This Monthly Three (imaginative name, I know) will most likely consist less content than usual, as the theme will be System X defining games, in this case What games define computer games? In this way I hope to showcase the core differences that stand between computer/PC gaming, arcade gaming and console gaming. As all three systems have differences in their core, the selection here are largely picked to present the definitive elements that a platform excels at.
We start with computer games, because they are the first to stem from the general field of electronic games. That’s a whole another can-o-worms we might open one day after discussing how computer and video games are simply continuation if child play culture.
But onwards, games that defined computer gaming as we know it nowadays. These are not in any particular order, so there’s no reason to look into that. The amount of games will be kept under ten for the sake of removing excess fat.
Computer games and RPGs would not be anywhere they are now without Ultima. It’s significance in how much it moulded the landscape is legendary. It’s a giant that build foundation of PC gaming. Sure, there were RPG games before Ultima on PC, but none of them allowed such freedom to wonder in a world, and world building is something Ultima has always excelled. Origin Systems kept revising Ultima with each entry and added elements never seen before, and created not only fascinating gameplay but also stories that are still to be beaten.
If one game series embodies what PC gaming is, it is Ultima.
While Ultima is the RPG, Wizardry stands its side. Ultima set third person combat into stone, Wizardry engineered first person dungeon exploring and showcasing monsters as sprites during battle. The battles were also command driven, something that would later appear in titles like Dragon Quest. Wizardry also engineered party based combat, which would later appear Ultima, and almost every single RPG produced afterwards. One shouldn’t forget the class system Wizardry was first to employ in computer games.
While Wizardry is the more comedic between these two giants, it’s legacy and influence on Japanese game developers can’t be underestimated. Hell, I’d say these two game franchises are the most influential things Japanese played back in the day.
The game that defined a new genre. Much like the previous two, games like Diablo, NetHack and their relatives all have to refer back to Rogue. Randomly generated stages are a defining trait for the genre and still stands apart as a significant game changer. Much like Ultima and Wizardry, Rogue had all the materials modern RPGs are made of.
By this point you’ve most likely noticed how this list consists of RPGs. That is because PC games excel in complexity of the system. We all systems we have in our modern gaming for granted and never stop to realize that there was a time when complex systems were only possible on PC, and if we truly want to argue, is till only possible on PC but are dumbed down for consoles.
subLOGIC flight simulator
Simulators are without a doubt something only PCs have done well. The amount of processing power required for accurate simulation has always been relatively high, and even now simulating things is relatively hard, especially water. Games like Wing Commander owe their existence to the combination of simulation games and RPGs.
I could give this spot for Tennis for Two, from 1958, but the reason why it gets this passing mention is because it was actually played with two controllers and lacked complexity that should be associated with computer games. It was, more or less, an arcade game. However, that was more due to the technological limitations than a conscious choice.
Colossal Cave Adventure and Mystery House
Before Sierra On-Line did their graphical adventure games, Colossal Cave Adventure laid down all the basics. While it stems from the choose-your-adventure books, it is very much a different beast more akin to a tabletop RPG. It’s successor and the first graphical adventure game was Mystery House by On-Line Systems, later known as Sierra On-Line, that paved way for titles like King’s Quest, The Dig and the countless number of Japanese porn exploits.
The first person element from Wizardry and the adventuring from Colossal Cave Adventure would later be the stepping-stones in Myst. I would also add The Oregon Trail to this set, as it’s set path to a lot of games in similar vein and most likely influenced adventure games overall, seeing how popular it was and to some extent, still is.
Wolfenstein 3D and Doom
I doubt I need to introduce these two. While first person games weren’t anything new even at Wolf3D‘s launch, it was the first one to put everything in a package that would yield Doom, and Doom on the other hand defined the modern First Person Shooting genre. While seemingly not complex in system, the reality is that at the time Wolf 3D‘s and Doom‘s engine was example of great coding, and the complexity lies in the speed and gameplay system. Only a keyboard at the time could give either game proper control.
Wolfenstein 3D and Doom are the first on the list that could do proper and smooths scrolling. It may seem weird nowadays, but scrolling used to something that was seen nearly impossible to do. That’s why Super Mario Bros. seemed revolutionary with its constantly scrolling screen, even if you couldn’t scroll backwards a stage. It was still a leap forwards from single screen games that governed the previous generation.
While SimCity is not the first on in its genre (Fortune Builder takes that trophy,) the fact that both stem from basic computer applications used for city building, account keeping and the like throws SimCity unto the list. It’s sheer complexity and popularity is the main reason it’s well-remembered, when real-time strategy games like Utopia are lost to the modern gamer. Games like Dune II and Starcraft are direct descendants of both Utopia and SimCity in more ways than one. Civizilation also has its roots in Utopia, if you were wondering why that was left from the list.
A lot of games people remember from their childhood do not appear among these, like Lode Runner, mainly because they were exception to the rules and used games from the arcades and Atari as a source rather than computer games. Nevertheless, PC has always been the platform of games with a running narrative. It was for those who would want to spend a lot of time with their games and be willing to update their system for a new game. Computer was, to use a divisive term, a more sophisticated system over the brutish consoles and arcade machines. Computer required thinking and strategy as well as understanding language. Part of the culture was to have a cutting edge computer to play these games as well, and the armament race to gain the best possible hardware with the best possible performance is very much solely a computer gaming thing.
However, as mentioned, this sophistication didn’t really made computer games any better. Computers could deliver great stories, but if you were looking for astonishing and impressive colours and striking yet intuitive gameplay, it was the arcades where you wanted to go. They could do a lot, and for a time did everything due to the absence of proper technology and design from arcades and consoles, but by the mid-1980’s, they had their role solidly embed into the stone.