There is a long, exhaustive list of classic games and consoles that come to mind when I think about the best of all time for different reasons. Some kicked off million dollar franchises and launched industry trends for years, spawning cartoons, movies and Thanksgiving Day floats. This short list encompasses the top 5 games that stand out for originality and influencing trends within the industry.
1) Micro League Baseball (1984 PC)
There have been many Baseball simulators over the years, but Micro League Baseball for PC was unlike other simulation video games before it. Originally developed by Micro League Sports Association (Micro League Multimedia Inc), it was released on Amiga, Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, Commodore 64 (which I used), and PC. It was one of the first video games to carry the “MLB” official license, allowing the game to feature real teams and players, which didn’t exist before. Even more meaningful, it possessed a ‘manager disk’ separately which allowed users to make trades with other teams and even create their own players (and track stats).
In addition, it included and introduced the term “classic teams”, which hadn’t been done before in any baseball simulator. My childhood friends and I used to play for hours and was a dream to “be” the 1927 New York Yankees, 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers or 1969 New York Mets. This was the first game in my experience that allowed me to think of myself inside the game, creating my own persona and being involved in something that was more than a computer screen.
The Legend of Zelda (US 1987, Nintendo)
This category of games could have gone easily to others of the era, such as Super Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog. For me though, The Legend of Zelda stands out above the rest of the late 80’s video game era, the best in high fantasy themed action-adventure and RPG game genre. Created by Japanese game designers and developed / published by Nintendo, its gameplay is a mixture of action, adventure, and puzzle solving. It is one of Nintendo’s most prominent and popular franchises and included game depth never seen before its time, and lets face it, it was GOLD.
Though the game contains many standard role-playing elements, it underscores straightforward hack and slash-style combat over the strategic, turn-based or active time combat type games (such as Final Fantasy). The Legend of Zelda series consists of 17 official games on all of Nintendo’s major consoles, as well as several spin-offs (Let’s just forget Zelda 2 existed though … ugh) and an animated series in 1989. As of the date of this publishing, the series has sold over 75 million copies worldwide.
DOOM (1993 PC)
While I considered Wolfenstein 3D as the premier game of this kind, DOOM takes the win as the most influential by far. Doom was the key first-person shooter video game and is considered one of the most significant in the video game industry, for having basically created the first-person shooter (FPS) genre.
DOOM took the successes of Wolfenstein 3D and kicked everything up another notch. The layouts and maps were more complex, the action was faster and more violent, and enemies were demons and hellhound nightmares. The music was actually pretty good for video game and game effects were for the time, stunning. It also improved upon Wolfenstein in a very important way for the gaming community as a whole for years to come, the levels and content were designed to be easily modded and expanded. This is the first game that I recall being able to change the actual game look and feel, and molding it to make it a better, personalized experience.
GoldenEye 007 (1997, N64)
GoldenEye 007 is considered an important game in the history of first-person shooters for signaling a transition from the then-standard Doom-like approach to games, to a more realistic style. It pioneered features such as atmospheric single-player missions, stealth elements, and the incorporation of a console multiplayer deathmatch mode.
GoldenEye 007 was the game that popularized the console version of the FPS, but it kicked off a huge trend that still dominates the virtual arena in 2014, the Multiplayer experience. This game allowed multiple people to enter a single virtual space, and allow them to interact together. This opened up a world of video game interaction that had never been crossed, and remains the # 3 seller of all time on N64.
Call of Duty Series (2003-2014)
There are many well liked shooters of this genre (Halo, etc.), but Call of Duty did two new things that became massively important to the success of the FPS game in the last generation. First, it’s multiplayer mode expanded and introduced the concept of “feature” upgrades (leveling, weapons, kill-streaks, etc.) that were copied in many games afterwards and secondly it showed that single player campaigns could use the sort of huge set piece based excitement that was so popular in action films, immensely real and highly detailed. The sense of realism in CoD is brought to a whole new level from all of it’s competitors.
The series also began on the PC, and later expanded to consoles and handhelds. As of today, the Call of Duty series has sold over 100 million copies, and includes over 40 million monthly active players across all of the Call of Duty titles, with 10 million users online.