Andreas, 2004: Maybe THE game of 6th generation console gaming, San Andreas delivered a whole new scope and style of storytelling, while moving GTA into a more RPG like experience, with leisure and style just as important as advancing the gameplay.
World of Warcraft, 2005: World of Warcraft took a very successful franchise and turned it on its head, birthing the new age of MMORPG, with user interactions within the confines of the world sometimes more exciting to explore than the game and story itself.
Shadow of Colossus, 2005: A Puzzle-Action-Adventure game in my opinion, without any dungeons or towns and NPCs. Simply the protagonist, his journey and the bosses he has to figure out how to kill, in a game that’s a perfect example of how this industry can produce art, not just entertainment.
BioShock, 2007: A first person shooter that’s so much more, with unique environments, morality-system and a variety of ways to engage enemies, BioShock borrowed from many other genres to create one-of-a-kind game that broke the mold of how 1st person shooters should be made.
Portal, 2007: Despite being a short game and limited in story scope, Portal remains something different in the industry: A puzzle game that relies on physics and original thinking, with a dark story behind it and plenty of humor in its dialogue, a combination rarely seen.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – COD4 MW didn’t change first person shooters, and didn’t bring in something new. But some games are so successful and good it’s hard to ignore. Setting incredible standards in gameplay, graphics and storyline stand out, even with so many games in this specific series it’s easy to confuse one with another.
Fallout 3, 2008: Fallout 3 made the jump for the series into the first person view and not the previous graphics system. It displayed a whole new combat system and set a new bar for how a cruel, post-apocalyptic world should be portrayed in a video game.
Mass Effect 2, 2010: An Action-RPG that combines the 3rd-person shooter aspects extremely well, with incredible music, amazing characterization and an exceptional choice-system, that might be the best interactive storytelling in video game ever made, maybe to this day.
Dark Souls, 2011: The first in the series (three main games and a number of spin-offs so far) introduced an action RPG that focuses on making gameplay incredibly difficult, with enemies surprising you at every turn, along with intricate world design and lore. Dark Souls stands out in RPGs of recent years by focusing on making life difficult for the player, instead of guiding him along the storyline until the very end.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, 2011: Five years after its release, Skyrim is still being played and is among the most popular games worldwide. Why? Maybe because of the mods, maybe the incredible addition to the world built over the years by Bethesda. It stands out in its character development and setting.
Minecraft, 2011: Minecraft, to me, is the video game example of how the world and especially the web has moved onto user-based content. The players play the game to build a world, or see the worlds other players have built, and either observe or participate, in a unique gaming experience that is extremely popular and yet isn’t for everyone.
The Last of Us, 2013: The bad thing about The Last of Us is that it’s a PS only game. Other than that? Perfection. It takes the survival-action game with zombies and takes it into a whole new direction, thanks to an incredibly storyline, subtle subtext, deep characters and does a great job of not falling into cliches of human behavior and especially its female protagonist.
Grand Theft Auto V, 2013: The latest installment in the GTA series brought us back to LA. Only bigger, more violent, prettier, and a lot more cynical. What did it change? In a way, it was a critique of vanity and a superficial, emotionless existence, and how we’ve all become numb to certain things in our world, as ludicrous as they may be.
The Witcher 3, 2015: The Witcher 3 is another game that doesn’t invent anything, but simply did things better than everyone else. It completely blew the two previous games in the series out of the water. It provided an incredible conclusion to a terrific book series. The narrative, the depth of sidequests, the world and setting, the combat system and the choice-system that results in quite a few ending possibilities. Hopefully it’s not the last time we see Geralt. Final chapter or not, it could be the best RPG ever made.