Over at next-gen, Ernest Adams has a piece on “50 Game Innovations”, tracing the history of many game features that have become standard over the years. I may have a few additions to some of them.

He starts off with #1, Exploration, and cites Colossal Cave as an early example. Certainly, CC was an exploration type of game, as were many of the early adventures.

However, I wonder if that’s so very different from his #15, Sandbox, where players can mess around in the game world outside of any main line. The two seem very similar to me in that respect, at least so far as some early RPGs go.

The prime example there is Might & Magic, which featured a large world and the ability to “mess around” where you liked, provided you could survive the attempt. Ultima may also fit in here.

#2 on the list is Storytelling. Where this came in, he isn’t quite sure, wondering if perhaps Aklabeth or Mystery House qualifies. Surely not Aklabeth, which was simply a series of “kill this critter for me” missions.

Mystery House was a sort-of detective story, so we might consider that one, weak though it was. There was also an adventure game from Avalon Hill, G.F.S. Sorceress (1982), where you played Joe Justin, trying to clear himself of mutiny/murder charges. Perhaps this is a candidate?

Sorceress may also qualify for Ernest’s #4 Avatar, where you take the role of someone other than yourself. As he points out, most games in the early era had “you” as the main character. And no, I don’t think Pac-Man could qualify for this one ;)

Moving along, we come to #5, Leadership. This does not mean taking control of in-party characters so much as giving them directions and hoping they will carry out the orders.

Possibly the first game to attempt this was Computer Ambush (1980) from SSI, a squad-level WW II combat simulation. You were in charge of a group of soldiers with various strengths and weaknesses, which you had to use in the best way possible.

Some of them might not, however, carry out your orders. As the rulebook states: “these guys are simulated humans, they can trip, become frightened, etc.”. Yeah, I think we can say this was a leadership game.

Skipping along, we arrive at #7, Modding. You know what this is: using tools provided by designers to make your own games or additions. Ernest has The Amazing Machine here. I’d add Bill Budge’s Pinball Construction Set (1982). For what might be called “true” modding, though, I think I’d have to say SSI’s Unlimited Adventures, which allowed you to create actual games.

Our next stop is #9, Dialogue Trees. It’s tough to discern the starting point of this one. He gives as example the insult swordfight from Monkey Island, however not as the first game.

We might perhaps consider Ultima, although those conversations were based on keywords you picked up from the NPCs you talked to, not complete sentences.

I’ve been dredging the remains of my memory, along with old game manuals, etc., but haven’t come up with a possible candidate that featured scripted dialogue for the first time.

From there we head to #11, Minigames. These are time-wasters thrown in that usually have nothing to do with what you’re supposed to be doing. I suppose these are meant to be a “fun change of pace”. The only game that comes to mind here is Sam & Max Hit The Road, and the only minigame there I vaguely recall is “Highway Surfing”.

Now we step over to #12, Multiple Difficulty Levels. These go way back, actually. I note Star Warrior (1980) from Epyx, also their Sorcerer Of Siva (1981). Both games allowed you to play as easy or hard as you liked. If I were felling really diligent (which I’m not ;), I could probably dig up some old arcade titles that had multiple levels, too. See also #47 below, which is even older (I just noticed that from the manual).

Here comes the big leap over to #18, Independent Moving/Shooting. Most arcade game tended to be sidescrollers with limited opportunities. However, Crossfire (1981) from On-Line Systems (later Sierra) changed that. You could move in any of four directions and shoot in any of four directions simultaneously. This required both hands on the keyboard, and really intense concentration. It was also the only arcade-style game that kept my interest for more than a short time.

Another big leap takes us to #26, First Person View. Of course, the early RPGs such as Wizardry, Might & Magic, and Bard’s Tale, all featured that perspective. So did Aklabeth’s dungeons.

However, it’s most often thought of in regard to shooters, and the earliest one I can find is Voyager I (1981) from Avalon Hill, which billed itself as being “3D”, though perhaps not quite the “3D” we’re used to today.

The object was to scour a spaceship and destroy either all the enemy robots on board or the ship itself (hopefully getting out in time). Most definitely, an early FPS.

We finish up with #47, Game Saves. I can’t recall offhand ever playing a game that didn’t have some sort of save-game mechanism, so this goes back quite aways, too. The earliest instance may be Beneath Apple Manor (1978), a dungeon crawl that could run in as little as 16K.

What makes this interesting (if not lovable) is that saves were called “brain scans”, and were bought with gold. If you died, you could “reincarnate” based on your last scan (only one; each new scan replaced the last one). Anything after that was, of course lost and had to be done over. Which was better than doing the whole game over, at least.

And as I mentioned above, BAM also allowed for difficulty levels. So this may also be the first game with that feature.

Whew! Well, that’s a quick look at some of the things on Ernest’s list. Be sure to click the link below and check out the whole thing. It really makes for interesting reading, as well as a trip down memory lane.

50 Game Innovations on next-gen