Stolen Pixels #156: 2009

By Shamus
on Jan 1, 2010
Filed under:
Column

Videogames since 1972. How far back does your memory go?

At 36 panels, this is the longest comic I’ve ever done, and I don’t expect to top that anytime soon. Like most of my worst ideas, this began with the hilarious notion that it would be quick and easy to throw together. I ended up spending almost a whole day on the dang thing, mostly reading various history sites.

Also: Happy new year.

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20201Feeling chatty? There are 41 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Sydney says:

    No love for 1973? =(

  2. mlkjhgfds says:

    Funny how you can see where most choices come from. Episode 1 cause half-life had to fit somewhere, Left 4 Dead because you play it (and, ya, 2008…), but still, all significant.

    All except… Modern Warfare 2 ?! Nobody’ll remember it in a few months, let alone a few years. Guess it’s supposed to represent all the generic FPSs ever?

    Happy new year!

  3. guiguiBob says:

    Modern warfare IMO is still significant for the number of copies sold. It may only be remembered as the first blockbuster of the videogames industry. Shallow as all the hollywood ones but still.

    Happy new year

  4. Zerotime says:

    Why Duke Nukem 3D in 1996 instead of, you know, Quake?

  5. Moridin says:

    While I don’t object to any of your choices, I would have fitted one C&C title there. Probably instead of Warcraft.

  6. Bryan says:

    Zerotime: Probably because Quake was already shown, in Q3A, in 1999.

    Of course, then the question becomes, why Q3A in 1999 instead of one of the others. Unless the Duke Nukem franchise was judged important enough to include — but then why not DN1 or DN2, back in 1991/1993/whenever they were? Sure, they were just platformers, but…

    Or maybe I should just stop talking. :P

    (Heh. Beaten by a few different people. :) )

  7. scragar says:

    Despite not being born until the mid 1980’s I’m ashamed to say I’ve played every game you pictured with a few exceptions from 2000 onwards(No KOTOR, WOW or Half life for me), in fact…
    Goes running off to the back room
    I still, somewhere….
    Throws boxes of old floppy disks, broken PS1s and the casing of a 360 across the floor
    Ahah, found it. NES, the ultimate gaming console :p
    Holds up a NES with a copy of double dragon two hanging out of the slot

  8. Mark says:

    Some interesting choices. My favorites would include the X-Wing series instead of Wing Commander, and inclusion of the Mechwarrior series somewhere. Also, Zork and X-Com. Of course, given that X-Wing and X-Com both came out in the same year as Doom, I can see the problem you had… 1993 was another good year, I think.

    Anyway, thanks for the trip down memory road!

  9. Peter H. Coffin says:

    Amusing. Unlike most of the prior comments, I’ve played all the ones listed that took coins, more or less contemporarily. I’ve not played more than even a quarter of the ones since 1995.

    The reason for no 1973 is that really, nothing in particular happened in 1973 that can show up well in a screen shot that small. (Gotcha wouldn’t look like anything except a bunch of white block evenly spaced on a black field.)

  10. Jonathan says:

    I’ve played most of the older ones, but only a couple of the post-2000 games…and I was born in 1983.

  11. MichaelG says:

    But what about original Adventure, played on an IBM Selectric-typewriter-based terminal connected to a time-sharing mainframe?

    I mean, come on! Why limit yourself to VIDEO games?

  12. Rutskarn says:

    Huh. I’ve played…17 of these.

    I’ve played too many video games.

  13. Joshua says:

    Would have preferred the original Half-Life 2 to Episode 1. Oddly enough, I don’t even remember the original Street Fighter. Wasn’t it called Fighting Streets? I thought Street Fighter II was when the fighting game genre really broke out. Finally, the Ultima III screenshot was from the Nintendo? Back in the day, I played it on my PC with much uglier graphics, darnit. :)

    I count 22 of those games that I’ve played, and another handful that I’ve come close via sequels(King’s Quest IV and Street Fighter II)

  14. Telas says:

    I was about to gripe about the lack o’ love for Baldur’s Gate, until I realized that they came out in those “multiple earth-shaking titles” years…

    Even Planescape:Torment came out against Q3A. Tough call, indeed.

  15. Factoid says:

    How come every year was a specific game except for “Atari 2600”. Shouldn’t that have been “Combat” based on the screenshot?

    Also is it sad or awesome that i’ve played 30 of these games and will soon be playing number 31 because I got the PS3 port of God of War 1 and 2 for christmas.

  16. Jay says:

    What a brave choice you made Shamus. Lists like these always draw the second-guessers. Folks always wonder why their favorite or the percieved *best* thing is missing. I will, of course, abstain from such things. I looked at the list and tried to figure out when games started looking good. Around the early 90’s I would guess. There was another bump about a decade later. I wonder if things are looking to improve again?

    To clarify, the tiny thumbnails used in the comic were still able to show when games experienced a leap in graphical quality. Halo and Halo 3 are hugely different on a nice big HDTV (even my normalish antique TV) but on a pic that size the difference is. . .nonexistent.

    Jay

  17. Kalil says:

    ’96 was a hard year – I’dve picked Diablo 1 over Duke Nukem. It pretty much founded the ‘diablo clone’ genre, as well as launching multiplayer coop gameplay. Duke Nukem’s biggest contribution was that its ‘adult’ nature launched the first proto-jack-thompson video game scandals.
    Oh, and terrain destruction. That was cool.

    ’97, also, presented a hard choice, in that Ultima Online was probably more ‘significant’ than Fallout.

  18. mixmastermind says:

    Good God a lot of amazing games came out in 2004.

    Also, good God, Half-Life 2 is a half a decade old.

  19. Papo says:

    @19:
    That reminds how much I want Episode 3 to be released …

    Damn Valve, throw us a bone here D:

  20. Tuck says:

    The Ultima III screenshot perplexed me, and doing a bit of reading I find:

    a) it was released for the Apple II, C64, and Atari 8-bit in 1983

    b) it wasn’t released for the NES until 1987 — in Japan. In the US it wasn’t out for NES until 1989!

    Moby Games all the details.

    Happy new year!

  21. SoldierHawk says:

    Well done Shamus. This got me a little misty–I really enjoy retrospectives like this that look at how far something has come through the years. This was a lovely tribute to my favorite hobby–thank you.

  22. Caffiene says:

    I love the nostalgic feeling, and looking back thinking “Wow, has it really been so long?”

    But the thing that always hits me the most when looking back at old games is how recent some of the games seem… It happens every time. For example, my brain is currently doing somersaults trying to process Fallout being only 2 years before Quake3.

    I not sure what I did during those years, but it seems to have really messed with my perception of time… :D

  23. AGrey says:

    No LucasArts games?

    sure, you threw a point&click adventure in there, but no Monkey Island (1990 and 1991 were the good ones)? Day of the Tentacle(1993)? Sam and Max(also 1993)?

    looking back, that puts them against final fantasy, civilization, and doom. ouch. (wow, 1993 was a good year)

    you could have gone way far back to the original maniac mansion (C64 release 1987, PC release 1988)

    bump megaman off 1988, and use a different one of the thousand megaman sequels.

  24. Old_Geek says:

    I think everyone missed the point. Shamus is trying to show a snapshot of how video games have developed over the last 37 years, both in graphics and gameplay, as well as give some of us old enough to remember 1972 a walk down memory lane. Excellent job, Shamus!

  25. Tuck says:

    That’s fine, Old_Geek, but using the NES port of Ultima III for the illustration of 1983 is not a good way of illustrating the idea..

    I just found out the NES wasn’t even released in the US until 1985…so that choice of screenshot was doubly bad. :D

    But as Shamus said…it was a lot harder than he expected.

    Here’s an interesting read…

  26. Mark says:

    Yes, many kudos to Shamus for putting a list together. I too love these types of retrospectives. One thing missing from the article that I would have dearly loved is links to some of the history sites Shamus had to trawl to gather this data.

    Oh, and happy New Year!

    :-)

  27. Eidolon says:

    Wow. I’ve played all of them, aside from God of War. Not contemporaneously, though.

    I probably spend too much time playing games. >.>

  28. Nathan says:

    It would be great if each picture linked to a post here about the game, but I don’t know how you could easily pull it off.

  29. Zaxares says:

    Add me to the “Wow. Has it really been so long?” group of people. Despite not joining the gaming scene until 1987, I remember playing that game depicted in the Atari 2600 screenshot.

    And now I’m playing Mass Effect. Heh. It’s amazing how far games have come in just 20 years.

  30. Josh says:

    To the Duke Nukem 3d haters: ha!

    I wonder what’s the most recognizable game in the list? Probably Pac-Man.

  31. Ian says:

    It pretty much founded the ‘diablo clone’ genre, as well as launching multiplayer coop gameplay.

    Diablo certainly wasn’t the first multiplayer cooperative gameplay. My dad and I used to play cooperative Doom over a null modem cable (I wonder if I still have that sucker…) in 1993, before Diablo was even a twinkle in Blizzard’s eye, and I’m that there are multiplayer cooperative games that predate Doom.

    Diablo isn’t the first WAN-based multiplayer game, not by a long shot. Doom supported WAN play and matchmaking via DWANGO and I’m sure someone who’s been around longer than me could think of earlier examples.

  32. Kalil says:

    Ian: You’re right. Diablo also wasn’t the first ‘diablo-clone’ (Gauntlet would probably get that title). However, it did /launch/ those genres, in the same way Warcraft and Warcraft II really launched RTS, and Doom and Wolfenstein really launched FPS. None of those were the first games in their respective genres/playstyles, but they were the games responsible for bringing those genres into public consciousness and popularizing them. Battle.net, launched with Diablo 1, changed how people play games. Again, it didn’t really have /original/ ideas: Dwango and Q-spy (later renamed Gamespy) had much of the same functionality. But Battle.net became huge in a way none of its predecessors did.

    Duke Nukem 3d was a really fun game – I actually played it quite a bit more than I did Diablo 1 (and I’ve actually never played D1 on bnet) – but I don’t know how much it contributed to the development of gaming. It’s main contributions that I can think of were some refining/advancement of physics engines, destructible terrain, and the first major nudity controversy.

    Looking at ’96: Daggerfall also was released that year. That was also a very interesting and somewhat signifigant game. It remains one of the largest games, in scope and ambition, ever released. It developed many modern gaming tropes. And the 3d mazes that formed the bulk of the gameplay were great fun. Until you fell through a crack in the world and had to reload from save.
    Hmm, thinking about it, its most major contribution to gaming was probably as the first major game to get released in beta-quality condition. That’s now pretty much the norm…

  33. Xpovos says:

    Alright, time for me to throw my dig. I know you’re a huge L4D fan, so it’s a natural selection at 2008, but I’ve gotta think there’s something better than just another iteration in the zombie-shooter genre. Time to do my own research:

    OK, first up: GTA IV. I didn’t really like it either, but it moved that series along well and had some good innovation.
    For pure indy cred, Sins of a Solar Empire is probably one of the best games in a long time.
    If Spore had been half the game we were promised, it would’ve won hands down.

    I guess it’s hard to pick out the really innovation until many years later when we can see what has seen what has stuck around.

  34. Michael Schwarz says:

    Ian, if I had to guess, the MUDs predate Doom by a fair margine. But I seem to remember some game that interacted by modem back in the 70s, but I can’t remember any details.

    EDIT: Whoops, didn’t mean to add my last name… :/

  35. Plaidman says:

    what, no love for OXO, Spacewar!, or Tennis for Two?

  36. Eidolon says:

    @Michael Schwartz: A fair margin, yes. The first proper MUD, MUD1 or Essex MUD, launched in 1978.

  37. Plaidman: I was just about to post something similar. In the process of doing research to remind myself of the name of 1958’s “Tennis for Two”, though, I discovered the 1947 game “Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device“, which sounds like something that T. Herman Zweibel would have financed to give the working-classes some way to distract themselves from their hellish existences of futility and early death.

    Shamus, why start at 1972?

    • Shamus says:

      Kevin J. Maroney: I started in 1972 because that’s when games went from hobby projects to a commercial business. Also because meaningful screenshots and info for pre-1972 were hard to come by. And because I didn’t want to spend all honkin’ day on the thing.

  38. Blackbird71 says:

    A fun list, thanks Shamus.

    What I found interesting was discovering that if the games on the list that I’ve played are any indication, then you’d think that I only buy games over spurts of about 3-4 years, and then not buy any for another 3-4 years before starting again.

    Looking back, the cycle isn’t that far off. It seems to me that I have periods where I like to catch up on games a few years old, and end up buying several at a time, and then go a few years only picking up a game here and there. It’s an odd pattern, and I suppose pretty meaningless to anyone else, but I found it an amusing revelation about my habits.

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