In a world of clones and copycats, it's worth remembering that every idea was once new.
Whether it's Richard Garriott turning himself into the world's first cosplayer by showing up at conventions dressed as his alter-ego Lord British, or Westwood inventing the RTS in Dune II, these are the moments that defined the games we play today. On PC, anyway. Herzog Zwei? What's that?
But what about some of the more obscure firsts? Who made games talk? Who made film ratings part of our industry? Which FPS first came up with the idea of mixing driving and shooting, in much the same way that the genius who first combined salt and vinegar crisps and broken up pieces of Kit-Kat created the most delicious snack of our age? That is the question.
We've gone back into the archives in search of the geniuses, the dreamers, the designers and games that proved there were still ideas left to explore – just as today's designers continue to prove how much more can be done.
The very first secret little programmer's joke was in Atari's Adventure in 1979, which let you walk through a wall to see the writer's name. Awesome. The first game to become infamous for its easter egg was SimCopter (1996), where a prankster programmer filled the streets with kissing men in Speedos on his birthday. And assorted other dates, as it turned out. His career lasted about five seconds after it was discovered.
Graphics not good enough for sexy funtime? Don't worry, there's always text... but if you can get excited about a trip to Granny's Place (1983) or Sierra's Softporn Adventure (1981), you probably don't need even that much. Really, 'Granny's Place?' Even if you're a girl, that's a Grade-A erection killer. Other early games weren't any sexier. Atari owners got stuff like Beat Em And Eat Em and Bachelor Party. PC owners had to get aroused by the cyan and magenta of, er, Astrotit.
The first graphical bonk of note was with the hooker in Leisure Suit Larry (1987), which was more a parody than a remake of Softporn Adventure. Even then, the action is completely hidden behind a big bouncing CENSORED sign. It did however teach our young minds much, notably that condoms are known as 'lubbers' in America (supposedly), and that having sex without knowing this means your cock will explode two screens later. And in the game.
In the old days, games came on floppy disks and floppy disks didn't have enough space for speech. Adventure games in particular jumped on the chance to upgrade to CD. Sierra cut its teeth with King's Quest V (1990) while LucasArts revamped Loom (1992). Other games, such as the first Tex Murphy game Mean Streets (1989), had little clips, but Sierra had the edge with the first full talkie.
Covered on the site before , Alter Ego (1986) came in two forms – one for men, one for women. By making decisions, you steered yourself from birth to death in the most depressing game ever made. “This episode awards those currently working who have contributed Sierra's early games used employee voices. significantly to their vocations over the course of a lifetime. You have not achieved this kind of success,” was a typical boot to the face of your selfworth. Winning meant realising all existence was meaningless misery, humiliation, pain, and lonely twilight years regretting your squandering of the precious gift of existence. GAME OVER.
If you're thinking Terminator: Future Shock (1995), half-credit. That was the first game to make jumping into a vehicle awesome, but the original The Terminator (1991) made it happen. As either Kyle escorting Sarah, or Arnie hunting her down, you had an open world to fight in, vehicles to steal, and a seriously ambitious game to play.
Ignoring vehicle-based games such as Battlezone, credit usually goes to Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. This was actually id's second FPS. The first was 1991's Catacomb-3D, which later spawned the slightly better known Catacomb Abyss. Edging in just before all of them though was Core Design's Corporation (1990), which also featured RPG elements, and the option to send the developers a photo and star in the game personally.
Only a couple of games have actually been banned in the UK, most famously Manhunt 2, which got the world up in arms despite the fact that pretty much no gamers gave a toss about it. Before that and Grand Theft Auto had their faces on the moral majority's punching bag, the big PC videogame nasty was Carmageddon. This splatterfest of a driving game from 1997 taught us much, not least that running over pedestrians is wrong, but smacking into greenblooded zombies is perfectly acceptable (except in Germany, where the zombies were switched for floating tin can robots).
However, while only four games have been banned over here, many have seen smaller snips. 3D Realms' Shadow Warrior (1997) is easily the most ridiculous, with its ninja character having to switch his trusty shuriken for darts due to fear that kids might throw deadly metal stars at each other, instead of nice, safe, impossible to get hold of... darts. Thanks, guys. You saved the world that day.
The original multiplayer online RPGs were the text-based MUDs, which date back to the start of the '80s. Graphical, massively multiplayer questing started much later, with 1996's Meridian 59. While very simple, the basic concepts stayed much the same for everything from EverQuest (1999) through to World of Warcraft, despite the far more ambitious functional-world offered by Ultima Online (1997). Not until EVE Online (2003) would anyone come close to trying that again.
Forget all those Lara-come-latelies, girls have been doing it for themselves in games since at least... ooh... the mid-'80s. Ignoring sidekicks, NPCs and console lasses like Samus Aran (1986) in favour of playable PC characters, the most talked about is always Princess Rosella of 1988's King's Quest IV – who saves her father by assembling a cure in a typically lethal Roberta Williams-designed adventure. But she only gets second place. Leading the way is Amy Briggs' text-based pirate yarn Plundered Hearts, from 1987, making roughly the 75th entry on our list from Infocom.
As for action heroines in the Lara mould (no, not those moulds), there were a few early on, but all of the Amazonian bikini model variety. Vixen's name said it all in 1988, with Lorna offering the same schtick in 1990, and the more tongue-in-cheek Jill of the Jungle (from Tim Sweeney, the Unreal Engine guy) finally getting to save her prince in 1992. Probably the first who truly got to kick arse on PC without having to bare her own was Lt Marta Velasquez, the phenomenally bitchy cyborg star of the shareware shooter Traffic Department 2192 (1994) covered in a previous Crap Shoot . It's better than it sounds, honest.
For magazine-shows, the first was 1992's GamesMaster – Sir Patrick Moore's vast, floating head as a globby computer effect, Dominik Diamond as an increasingly irritating personality, and Dave Perry wearing a pirate's bandana, before declaring himself the 'Games Animal'. Ah, memories.
The US entered the fray a little sooner, mostly with trash like Saturday Supercade (1983), which featured cartoons based on the likes of Q-Bert, Donkey Kong and Frogger, with the road-jumping amphibian now working as... yes, really... an investigative journalist.
All these are mere pretenders to the crown of the first real videogame TV show: Knightmare (1987). This awesome slice of nostalgia put a few very lucky kids into an RPG universe for real, thanks to bluescreen technology, some of the most blatantly unfair puzzles ever, and rooms and sound effects that still haunt our dreams. It's not available legally anywhere, but you might, cough, find every episode magically available on YouTube courtesy of a True Internet Hero called Gary.
The most famous early licence was Infocom's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a godawful yet infuriatingly popular text adventure from 1984. The same year gave us Fahrenheit 451, and one of the worst ideas ever – a text adventure starring The Incredible Hulk which didn't let you solve every problem just by typing 'HULK SMASH!' Just pipping them all to the post though was Prisoner 2, a logic game based on the classic spy series, released in 1982. This was a remake of the original Prisoner, an Apple-II game from 1980 that was supposedly used by actual CIA agents as a training tool... although frankly, we'd take that claim with a whole salt mine of condiment.
We'll highlight three here. Sadly, gay characters tend to be used more for comedy or eroticism than as regular people, but there are exceptions. Infocom offered a gay bloke in the sci-fi Circuit's Edge (1990), and half of a lesbian couple in Moonmist (1986). Neither were playable though. For that, the world had to wait for the bisexual Curtis Craig of Phantasmagoria 2 (1996). Even then, the in-game relationships were between him and his two competing girlfriends.
Love it or hate it, Myst (1993) sold insanely well. Until The Sims came along, it was the biggest series ever on PC, the first game alone pushing over 6 million copies.
Not only was it gorgeous for its time, it was one of the first games to really hammer home the benefit of getting a CD drive instead of flouncing around with floppies. Too bad it was rubbish. Some may disagree, but they're not writing this feature so hah! Myst was boring, boring, boring, and the only genuinely great game its tedium ever spawned was Zork: Grand Inquisitor. Hate mail to the usual address.
Until CD, games didn't look realistic enough for the BBFC to bother with (although one text adventure, Dracula, was given a 15, it was only because the developers actively paid for a rating to make the game look scary on the shelves). Some of the earliest rated games included Mad Dog McCree (PG, 1994) and the 'wellobviously' Voyeur and The Joy of Sex (both rated 18 in 1993). The first 'regular' game to get an 18 according to the BBFC website? A cyberpunk vampire adventure called Bloodnet, back in 1994. Interestingly, the much-maligned Night Trap only got a 15. Some trendsetters fizzle out instead of making a mark. Sometimes that's not a bad thing, as these long-forgotten masterpieces show.
Believe it or not, if you exclude the porn games and cartoon animals, the fi rst nude protagonist was a guy. In 1995, the Lost City of Atlantis's hero had the misfortune to lose his pants after being shipwrecked, forcing him to platformgame starkers. Despite the vast amounts of cloth hanging in the backgrounds...
The demo of Robocod actually contained all the level data for the full game, along with a bit of code that locked out everything after the first couple of levels. What did they forget to take out? That's right, the 'access all levels' cheat code. Cue the loudest “DOH!” in videogames history
Why be satisfied with screenshots when you can see the games move? Don't answer that, keep buying the print version of PC Gamer. But if you did wonder, 'Click', distributed on VHS tape, provided the answer. “If you're not saying 'wow!', I want to know why!” says one reviewer about the crappy old RPG Heimdall. “Because it's not 1991 anymore,” we reply.