6 'New' Gaming Innovations That Are Way Older Than You Think
Some ideas change games forever. For instance, a few years after the Wii came out, everyone else was doing the motion-control thing. That's just the way the industry works; recognizing the great ideas brought in by others and moving the medium forward by incorporating them.
Only some of those revolutionary ideas actually existed decades before, and everyone thought they were shit.
Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs)
We Think They Started With: Ultima Online (1997)
The first RPG that could be played online in a shared virtual world is generally believed to be Ultima Online. In fact, the term "MMORPG" was first coined by Ultima Online's creator, Richard A. Garriott.
Or RICAGARR as he calls himself.
MMORPGs represent the excesses of modern gaming: People spending entire days staring at a computer screen, completely immersed in a fantasy world. Makes you feel nostalgic for the simple days of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man, when this sort of thing never happened ...
Actually Been Around Since: Island of Kesmai (1985)
This is ground zero for the modern world's greatest plague.
The first commercially released MMORPG actually came out in the mid-80s. Back then, though, it was known as a MUD which stood for Multi-User Dungeon, once again proving that inventing is half inspiration and half not naming it something so terrible everyone ignores you. Island of Kesmai could connect up to 100 players at the same time through the online service provider CompuServe. One hundred players may not seem like such a "massive" figure now, but in the 80s it was 98 more than our minds could handle.
Turns out MUD games go back all the way to the 70s and were actually quite popular on some particularly nerdy college campuses. Some jokesters even referred to them as "Multi Undergraduate Destroyers" due to their addictive nature. To put things in perspective, this was a period in time when the average household had three channels on their television, and may have had to wiggle an antenna to make them visible through the static. And these guys were already suffering from WoW syndrome.
Most MUD games were text-based, but others, like Island of Kesmai, used ASCII characters to simulate changing graphics, like so:
Add some pottery and it's a Zelda maze.
Kesmai implemented other features that are familiar to MMORPGs today, such as side-quests and the ability to trash talk other players through chat. As you can probably guess by now, the game failed to catch on, probably because it was way too expensive: It cost around $12 an hour just to stay connected to the CompuServe network. Also, a single command would take about 10 seconds to process -- that's almost two cents for every little movement you made. If playing WoW cost that much, Blizzard would own several countries by now.
"We'll keep the servers in South America and replace the Midwest with data centers. We'll build bunkers in Canada for the players. They'll be happy as long as they have Red Bull and Nutra-Paste."
Handheld 3D Gaming
We Think It Started With: The Nintendo 3DS (2011) or maybe the Virtual Boy (1995)
Before the 3DS, Nintendo's only attempt to create a 3D "handheld" was the Virtual Boy, otherwise known as one of the worst inventions of all time. The Virtual Boy was a spectacular failure and today, Nintendo doesn't even mention it on its website. But come on, surely they deserve some credit for attempting something as groundbreaking as a portable 3D console all the way back in 1995.
Even if it looked like some sort of elaborate torture device.
Actually Been Around Since: The Tomytronic 3D (1983)
Years before the Nintendo Entertainment System even came out in the U.S., a company named Tomy released the Tomytronic 3D, a binocular-shaped console that successfully managed to simulate 3D graphics. The Tomytronic worked thanks to two LED panels relying on external light.
The idea that you could look into a small machine and see a video game in 3D was just unthinkable in 1983 -- hell, we were just getting adjusted to having two dimensions in our games at that point. Here's what the major home console release looked like that year:
Do you have any idea what's going on there? No? It's freaking Starfox.
So what we're saying is that it's quite possible that the Tomytronic didn't sell so well simply because the children who played it weren't capable of explaining what they had just experienced to their friends.
Most of them turned to drugs.
Some might even say the Tomytronic worked better than the Virtual Boy -- mainly because of its impressive ability to display colors other than red. Also, some of these games actually look kind of kickass, like the one with the trippy phantom racecars:
Rainbow Road, anyone?
Or the one where you get to shoot lasers at packs of killer sharks, blowing them to pieces:
This ... just ... there are no words.
However, as cool as they looked these were still only LED games, so the gameplay was extremely limited and they probably got boring after only like 10 minutes ... and since the company only ever released seven games, this gave the combined Tomytronic series a useful life of little more than an hour. The console faded into obscurity and it would take 28 years for someone else to perfect handheld 3D technology.
Your pants will literally explode from joy -- GameWanker.com
Of course, the Nintendo 3DS isn't just a 3D console, it also features the DS' innovative touchscreen technology, introduced into the gaming world only a few years before ... right?
We Think it Started With: The Nintendo DS (2004)
The main draw of the original Nintendo DS, and what set it apart from all contemporary gaming consoles (handheld or otherwise), was its unprecedented degree of interactivity: Gamers were now able to interact more directly with the game using the system's revolutionary touchscreen technology and Nintendo's stylus.
Or, you know, an empty Bic pen.
Some called it a gimmick, but by now it's obvious that these guys were on to something (see: every phone since 2007). This is the kind of forward thinking that would eventually lead Nintendo to the Wii. Wait, did we say "forward"? We meant the opposite.
Actually Been Around Since: The Vectrex (1982)
The Vectrex was an unusual gaming console, in the sense that it was actually a huge monitor that happened to come with a gaming console attached to it.
Its "No TV recquired!" slogan seems a lot less impressive when you consider that it was a TV.
But despite its bulky size and simplistic black and white line graphics, the Vectrex had one huge advantage over every other console of its time (and the ones after that ... and the ones after that): It was the first one ever to feature touch-sensitive gaming, thanks to the Light Pen.
In 1982. When most telephones did not yet have buttons.
The initial lineup of games for the Light Pen was pretty limited: There was a drawing game, an animation game and a music game that would allow you to write and play notes on the screen -- basically, the same type of gimmicky stuff that accounts for half of Nintendo's current game library. They were also working on a slightly more exciting demo called Mail Plane:
These games were all about showing off the potential for what the Light Pen could do, before presumably moving on to more serious stuff. Unfortunately, the Vectrex was a victim of the video game crash of 1983, so they never got to apply this technology to, say, adventure games or even platformers. Most gamers probably never ever heard of it.
Causing them to miss out on all this.
So the most innovative feature of the Nintendo DS wasn't actually that original, but at least it pointed the company in the direction of something that really was: The Wii's motion controls. Except ...
We Think It Started With: The Nintendo Wii (2006)
A product so ground-breaking that we barely made fun of the name. After the first year or so.
The recent wave of motion-control systems -- beginning with the Nintendo Wii -- has made it possible for gamers all over the world to be a little more active while looking a lot more foolish.
Every time you're playing Wii, know that your ancestors are looking at you and thinking, Idiot.
The more recent Xbox Kinect is so advanced that it doesn't even need a controller to detect your movements. That's the future right there, folks.
Actually Been Around Since: The Pantomation (1977)
Actually, this particular method of losing your dignity in front of camera has apparently been around since the late 70s. The Pantomation was video equipment originally developed to read musical scores, but then its creators realized it could also be used to track body movement. By using a low-resolution analog camera and a minicomputer, the Pantomation could create computer graphics that reacted to human movement in various ways.
Like making it look like you're lifting a weight made of rainbows.
This is basically the same principle used by the Nintendo Wii or even the PlayStation Move -- only, you know, 30 years before. In other words, a few years after freaking color television became the norm, and someone invented a goddamn seventh-generation console. People were playing with this thing before they even knew what Space Invaders was.
The Pantomation did need a controller, sort of: It worked by detecting the movements of a brightly colored object, like a tennis ball or post-chipotle radioactive poop. The system could be programmed to instantly translate the object's trajectory in various ways, from drawing images on the screen to making music.
Rarely has a man pretending to wank produced such beautiful sounds.
The Pantomation was too expensive to be commercially released (at the time, not everybody had their own television studio at home), but since it was publicly funded, anyone was free to come and play around with the technology as long as they brought their own tape, comfortable clothes and no sense of ridicule whatsoever. Judging by the following video, the Pantomation managed to attract an alarmingly large amount of unemployed mimes.
Tragically, this proved to be indicative of the system's undignified fate. The video game industry was way too young to even consider adopting this technology back then ... so by the 80s the Pantomation was reduced to being used in laser light shows and pantomime performances.
If there's a lower form of art, we haven't thrown garbage at it on the way to work.
We Think It Started With: The Xbox 360 (2005)
The Xbox 360 is pretty much singlehandedly responsible for popularizing the concept of awarding achievements to gamers for completing specific challenges, such as defeating an enemy or completing a level or owning an Xbox 360 for four years without it breaking down.
"Achievement unlocked! You have just wasted $300 bucks."
The difference with in-game rewards like unlocking a hidden part of the game or finding a hidden item is that these so-called achievements have no real impact on the game itself. The "trophies" are posted directly to the player's online profile, meaning that the whole point is proving to people in the real world that, yes, you do play a lot of video games. Both PlayStation and Steam have been using the same system since 2008, and even Nintendo has incorporated it on a few games.
Actually Been Around Since: Pitfall and other Activision games (1982)
Add alcohol and 1982. Mix for excitement.
That's right, freakin' Pitfall had unlockable achievements, much like Halo or whatever, and most people who played it probably never even knew it.
It was hard to miss it with so much going on.
Back in the days of the Atari 2600, Activision would give out challenges requiring players to reach a certain amount of points or complete a level within a time limit -- for instance, getting 20,000 points in Pitfall or 10,000 in Chopper Command. But wait, how did you prove your achievement to Activision without an Internet connection? Easy: you had to take a photo of your television screen and mail it to them as evidence of your gaming expertise. You could also record the image on a VCR, probably, but then you'd have to go through the mental stress of having to choose between a VHS or a Betamax tape.
Our point being: This was a long time ago, guys.
If you met the requirements, you would then get a letter from Activision telling you how awesome you were. Oh, and some of them were signed by Pitfall Harry himself:
"PS: I apologize for my shoddy handwriting, but I am currently being knocked down by a barrel."
Big deal, right? All this accomplished was proving to your friends that you knew how to use a typewriter. Well, that's not all: Along with every letter, you would also receive a special patch as a token of your achievement. There were a total of 43 patches for 33 different Activision games, and some of them were kinda awesome:
... while others would inevitably get you beat up at school.
Any child who wore this must be just now waking up from the coma.
Activision was, at some point, receiving more than 2,000 letters every day, and according to Pitfall's creator, the bulk of those letters were kids demanding their badges. Pitfall alone led to 14,000 letters in a single week. It got so ridiculous that Activision had to hire employees just to open and answer the letters. So if these achievements were so popular, how come we're only hearing about them now? The obvious explanation is that these were actually the same 10 or so players, obsessively getting as many "trophies" as possible so they could show them off to their gamer friends.
The early 80s equivalent of a PSN profile.
DLC (Downloadable Content)
We Think It Started With: Sega Dreamcast's online service (2000)
The Sega Dreamcast, released in 1998, was the first console to come with a built-in modem, though their online service didn't launch until two years later. It would take a couple more years for the Xbox to really kick things into high gear by offering extra content for games like Halo 2 and Splinter Cell.
"You know what would make this better? Paying more money."
By now, pretty much every console can get online. But that's only been made possible by recent developments like high-speed Internet and Wi-fi connections ... or so we thought.
Actually Been Around Since: Atari's GameLine peripheral (1983)
That's right -- it could freaking fly.
The GameLine was an oversized Atari cartridge (manufactured by a company called CVC) that had the ability to transmit data through a simple phone line. After activating your account by calling a toll-free number -- and supplying your mom's credit card information -- you could connect your Atari to a central computer and download over 80 games for about a dollar each. Every game would then be playable for about five to 10 times before you had to pay to download it again. If the GameLine seems a little expensive, that's because it came from the motherfucking future.
But wait, it gets even more mindblowing: This technology was originally developed as a way for people to download songs into their homes through cable providers. Twenty years before Napster or iTunes, the planned "Home Music Store" would have made it possible for anyone to buy music online. Yes, in an era when people were trying to update their music library from vinyl to state-of-the-art cassette tapes, the "Home Music Store" would have completely bypassed CDs and gone straight to the next format. The only problem: All the major record companies refused to provide music for it, afraid to piss off retailers.
"What are they gonna do? Find a way to do this for free? Ha!"
That's when Bill Von Meister, one of the founders of CVC, acquired this brilliant but now completely useless technology and turned it into a way to download video games. But besides the GameLine, CVC started developing other online services like the MailLine (the ability to send electronic mail from your Atari 2600), NewsLine (read news headlines and weather updates, like in an RSS feed) and OpinionLine (an early version of Internet message boards). Add a PornLine and some cat memes and we've got ourselves a full Internet, decades ahead of time.
All these projects would have probably come to fruition if the GameLine had done well, but it didn't. The problem, once again, was that none of the major game developers like Activision, Coleco or even Atari wanted anything to do with it, which meant that the GameLine's impressive 80-game library consisted mostly of obscure, shitty games nobody wanted to play. Add that to goddamn ET and the video game crash of '83, and the whole company went bankrupt.
That doesn't mean Von Meister abandoned his plans, though -- it only means it took him a little longer to realize them. He went on to create another company that reused the same technology: something called America OnLine. So, basically, a failed gaming peripheral nobody wanted anything to do with revolutionized modern life as we know it.
Suddenly R.O.B. feels like such an underachiever.
And be sure to pick up our book because it is also from the future.
For more "modern" ideas that were here long ago, check out 11 Modern Technologies That Are Way Older Than You Think and 6 Depraved Sexual Fetishes That Are Older Than You Think.
And stop by Linkstorm to see the original Bear Grylls: Pitfall Harry (who is likely drinking his own piss).
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