Better, Stronger, Faster: Some of the Greatest Video Game Innovations You May Take For Granted

When someone has played video games for decades it is inevitable that they will eventually be bitten by the nostalgia bug. Compilations, collections, emulators and DLCs have made playing classic games easier than ever, but sometimes when I go back to play some of these games it becomes clear that video game design is a constantly evolving thing. Even though a game’s core mechanics and story may hold up, it’s hard not to imagine that some modern gamings standards would have improved it greatly. Some of the most common features of games today are absent from some of history’s biggest games. Like all good things, you never realize how much you like something till it’s gone. So here is a short list of some features you young (and old) gamers may be taking for granted these days.

Digital Distribution– Be it downloadable content or full games, it’s hard to beat the convenience of digital distribution. So far, computer gamers have been the strongest adopters of this technology. With digital stores like Steam or Direct 2 Drive, PC gamers have been using their internet connections to download games and further avoid unnecessary contact with the masses. By eliminating standing in line, driving to the store and all that pesky walking, how long gamers wait to play the newest titles now depends solely on the speed of their internet connections.

More importantly, the masses have found the wonders of DLC. It’s almost hard to remember a time when a game was finished when you completed the main campaign. Now your favorite games can keep you entertained till the sequel is ready to launch. Extra levels, variant outfits and entirely new stories are now commonplace in the world of video games. This content has become so popular, that some of it is now making the transition from digital to physical content. Rockstar games has released their incredibly popular downloadable content for both Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption on standalone discs after the fact, further illustrating that these micro-expansions are here to stay.

Autosave– One of the simplest concepts on this list, but maybe the most frustrating. It’s actually the very feature that prompted the writing of this article. For a few years now autosaving has been a standard feature in games. You play for a certain amount of time, reach a checkpoint or encounter a special event and the game simply automatically saves your progress. Unfortunately, some of the greatest games of all time do not have this feature. Recently my play throughs of both the original Fallout and Deus Ex ended abruptly in a hail of cursing due to dying and losing nearly an hour of playing because I forgot to manually save my game. Apparently modern games have gotten so good at autosaving I no longer think of saving at all. It’s really a testament to the evolution of game design.

Onboard Storage– In the dark ages when home consoles ran on cartridges, it was considered a fancy feature if you could save your progress. While games like Zelda or Final Fantasy had the ability, many less complex games simply used a password system. Now days, every new system that comes out has some sort of storage device standard. With space measured in gigabytes, each Wii, Xbox or PS3 offers you onboard storage to keep track of your saves and additional content.

Just as recently as the previous generation of home consoles, the transition to read only media (ROM) discs introduced this strange concept of memory cards. When launched, the Sony Playstation 2 was $299 and required an 8MB memory card in order to save any game data. Looking back now it’s hard not to think of the idea of memory cards as… quaint.

Press Start to Continue– Home video games grew directly as a response to arcade games. People loved playing their Pac-Man or Space Invaders, but unfortunately you had to put on pants to play them. So of course when home video gaming came onto the scene, the goal was to make the game as close to the original arcade game as possible but without all the restrictions of public decency. Unfortunately the problem from a game design standpoint is that arcade games are designed to make money.

Publishers needed to convince arcade owners that these games would produce a steady stream of revenue or else they would never be able to sell them. In order to do this, things such as timers, life counters and continues were put into place to ensure the arcade experience was fast paced and short. Which arcade owner in their right mind would want to buy a cabinet that didn’t encourage their patrons to supply a steady stream of quarters?

Now, the video game market rest almost solely on the home consoles. In the home gaming market, once a game is bought, the money has been made. There’s no need to dope kids into spending their allowance one quarter at a time now that they’ve blown it all on a $60 game. Luckily, more and more game developers have realized this. Now most games are being designed so that the gameplay itself is the challenge and not the conservation of an arbitrary number of lives.

Instead of being punished by losing a life, you’re teleported a few minutes back into your game play or maybe there is some other sort of penalty. No longer do you need to push start to continue as the game assumes you’ll just power down when you’re done. These sorts of things encourage players to be creative and attempt winning by using trial and error. There are no more harsh punishments simply because you are curious or dare to have fun. Now you can enjoy games without fear of running out of lives and generally wasting large amounts of time.

While there have been some great games and systems in the past, let’s not forget the lessons they have taught us. What are some of the greatest video game innovations that you feel get overlooked? Share your opinion in the comments below!


  1. mantasNo Gravatar
    Posted January 25, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Fantastic article…I used to love games before the whole DLC came into play and there were no weekly updates. I think game developers / publishers should make a game complete from the outset and with a good level of QC so we get the full experience for our money and not having to worry about unnecessary updates.

    • Carl WatkinsNo Gravatar
      Posted January 25, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I completely agree with how DLC shouldn’t be used to “patch” issues. Frankly what I am waiting for is a company like Bioware, Valve or Bethesda to take DLC to that next level. I love “additional” content, but I want to see DLC used to bring gaps between games. For example, I would have loved for Mass Effect 2 to get DLC that leads up to the events in Mass Effect 3. Be it as Shepard or another character, there is a lot of room for interesting story telling. It’s really been amazing to see the evolution of DLC from simple mission and map add ons to compelling stories of their own.

      Thanks for chiming in and thanks for reading!

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