Appendix F of Creating Games: Mechanics, Content, and Technology by Morgan McGuire and Odest Chadwicke Jenkins. Copyright © 2008, A K Peters, Ltd. Order the book from A K Peters. See the authors' website for the book.
The Games Canon
Famous, infamous, radically innovative, critically acclaimed, or
blockbuster successes, these are games everyone in the field should know
about. They form the base of prior art. In any field, professionals
work within a mainstream culture that references important previous
work. These form the critical jargon (e.g., "this painting references
Van Gogh's Starry Night") and the cultural context for new ideas.
Research is important in any field. It is how we build on the
successes of the past and avoid their failures. You wouldn't try to
write a book or create a car without first learning about the ones that
preceded yours. When creating a game, you should research previous
games. This list summarizes some of the most important games. It is
intended as a jumping-off point for further research if a game sounds
like one you'd like to make. Read through it to familiarize yourself
with the previous work. No game designer would be taken seriously
without at least passing familiarity with these titles, and most
designers have studied several of them in depth.
For brevity, only the most critically acclaimed (or derided) and
popular games are listed. In many cases, a previous game introduced a
concept (e.g., Crystal Caverns predated Wolfenstein) but had a minor impact. These also include the games that designers often list as their major influences.
For additional cannon lists, see Lowder's book for an excellent recent review of major board games by famous game designers, boardgamegeek.com for up-to-date Internet ratings, and Wikipedia's best-selling (if not best) video game list at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_best-selling_video_games.
The minicanon contains the bare minimum set of games that you should
be familiar with to appreciate the examples in this book and start
making your own games. A games course should offer these or equivalents
to students at a minimum, and anyone serious about games should own
them. Most of these games are explained in more depth in the following
sections and referenced throughout the text (see the index for
references). Note that these aren't necessarily the absolute best
games in their class, according to one specific design criterion, but
they are likely the most widely acclaimed, easiest to acquire, and
- Carcassonne by Klaus-Juergen Wrede is a board game
that features tile-laying and semicooperative mechanics. It has
multiple ways of earning points, relatively low variance, and deep
strategy and is supported by a series of expansions and alternative rule
- Settlers of Catan by Klaus Teuber is a board game with trading and building mechanics. Settlers and Carcassonne
cover most of the mechanics found in modern strategic German board
games and clarify the differences in mechanics and business models that
distinguish them from ancient games and twentieth-century American
games. They have also both successfully been converted to Xbox 360 video
games. Puerto Rico is a good substitute for Settlers and features similar mechanics and theme but more advanced play and better balance.
- Chess is representative of ancient strategy games. It
is played internationally from casual to tournament levels and features
rich emergent play. Almost everyone is immediately familiar with the
basics of the game, and the knight and king playing pieces are
challenged only by the six-sided die for the iconic status as the symbol
of gaming in general.
- Go beats chess in complexity (due to the large board),
age, and elegance (there are only two rules to the game!). Although
less popular in America than chess, many classic mechanics and
strategies arise directly from the rules of go, including encirclement,
flanking, captures, and variable board size.
- Poker is a gambling card game that rivals all other
games in terms of tournament popularity and purse size. It is exemplary
as a classic card game and relies almost exclusively on bidding
mechanics, which can be studied in depth through the many variants on
this game. Poker is familiar to most gamers and requires only a standard
deck of cards to play.
- StarCraft, or any other major RTS/TBS video game (e.g., Warcraft, Civilization, Populous, Master of Orion, Empire Earth), is a requirement for any game developer. We have a slight preference for the Age of Empires
series, which combines some modern RTS UI conventions and elements of
casual gameplay to make the games more accessible to new players (and
also has a free demo of the latest version). These play like a board
game but with mechanics so complex that you need a computer to resolve
them, nicely showing the transition from strategy to tabletop wargame to
computer game. The character-building RPG mechanics made famous by Diablo and Dungeons & Dragons
all appear in RTS games, but the "character" is the army or
civilization. Mechanics are at the forefront of RTS games, and these are
a celebration of complexity.
- Half-Life 2 stands out among FPS games. It is exemplary as a shooter, and the engine supports the other popular shooters Counter-Strike and Team Fortress, but HL2
also pushes farther toward storytelling than any other FPS and is among
the most technically sophisticated of its time in terms of technology
and Internet distribution business model. We believe that the original Half-Life had a better quality balance (HL2's graphics and physics advanced substantially, but the puzzles, mechanics, and story were at the same level as HL1) but believe that new gamers would appreciate HL2 more because they are accustomed to modern graphics and audio.
- Tetris is iconic as a puzzle and casual game,
and decades after its introduction is still considered the standard to
meet. The elegant gameplay, tremendous commercial success, and geometric
twist on dominoes meets Connect Four make this game a classic. Bejeweled, Hexen, Maki, and other popular arcade puzzle games are directly inspired by Tetris.
- Guitar Hero and its sequels were neither the
first rhythm games nor the first guitar games, but they took the genre
to perhaps its natural acme. Guitar Hero 2 and Rock Band (by the same developer, Harmonix, and the moral sequel to GH2)
are the best of the series. By combining a physical prop with popular
music, these games offer broad casual gamer appeal and have consistently
been among the best sellers every year since their introduction.
Reasonable substitutes are Dance Dance Revolution (DDR), Karaoke Revolution, PaRappa the Rapper, and Guitar Freaks, although these do not have the same mass appeal.
- Super Mario Bros. and its many sequels (e.g., Mario 64, Super Mario 3, Super Mario Galaxy)
stand out as best-of-breed platformers. These have tight arcade
controls for hardcore gamers combined with cartoony content for casual
players. They are polished to a shine by Nintendo's development team
and feature a Japanese experiential aesthetic that is still grounded
enough for mainstream Western audiences. The Mario games are
consistently among the best-selling games of all time, and Mario is
probably the most recognizable (and longest lived) video game
character—the video game equivalent of Mickey Mouse. As with most of
Nintendo's most popular games, the Mario games were designed by Shigeru
- The Sims 2 and its sequels and expansions are
the best of breed (and best-selling) of the god game/pet-raising genre
games. These feature most of the mechanical complexity of an RTS, but
that complexity is buried behind fiction so compelling that the player's
mental model invariably aligns with the artificial characters and not
the mechanics. The Sims series is often considered the
best-selling video game of all time, taking sequels and expansion packs
into account. The game was designed by industry veteran Will Wright,
who dedicated it to the memory of Dan Bunten, author of M.U.L.E.
- Indigo Prophecy is deeply flawed in its action
sequences, and the plot goes haywire halfway through the game, yet it
is one of the best examples of the potential for interactive fiction.
This arcane mystery game features characters that the player will really
empathize with and scenes that inspire true anxiety, fear, desire, and
awe. Although few narrative games can touch Indigo Prophecy, some other well-respected narrative games include Dreamfall and Jade Empire.
The older Lucas Arts games (many by Tim Schafer and with writing by
Orson Scott Card) feature rich characterization, humor, and fantastic
scenes but only occasionally gripping narratives: The Secret of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, and The Dig.
- Blackjack (a.k.a. 21). Working from one or more copies of a
standard 52-card deck, players draw cards and attempt to build a sum
that is higher than the dealer's but does not exceed 21. Except for
changes to the payoff ratios, this game has been unchanged since its
introduction in French casinos around 1700. Blackjack has several
properties that are unique among casino games: the house's advantage
over the player is minimal; the players are independently opposed to the
dealer, and not each other; and by tracking (counting) the cards that
have been played and changing their bets as the odds shift, players can
gain a statistical advantage over the house and reliably win.
- Poker is a betting game with many variations; it seems
to have been a primarily American game that spread up and down the
Mississippi river in the mid-1800's. Players compete to build the best
ranked hand. Hand rankings are designed to create a steep probability
falloff, and the predominant strategy in the game regards the placing of
bets. The Texas Hold 'Em variation has recently become
extremely popular due to televised tournaments with multimillion-dollar
pots and extensive Internet gambling sites.
- Rummy games, including the most popular gin rummy and
canasta variations, have players attempting to divide their hands into
sets called "melds" that match by either number or suit. Rummy games
seem to date to the eighteenth or nineteenth century and were developed
across the Western hemisphere. They are similar to the independently
created nineteenth-century Chinese mahjong game.
- Bridge is played by four players who work in teams of
two that sit opposite their partner. It is one of the classic
trick-taking games, where each round is divided into several steps and
players attempt to win the steps (tricks). Each trick involves players
sequentially playing cards around the table. In straight bridge, players
want to win as many tricks as possible. The popular contract bridge
variation requires a team to make a contract declaring how many tricks
they will win and then challenges them to meet that prediction to gain
- Set (1991) is a real-time card game played with a
custom deck of cards. Players race to identify sets of cards that are
either all similar along a certain axis (e.g., color or symbol) or all
different along that axis.
- Pit (1904) is a real-time card game that
simulates a stock exchange floor. The game uses a custom deck of cards
that represents different commodities. Players make pairwise trades with
each other, attempting to create a hand containing only one kind of
commodity. Different commodities have different values, so when played
for multiple hands, there is a tradeoff between completing a set quickly
based on what is most popular in the hand you were dealt (low risk) and
trying to switch to a more valuable commodity (high risk, high reward).
- Daytona USA ushered in detailed 3D graphics and compelling multiplayer gameplay to arcade racing at its 1994 release. Daytona USA
is a stock car–racing game that enabled up to eight players to
simultaneously compete over an intracabinet network. This game used
Sega's Model 2 system board that was capable of rendering large numbers
of texture-mapped polygons, distinguishing Daytona USA from other flat-shaded 3D racers. Daytona USA is one of the highest-grossing arcade games of all time.
- Burnout 3 was a critically acclaimed and
commercially successful game for Xbox, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 2 that
used road battles as a primary mechanic within a nominally racing game.
Generic clones of real-life cars take and cause damage as they cover
exotic road courses at high speed. Crashes are shown in slow motion
with instant replay, whereas the other players' cars are driven by AI to
avoid interrupting the game. In the innovative Takedown mode, players
compete to maximize the damage caused by driving into intersections and
oncoming traffic in short course setups.
- Gran Turismo. The Gran Turismo series
has led to the most accurate simulation of race car driving in
commercial games. In addition to its spectacular graphics, Gran Turismo
has a highly accurate model of driving physics for a large number of
licensed vehicles. These physics provide both a uniquely immersive
racing experience and a means for actual car manufacturers to plausibly
test new design ideas. The original Gran Turismo was the best-selling game for the original PlayStation.
- Mario Kart is a cartoony take on the racing
genre, with Mario, Luigi, and other Nintendo characters piloting
go-karts through short Mario-inspired courses. Gameplay is focused on
controlling the kart's skid around corners, deploying power-ups, and
exploiting shortcuts. Power-ups are randomly assigned, with the
distribution favoring powerful offensive weapons for players near the
back of the pack and weak defensive power-ups for leaders. The series
originated as Super Mario Kart for the Super NES platform,
where it used a series of 2D tricks to simulate a 3D third-person view.
Later versions included true 3D graphics and more interesting courses
enabled by them.
- Wave Race 64 became one of the most memorable
games for the Nintendo 64. Sponsored by Kawasaki, licensed jet skis
raced on water through various obstacle courses and weather conditions.
The motion of the water and its reaction to the jet ski in Wave Race 64 were especially notable, given the difficulty in programming fluid dynamics at the time of its release.
- Wipeout was one of the first 3D racing games for home console systems, released in 1995 for the original PlayStation. (Virtua Racing for the Sega Genesis came earlier but lacked the processing power to make a significant impact.) Wipeout
featured antigravity racing that replaced standard cars with hovering
vehicles with weapons. This new take on racing along with a stylized
futuristic look greatly contributed to the success of the PS1. (F-Zero for the SNES originated the futuristic racing genre for consoles but did not become a 3D racer until F-Zero X for the N64.)
- Track Mania is a racing game that allows players to create and share their own tracks in the style of the older Broderbund game Stunts.
- Colossal Cave Adventure was the text-based start of
the entire adventure/quest genre by Crowther and Woods in 1977 in
Fortran for the PDP-10. This fantasy adventure combined the real-world
Mammoth Caves in Kentucky with Lord of the Rings–inspired fiction.
Also, it was the origin of the gamer in-joke "xyzzy," which was a magic
word from the game that in fact had no effect.
- Hunt the Wumpus. Written in BASIC by Gregory
Yob in 1972, the fantasy-themed game challenged players to deduce the
location of the Wumpus monster within a dodecahedral grid.
- Zork and its sequels, originally created by MIT graduate students as a follow-up to Adventure, also launched the game developer Infocom. Zork
was distinguished from its peers by richer storytelling and a slightly
more sophisticated command-line parser than similar early text games.
- Multi-user dungeons (MUDs) were the extension of text
quest games to multiplayer. Essentially the text predecessors of
massive multiplayer online RPGs, MUDs are generally fantasy RPGs in the
style of other text games but where the leading players frequently
modified the source code of the game to craft new items and areas.
Point-and-click adventures are graphical quest adventures. LucasArts
produced some of the most endearing and innovative hits in this genre on
their SCUMM engine. These include (many by designer Tim Schafer): Loom, creating spells from music; Full Throttle, Mad-Max world with action sequences; Grim Fandango, creatively set in the Mexican Day of the Dead; Monkey Island; andThe Dig, written by sci-fi author Orson Scott Card.
- King's Quest was the seminal series for Sierra
On-Line. Designer Roberta Williams was one of the first female game
developers. The series was built on cartoony graphics and
Arthurian-style quests with occasional magic. The series is also
notable for innovating the use of pseudo-3D, where predrawn scenes
contained multiple depths and characters changed size appropriately as
they moved into the distance.
- Leisure Suit Larry and its sequels by Chuck
Benton are sex-comedy adventures released by Sierra On-Line. These are
among the most mainstream of the "adult" games ever published, in part
because they aren't as racy as advertised.
- Myst series introduced 3D rendering to
point-and-click games by using prerendered images. Its photorealistic
world, mixture of video and images, and puzzle-oriented gameplay made it
one of the most popular games of all time and saw ports to many
platforms. Myst has seen a number of less-popular sequels, as well as a reissue as a real-time 3D game RealMyst.
Adventure-quest games are typically sandbox-like environments where the
player has the option of pursuing a series of quests but can explore
freely between them. Looked at another way, they are essentially RPGs
with the advancement profile fixed. These have full graphical
capabilities and generally feature real-time combat.
- The Legend of Zelda games for the Nintendo
platforms by Shigeru Miyamoto have sold over 50 million copies
collectively. They chronicle the adventures of Link, an elflike hero
who collects magic items and befriends strange creatures in his repeated
quests to save Princess Zelda or their world. The series is known for
playful interaction with the environment, allowing significant replay in
areas—for example, traveling back and forth in time at the same
location, changing the size of Link relative to the environment, or
changing the time of day.
- Grand Theft Auto III (GTA3), although the third in the GTA series, is really a distinct game from the previous incarnations. GTA3
features a fully open world where the main character is a minor
criminal who rises to be a major crime boss. The game is known for its
smooth integration of vehicle and foot travel and combat, seamless
travel through a large city, and crime-movie cliches. The game gained
notoriety in the popular press due to specific mechanics for
car-jacking, soliciting (and optionally killing) prostitutes, and the
general crime-spree theme. This notoriety ultimately helped sales
because it acted as free advertising. The game spawned a series of
imitators, including Mafia, Godfather, and Scarface.
- God of War combines rhythm-game mechanics for complex, cinematic interactions (a la Dragon's Lair)
with standard fighting-game controls. Mature-rated game that pulls no
punches: sex minigames, dark music and themes (suicide, betrayal,
murder, punishment), and an Ancient Greece mythology setting that was
novel at the time of its release. Massive set-piece battles and
hundreds of custom animations create an epic feel. Followed up by sequel
and imitator Heavenly Sword.
Despite studies and arguments for the educational potential of games,
few games promoted as educational software have actually been very
popular or interesting. Only two stand out as exceptionally successful.
- Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego? is a simple
detective quest game released in 1985 for Apple II that was eventually
ported to many other platforms and followed up with several sequels over
the next two decades, as well as branching into other media, such as
television. The primary mechanic in the original game is to use
geocentric clues, such as currency and maps, left at a crime scene to
predict the next destination of master spy Carmen Sandiego.
- The Oregon Trail is an RPG that simulates a
journey west from Missouri to Oregon in the nineteenth century. The
game was designed by student teachers in 1971 as a classroom aid and
eventually published by Broderbund as educational software. The
simulation is fairly complex and historically accurate, and it has been
updated and rereleased about once a decade.
Alternate reality games blur the line between game and reality by
involving real-world locations and technology such as phones and
websites. They are played collectively by thousands of people sharing
information on the Internet through forums. The primary creator of
alternate reality games is 42 Entertainment, which uses them as parts of
- The Beast was the first major game in this genre. Launched in 2001 by Microsoft to promote the film A.I.: Artificial Intelligence,
the game was primarily played through clues buried in an artificial
website that helped players track down a killer in a plot somewhat
parallel to the movie.
- I Love Bees was launched in 2004. Used by Microsoft as part of the advertising campaign for Halo 2, this game was integrated with major plot points of that game. Players entered the game through the website ilovebees.com, which purported to be about beekeeping but was actually the portal for the game.
Traditional Abstract Strategy
- Backgammon evolved from ancient Roman and Egyptian games and
has been played in a recognizable form for the last thousand years. In
the early twentieth century, the addition of the doubling cube mechanic
changed gameplay to its modern form by taking the expected value of
winning from each position into account.
- Checkers (a.k.a. Draughts). American checkers/British
draughts is played on the diagonals of a chessboard, international
draughts is played on the diagonals of a 10 x 10 board, and Canadian
checkers on a 12 x 12 board. Players move uniform pieces by sliding
along diagonals or leapfrogging opponent's pieces, the latter option
also being the capture mechanic. Pieces can only advance until they
reach the opposite row, at which point they are promoted to kings and
can move in both directions. The game dates to around 1500 B.C.E.,
although so many variations exist that it is hard to precisely date the
origin or the introduction of alternate rules. The game is currently
solved in the sense that computers are unbeatable at it because they can
make perfect plays (due to the relatively low tree size of 10^20); in
solving for optimal play, it was discovered that checkers always ends in
a draw between perfect players, and thus it is fair in some sense.
- Chess is an abstract strategy game played on an 8 x 8
board with pieces that have varying movement capabilities. The
objective is to capture the slow-moving king piece. Split from its
ancestor, Chinese chess, around 600 C.E. and moved steadily west, it
evolved a number of variations that reduce the play time and increase
the tactical complexity. Today, it is one of the most significant board
games in the West, ranked second only to poker in terms of the
significance of board-game tournaments. The branch factor of the
decision tree is about 37, and computer programs with pruning and naive
static evaluators are able to beat the best human players regularly.
- Chinese checkers is relatively young compared to other
games in this category (actually originated in Germany in 1893;
"Chinese" was for marketing purposes). The game is played on a six-sided
star covered in a hexagonal grid using marbles. The goal is to move
your set of marbles to the opposite side of the board using
- Chinese chess is an early (circa 300 B.C.E.) variant of
Western/Middle Eastern chess that features slower-moving and more
restricted pieces. Games tend to involve more trading of pieces than
chess. Not particularly popular in America but played seriously in
Europe and Asia.
- Dominoes is an ancient game of parallel independent
origins (circa 1120 C.E.), with the modern variant derived from the
Chinese version. Introduction to Europe circa 1700 C.E. Played by
matching pieces to the existing board (i.e., tile-laying), with the goal
of exhausting one's own set of pieces before the opponent.
- Go is an ancient strategic board game of encirclement
and territorial control. Originated in China, possibly around 2000
B.C.E., and moved through Japan and Korea around 400 C.E. Played on a
19 x 19 board by placing stones of alternating colors; shorter
variations are played on 13 x 13 and 9 x 9 boards. The game is
significantly harder in terms of computational complexity than chess and
is one of the few abstract strategy games for which current computer
algorithms are no match for skilled human players (the branching factor
in the decision tree is estimated to be in the range 150–200). The most
significant tournament game in Asia. Unlike most board games, players
are very serious about the game materials, with the best sets
constructed from nachiguro stone, clamshell, and Kaya wood.
- Parcheesi is a nineteenth-century American version of
the traditional Indian game pachisi (a.k.a. parch’s in Spain). It uses
dice, which some would argue makes it not an abstract strategy game.
- Mancala is a family of traditional, primarily African
and Asian, board games, including kalah, oware, and congklak, that
involve placing seeds in a series of pits in the board game and
capturing based on this process.
These action video games favor deliberate, cautious movement to slip
through overwhelming odds. Players must carefully manage both visibility
and noise to avoid detection and strike quickly and lethally.
- Metal Gear Solid is a series of games by Hideo
Kojima across multiple platforms, released between 1987 and 2008. These
are credited as the origin of the stealth genre. Kojima is famous for
combining many disparate mechanics into his games. Some of these go so
far as to lie outside the game world proper; for example, in the Psycho
Mantis battle at the end of the first MGS game, the player must unplug
the controller from slot 1 and move it to slot 2. Kojima's approach is a
subject of debate among developers and critics. Although most agree
that his games are epic and beautiful, many argue that they are also
incoherent and therefore not engaging for many players.
- Thief is a series of first-person stealth games in a medieval/steampunk setting by the famous Looking Glass studios. Thief
is credited as introducing 3D and first person to the stealth genre and
is notably one of the few stealth games not in a modern setting. The
more recent Assassin's Creed title is a nominally sci-fi variation on Thief, where players are sent back in time to perform medieval assassinations. It is more combat-heavy than Thief and benefits from more recent character animation and rendering technology.
- Splinter Cell is a series of highly successful
stealth action games primarily for Xbox in a world created by novelist
Tom Clancy. The games can be thought of as a US-based and more
mass-market version of the MGS games. Players control Sam
Fisher, a US secret agent who infiltrates various terrorist bases. The
later games feature cooperative play and team-based multiplayer matches
as well as a single-player storyline. The team matches are interesting
because the mechanics and strategies for the terrorists and spies are
asymmetric. The signature look of the character is his trifocal
thermal/night vision glasses, which glow green.
Although many computer games incorporate physical simulation and even
basic physics puzzles, these are games where the primary game mechanic
is physics itself.
- Jenga is a physical puzzle game where two players
remove small wood planks from a large, stacked tower. The loser is the
first to remove a structurally vital piece and bring the tower down.
- Toribash is a turn-based fighting video game
where players explicitly position the limbs of their character to land
attacks. Character animation and physics are the primary mechanic.
- Labyrinth is a physical puzzle to guide a ball
bearing through a maze by tilting the roll and pitch of the maze floor.
The maze path is relatively simple but is littered with holes that
return the ball to the starting position.
- Line Rider is a video game in which the player
draws a 2D track for a sled rider, who is then physically simulated
through the course. There is no explicit objective, but players often
seek especially complicated or long courses that avoid crashing the
- Crayon Physics Deluxe is a video game in which
players attempt to solve simple 2D physics puzzles by drawing new
elements into the world. Rendered with a crayon-on-paper feel.
- World of Goo is a construction video game in
which the player builds mass-spring systems out of "goo" to travel
through the game world and solve physics problems.
- Khet is a chess-like abstract strategy board
game where a special attack targets pieces hit by a real-world laser.
Pieces are adorned with mirrors and beamsplitters to make basic optics
part of the strategy.
- The Incredible Machine uses limited 2D physical simulation to present brain-teaser puzzles involving Rube Goldberg–style machines.
German Board Games
Late twentieth and early twenty-first century strategy games, primarily
produced in Germany and with Reiner Knizia and Klaus Teuber among the
- Settlers of Catan is perhaps the most popular game in this genre. As a more sophisticated version of Monopoly,
it bridges between causal players of American games and more hardcore
German board-game enthusiasts. Gameplay involves trading resources and
expanding one's own settlements to control more territory. Relatively
high variance and a strong first-player advantage tend to turn off
more-experienced gamers. Several expansion packs and a related card
game are also available. Extremely popular as an Xbox Live game on Xbox
360, as well. It involves strong player interaction between the trading
mechanic and competition for choice locations on the board.
- Puerto Rico involves player-run plantations
and associated buildings. Players do not directly interact with one
another; instead, competition for limited resources and indirect effects
of neighbors' actions create nuanced strategy. This
popularized the multiple-role mechanic originally introduced in Cosmic Encounter (1977).
- Ticket to Ride simulates a train network over
America (or Europe, depending on the version). Players take turns
building train routes, attempting to create paths between specific
cities that are part of their secret agenda. Additional agendas can be
purchased throughout the game, increasing risk and reward.
- Cartagena weakly embodies its setting of a
pirate jailbreak but provides interesting leapfrog mechanics. Players
use cards to advance their pirates toward freedom but can only replenish
their hand by moving the pirates backward toward the jail. Opponents'
pirates can be jumped over at no cost, so each piece is a springboard
for oneself as well as for the opponent. It works well as a two-player
- Carcassonne is a board game in which players
cannot move pieces but build a map in turns by placing tiles and
optionally marking a newly placed tile with their control markers. Tile
placement is constrained in a manner similar to dominoes, where tiles
must match along their edges. Carcassonne is exemplary of the
circa-2000 German board-game renaissance. It scales well with varying
numbers of players, has essentially two game rules but complex strategy,
and is published with several expansion packs that slightly alter rules
and expand the available tile set. Tile placement is a widely used
gaming mechanic (BoardGameGeek lists about 1,000 games with this as a
primary mechanic). It is popular as an Xbox Live port for the Xbox 360
console as well as a board game.
- Citadels is a card game that combines rotating roles with city-building RPG mechanics. It plays a little like a simplified Puerto Rico but with more direct interaction between players. Today the game is always packaged with its Dark City
expansion. The expansion is particularly noteworthy because it
provides additional cards that can selectively replace (but not augment)
cards from the original game. Gameplay is based more on the interaction
of roles than the roles themselves, so this produces a combinatorial
explosion in the number of variations. This keeps the game fresh for
veterans, and amazingly, the game is fairly well balanced despite its
This includes early twentieth-century American board games, primarily published by Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley.
- Sorry! was published in America by Parker Brothers
in 1934, but it is based on an earlier English game. Up to four players
move pawns forward or backward according to dice or cards (depending on
the edition) in a race. The moves are proscribed by the dice; players
only choose which pawn to move. The game is named after a rare roll,
"Sorry!", that allows the player to move an opponent's pawn back to the
start. The strategy is extremely limited, making this game popular with
- Rook is a trick-taking card game introduced in
1906 by Parker Brothers that is similar to bridge. Supposedly, the
motivation for the game was to leverage the popularity of bridge but to
use a custom card deck that avoids the stigma of gambling associated
with standard cards.
- Scrabble is a crossword puzzle tile-laying
game by Hasbro where players score points by constructing English words
that intersect each other horizontally or vertically. Players with a
large vocabulary, especially including obscure two- and three-letter
words, have a distinct advantage. Strategy centers around placing tiles
over multiplier squares and controlling such squares on the board as
well as creating words.
- Boggle is a word game where players race
against time to find the most English words in a 4 x 4 grid of letters
formed by simultaneously rolling special six-sided dice printed with
letters. In a sense, this is the inverse of Scrabble, because
players must recognize words instead of synthesizing them. The game
easily admits a large number of players. It rewards obscure and long
words by discounting words identified by multiple players and
quadratically increasing the value of words with their length. The
difficulty of the game is related to the letter distribution, which
changes between editions.
- Monopoly is often claimed to be the
best-selling commercial board game. It is a relatively simple economic
strategy game, where players purchase territory and charge each other
rent for landing on spaces. The game has high variance and a single
commodity (money), which limits strategy compared to later German board
games in the same style, such as Settlers of Catan and Puerto Rico. Monopoly
is highly regionalized, with special editions carrying the street and
business names local to a particular city, country, or even college.
- Chutes and Ladders (a.k.a. Snakes and Ladders
in the United Kingdom) is a children's game with zero choices; players
simply roll dice and move pawns according to the board. This is helpful
for teaching counting and rules to small children.
- Risk is a strategic conquest board game
published in 1957 that presages the rise of German board games. It
combines randomness with more strategy than other games in this section.
The basic mechanics are positive feedback in the growth of units,
statistically determined combat, and territorial control.
- Tic-tac-toe (a.k.a. naughts and crosses in the United
Kingdom) is a game where two players take turns placing their mark on
the squares of a 3 x 3 grid. The winner is the first to achieve a
string of three marks in a row, in a column, or along a diagonal. It is
a classic example of a children's game, where once players understand
minimax strategy, the game is always a draw.
- Connect Four is a game where players attempt
to make strings of four marks on a 4 x 4 grid, with the constraint that
marks must accumulate outward from one side of the board, as if they
were physical objects fighting gravity. The game was proven to be a
forced win for the first player.
- Gomoku is played on a go board with go stones, and players attempt to make strings of five pieces.
- Pente is a more interesting version of gomoku,
where exactly two stones sandwiched by opponent's pieces because of an
opponent's play are captured and removed from the board. In Pente, a player wins by making a string of five stones or by capturing five pairs. Pente is rare in that it is a simple (it has only two rules), abstract board game that is relatively young (circa 1978).
- Okami, rendered in the style of Japanese watercolor, uses character drawing as a gameplay element to allow players to summon objects.
- Jet Grind Radio (a.k.a. Jet Set Radio)
is a roller-skating simulator with rhythm-game graffiti sequences. It
is rendered in an anime-cartoon style and was followed by and acceptable
GameBoy port and a poorly received Xbox sequel.
- Viewtiful Joe is a GameCube and PS2
side-scrolling brawler with a comic-book appearance. The feel of the
fighting gameplay and the comic-book look were highly praised by
critics. It launched a series of sequels for Nintendo and PlayStation
- XVIII was a relatively stock FPS but was
rendered in a comic-book style to match its namesake graphic novel. It
used comic-book elements in some interesting ways, such as using a
separate panel to show action taking place elsewhere in the scene
Games by Scientists
These games were created primarily to explore interesting mathematical
or psychological properties, many of which have since become popular in
their own right. Note that famous German board-game designer Reiner
Knizia holds a PhD in mathematics, although his games are intended for
general audiences and are not listed here.
- Subway Shuffle, by Bob Hearn, is a puzzle game for
OS X that involves sliding subway cars around specific graphs; each
graph is a new level. The game grew out of his thesis that explored the
computational complexity of board games.
- Game of the Amazons is a chess variant created
by Walter Zamkauskas. Players control four queens on a 10 x 10
chessboard. After moving, queens shoot arrows at an additional square
to which they could move. Squares on which arrows land are removed from
play. The winner is the last player to make a move. The game has
become very popular for analysis among computer scientists.
- Hex was created independently in the 1940s by
John Nash and Piet Hein. It was later famously touted as an example of a
game that is always won by the first player. Ironically, it has since
been produced as a commercial game and is still played online today.
- Façade, written as an experimental game by
researchers, is an immersive computer role-playing game set at a dinner
party. The player sees a 3D first-person, cartoon view and interacts
using typed natural language in real time. The goal of the game is to
prevent the breakup of the other characters' marriage. Façade
received critical praise for its AI and nontraditional gameplay. It was
originally released as freeware, and a commercial sequel is reportedly
- Werewolf. The original incarnation of this party game, known as Mafia,
was created by a psychology student in the 1980s. It has since become
both a popular party game and a subject of some fascination by computer
These are single-player games that capture the essence of a pen-and-paper RPG in a book-form factor and novel-style story.
- Tunnels and Trolls is a single-player, pen-and-paper RPG similar to first edition D&D;
the books are adventures that require separate manuals to play. It was
revised heavily between 1975 and 1979 and experienced limited
popularity with occasional reissues. This was the series that created
the game-book genre.
- Choose Your Own Adventure was the most popular
of the game-book series in America, with over 200 titles. Unlike other
game books, these used a straight decision tree and avoided all other
RPG mechanics. The writing style notably used the second person to avoid
gender pronouns for the main character. The series was created by R.
A. Montgomery and Edward Packard in 1979, who were also the primary
authors for the remainder of the series.
- Fighting Fantasy is a popular game-book series
in the United Kingdom, with over 60 titles that existed as
self-contained, single-player RPGs. It was created by Steve Jackson and
Ian Livingstone in 1982, and it was played using a combination of
RPG-like die rolls and player statistics, as well as explicit player
decisions. It eventually expanded into a multiplayer RPG as well.
These games are so radically innovative that they have no companions in
their categories and are therefore also important for game designers to
follow because they represent new avenues for mechanism advancement.
Part of this distinction is simply due to these being recent games.
Older, innovative games spawned whole new genres or fit well within
existing ones and are listed elsewhere in this chapter, but these games
are so new or innovative that they have not had enough time for the
industry to catch up.
- Shadows Over Camelot is a cooperative board game,
where players battle "evil" that the rules force on them and a potential
traitor among their number.
- Indigo Prophecy (a.k.a. Fahrenheit) is a point-and-click adventure that actually succeeds as an interactive movie and has players controlling both the cops and robbers in a horror-crime drama.
- Dogs in the Vineyard is a pen-and-paper RPG
that resolves conflict by bidding for control of the narrative rather
than statistical combat. Thus, players compete to be the game master;
it is slightly reminiscent of Amber.
- Shadow of the Colossus and its effective predecesser, Ico (see http://www.dicesummit.org/speakers.php?sp_id=83),
each took four years to develop into the full-blown works of art that
took the gaming press by storm when released. The games are extremely
cinematic and raise complex ethical questions through the player's and
character's internal dialog, not external narrative. Both games focus
on relationships between two characters and their environment in a
dream-like fantasy world.
- Katamari Damacy is a PlayStation 2 game by
Namco in which the player effectively drives an ever-growing ball of
junk through the world, collecting objects of about the same scale by
adding them to the ball. The bizarre plot behind this game and
innovative mechanic made the game first a cult hit and then a major
Pen-and-Paper Role-Playing (RPG)
Pen-and-paper RPGs involve multiple players battling through a freeform
adventure moderated by a game master or "dungeon master." These games
generally use statistical combat, polyhedral dice, and complex rules.
Although originally associated with cults in popular culture due to the
novel and 1982 made-for-TV movie Mazes and Monsters, these
enjoyed tremendous popularity among gamers and laid the foundation for
the rule systems and simulations in many of today's video games.
- Dungeons & Dragons is the classic RPG game, which simulates a Tolkein-style world using detailed statistical mechanics. The basic D&D
system has been revised and expanded continuously (to this day) and was
recently generalized from fantasy into the d20 System, similar to GURPS.
As computer games grew in popularity, D&D successfully incorporated business ideas from them, including
versioned releases with minor ("point") and major releases corresponding to the scope of rule changes,
expansion packs such as Oriental Adventures, and the
open-source d20 rule system/one-game engine, multiple games.
- Paranoia is a black-humor sci-fi game, where a
schizophrenic AI dictator named The Computer rules over a dystopian
city. The primary appeal of the game is the wacky setting and items.
The game is intended for lighthearted play. Players have substantial
secret alliances and agendas, and paranoia arises from these and The
Computer's semi-irrational actions. Player characters have clones and
frequently die during missions.
- Generic Universal RolePlaying System (GURPS)
is a role-playing system by Steve Jackson that defined generic
simulation rules instead of those specific to a setting (such as D&D's
fantasy world). This was the first instance of a generic system.
Today, the most famous is the d20 System by Wizards of the Coast.
Compared to other pen-and-paper RPGs, the character creation is
deterministic, and the statistics are streamlined. All dice used are
In 1990, the Secret Service believed that the under-development GURPS Cyberpunk
expansion was "a handbook for computer crime" and raided the offices of
Steve Jackson Games, seizing much of their equipment. This raid and
the subsequent lawsuit popularized both that game and the Hacker card game that Steve Jackson designed in response.
- Amber is a diceless RPG by Erick Wujcik based
on the fictional setting of Roger Zelazny's Amber universe in the 1980s.
It emphasizes actual role-playing over statistics, although characters
are described by a point system that is used to resolve certain
situations. The game has long been out of print but can be downloaded
as a PDF from the Internet.
Computer Role-Playing (cRPG)
Computer RPGs tend to focus more on statistical combat and character building than on actually playing a role.
- Ultima and its nine sequels by Richard Gariott at
Origin Systems were seminal fantasy cRPGs that contained large worlds
and highly branching plots.
- Diablo is perhaps the best-of-breed cRPG,
fantastically polished with an elegant online multiplayer component.
Essentially based on the classic role-playing game (e.g., Dungeons & Dragons
character-building mechanics), it took the "role playing" out; players
are more focused on inventory and points than on the story and
character. Diablo spawned a series of similar fantasy hack-and-slash games (many quite well regarded), including direct sequels, Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, and Titan Quest.
- Fallout moved from the traditional fantasy to a
postnuclear holocaust setting and incorporated a stronger story than
previous games in the genre.
- Bioshock is the moral sequel by the same development team.
- Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) is set in the Star Wars universe and uses a variant of the D&D
rules. It was notably the first RPG in that setting. The game's
production values, including story, are generally well regarded, and
players can choose to act either for good or evil.
- Nintendogs is really exemplary in the
pet-raising genre and not traditionally considered an RPG, but such
games feature the same kinds of character building and role-playing
mechanics. Players raise a group of puppies on Nintendo DS, using the
microphone and touch screen to interact with their pet. The puppies
grow over time and require regular care. Players can purchase toys and
other accessories in-game to use with their virtual pet.
- Fable is an aggressive Xbox RPG by veteran
designer Peter Molyneux that sought to give players complete freedom to
develop their character's personality. The game was a critical success
despite complaints that it failed to deliver on the total freedom
promised by early advertising. In-game characters respond to a player
based on his or her past actions, and the physical appearance of the
player character alters to appear good or evil, strong or weak, and so
on, based on those actions. It is notable as one of the first major
games where the player's actions determine his or her in-game sexuality,
with gay romance supported within the game.
- Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon are casual anime RPGs for Nintendo platforms in which players gather resources and friends. Although Harvest Moon
and its sequels have relatively complex farming simulations, both games
stress social interaction with nonplayer characters over other
mechanics. Animal Crossing is notable for allowing time to pass
in the virtual world even when the game is not being played by tracking
a real-world clock.
Strategy games are character-building games where the "character" is an entire civilization.
- M.U.L.E. was the original economic computer game.
It was written for Atari 400 in 1983 and featured multiple players,
relatively complex simulation mechanics, and a science-fiction settler
setting. M.U.L.E. was written by Dan Bunten, who later
underwent sex reassignment surgery and became Danielle Berry and thereby
became the first known transsexual game developer.
- SimCity was the game that introduced the
modern "tycoon" and "sim" types of games and launched Will Wright's
career as one of the most prominent game designers. A SimCity
player takes on the role of the mayor of a growing city. The mayor must
balance the functional needs of the city with the happiness of its
citizens by setting taxation levels and building new infrastructure and
entertainment facilities. It led to a series of similar successful
simulation games by Will Wright, including SimAnt and The Sims, as well as less significant games by other designers, including Rollercoaster Tycoon, Railroad Tycoon, and Sim Theme Park.
- X-Com is a turn-based tactical combat game
renowned for its atmosphere and combat micromanagement. A squadron of
marines face off against invading aliens, upgrading technologies between
missions based on discoveries from alien remains.
- StarCraft was the genre-defining strategic
combat game. It takes place in a science-fiction setting where
different alien races with radically different technology trees battle
over control of a planet. This introduced what is now called the "4X"
combination of elements—eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate—that
has come to define RTS games, although ironically StarCraft is
typically not considered a 4X game because later entries allowed more
subtlety of negotiation and trade. Other major series with similar
mechanics include Rise of Nations, Age of Empires, Empire Earth, and Warcraft. StarCraft
has aged particularly well; it is still played heavily and is one of
the most respected RTS games despite being over a decade old and having
very dated graphics and UI elements.
- Civilization (Civ) and its sequels by Sid
Meier are the best-known and most-respected of the turn-based strategy
games. They simulate real-world civilizations throughout history,
combining technology, economics, and warfare. The scope of the games is
incredible: 4000 B.C.E. through near-term future.
- Advance Wars. This series for handheld
consoles (GB, GBA, DS) showed that the depth of a tactical turn-based
strategy wargame could be implemented on a handheld. Innovative
primarily for its simplifications: single resource (money;
resource-gathering automatic through taxes), few different units, small
maps, and discrete grid movement. Cartoony graphics and battle
cutscenes increase the friendliness for nontraditional wargamers.
- Populous and its sequels by Peter Molyneux
introduced the notion of the player as god rather than leader of a
civilization. As a god, the player has the ability to affect terrain as
well as the civilization but can only influence the civilization instead
of controlling it. Sequels expanded the gameplay and mechanics, and
the effective sequel, Black and White, introduced gestural
input and a physical incarnation of the god's power in the form of a
giant animal that the player must care for like a pet.
Classic arcade games were 2D action games originally created for
dedicated hardware (frequently by Atari and NAMCO) circa 1980. These
established many of the major action mechanics that are in place in
more-sophisticated games to this day. Most of the classic games were
actually slight variations on previous ones dressed with new themes (see
Koster's book for a concise graphical etymology of these). Most of
these games also never end but instead constantly ramp up the difficulty
- Defender is a horizontal 2D scrolling game in which
the player pilots a spaceship that must destroy incoming aliens to
defend humans along the ground. If captured by aliens, humans can be
rescued by catching them when they fall from destroyed alien ships. The
game is known for the difficulty of its control scheme, which contains
five buttons as well as a directional joystick control.
- Pac-Man is a pie-shaped character that
navigates a fixed maze, attempting to cover every square of the maze
before being caught by four ghosts. The character can turn the tables
and chase the ghosts for a limited time by eating a power pill. The
game was followed up by an almost identical sequel, Ms. Pac-Man (introducing the first female game protagonist), and in 2007 the original designer Toru Iwatani created Pac-Man Championship Edition
for Xbox Live Arcade, which critics consider a worthy sequel and
extension of the basic gameplay. Other 3D and arcade sequels not
involving Toru Iwatani have been released but are generally considered
insignificant attempts to exploit the brand.
- Missile Command was released in 1980 during
the Cold War between America and the USSR, capitalizing on global fears
of nuclear war. The player controls two gun batteries that must shoot
down incoming nuclear missiles that threaten the player's cities.
- Centipede is a vertical shooter game in which
the player fires upward from the bottom of the screen at swarming
insects. The player loses if hit by the centipede that continuously
winds down the screen (as in Space Invaders). It was designed by Dona Bailey, the first female arcade game designer.
- Asteroids is a free-direction space shooter
where the player destroys asteroids that recursively fragment into
smaller pieces. The playing field is toroidal, in that it wraps at both
the top and bottom and left and right (as in SpaceWar).
- Tempest is an abstract shooting game where the
player moves around a closed or open set of vertices near the viewer
while obstacles fly out at him or her from the distance. It introduced
the notion of continuing a previous game when lives run out. The
original arcade version was played with a dial instead of a joystick.
- Frogger. In this game, players hop a frog across rivers on logs and across streets, trying to dodge incoming traffic.
- Pong was one of the first commercial games,
released in 1972. It is a simple table-tennis game where players move
paddles to reflect a ball at each other. The original form was a hobby
project by William Higinbotham at Brookhaven National Laboratory, called
Tennis for Two, that was played on an oscilloscope and created in 1958, thus making Higinbotham the first video game author.
- SpaceWar is a two-player space shooter created
by Steve Russell, Martin Graetz, and Wayne Wiitanen in 1962 for the DEC
PDP-1. The players fight in the presence of a gravity well, using it
to slingshot themselves to conserve their limited fuel while battling
- Battlezone was the first first-person game,
the first 3D game, and the first color game (using monochrome graphics
behind a color film). The game was designed by Ed Rotberg. Players
drive tanks around a planar battlefield filled with obstacles,
attempting to shoot opposing tanks. A variation was commissioned by the
U.S. military for use in actual tank training.
- E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was released for
the Atari 2600 as a spin-off of the film of the same name. It is notable
for being unplayably bad and a complete commercial failure despite
sales of 1.5 million units, since 4 million units were produced. This
was widely considered one of the biggest failures in gaming history and
led to Atari's bankruptcy and contributed to the collapse of the games
industry in 1983.
- Simon is a physical electronic puzzle in which the player must press buttons in response to a proscribed sequence.
- PaRappa the Rapper was one of the first rhythm games. It expanded the basic Simon
gameplay to the PlayStation console and required the player to match
both timing and sequence of button presses. The game responds to
correct play with the main character singing a rap song rather than
- Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) popularized the
rhythm game genre, taking it mainstream in America and introducing one
of the first major "exercise" games that the Wii console later leveraged
extensively in its marketing campaign. DDR players match a sequence of dance steps on an eight-button dance pad as popular music plays.
- Karaoke Revolution expanded rhythm games to
karaoke singing by requiring a player to actually sing the lyrics of the
song and grading him or her by both pitch (effectively, sequence) and
rhythm. The series is wildly popular and at this time contains six
sequels as well as music-genre specific versions such as Country Karaoke Revolution. Although it has produced other innovative rhythm games in the past, this was the first real hit for developer Harmonix.
- Guitar Hero was developed by Harmonix and later continued by various Activision studios in sequels. In the style of previous guitar game Guitar Freaks,
it is a straightforward rhythm game played with a plastic guitar
peripheral. Harmonix's attention to detail and inclusion of five fret
buttons and a tremolo arm on the guitar polished the game to a shine,
and it stood as the best-selling game for two years in America. After
MTV purchased Harmonix, they lost the rights to the series but followed
up with best-selling Rock Band, which merges Karaoke Revolution singing, Guitar Hero guitar and bass, and PaRappa the Rapper drumming.
These video games have thousands, or millions, of simultaneous players
in huge, persistent worlds. Subscription numbers for these games can be
found at http://www.mmogchart.com/.
- Ultima Online was one of the first MMO games,
released in 1997, and continues successfully to this day. The design
team included major designers Richard Gariott ("Lord British") and Raph
Koster ("Designer Dragon"). It is distinguished among most other MMOs
in that players can build and buy persistent buildings within the game
world and that skills are not based on experience points.
- World of Warcraft by Blizzard is the largest
and most successful MMO to date, with approximately 10 million
subscribers as of 2007, dwarfing all its competition. The game does not
stray far from the fantasy and D&D roots of the genre, but
it is beautifully polished and is credited with bringing many female
players into a previously male-dominated genre.
- Lineage and Lineage II are second only to World of Warcraft in terms of raw popularity, although their player base is largely Korean as opposed to more international.
- Star Wars Galaxies is a complex MMO by designer Raph Koster that is set within the Star Wars
universe. Despite initial commercial success, the game experienced
early controversy over the difficulty of becoming a Jedi and suffered
huge commercial and critical losses over a series of major changes that
reduced complexity in favor of real-time combat and altered winning
strategies in the game.
- RuneScape is unique among MMOs in that it is
written in Java and runs in a web browser. The graphics and sound are
extremely poor compared to other MMOs, yet it has a tremendous player
base of about 6 million users and is growing at a substantial rate.
- A Tale in the Desert is set in Ancient Egypt.
It is unique among MMOs in that it has no combat system and has a
distinct beginning and ending (after the ending, the game begins again).
It contains proactive interaction between developers and players, with
the actual game rules changing according to player petitions.
- Second Life is a sandbox virtual world that is
a source of great controversy; it has many press releases, branding,
and licensing deals but perhaps few actual players. It has significant
player building control, and because of the media popularity, it is also
beloved by academics. It consists of entirely player-created content,
in-game currency tied to real-world currency, sale of virtual property,
companies with virtual presence, and no censorship. The lack of
censorship has led to significant sales of in-game sex toys and
- Yohoho! Puzzle Pirates is a casual,
puzzle-based MMO in which simple puzzle games substitute for typical RPG
combat and resource gathering. Developer Three Rings has since
followed up with the cowboy themed Bang! Howdy MMORPG.
- Planetside This is a science-fiction MMO FPS
where three factions fight massive battles for territory on different
worlds. Player actions can lead to actual gains for a faction on the
world scale, unlike most other MMOs. It combines vehicle and foot combat
and is estimated to have 20,000 players, 60,000 at its peak.
- Guild Wars is a critically acclaimed RPG
series, also notable for allowing MMO play without subscription fees. It
offers both adventures and PvP play. Adventures are run as instanced
levels, where only the current party appears within the level. Thus,
the world is MMO, but the actual adventures are effectively just
multiplayer. Play is socially and mechanically focused around guilds and
alliances between guilds.
Although sports can be considered games, they are generally well known
and need less introduction (in part because there are many fewer sports
than video and board games). This section lists games about sports.
- Fantasy football blends the performance of real professional
American football players with the personnel decisions of game
participants. Players (or "owners") in a fantasy football league select
a roster of real players through a draft process and subsequent trading
and deals. The individual performance statistics of these players
during real competition contributes to the score of an owner in a
fantasy league. Fantasy leagues have become immensely popular, allowing
football enthusiasts to enjoy the sport in a more interactive manner.
- John Madden Football '92 was the first console
release of this flagship American football series, appearing for the
Sega Genesis in 1991 and setting the template for modern football games.
Although it used 2D rendering and sprites, Madden '92
featured 3D-like gameplay and physics, allowing for effects such as
tipping of a pass, tacklers bouncing off ball carrier's, and more
prominent weather effects. This 3D-like feeling also emerged from
rendering the field about the ball carriers perspective, slightly
elevated off the field and tilted downward, providing greater vision of
the field. Quarterback vision was also improved by isolating each
receiver in his own window on the screen, associated with a specific
button. Madden '92 featured an extensive offensive playbook
and defensive schemes for each team based on what NFL teams actually
used. Players, serving as their own coach, could seamlessly select
various personnel, formations, and plays for each snap. Arguably, the
greatest impact of Madden is its exclusive licensing of NFL
players and teams and modeling of their abilities in the game, giving
players a unique sense of immersion into NFL football. Electronic Arts
has successfully followed this formula of exclusive licensing, immersive
graphics, and compelling gameplay in its series for other sports, such
as NHL Hockey, FIFA Soccer, and Tiger Woods PGA Tour.
- Tony Hawk is a series of skateboarding games
for both PC and portables. The series is named after famous skater Tony
Hawk, who appears in the games both as a character and in video
sequences. The series was inspired by the classic 1987 Skate or Die! title and heavily influenced by Jet Grind Radio.
These combine racing, rhythm, and quest mechanics with a skateboarding
simulation engine for emergent play. Later games in the series were
commended for their punk-rock soundtracks featuring popular bands. The
latest installment, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, is a great
example of portable game design. It can be played in two-minute
sessions, yet combines RPG mechanics, about six different quest styles,
and free-form exploration along the lines of GTA3. The reward
cycles are tuned such that the player always has a sense of
accomplishment on some quest that can be achieved yet is also always
facing a set of new quests that he or she cannot yet beat.
- NBA Jam brought about a new form of sports game focused on unrealistic gameplay with exaggerated physics that appears cartoonish. NBA Jam
is a two-on-two basketball game featuring real NBA players. Although
the rules of basketball are roughly followed, players can jump to
superhuman heights and perform unbelievable dunks. Defense often
involves shoving and pushing over of an offensive player. Midway
successfully extended the action-over-rules approach into football with NFL Blitz, which featured seven-on-seven games, limited playbooks, and wild tackling.
- Wii Sports is notable for its ability to
integrate the movement-based Wiimote into six different sports games
with plausible physics. The game also has been noted to improve the
physical fitness and weight loss of its players. A fitness mode allows
players to undergo training, where their performance is graded with an
"age" and plotted over several months.
- Tecmo Bowl was a highly popular American football game for the NES console. Unlike Madden,
it featured highly limited gameplay with four plays per team and
virtually no plausible notion of physics. Gameplay was driven mostly by
simple deterministic triggers to generate game events such as tackles,
receptions, and interceptions. However, these triggers were set up in
such a way that gameplay was more like a highly compelling strategy
game. At every snap, defenses can select one play of the four to shut
down, forming something like a rock-paper-scissors dynamic.
- Duck Hunt is the seminal gun-based shooting game, originally appearing in arcades and for the NES. Duck Hunt
involved shooting ducks that randomly flew across the screen, using a
physical light-gun technology. Although a simple gameplay mechanic,
games such as House of the Dead, Virtua Cop, and Time Crisis use similar technology with a more involved story.
- Baseball Stars is one of the author's favorite games of all time, released for the NES. Baseball Stars
was one of the first games to have data memory. This allowed player,
team, and season data to persist when the console was powered down,
extending gameplay beyond a single sitting. Users could create teams of
their own, improve player abilities based on money earned from winning
games, and compete in six-team leagues with up to 125 games. For stat
junkies, the game also featured tracking over individual player stats
and statistical category leaders over the course of a season. Baseball Stars was the first to feature female baseball players. Although the basic gameplay mechanic was straightforward, Baseball Stars
set itself apart with excellent fielder controls for diving, jumping,
and climbing walls to catch balls. If you see one of the authors
playing with his iPhone, he is mostly likely playing Baseball Stars on the iPhone NES emmulator.
- Karate Champ established the one-on-one,
side-perspective style of fighting games during the mid-1980s. Gameplay
followed the format of formal karate competitions in a dojo, unlike the
street-based "knockout" style of current fighters. Two 2D characters
wearing solid color uniforms sparred to land single blows to score a
point or half-point toward winning a two-point match. Characters were
controlled by a two-joystick system for selecting moves that had a high
learning curve, which quickly distinguishes a player's skill level.
- Street Fighter II set the standard for the 2D
fighting genre in the early 1990s. Characters were given distinct
stories and personalities, matched with special moves and stylistic
appearance, allowing players to customize their fighting techniques.
Graphically, the game provided a greater sense of immersion through
animated backgrounds customized to locales around the world and large
sprites for displaying characters.
- Mortal Kombat followed this template toward a darker theme, using images of real actors for sprites and fatality-inducing finishing moves.
- Virtua Fighter was the first 3D fighting game.
Moving away from the sprite-based models of 2D fighters, characters
were modeled as articulated geometries. Each character had unique body
parts represented as polygonal geometries that were kinematically
connected by rotational joints. The motion and fighting moves for each
character were hand-animated and adapted from actual martial arts
disciplines. Characters were rendered with flat shading with Sega's
Model 1 board.
- DOOM from id Software revolutionized the PC games
industry. It could be considered the most significant game of all time,
in part because of when it was released and the influence it had over
subsequent games and the growth of the industry.
DOOM was the first major success of the shareware business
model. It introduced first-person 3D perspective, the "looking over
your gun" view, mouse-look, co-op and competitive network multiplayer,
sci-fi marine versus demons/aliens storyline, and a moddable game
engine. Every pure shooter since has been a minor refinement of this
powerful set of elements. The game was created by the development
dream-team of programmer John Carmack; level designers John Romero and
Sandy Peterson; graphics by Adrian Carmack, Kevin Cloud, and Gregory
Punchatz; and sound designer Bobby Prince. Most of these developers
went on to create other successful games and movies at other companies.
Several sequels and games using the same engine (e.g., fantasy world Heretic) were later released. The original DOOM I and II
engine used billboard characters and a ray-casting trick for 3D
rendering that was only slightly more computationally intense than 2D
rendering. The same technique was also used in id's Castle Wolfenstein, released prior to DOOM but with less cultural impact.
Notable contemporaries of DOOM include Duke Nukem 3D, which included innovative weapons such as a holographic decoy, laser trip mines, and shrinking gun, and Dark Forces, which immersed players in the universe of Star Wars. The DOOM 3 game was technologically sophisticated but lacked the raw power and innovation of the original relative to its peers.
- Quake and its sequels are the spiritual successors to DOOM, taking the core gameplay and enhancing the graphics with a fully polygonal real-time 3D world. The Quake engines were licensed to create hundreds of other first-person games, including Half-Life.
- Half-Life is one of the most critically acclaimed shooters of all time. Half-Life's
only gameplay innovation was the use of crude physics to make "crate
pushing" and "jumping" puzzles, but the carefully scripted world
immersed players in the story. That story's interesting characters and
captivating plot twists led to the game's massive success and several
sequels. Half-Life extended Quake's natural moddability, which led to the creation of Counter-Strike and other popular online games.
- Counter-Strike (CS) is a terrorist/counterterrorist mod for Half-Life
that has been the most popular online game for over a decade, combining
light RPG elements, strongly strategic team play, and first-person
shooting skills. Team Fortress Classic expands that recipe with RPG classes and was second in popularity only to CS.
- Unreal and the Unreal Tournament
series brought shareware developer Epic Megagames great success and
introduced several FPS-game subtypes, including capture the flag and
last man standing. These led to the technologically similar game Gears of War by Epic.
- Halo was the game and the series that launched
Microsoft's Xbox consoles and brought back co-op gameplay that had been
absent in FPS games since DOOM. It offers little innovation
over other titles but has impressively polished gameplay, providing an
experience that delivers consistently and plays smoothly on the Xbox
- Daikatana was designed by DOOM
veteran John Romero. It is famous for gameplay (and resulting
commercial) failure, largely because the nonplayer character sidekicks
have such bad AI that they keep dying and thus making it impossible for
the player to progress. As the first title by Ion Storm, it was also
released three years late, which made it an expensive early mistake for
the company, and the advertising campaign with the slogan "John Romero's
about to make you his bitch" was poorly received.
- Trespasser was an aggressive attempt to create a truly immersive FPS. Set in a Jurrassic Park–like
world, it features full physical simulation for all elements and no
on-screen display of statistics. Unfortunately, it is infamous in the
industry as a massive control failure. The physics and poor controls
simply made the game too hard to play, and most players simply stumbled
around, accidentally knocking over crates.
- Deus Ex and its sequel are adventure games
with RPG and FPS mechanics. They are primarily notable for presenting
at least two ways to complete each challenge—for example, stealth versus
brawn. Designed by Warren Spector.
Appendix F of Creating Games: Mechanics, Content, and Technology by Morgan McGuire and Odest Chadwicke Jenkins. Copyright © 2008, A K Peters, Ltd. Order the book from A K Peters. See the authors' website for the book.