Game Time!


In Spacewar! (1962), the granddaddy of all games, two player-controlled spaceships, represented by simple icons, battled each other while maneuvering to avoid being sucked into a gravity well. But, as time went on, games evolved to include narrative structures, levels with distinct objectives, customized characters, and complex graphics. Tim Lenoir, Duke professor and video game expert, shares some of his picks for the most important games ever.

Zork  • (1980)
Greatest text-based, interactive-fiction game. You could type in full sentences instead of just two-word commands, as in previous text-based games. It made the interaction seem like a conversation and hinted at the social and political uses of truly interactive fiction—an opportunity that has since been overshadowed by graphical [as opposed to purely textual] adventures.

Super Mario Bros.  • (1985)
Full of innovative design features. It was the first to use a level structure, with worlds composed of four levels each. Instead of limiting themes and environments to a level, the game allows them to grow and change as the player progresses through the world.

Doom  • (1993)
Breakthrough first-person shooter with great graphics and character mobility. It let the player feel immersed in the game like never before. In addition, the creators released the game code over the Internet so that gamers could build their own "mods," or modifications. This revolutionized game production and contributed to the larger open-source movement, which spawned sites like Wikipedia.

Ultima Online  • (1997)
First commercially successful, graphically intensive, multiplayer game. This product merged the storyline and features of the Ultima role-playing game series with the implementation ideas and pacing of multi-user dungeon games. It was one of the first online games to have its items and characters sold on eBay.

Final Fantasy VII  • (1997)
Set in a postmodern, high-tech world where robots and bio-engineered mutants co-exist with humans and dragons. Shinra Inc., an evil mega-corporation responsible for all of the world's high technology, is sapping energy sources of the planet and upsetting the balance of nature. A rebel group of disenfranchised citizens oppose Shinra's ambitions. The game has incredible graphics and artwork for the period, and mini-games within the main narrative advance the plot and allow the player to explore the game world. This was the first game to substantially integrate high-quality video that merged seamlessly with the gameplay to provide a cinematic feel.

Halo  • (2001)
Phenomenal graphics and gripping story line. The zoom-scopes on the weapons are a great deal of fun to use. But the best feature is the cadre of allies controlled by artificial intelligence, each with its own individual face, voice, expression, and attitude. The detail is incredible. Different accents ring out all over the battlefield.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas  • (2004)
Player takes on the role of an ex-gangbanger who has returned home after the death of his mother. He finds his old 'hood torn apart. Corrupt police officers frame him for murder. Multiple threads of parallel story lines converge at different points. You might find yourself sneaking into military bases, hijacking cars, scaring people with some aggressive driving (and the person tied to the windshield). The game has a role-playing system: You can work out, improve your wardrobe, get tattoos, etc. A dynamic world where, as you help your 'hood, more people join you. Unusual potential for social commentary.

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