Ah, videogames! We all love them, we all have our own personal favorites that became part of our life, either because we remember playing them in our childhood or because they became a big part of it. I have too many loved ones to list them here, and I'm sure it would be at a fault, as would be any list from just one individual; it's in the variety of tastes that video games have blossomed, and no 'favorite' list could do justice to so many wonderful works of art that are out there.
We all have our own personal preferences: I might like RPGs, while maybe you like wide open sandbox games in the vein of Skyrim or Grand Theft Auto. Maybe you have a special place in your heart for platforms like Super Mario Bros. or Castlevania. Yet again, you might prefer FPS like DOOM or Half-Life.
All those games mentioned deserve articles on their own. I, however want to point out which games, in my opinion, have had a stronger lasting effect on how the industry has evolved, and I've picked the decade of the 90's as the time when video games broke free of the technical limitations of the 80's but were not yet overwhelmed with the obsession of "more realistic graphics, more stuff, bigger, shinier...". The 90's were a time for video games were one could already wow players with new fancy graphics and animations, but still had to deliver a strong gameplay.
From number 5 to number 1, here is my list:
5. Sid Meier's Civilization
Have you ever played any RTS? Age of Empires? Starcraft? or turn based if you want, Endless Space? Europa Universalis? Well, you can thank Sid Meier for his loose adaptation of the original board game "Civilization" for PC.
Civilization is a turn based 4X (X-plore, X-pand, X-ploit and X-terminate) video game of 1991. You start with a lone Settler unit that can create your first city. From there onwards, you are left to your own devices: Do you want to explore and find other civilization you can trade with? do you prefer to immediately create war units and go out in search for prey? Or is it better to slowly build up your empire, discover new technologies before setting out? Up to you!
Civilization is the grand-daddy of every strategy game ever created, and not only has it been influential, it has also been long lived: Civilization V is the latest on the list until now, but no doubt we will have a VI soon enough. Despite the old graphics, the game is still more than fun to play more than 20 years after being released, while maybe not the best in the series (number 2 or 4 IMHO) the game can be credited for jump starting strategy video gaming.
A well deserved 5th place.
4. Final Fantasy VII
One of my personal favorites, that isn't the reason it's on the list, however. Before FFVII wen't ballistic in Europe and US, japanese RPGs were quite rare out of the home islands. The slow paced, story centered, character development stories that thrilled the japanese teenagers had never caught on outside. But in 1997 the new teenagers in Europe and America that had grown up watching Japanese animation as kids had their coming of age and suddenly Squaresoft had found a new market.
Final Fantasy VII (or FFVII for short) tells the story of Cloud and his companions as they fight the evil Shinra Corporation from depleting earth of Mako, the quasi-magical substance that breeds life. The story unfolds and we learn about the past of Cloud and his mysterious connections with Sephiroth, the big bad in the story.
If you have played the game, you already know of it's delightful cutscenes, it's addictive gameplay and the epicness of the plot. If you haven't, you should... right now!
As stated above, the game became the benchmark for future RPGs originating in Japan, and since then most have followed suit. There were other previous Japanese RPGs that deserve a mention, like Secret of Mana or Chrono Trigger. But I'm picking FFVII because it was the first one to bring the oh so familiar cinematic cutscenes of Japanese games into play, having to be released in 3 CDs due to the sheer amount of awesome it contained.
3. Wolfestein 3D
From the spiritual father of Japanese RPGs to the one of modern FPS (first person shooters), not bad for a freeware game developed in 2 months. Wolfestein 3D puts you in the shoes (quite literally) of american POW B.J. Blazkowicz, imprisoned in castle Wolfestein during WWII. You have to find your way out by shooting at every SS guard you encounter until your final rendezvous with none other than Hitler himself (well, Mecha-Hitler if you want to get technical).
Not much in regards to the plot; just shoot at everything that moves and get the hell out. Still, Wolfestein 3D was one of the first games to simulate a 3d environment (more like a 2,5Ds though, the game engine couldn't handle different heights so the third dimension was basically just an illusion). All modern FPS are offspring of this mighty title.
If you replay it today and find it ridiculously easy just remember this game was released in 1991, a time when having a mouse in your pc was still quite uncommon. Not try to play it just using your keyboard and then let me know how easy it is :)
2. Street fighter II
As an early teenager there was nothing more exhilarating than spending some hard earned (AKA weekly assignment) coins at the local arcade close to my house. When the Super Nintendo was released the game everyone dreamed about was Street Fighter II. It boosted the sales of the SNES offering the fighting game for those that were less thrilled with the also excellent Super Mario World.
The first Street Fighter was nothing more than a clone of the well known Double Dragon. However CAPCOM decided to try something new as the second part of their obscure fighting game. The birth of modern fighting games had just happened.
Street Fighter II had up to 8 playable characters (12 in the aplha version and 16 in the SUPER version), a number never before seen. Additionally every character had their own special moves and the balance between them was so absolutely finely tuned that each and every one of them were competitive in the right hands. Every other fighting game has taken this foundations and built upon them, it's even quite common to have two "main" characters that have the same fighting technique as Ryu and Ken have in most fighting games even up to today.
Also, final disclaimer, the name of the fighters isn't wrong in the image: In the original Japanese game Vega was called Balrog, M. Bison was called Vega, and Balrog was called M. Bison. CAPCOM America, worried about a lawsuit from none other than Mike Tyson (arguably M.Bison and M. Tyson sound similar enough) decided to shuffle the names in both US and Europe.
Time to unveil the most influential game of the 90's!!
1. Legend of Zelda; Ocarina of Time
Released in 1998, OoT is almost perfect in it's scope. Shigeru Miyamoto kept delaying the release of the game to keep on working on the way the 3d camera worked, he wanted to avoid the problems that Mario 64 had encountered, and oh boy did he deliver.
Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time is one of the most beautiful, immersive, poetic and fun games ever made. It set a new benchmark for what an adventure game could be. It's difficult to shine in a line such as Legend of Zelda, but OoT still managed to outshine the excellent games it preceded and the excellent ones it followed. The game also set into motion some ingenious gameplay solutions (z-targeting to manage the camera better for instance) that were so intuitive and useful every game henceforth has taken it and run with it.
The music by Koji Kondo (longtime collaborator of Miyamoto) knew when to be emotional and when to fade out, it added an extra depth of immersiveness to a game so astonishing it marked the people that had the chance to play it.
I had long been a fan of Legend of Zelda when OoT came out. I had played the NES Zelda games, as well as the also excellent Link to the Past for SNES, but still I feel Ocarina of Time has had such a lasting impact in the way we see and play games today it deserves to be number one on the list.
There are plenty of games I can think about that would deserve to be in this list, I'm sure you can think of plenty as well. Luckily I can wash my guilt of not including any Super Mario entry because the original game was from the 80's. Other games that have become classics by their own merits like Castlevania or The Elder Scrolls series I've had to drop from the list for lack of space. If you feel I have committed a great injustice and omitted a game that definitely should be on the list please comment or share you own list, I will be more than happy to discuss it :)