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  • 1972's Pong was not the first video game, or the first commercially sold video game, or even Nolan Bushnell's first video game; he had produced Computer Space (based on 1962's Spacewar!) the prior year, and Pong was inspired by one of the games included with the Magnavox Odyssey, to the point where Magnavox sued Bushnell's company Atari over it. It was, however, the first successful video game, breaking electronic games out of an experimental computer-nerd niche and demonstrating to the average person what they were capable of.
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  • IGN, when listing the Atari 2600 as the second-greatest video game console of all time (behind only the Nintendo Entertainment System), referred to it as "the console that our entire industry is built upon." While the Fairchild Channel F was the first video game console to use removable cartridges for games (before, home consoles like the Magnavox Odyssey had only a few built-in games), the 2600, released the following year in 1977, was far more successful, defining what a video game console would be to this day. Many of America's biggest video game companies, most notably Electronic Arts and Activision, got their start making games for the 2600. Atari and the 2600 were also directly connected to The Great Video Game Crash of 1983, when Atari's port of Pac-Man and their E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial tie-in, which they hoped would be killer apps, instead served as the last straws in an American gaming market bloated with subpar products and cash-ins — all of them trying to grab a piece of the pie that Atari had baked — and leaving the field wide open for Japanese companies led by Nintendo to rebuild the American video game industry in the latter half of The '80s.
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  • Space Invaders in 1978 was the first Arcade Game to truly take off as a pop culture phenomenon, and together with the Atari 2600, it started what has been called The Golden Age of Video Games. Extra lives, high scores, progressive difficulty, the Endless Game, rail shooters — all of these and more can be traced back to this game. Other companies both Japanese and Western, including American pinball manufacturers like Bally/Midway, Gottlieb, and Williams Electronics (who had just witnessed Space Invaders become the first electronic game to out-gross any of their pinball machines), saw Taito's success and jumped into the arena with electronic games of their own, while game machines spread like wildfire across arcades (where they got their name), boardwalks, restaurants, theaters, bars, and grocery stores.
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  • In 1984, King's Quest put the Adventure Game genre and Sierra On-Line, one of its most iconic developers, on the map. As one of the first adventure games with animated graphics, it codified many of the tropes of the genre, tropes that Sierra would continue to build upon throughout the '80s and '90s with games like Phantasmagoria, Police Quest, and Space Quest. Somebody going back to play their games now, even after the likes of Life Is Strange, Until Dawn, and the output of Telltale Games, would find most of the experience quite familiar (if exceedingly difficult).
  • In 1985, Sega established its famed AM2 development team led by Yu Suzuki, which proceeded to lead a second wave for arcade gaming in the late '80s. With games like Hang-On, OutRun, Space Harrier, and After Burner, they gave arcade gaming killer apps in a time when it was first seriously threatened by home consoles, which by the latter half of The '80s were making a quick recovery after the Crash of '83. They emphasized taikan cabinets (Japanese for "body sensation"), whose controls were far more complex than a mere joystick and buttons and couldn't be replicated on a controller, such as Hang-On and OutRun's respective cabinets designed to simulate riding a real motorcycle or driving a real car, or After Burner simulating a fighter plane's joystick. As many game genres migrated to home consoles during The '90s, arcades hung on through these types of cabinets designed to go above and beyond what consoles were capable of, such that nowadays they make up the majority of arcade games (especially outside the fighting game genre) that get made.
  • Mario, a figure who even many non-gamers are on a first-name basis with, is considered the icon of gaming, as much as Mickey Mouse is the icon of Western Animation, for a reason. For over thirty years and counting, Nintendo's flagship franchise was at or near the forefront of most of the medium's greatest innovations.
    • In 1985, Super Mario Bros. defined the 2D platformer, and ensured the resurrection of the video game home console in the United States after The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 by serving as a Killer App for the NES upon its introduction to the US market. Previous entries, such as Pitfall! and Nintendo's own Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong, took place on a single screen or series of screens. Super Mario Bros' innovative scrolling screen was so influential that even the name of the genre changed, being popularly known as "sidescrollers" until the leap to 3D — a name that is still widely used for 2D platformers to distinguish them from their 3D brethren.
    • And speaking of which, another Mario game, Super Mario 64 in 1996, set the standard for 3D platformers for years to come, and was the first 3D platformer to successfully use a joystick. It was one of the first 3D platformers that truly felt open and explorable, with its at-the-time unique camera system and massive, sprawling open environments. Its success and influence led to an explosion of similar collect-a-thon 3D platformers in the short-term, and in the long-term paved the way for the modern world of 3D gaming through its innovations.
    • Yet another Mario game, New Super Mario Bros. in 2006, proved with its high and unexpected popularity that looking to gaming's past was not a sign of creative stagnation. This led to a massive influx of retro-flavored games afterward, from Nintendo's own Donkey Kong Country Returns to any number of indie titles lacking AAA budgets.
  • 1986's The Legend of Zelda was the first console game to use a battery-backup save feature, codified or outright named a huge number of tropes used in Action-Adventure games since, and pioneered non-linear game design that served as an important progenitor to later open worlds. The complexity of games after this point would never be the same, as it was now possible to make a game that couldn't be beaten in a few hours.
  • 1986's Dragon Quest took RPGs down a completely different path. Its emphasis on story and simplistic combat was a major culture shock for American gamers when they got their hands on it (Western RPGs at the time consisting mainly of shallow stories and cripplingly complex gameplay), but it definitely had a following, and it spawned the subgenre we now refer to as the JRPG.
  • James Cameron's 1986 action/horror film Aliens was impactful enough in the world of cinema, but it arguably left an even greater mark on gaming, as this article by Alexander Chatziioannou for The AV Club lays out. To start, H. R. Giger's visceral, barely humanoid monster designs set the template for what evil alien baddies in gaming looked like. Shortly after the film's release, a slew of license-skirting takes on the xenomorph showed up in titles like Contra, R-Type, and Alien Storm, and Giger's work continues to influence the likes of StarCraft's Zerg, Dead Space's necromorphs, and Prey (2017)'s Typhon. Meanwhile, its claustrophobic industrial corridors, often overgrown with alien Meat Moss, were just as influential on level design, becoming a common environment in which to battle those monsters, especially in more horror-leaning titles. Finally, while it was hardly the first sci-fi story to feature them (it was, in fact, heavily inspired by Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers), Aliens codified the Space Marine character type that would become the default protagonist for generations' worth of sci-fi shooters, from Doom to Gears of War.
  • Ninja Gaiden on the NES was one of the earliest games to utilize cutscenes in video games, thus allowing for it to tell a story that was more complex than the simplistic Save the Princess stories told by other games of its era, and avoiding the need to relegate all of its backstory and lore to the game's manual. Additionally, while taking most of its cues from Castlevania in terms of level design and gameplay, Ninja Gaiden set a new standard for difficulty in video games, and to this day is regarded as one of the forefront examples of Nintendo Hard video games.
  • 1991's Street Fighter II altered the face of the Fighting Game, shifting focus from side-scrolling brawlers to one-on-one fights, varied character rosters, and competitive two-player modes. It didn't invent competitive multiplayer, but after its release, the main metric for comparing two gamers' skill went from which of them got the high score to having them face off in a head-to-head contest where only one could win. The spectacle of this kind of multiplayer gave arcades a second wind in The '90s, as people flocked to Street Fighter II cabinets to watch players duke it out, bringing the arcade back to the forefront of gaming in a manner not seen since the days of Space Invaders. Even after consoles and PCs took over for good in the 2000s, the competitive scenes around Street Fighter II and other arcade fighting games that followed laid the groundwork for e-sports. A key part of this appeal was that it boasted a "bug" that let you chain moves together, which soon became one of the cornerstones of the fighting game genre, helped along by an accurate joystick that made it much easier for a skilled player to pull off these complex moves without relying on dumb luck and Button Mashing like in older games.
  • In 1991, Sonic the Hedgehog helped define part of the culture of The '90s by creating the Mascot with Attitude, and showing how fast gameplay could work as a platformer. In the process, it created the Console Wars between Sega and Nintendo.
  • The Final Fantasy franchise has, for decades, defined the Role-Playing Game, and while Western examples of the genre would go off in their own direction, it remains a seminal influence on JRPGs.
    • 1991's Final Fantasy IV (or Final Fantasy II as it was known in North America) seemed like this to Western gamers, since it was one of the first plot- and character-heavy console RPGs to get a Western release. In reality, the genre had been going strong for a long time in Japan, but it was the first to get widespread Western release and therefore represented a turning point in terms of getting them worldwide.
    • 1997's Final Fantasy VII rewrote the rulebook for the JRPG genre, popularizing highly cinematic presentation enabled by CG rendering and the newly increased storage space of CDs, and dynamic camera angles and movement in battles presented in 3D. It sparked a JRPG boom in the West as other Japanese developers brought their games across the Pacific and boosted their production values to match up with what Squaresoft had accomplished.
  • For quite a while, there were Multi-User Dungeons, or MUDs, the precursors of modern-day MMORPGs. They codified many of the popular gameplay features that we see today, but it wasn't until 1991's Neverwinter Nights (AOL)note  that graphics were used. Similar genre busters later seen, which further canonized what's sometimes called the 'Diku' (after Diku MUD, itself very definitely a trope codifier), were 1997's Ultima Online and 1999's EverQuest.
  • Warren Spector considers 1992's Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss to have pioneered the Immersive Sim, a type of game that emphasizes player choice and freedom over guided set pieces. Its development team, Looking Glass Studios, would write the book for the genre in The '90s through this and other games like System Shock and Thief: The Dark Project.
  • The first three Mortal Kombat games (respectively released in 1992, '93, and '95) introduced some major changes to the fighting game genre.
    • The most immediate impact was to raise the stakes in terms of the violence that video games could get away with. The Ultra Super Death Gore Fest Chainsawer 3000 trope was born here, as blood went flying with each punch and kick and players could end each match with "fatalities", brutal finishing moves in which the loser was violently murdered and often dismembered in a mess of gorn. As this article by Travis Fahs for IGN notes, after Mortal Kombat came out "waves of imitators began to flood the market, filling arcades with a sea of blood". In fact, Mortal Kombat was, together with Night Trap, one of the games responsible for the creation of the Electronic Software Ratings Board (ESRB), as parental outrage over the game's graphic violence led to Congressional hearings in 1993.
    • The series introduced juggling to fighting games, a game mechanic later improved by other franchises such as Tekken. If a player knocks their opponent into the air, they can keep attacking them, continually lifting them back into the air. It had Game-Breaker potential, so combo-breaking measures were put in place in later games not only of the series, but also of other franchises.
    • The game also popularized simplified move commands, such as buttonless motions (such as ← ← →) and simplified motion+buttons (← → 👊 ). These commands would later become standard for specialized command moves.
    • It was one of the first fighting games to put an emphasis on lore beyond "these people are in a fighting tournament competing to win the prize", which would reach full flower with Mortal Kombat 9. It featured a universe of various realms that the fighters all hailed from, with recurring characters between games with their own developing stories, and its aesthetic lifted heavily from '70s martial arts movies and exploitation films.
    • Mortal Kombat 9, as noted above, elevated the importance of storytelling in fighting games. Before then, story was often considered a complete afterthought that casual players can look up in the manual, and was often only vaguely referenced as each character only had an arcade ending and nothing else. It was generally agreed that story didn't matter in fighting games, the reasoning being that they were meant for competitive play and one didn't need a story for why two people are fighting each other. However, once MK9 came out, it completely flipped the script. It proved that you can have a fully cinematic story in a fighting game, and have it be compelling for gamers. MK9 made it perfectly reasonable, if not expected, for a fighting game to have a full-fledged story mode, and the term "fighting games don't need a story" has slowly waned from being "universally accepted" to "a lazy excuse not to have content". Since then, nearly all big-name fighting games have included one, with other developers likely taking cues from the success MK9 had.
  • In 1993 and '94, Sega AM2 (in their second appearance on this list) made three games that demonstrated what gaming in the third dimension was capable of. First, 1993's Daytona USA revolutionized the Racing Game with its emphasis on speed and fluidity. It was the first commercially-released game ever to use texture filtering to produce polygonal graphics that didn't look jagged, and more importantly (as noted in this video by Digital Foundry), its 60-frames-per-second graphics demonstrated the importance of a high framerate in producing a top-quality 3D racing experience, elevating it above previous experiments like Virtua Racing. (Its home version for the Sega Saturn lacked these graphical features, and suffered for it.) A few months later, Virtua Fighter not only brought fighting games through that transition, it also showcased more natural forms of combat as opposed to the fireballs and wuxia of its 2D brethren. Finally, 1994's Virtua Cop revived the Light Gun Game as an arcade staple, combining the trends towards both taikan games and 3D graphics to produce the sort of game that home consoles had an especially difficult time replicating without expensive peripherals.
  • There had been games like Wolfenstein 3D before it, but none had the immediate impact of 1993's Doom, the Trope Maker that popularized the First-Person Shooter genre in the mainstream consciousness.
    • It was the first FPS to offer multiplayer (via LAN or dial-up modem), it codified many of the Standard FPS Guns, it popularized a heightened "extreme" aesthetic inspired by Heavy Metal music and horror movies in the FPS genre that would endure for much of the decade, and its modding community demonstrated the strength of user-generated content in extending a game's longevity. So many copycats and ripoffs came out in The '90s that, for a long time (until 1998), most FPS games were referred to as "Doom clones".
    • Beyond just the FPS genre, it also served as a Killer App for the PC and elevated the prestige of PC gaming compared to home consoles, which were seen as superior until the advent of Doom. It was also one of the games that popularized shareware, a model under which developers gave away part of their program for free, and the user would pay them money for the full thing if they liked it. This was seen as a really stupid idea that could never possibly make money, until id Software, Apogee Software (later known as 3D Realms), and Epic MegaGames came along and proved that the model could be profitable, at least with games, even before the days of the internet when distributing shareware was made easy. Apogee/3D Realms made a lot of money selling Kingdom of Kroz and Duke Nukem as shareware, and Epic with ZZT and Jill of the Jungle, while playable demos that offered a limited slice of gameplay as a free preview became a hallmark of gaming in the late '90s and '00s.
  • Speaking of the Duke, 1996's Duke Nukem 3D not only took the "extreme" aesthetic of Doom to the next level, it marked a shift to more realistic and grounded environments and level design in FPS games, set as it was in city streets, apartments, movie theaters, prisons, subways, and other places that were meant to look and feel like real-world locales rather than the abstract and maze-like maps seen in older games.
  • To this day, Resident Evil enjoys a reputation as the last word in Survival Horror, and it is because of how fundamentally it shaped the genre's conventions.
    • The original game from 1996, of course, was the big one. There had been antecedents like Maniac Mansion, Alone in the Dark, and Phantasmagoria, but Resident Evil made the genre into a showcase of what the new PlayStation console could do. It embedded a heavy Adventure Game influence in the genre with its key hunts, puzzles, and inventory management, established zombies as the mook of choice for many games, and spawned a wave of imitators and a long-running franchise. It even gave the genre its name, through the loading screen that came up when a player reloaded a save file.

      Moreover, RE also impacted the broader zombie genre, beyond just video games. Not only is the series credited as having revived the genre following its dormancy from the mid-'80s onward, a wave that eventually reached film in the early '00s with 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, the Dawn of the Dead remake, and — appropriately enough — RE's film adaptation, it also popularized the idea of zombies as having biological origins in the form of The Virus. Before RE, the source of the zombie plague was as likely to be supernatural as it was to be scientific (the original idea of the cinematic zombie was derived from Haitian Vodou), and George A. Romero's Living Dead Series never definitively explained where zombies came from, with characters offering explanations ranging from a radioactive space probe to The Scourge of God.
    • Resident Evil 4, released in 2005, is particularly notable here, as it managed to be a turning point for two genres, with the reasons for both being intimately related. Whereas survival horror before then (including prior games in the series) was known for starving the player of resources in order to increase tension, RE4 gave the player an NRA convention's worth of guns and ammo and proceeded to throw everything and the kitchen sink at them, producing a high-octane, adrenaline-filled thrill ride. RE4's brand of survival horror was no longer about the fear that you don't even have the resources to overcome this one zombie, but rather, from fear that the angry mob of parasite-brainwashed villagers or Big Creepy-Crawlies in front of you would overwhelm you no matter how many bullets you could fire at them.

      At the same time, by jettisoning past RE games' cinematic camera angles and clumsy controls in favor of an over-the-shoulder POV and a more fine-tuned aiming system, RE4 inadvertently wrote the book for the modern Third-Person Shooter formula as people realized that there was a really good shooter in there. Starting with Gears of War, which refined the system for a more conventional action shooter experience, nearly every third-person shooter since the mid-'00s bears some influence from RE4 — ironic, given that RE4 wasn't even part of that genre to begin with. In a case of Tropes Are Not Good, none of this was lost on longtime RE fans, and as both later games in the series and other survival horror franchises went in a more action-heavy direction, a not-uncommon opinion emerged in the late '00s and early '10s that RE4, as good as it was on its own merits, wasn't just a Franchise Original Sin for the RE series, but a Genre Original Sin for survival horror as a whole.
  • Quake, id Software's 1996 follow-up to Doom, was not the first FPS game with built-in Internet multiplayernote , but it played a large role in turning it into one of the staples of the genre. Virtually every FPS released since Quake includes a multiplayer mode, with many FPS fans buying games solely for the multiplayer and never touching the single-player.
  • Tomb Raider.
  • 1997's Diablo wrote the book for the modern Western action role-playing game, combining Hack and Slash gameplay, an RPG-style leveling system, and an innovative loot mechanic in a formulation that games ever since, in all genres, have drawn inspiration from. As Matt Gerardi of The AV Club put it, "twenty years after Diablo, every game is Diablo."
  • The Windows-era Touhou games, first released in 1997, were far from the first Bullet Hell games, but with their intricate bullet patterns and use of humanoid characters rather than mechs and fighter ships, they effectively the Shoot 'em Up genre, especially within the doujin shooter scene. Since 2002, it's hard to find a doujin shmup or even a commercial one that doesn't fill the screen with intricate bullet patterns. That said, some feel that the saturation of bullet hell games makes it difficult to find more "classical" shmups ever since Touhou popularized bullet hell, or shmups that don't use what detractors refer to as a "loli" or "jailbait" aesthetic.
    • Really, Touhou's impact on the doujin scene cannot be understated. The series has come to define Japanese indie games in ways few even big budget works can only dream of. Like Star Wars and Star Trek are to Sci Fi and Neon Genesis Evangelion is to anime, Touhou has become the defining face for doujin games with even its own huge events and the like with whole fan cultures of various kinds circling around it influencing other works that follow.
  • 1997's Castlevania: Symphony of the Night completely changed not just its own series but the entire platforming genre. Before it, Metroidvania games were rare and generally based heavily on Metroid; the majority of platformers were linear. (Half of the name Metroidvania itself was, of course, referring to this game.) Afterwards, open-world Metroidvania titles became increasingly common to the point of being the norm, linear platformers became increasingly uncommon, and many Metroidvanias included some form of RPG Elements.
  • When it was released in 1997, Sony's Dual Analog controller for the PlayStation, and especially its more famous successor the DualShock, quickly became the standard by which all video game controllers were measured. It wasn't the first default gamepad (as in, the one packed in with the console itself, not an add-on) to have full analog control, nor was it the first controller built with ergonomics in mind rather than being shaped like a rectangular brick — the Nintendo 64 beat it to the punch in both regards. However, by having two analog sticks, character and camera control in a 3D environment were greatly simplified. Not only has it remained in basic service through five generations of PlayStations and counting with only minor changes to its basic designnote , but every controller since from Microsoft and Nintendo (save for the Wiimote, a throwback to the original NES controller) has been heavily influenced by its layout of "two analog sticks for each thumb, a D-pad on the left, four face buttons on the right, and two trigger buttons for each index finger".
  • Rarely does a licensed game redefine conventions. Yet this is exactly what GoldenEye did in 1997. Not only did it set the standards for every shooter of its generation, but more importantly, it showed that FPS games on consoles didn't have to be watered down compared to their PC counterparts, and could be legitimately great games in their own right. It would also bring multiplayer FPSes to a wide audience, allowing up to four players to shoot each other up on one screen and one console; before then, the only way to enjoy multiplayer FPSes with that many players was to do it on a PC with each player having their own machine. Finally, it's credited, together with Team Fortress Classic and MDK that same year, with having popularized the headshot by introducing location-based damage.
  • 1997's beatmania is not the first Rhythm Game, but it introduced the idea of scrolling notes, something that has become the standard for the genre, and has been reflected through other Konami rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution, non-Konami Asian-developed rhythm games such as Pump It Up and Love Live! School Idol Festival, and finally, Western rhythm games such as Frequency, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band.
  • The huge critical and commercial success of Gran Turismo in 1997 proved that simulation racing could be made just as accessible, fun, and mass-market as the likes of Mario Kart and Daytona USA without sacrificing depth and realism, opening the doors for the sub-genre to co-exist and succeed next to its arcade racing brethren. It also demonstrated that tuning cars could be made fun and engaging by turning it into an RPG-like system of upgrades and better parts (the term "CarPG" was often used to describe it), a system that spread so far that it's now simpler to list the racing games that don't allow players to upgrade and customize their vehicles.
  • 1998's StarCraft was a turning point for the Real-Time Strategy genre, from a largely single-player-focused genre to one where multiplayer and even professional play were considered central to the game design. While StarCraft itself still largely focused on its single-player campaign, the immense popularity of multiplayer matches, especially in South Korea, and enabling more online play meant that all later games in the genre saw a greater focus on balancing their factions based on an equal starting point. On a less important note, the vast aesthetic differences between the utilitarian Terrans, visceral Zerg, and high-tech Protoss marked a turning point in faction design, where even functionally identical structures and worker units were made entirely distinct for each faction, as well as different factions increasingly having their own methods of advancing up the tech tree.
  • Castle Wolfenstein was one of the first games in the Stealth-Based Game genre, but it wasn't until the success of a trio of games released in 1998, Metal Gear Solid, Thief: The Dark Project, and Tenchu: Stealth Assassins, that the genre began to attract attention. Other stealth game series, like Splinter Cell and Hitman, have continued this with quirks of their own.
  • Metal Gear Solid also went a long way towards moving action games away from having nothing more than an Excuse Plot, instead making the story an integral part of the gaming experience. The story, voice acting (particularly in a time when almost every game's voice acting ranged from mediocre to awful), and Character Development were singled out for praise, and those three things noticeably made the gameplay and action sequences, particularly the Boss Battles, more intense than any other action games on the market at the time. It also explored some surprisingly adult subjects like PTSD and nuclear proliferation, which would have been unheard of just a few years before it came out.
  • 1998's Dance Dance Revolution set the standard for dancing rhythm games. Rather than have the player push buttons to play, the player has to move their body, resulting in something more dance-like than previous dance games as well as a classic form of Exergaming.
  • The Half-Life series.
    • In 1998, Half-Life introduced in-game scripted setpieces, intelligent AI, diegetic environments, the Unbroken First-Person Perspective, and story-driven progression to the FPS genre, beyond just a simple sequence of key and switch hunts and Excuse Plots on maps that were designed as combat arenas and only later themed to whatever the game was supposed to be about. Through these innovations, it marked a shift in the FPS genre to a more thoughtful style of shooter, one which would be later refined with later titles made by its developer Valve Corporation.
    • Its 2004 sequel Half-Life 2, meanwhile, popularized advanced physics engines (and integrating physics into gameplay), intelligent emergent AI (especially for allied NPCs which had beforehand been universally useless), several graphical staples (such as auto-generated realistic lip sync and HDR lighting), and the narrative of the alien enemy as an unstoppable, nigh-untouchable eldritch force that you could only fight indirectly.
  • 1998's Baldur's Gate is widely regarded as having saved the Western RPG genre from slow extinction, setting up a Real-Time with Pause engine to replace the then-standard turn-based mechanics and putting a strong emphasis on story and Character Development. Since then, strong writing has been expected of WRPGs, and purely turn-based games are almost never released anymore. Those in the know also credit Baldur's Gate for saving its parent franchise, Dungeons & Dragons, from the tar pit that it had been driven into in the 1990s.
  • For the Interactive Fiction genre, there is the 1998 game Photopia. Before Photopia, games often used Mind Screw surrealism or High Fantasy loosely bound by a huge Story Arc. After Photopia, plot and puzzles became more important to the feel of a game, and Slice of Life realism overtook surrealism as the most popular environment in Interactive Fiction. Furthermore, the Inform engine that it ran on made it possible for non-programmers to write Interactive Fiction software, especially with the release of Inform 7 in 2006.
  • 1999's Silent Hill, one of the more famous Resident Evil imitators, introduced a more psychological take on the genre inspired by Stephen King and H. P. Lovecraft, with evil cults, demonic forces, and the town being an Eldritch Location. It and its series influenced a lot of the more explicitly supernatural takes on the genre.
  • Tony Hawk's Pro Skater in 1999 revolutionized not only extreme sports games, but extreme sports themselves. While a number of attempts had been made in the past at bringing such sports to gaming (such as 720°, California Games, Cool Boarders, 2Xtreme, and 1080° Snowboarding), Tony Hawk nailed the sweet spot between fun and accessibility on one hand and realism and authenticity on the other. Games like SSX, Aggressive Inline, and Skate all built on the foundation that Tony Hawk had laid down. Moreover, it also gave a huge boost to the popularity of skateboarding in real life; between 1999 and 2002, the number of skateboarders worldwide skyrocketed by sixty percent.
  • Unreal.
  • Medal of Honor and Counter-Strike, released in 1999 and 2000 respectively, popularized the military shooter, with a much greater focus on realism and authenticity as opposed to over-the-top action and sci-fi storylines. Medal of Honor specifically popularized World War II as a popular setting for shooters in the first half of the 2000s, while Counter-Strike pioneered the modern military shooter, with a focus on equipment and tactics in use by contemporary armed forces and response teams, an idea that would reach full flower later on (as noted below).
  • Upon its release in 2000, The Sims massively expanded the definition of what a video game could be. Here was a game with no combat, no puzzles, and not even a clear way to "win" — you played as an ordinary person living in the suburbs whose goal was to make money, build friendships, fall in love, raise a family, buy a nicer house, and otherwise engage in all the mundanities of American life. While The Sims was merely the culmination of what Maxis had been doing since SimCity, none of its preceding games left as great an impact or became pop culture touchstones the way that this one did. It pioneered not only the Life Simulation Game but also, more importantly, the Casual Video Game, opening up the medium to people who had never considered themselves gamers before. Everything from the Nintendo Wii to the boom in mobile gaming to the rise of the Environmental Narrative Game owes something to the path that Will Wright and his team blazed with The Sims.
  • The Team ICO Series were hugely influential on The Sixth Generation of Console Video Games, with their impact stretching to the present day:
    • 2001's ICO is credited with ushering in the arthouse game, and for its mammoth influence on visual and environmental storytelling over cutscenes and dialogues. The mix of puzzles, platforming, and combat in both games was a huge influence on the revived Sands of Time trilogy of Prince of Persia and the Uncharted games, as well as codifying the importance of a supporting NPC companion, inspiring the likes of Alyx Vance (Half-Life 2), Elizabeth (Bioshock Infinite), and Ellie (The Last of Us). Its cinematic presentation, heavy emphasis on art direction and visuals for atmosphere and setting has likewise been cited as a major influence on FromSoftware's Dark Souls and Bloodborne.
    • The boss fights in 2006's Shadow of the Colossus were immensely influential on many developers and subsequent games, for their presentation, their distinct designs and looks, and the manner in which the fighting style and environment of the boss arena communicated and indicated personality, theme, and story. The game especially invented the Colossus Climb, which has been mimicked, homaged, and parodied numerous times.
    • The prestige and critical acclaim of these games also played a major part in inspiring Sony to focus on console exclusives, attracting several developers and development teams with the promise of creative freedom and generous budgets in exchange for planting their flag with Sony and making games that would make people want to buy PlayStations. Sony's focus on console exclusives in the sixth, seventh, and eighth generations ultimately led it to build a library that has come to rival Nintendo's, and one which the Xbox often Can't Catch Up with. Indeed, Sony even announced their cloud service on PC (PlayStation Now) with the promise of access to console exclusives that PC gamers otherwise would not have been able to play legally. Included among the stable at launch were ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, both of which have been remastered and kept in print in both the PS3 and PS4 era.
  • Grand Theft Auto:
    • 2001's Grand Theft Auto III completely revolutionized both the Wide Open Sandbox and the content that was considered acceptable for video games to show. It wasn't the first 3D open-world game (titles like Driver, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and DMA Design's own Body Harvest predate it), nor was it the first graphically violent game (it wasn't even the first to start a moral panic over video game violence; Mortal Kombat and Night Trap more or less directly led to the creation of the ESRB long before the original GTA even began development). However, its success helped it stand head and shoulders above its progenitors, providing players with a massive world that was packed to the rafters with things to do, including any sort of vice and debauchery they could imagine. To this day, the template for most open-world games is essentially a refinement of what GTA III accomplished. Unfortunately, it also helped sell the idea of video games as Murder Simulators.
    • Its 2002 sequel Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, meanwhile, revolutionized video game soundtracks. Before, music in video games was usually either specifically composed for the game, made up of a handful of more-or-less obscure/underground musicians, or composed of no more than about a dozen licensed tracks, usually from a single genre (such as Tony Hawk's Pro Skater's Punk Rock soundtrack). The Houser brothers, however, used their connections in the music industry to secure the rights to a soundtrack composed of over a hundred songs from some of the biggest pop and rock icons of The '80s, contributing to the game's Miami Vice/Scarface atmosphere like nothing else. Vice City's soundtrack is still held up as one of the greatest ever seen in a video game, and it's been the norm for games to use licensed tracks from big-name artists ever since.
    • On a more negative note, Grand Theft Auto Online, the online multiplayer mode of 2013's Grand Theft Auto V, has been held up as a harbinger of all of the exploitative monetization practices that would plague gaming during the Eighth Generation. It was the first AAA, $60 retail game to employ microtransactions in a big way for its online economy, a model previously restricted to free-to-play mobile and browser games, and other developers, taking note of how lucrative this model became for Rockstar Games, adapted it for their own online games. To quote Tyler J. of Cleanprincegaming:
    "Like it or not, the game was breaking new ground. Unfortunately, they broke that ground directly over Hell."
  • Initial D Arcade Stage in 2001 redefined arcade racing games, especially in Japan. It introduced a number of competitive elements, such as an emphasis on one-on-one "battles" rather than "grids" of racers, the option to challenge players to a race mid-game, a card system for saving player data, and tuning options to upgrade and fine-tune one's vehicle. These features helped create a major Fighting Game-style tournament scene, something that had never been seen with previous racing games in arcades.
  • The release of Devil May Cry in 2001 is more or less considered to be the point where the Beat 'em Up genre shattered the Polygon Ceiling, and popularized the Stylish Action and Hack and Slash genre of video games, thus serving as the inspiration for games like the Ninja Gaiden revival, God of War, and Bayonetta (also created by Hideki Kamiya). Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening is also considered a landmark, due to popularizing within the genre the usages of stance systems and weapon changing during combos, allowing for combat to become even more stylish and opening up the possibilities for what Combos players could execute in combat.
  • The Xbox, upon its release in 2001, made Microsoft the first American company since Atari to become a major player in the Console Wars, officially breaking the monopoly held by the Japanese since The Great Video Game Crash of 1983. This was a major sign that the Great Crash's lingering aftereffects were gone for good.
  • 2001's Halo: Combat Evolved brought Regenerating Health and the Limited Loadout to the shooter genre, in addition to mixing up the gameplay with a mix of on-foot and vehicular action and environments that alternated between open spaces and tight corridors. These elements existed prior to this, but Halo blended them into a kind of alchemic formula that stuck.
  • In 2002, Metroid Prime successfully fused the FPS with the adventure genre, creating a first-person shooter where the focus was on exploration and puzzle-solving with combat as a secondary focus. Those had long been staples of video games, but Metroid Prime really was the codifier for their inclusion in the FPS genre. To this day, almost every modern FPS can trace its roots back to either Halo, Metroid Prime, or Medal of Honor.
  • When the Xbox Live service (and its child service, the Xbox Live Arcade) went live in 2002, it provided two previously rare functions on consoles — it allowed for the onset of downloadable content expansions to console games, and it allowed for the download of small games directly to a console's hard drive, starting with titles such as Namco arcade games. With the Xbox 360, this eventually allowed for the download of entire Xbox games, but this and several other download networks ushered in a new era of independently produced games, which themselves are sometimes deconstructions and reconstructions of classical video-game concepts. The industry has essentially come full-circle.
  • Steam, upon its launch in 2003, did a lot to revive PC gaming in the Turn of the Millennium.
    • Before it became popular, PC developers were fleeing to consoles en masse due to both the growing threat of piracy and, later, the backlash that intrusive DRM systems caused within the gaming community. Steam offered not only a relatively consumer-friendly form of DRM, but a whole slew of other features (unified friends lists, an Achievement System, etc.) that had previously been exclusive to consoles. As a result, developers felt more confident releasing their games on PC through Steam, with the knowledge that they were not only tougher to pirate but, even when they were inevitably pirated, the pirate copies would lose their Steam functionality in the process.
    • Steam also helped to greatly expand the market for indie gaming by offering a way for small developers to get their games to consumers without the costs and hurdles associated with retail stores. The Xbox Live Arcade and Play Station Network quickly followed its lead, spreading the indie love to console gamers.
    • Much like Napster before it and Netflix after, Steam heralded a major shift in distribution. No longer did PC gamers have to go down to the local game store (where the shelf space for PC games was rapidly dwindling in favor of consoles) and shell out $50 on the game they were looking for, if they were lucky enough to find it at all. The digital storefront and frequent sales meant you had an entire library that you could shop right from your game room and get big discounts even on AAA titles if you had some patience. Plus, you didn't have to keep track of all those CDs and patches; Steam handled your own personal library for you. It also made publishers happy, as it diminished both piracy and the secondhand market. In The New '10s, other companies, including the Big Three console makers, started taking notice of Valve's success and began to set up their own digital storefronts, which consequently became a big factor in the decline of physical game stores.
  • 2003's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time made platforming "realistic" with its use of parkour, and set the stage for, among other things, Tomb Raider: Legend, Assassin's Creed (which was, not coincidentally, made by the same studio as Sands of Time, Ubisoft Montreal), and Uncharted. While the idea of realistic platforming and fighting had precedent with the original Prince of Persia back in 1989, it didn't become a staple of gaming until the series made the jump to 3D.
  • Before 2003's Need for Speed: Underground, arcade-style racers involving licensed vehicles, especially previous NFS games, were just games that gave the opportunity for players to enjoy the coolest cars in some fantastic environments, occasionally running from police. EA Black Box's Underground, with some thanks to the popularity of The Fast and the Furious, brought organized illegal street racing to the gaming world with modified tuners decorated in vinyls and custom body kits, nitrous oxide tanks providing a means to accelerate quicker, storylines to keep things interesting, drifting as a proper gameplay mechanic with special events revolving around them, and some drag racing events, all to enjoy from the safe, legal comfort of players' homes. 2004's Underground 2 and 2005's Most Wanted helped reinforce this mindset with Wide Open Sandboxes and the latter's reintroduction of police chases (the two Underground games took place exclusively at night, which gave a somewhat unrealistic excuse for why the illegal street racing was not picked up on by police). As a result, street racing became the dominant trend in arcade-style racing games in the 2000s, often to the chagrin of fans of the more exotic-focused older NFS games who disliked what they saw as a "rice burner" aesthetic. To this day, visual customization is as much a feature of many "serious" racing games as performance upgrades were after Gran Turismo, as is the Nitro Boost in the more arcade-leaning examples of the genre, and this game is a big reason why.
  • Two games by Relic Entertainment, 2004's Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War and 2006's Company of Heroes, shifted the focus of the Real-Time Strategy genre from base-building and resource gathering, as popularized by StarCraft and Command & Conquer, to a more dynamic style with a greater focus on tactics and micromanagement. Nowadays, most RTS games don't feature the old-school "collect resources, build your army, smash your enemies" style of gameplay, and even when they do, those mechanics are often downplayed.
  • 2006's Gears of War led third-person shooters as a genre to strategic cover-based gameplay. While third-person cover shooters had some precedents before it (notably WinBack and Kill.Switch), Gears of War is when the concept truly solidified and became a regular feature of the genre.
  • 2006's Wii Sports became the Killer App for the Wii by demonstrating how to make motion controls work in a game: namely, tie them directly to actions that people perform when they engage in those activities in real life, thus flattening out the learning curve by having new players simply apply their real-world knowledge of how such things should work to the game instead of having to learn a complicated button scheme. Playing baseball, golf, or tennis meant swinging the Wiimote the way one would a real baseball bat, golf club, or tennis racket, bowling meant engaging in an underhand motion similar to throwing a real bowling ball down a lane, and boxing had players put up actual jabs, hooks, and blocks. Virtually every successful motion control game since took the principles laid out in Wii Sports and applied them to other activities (for instance, driving a car by turning the Wiimote like a steering wheel, or aiming a gun by pointing the Wiimote like a pistol). This video by Cleanprincegaming goes into more detail.
  • BioShock, upon its release in 2007, brought a sea change to both video game storytelling and video game journalism, with this article at The AV Club outlining the myriad ways it impacted the medium.
    • On the side of gaming itself, BioShock popularized audio diaries as a means of storytelling, such that most games with a narrative story now use them, or something like them, to deliver background details on the world and characters. It also popularized moral choice systems, which would be further refined over the years by games like Mass Effect and inFAMOUS. Furthermore, its deconstructionist twist around the halfway mark, one that went against everything that players are typically told to do in a video game of this sort, was a massive shock to casual gamers expecting just another sci-fi shooter. It was hardly the first game to employ any of these ideas (in fact, it was envisioned as a Spiritual Successor to System Shock 2), but it was one of the first highly-polished, big-budget AAA titles to do so and become a mainstream success. Their spread throughout the game industry since then is such that BioShock's impact can feel muted today.
    • In the realm of gaming journalism, meanwhile, BioShock's exploration of the nature of video game narratives and tropes helped bring a new breed of more intellectual game critics and writers into the mainstream, as people picked apart the game's big twist and its presentation of the morals and political ideas at the center of its story. Those who criticized various aspects of the game and its sequels wound up birthing the term "ludonarrative dissonance" with their complaints about how they felt that the action-packed gameplay didn't match up with the themes running through the story. These criticisms would later give birth to the Environmental Narrative Game genre, which largely eschewed conventional competitive gameplay in favor of storytelling. Notably, Gone Home, one of the more famous games of this type, was developed by a team whose founding members got their start on the Minerva's Den story expansion for BioShock 2.
  • The outstanding success of 2007's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare single-handedly shifted the standard setting of 'realistic' military shooters from World War II to The Present Day or Next Sunday A.D.. Medal of Honor, among others, followed suit. Beyond that, it also popularized progression-based perk systems and player loadouts in multiplayer, as well as the idea of single-player campaigns being highly scripted, cinematic affairs designed akin to rollercoaster rides and presented like summer blockbusters. Its impact was such that, for a long time, it shifted the genre as a whole into being totally dominated by one franchise in a way that it hadn't been even in the days of "Doom clones", as everybody making a first-person shooter in the late '00s and early '10s tried to imitate Modern Warfare in some manner, and even games outside the genre took notice and adapted elements from it.
  • For better or worse, 2009's FarmVille pioneered the entire business model of casual video games (particularly mobile and browser games) in the 2010s, with its free-to-play format built upon microtransactions and social interactivity.
  • 2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum was this for licensed games in general. Before Arkham Asylum, it was common for studios to invest money in AAA license titles that were often tie-ins that adapted the movies rather than serve as an adaptation of the license tailored to the video game medium. Although some of these tie-ins were well-received, many were pilloried for being cheap cash grabs whose narratives and worlds were too dependent on the movies to stand out. However, the Arkham series became highly praised for creating a unique take on the Batman mythos and charting its own universe and story independent of the then-ongoing The Dark Knight Trilogy. Subsequently, all AAA licensed games are set in alternate universes, with movie tie-ins relegated to mobile games. Even the Spider-Man games, once the gold standard for the movie tie-in approach, later distanced themselves from the movies, with Insomniac's Spider-Man (PS4) taking Arkham's approach in adapting the license by having the game's world existing in its own universe. There’s also an Avengers project that Marvel is partnering with Square Enix on that is following the same mold rather than trying to adapt the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most famously, where The Lord of the Rings had movie tie-in hack-and-slash licensed games, for The Hobbit Monolith Studios made a game-centric adaptation of the licensed property, leading to the critically acclaimed Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. Monolith explicitly cited Rocksteady as their inspiration, noting that it raised the bar for adapting licensed properties by insisting that it work first and foremost by providing entertaining gameplay.
  • While FromSoftware had originally created a new genre of Action RPG called the "Souls-like" or "Soulsborne" in 2009 with its Sleeper Hit Demon's Souls, it wasn't until its 2011 Breakthrough Hit Dark Souls that the genre really broke into the mainstream. That game, its sequels, and its Spiritual Successor Bloodborne pioneered the most influential combat system in 2010s gaming, updating old arcade and 2D-style techniques (hitboxes, a stamina meter, attrition) to modern consoles and showing that a game with "tough, but fair" combat could be commercially successful despite a high barrier of entry for the casual gamer. The games likewise focused heavily on environmental storytelling over cutscenes, with the plot, World Building, and characterization communicated via Flavor Text, objects, clues, and item descriptions communicated interactively, putting heavy emphasis on telling stories in a way only video games can. Within a few years after it came out, the "Souls-like" style has cropped up in multiple places such as Lords of the Fallen and Nioh, while the highly popular Assassin's Creed series featured a combat system heavily inspired by it for Origins and Odyssey.
  • In the mid-late '00s, survival horror was thought to be a dying genre, unable to compete in the increasingly big-budget gaming marketplace. And then came 2010's Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which revolutionized indie horror and almost singlehandedly put the genre back on the map. Many of Amnesia's design elements — an unarmed and highly vulnerable protagonist, an Unbroken First-Person Perspective, heavy use of Interface Screw — formed part of the DNA of numerous horror games both indie and big-budget in the 2010s.
  • While lootboxes was generally confined to free-to-play mobile games, it wasn't until 2010 when Team Fortress 2 introduced Loot Boxes in the form of crates and the keys to open them (which are only purchasable with real money) as part of the Mann-conomy Update that publishers started to consider loot boxes and microtransactions in paid games.
  • Minecraft revolutionized the open-world game upon its release in 2011, popularizing Item Crafting mechanics that, when combined with its vast scope, pioneered the Survival Sandbox genre. By the decade's end, crafting and construction mechanics had become staples of open-world games, to the point that games that lacked such features were often criticized for it. Its development was also a massive inspiration for smaller indie developers, showing just what a small team with a small budget could accomplish, especially with crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter. Most importantly, it was the first game to seriously take advantage of YouTube for promotion and community engagement, as videos of people playing Minecraft and uncovering its secrets became as popular as the game itself and led many others to start playing it and getting involved with its community, heralding the start of the streaming revolution in game culture in the 2010s. Charlie Hall, writing for Polygon, called Minecraft the most important game of the decade for how it changed the medium and its culture.


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