"More Arcade Games" (CC BY 2.0) by Sam Howzit
If you are just about old enough to buy a pint of beer or a lottery ticket, the chances are you’ll have no idea about the weird and wonderful history of some of your favorite video game genres. Video gaming has certainly come a long way since the early 1970s when arcades were alive with the sound of Pong and Computer Space.
Today, the video gaming industry in the United States alone was valued at an eye-watering $18.4 billion, with consumer spending on video gaming reaching more than $30 billion in 2016 and rising. But yes, there was a time when three-dimensional graphics and high-definition quality audio was simply a myth! If you’ve always wondered about the humble beginnings of your favorite video game genres, read on to discover how these small acorns grew into rock-solid oaks.
Football management sims
The perfect marriage between computer games and football fanatics, football management sims have given supporters the ability to take charge of their favorite team or country and lead them to glory by doing things their way. Football management sims have evolved from football video games where players take control of the footballers themselves and get involved in the action on the pitch. These games have been modelled on professional footballers for some time now, with the glitz and glamor of the Premier League - formed in 1992 - being one of the main reasons for the seamless transition from real-life football to digital action. The very first football management sim arrived in 1982 on the Spectrum 48k, called Football Manager. It was written in BASIC language by programmer Kevin Toms.
As time elapsed, it was then a battle for supremacy between Premier Manager and Championship Manager. The former prided itself on its graphics to demonstrate highlights of each game, while the latter was more stats-based, playing into the hands of hardcore football fans. It was Championship Manager that eventually became the global phenomenon, evolving into what tens of thousands of people play today, Football Manager. It’s so life-like that some professional football clubs use their player databases for scouting.
Open-ended city-building games
For the last 50 years, video games have featured city building and management in some shape or form. Computer programmer Doug Dyment was the brains behind the first city-building game called The Summer Game in 1968. It wasn’t until the late 1980s when the true concept of open-world city-building games would come to fruition, thanks to the innovation of Will Wright. After failing to secure a publisher deal for his idea, he eventually self-published SimCity in 1989 for the Mac and Amiga, followed by Super Nintendo two years later.
SimCity was everything you’d hope for in a city-building game: the chance to "play god" and develop whole new urban environments from large empty landscapes; all whilst balancing the city’s budgets and citizen happiness. There are no real end goals as such with SimCity, but to this very day it still remains a great way of understanding the urban environments we live in around the world. The continued success of SimCity saw a number of spin-off Sim games, notably The Sims which gives players complete control over the lives of virtual humans and remains one of the best-selling video games of all time.
Beat ’em up games
Undoubtedly the most popular arcade game of the late 1980s, beat 'em up video games were all-conquering titles that pandered brilliantly to the needs of pick-up-and-play, casual gamers. The success of Super Mario Bros. in 1983 saw many video game designers try to use this winning formula to create new ways of combating with enemies rather than simply jumping on their heads Mario style!
"Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix 8" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by gamerscoreblog
It wasn’t until 1986 when the first beat 'em up title was released. Renegade is widely considered to be the beginning of this genre, where players fought against a vicious gang of hoodlums to keep the inner-city streets safe. Its sequel, Double Dragon, did not quite scale the same heights but, as the 1990s loomed large, Capcom’s Final Fight series led perfectly into the Street Fighter franchise, which would be huge on the Super Nintendo. On the Sega Genesis, Streets of Rage reigned supreme, with its trilogy of video games helping to rid an inner city of a mafia mob, much like the storyline of Renegade. In the post-millennium gaming era, there has been a clutch of "hack and slash" titles such as Devil May Cry, God of War and Heavenly Sword. Meanwhile the award-winning Grand Theft Auto series has also featured elements of the beat 'em up style.
Massively multiplayer online role-playing games
Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) are one of the newest genres on the video gaming block. They – quite obviously – didn’t arrive until the internet boom, when internet usage became more affordable, allowing gamers to play graphical MMORPGs with other registered players in real time. Ultima Online was the first true MMORPG best-seller, inspired by the likes of Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft which were the original single-player role-playing games (RPGs) to hit our computer screens. Nevertheless, all of the above titles wouldn't have seen the light of day had it not been for the global success of table-top role-playing board games such as Dungeons and Dragons which developed a cult following in the late 1970s but is experiencing something of a revival in the post-Millennium era.
World of Warcraft remains the most successful MMORPG to date, with over 10 million gamers registered and paying subscriptions to obtain enhancements to their gameplay. It is said that the cost of developing a commercial MMORPG can quickly escalate into the millions, but when you consider the rolling monthly subscriptions for a game such as World of Warcraft, it can quickly pay for itself.
Pinball machines were around in the amusement arcades long before the Beat 'em up genre arrived. Derived in the 19th century in France, the Bagatelle table was originally a hybrid of a billiard table, with players using cues to hit balls into pockets or slots surrounded by nails and pins. The first coin-operated pinball machine, called Whiffle Board, was produced in the early 1930s, followed by a similar game called Ballyhoo. It wasn't until 1936 when this type of tabletop game was eventually called pinball. Digital technologies have helped advance pinball over time, with the first digital scoring pinball machine going into use in 1966. Almost a decade later, the first solid-state electronic pinball machine was in operation, called Spirit of 76, and before the turn of the millennium, the first pinball machines with electronic video screens were developed. Today, although physical pinball machines still exist, many have been confined to the history books in favor of their software-based counterparts.
The first physical slot machine was developed in the late 19th century by a man named Charles Fey in San Francisco, US, named the Liberty Bell. Players pulled a lever by the side of the machine to set the three spinning reels in motion. If the reels lined up all three Liberty Bells in a single spin, the player would scoop a 50 cents jackpot. The one-armed bandit style of slot machines was eventually replaced by electromechanical slot machines and then true electrical slots powered by microprocessors on TV screens. Manufactured by Kearny Mesa California, the first video slot game featured a 19-inch television as the display and was soon made available for play at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. Towards the back end of the 20th century, video slots went one stop further by introducing an additional bonus round, triggering the ability for players to scoop further bonus winnings risk-free. The internet boom certainly had a major impact on the casino industry, with the first online casino coming to fruition in 1994, developed by Microgaming. Today, the adoption of state-of-the-art 3D visuals and high-definition audio has seen video slots evolve into immersive experiences. They feature engaging storylines, interactive bonus rounds and various themes such as Microgaming's Jurassic World or Halloween. In fact, there are almost 5,000 online slot machines in existence, which can be daunting for new players. In order to make the choice easier, many of these are available to play for free with no download necessary, even though there isn’t any actual money on it.
One of the longest-standing video game genres in the pack is the motor-racing genre. It’s got a long and illustrious history, with the first game, Gran Trak 10, designed for use on coin-operated arcade machines. It wasn’t until Namco’s Pole Position in 1982 that we started to see Formula 1 racing cars and color screens. Players negotiated their way around the circuits using side-to-side and forward motion on the keyboard and many video game historians consider that game to have laid the foundations for what arrived in the 1990s and 2000s. 1997 saw Sony launch Gran Turismo, which was labelled "The Real Driving Simulator". With an impressive focus on vehicle realism – both in terms of aesthetics and how each vehicle drove and could be tuned up – it was way ahead of its time. Xbox’s Forza Motorsport is the most celebrated racing game on any Microsoft console, while it’s almost impossible not to mention Super Mario Kart, which is still delighting fans around the world today with its light-hearted, pick-up-and-play style of racing offering fun for all the family.
Hopefully that’s given you a tiny insight into the evolution of your favorite video game genres. Next time you complain about the graphics or functionality of your latest purchase, just think yourself lucky to be gaming in a technological era where literally anything is possible!