10 Cutting-Edge Video Game Features That Now Seem Quaint
Technology really is a marvel, isn’t it? With every new invention catapulting us further into the future, it’s all too easy to become swept up in the perpetual tide of progress. Few industries have come so far in so short a time as video gaming, revolutionising entertainment the world over with every new innovation.
As the video game industry has grown, so too has the scope of its games. With such a sprawling expanse of titles competing for our collective attention, developers have had to get creative, inventing new and exciting features on a near-constant basis.
Though these innovations might seem cutting-edge at the time, the wheels of progress stop for no game. The best new features soon become standard in the industry, quickly sapping any novelty they may have held. What once seemed to be utterly ground-breaking shortly becomes pedestrian, and the very notion that it was ever exciting soon seems entirely laughable. Yesterday’s cutting-edge really is today’s old hat.
With that in mind, I’m Ben from TripleJump, and here are 10 Cutting-Edge Video Game Features That Now Seem Quaint.
10. Season Passes
Have you ever been so in love with a game that you just didn’t want it to end? Though once upon a time the base game was all you’d ever get, the rise of DLC meant that things weren’t necessarily over when the credits rolled. Not happy to simply sell their additional content, publishers introduced the season pass, a means of pre-purchasing DLC at a discount alongside the base game – including the promise of yet-to-be-released content.
Rockstar’s L.A. Noire was among the first to employ the season pass, promising players discounted access to additional content upon its release. It was somewhat controversial, but paying a one-time fee in order to save money further down the line was certainly a novel idea. That is, it was, until the season pass took the gaming industry by storm.
Nowadays, practically every AAA title comes with a season pass, meaning that the novelty is well and truly gone. What’s more, the controversy surrounding the feature has only intensified, with many convinced it’s just an excuse for publishers to milk money out of consumers before lumping them with a handful of subpar content. Of course, there’s no way that any video game publisher could be that morally corrupt, right?
9. Power Ups
Cast your minds back as far as they can go. Actually, maybe not that far – just stop somewhere around 1980, and think Pac-Man. One of the most iconic video games of all time, Pac-Man introduced players to power pellets – special items that offer the vulnerable protagonist the opportunity to turn the tables on his ghostly tormentors.
Widely considered the first ever example of a video game power-up, the power pellet was a ground-breaking idea. It turned the gameplay entirely on its head, offering players an overwhelming rush for just a brief moment. The temporary advantage afforded by the power-up was certainly a cutting-edge feature, and it was one that soon became a staple of video games across every imaginable genre.
Unfortunately, the power-up soon became so commonplace that it actually began to feel somewhat overplayed, and it started to be included in games with far less regularity. Though players once clamoured for that momentary boost, the idea later became somewhat outdated, with more and more of us instead relishing the punishing challenge that balanced games like Dark Souls offer. Just as soon as it had swept the industry, the power-up became an old-fashioned relic, and the idea that it was ever exciting seems particularly quaint.
8. Online Multiplayer
Once upon a time, the multiplayer experience actually required people to sit in the same room as one another, sharing oxygen and goodness knows what else. Well, thankfully that’s over, because online gaming hammered the final nail into the coffin of split-screen multiplayer.
The late ’90s saw developers experimenting with online play, but it wasn’t until the release of sixth-generation consoles such as the Xbox and the PlayStation 2 that online multiplayer really began to take off. The online frontier proved to be a success, to say the least: games like Halo took the industry by storm, creating huge demand for online multiplayer.
Seventh-generation consoles were made with built-in online capabilities, making the experience more efficient than ever. Before long, games were being produced specifically to cater to the online multiplayer crowd, with narrative features such as story and character development taking a back seat to fast-paced online play.
The introduction of online multiplayer transformed the gaming industry in a major way, but it’s all too easy to forget just how revolutionary it really was at the time. In less than a decade, it went from an impossibility to perhaps the most popular feature of video games. Though it’s essentially standard for most games to feature some online capacity today, it was once considered truly cutting-edge.
7. Open-World Exploration
In the days of yesteryear, video games were far more linear affairs than they are today. Technical limitations meant that games were generally split into “levels” or “stages”, and the player would traverse them one by one in pursuit of reaching the end of the game.
Wow, the olden times sure were strange…
Big, open-world games had certainly been attempted, but the game that truly marked the start of the open-world format as it’s known today was Grand Theft Auto III. In place of one over-arching storyline, GTA III’s narrative took on a less linear form, having players engage in missions from multiple sources at their leisure. There were also numerous distractions to be found within the game’s world, offering an experience outside of the main story.
Of course, open-world exploration is something that countless titles have honed in the years since, but it was once a truly seminal feature. Exploring large, seamless environments without being held up by an endless slew of loading screens was far more than a simple novelty; it was an absolute revelation. It may have since become the norm, but open-world gaming really blew minds once upon a time, as strange as that may seem today.
6. Realistic Weather Systems
Nowadays, games are made to be as immersive as possible, embracing photorealism and aspects of everyday life that allow the player to feel at home in their virtual environments. For many years, however, this wasn’t something that games were really capable of, and making players feel as though they had actually stepped into another world seemed entirely out of reach.
The late 1990s saw the release of Shenmue, which may just be one of the most innovative titles ever released. Among other advancements, Shenmue made use of realistic weather systems, with rain, snow, sun, and cloud all potentially on the agenda on any given day. This randomly-generated meteorological marvel was appropriately named the “Magic Weather System”, and it was a huge leap forward for video game immersion.
By today’s standards, something as trivial as weather is barely a consideration: it’s one of those minor touches that the average player hardly notices. However, back in the late ’90s, realistic weather was one of the most exciting features ever to have graced a video game. The idea that a video game protagonist could be just as inconvenienced by precipitation as actual, real-life people was utterly mind-blowing, even if it’s little more than an afterthought for today’s audiences.
5. Day/Night Cycles
Video games once existed in a timeless realm, where day or night were nothing more than backdrops for what was considered the more important aspects of gameplay. The idea of having a video game make use of a time system that went from day to night and back again may have been in use for a short while before, but Shenmue also managed to pioneer the feature (alongside its ground-breaking weather system).
Games such as Shenmue and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask implemented a time system that actually had an effect on gameplay itself, and that was absolutely cutting-edge in the late 1990s. Forcing players to abide by real-life rules – like sleeping to pass the time while the world effectively shut down – offered a staggering level of immersion that left audiences feeling as though they were living a second life.
Of course, a day/night cycle is now standard in the majority of games, with many titles building significantly upon the idea. However, once upon a time, being able to see the sun rise and set within a video game world was something that was unheard of, making the feature a leap forward for the industry. It may seem a little tedious now, but tucking our characters into bed was once an unparalleled novelty.
Sinking hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of hours into a game is now a relatively common practice, and we owe this ability to binge to the option to save our progress. In the early days of video games, the player started from the beginning every time they booted up a title, and had to play through the early levels over and over if they wanted to experience the game in full. Then, in 1986, The Legend of Zelda came along and offered an alternative: it let you save your game.
Keeping all of your precious progress preserved and waiting for your return was a huge step forward in gaming, and it not only transformed the entire experience, but shaped the future of the industry, too. With the cutting-edge feature in place, a player could stop playing whenever it suited them, then picking up where they left off at their leisure.
Of course, the ability to save was so useful and innovative that every game wanted to make use of it, and it very quickly became the standard for games. It’s now such a well-established feature of gaming that it’s difficult to imagine a time when it wasn’t possible to save your progress, but back in the olden days, being able to do so was a hugely exciting idea.
3. Using Voice Actors
Bringing a game to life is something that’s now achieved through a handful of key components: visuals, music, and voices. However, in the early days of video games, the latter was impossible, as consoles simply didn’t have the capacity to support voices.
Enter the Intellivision, which – despite sounding like something a manic supervillain might create – was actually the first console to introduce “Intellivoice”, a voice synthesis device built to allow games to include human voices. Though the Intellivision was largely unsuccessful, the facility to include voices in video games was an incredible development for the industry.
Disney’s iconic Dragon’s Lair arcade game was the first to feature human voices, but once the technology existed, it became standard for games to feature the vocal vibrations of actors to enhance the audience’s experience. In today’s gaming landscape, the very idea of a game without any voice acting is practically alien, which goes some way to highlighting just how huge of an innovation the Intellivision was (even if it did have a ridiculous name). It’s such a staple of modern gaming that today it’s hardly afforded so much as a single thought, but it was once considered a massively cutting-edge feature to have human voices in a video game.
2. FMV Cutscenes
Games weren’t always as story-heavy as they are today. Back in the days of arcade games and early console gaming, story was something that was implied rather than offered outright. Full motion video – or FMV, if you wanna get abbreviated about this – changed all of that, offering narrative exposition that added another level to the player’s experience. Games like Night Trap, Phantasmagoria, and Crime Patrol all made use of FMV with… interesting results.
FMVs were once considered a big step into the future for games, and often featured famous faces in pre-recorded video clips that offered additional story context to the player at predetermined points in the game. FMVs later gave way to cutscenes rendered in a similar style to the game itself, thus making the transition between gameplay and story all the more seamless.
FMVs in particular have come to feel dated and have fallen out of use, with even the cutscenes they inspired becoming less prevalent in recent years. Though the use of FMVs once seemed to be on the cutting-edge of video game technology, nowadays most of us can’t wait to skip through the non-interactive story nonsense to get back to the far more exciting gameplay that’s on offer.
1. Quick Time Events
To borrow a little sports parlance: it’s a Shenmue hat-trick! Foul ball! Play on!
[off-mic] Any more sports words? Offside, maybe?
The quick time event – or QTE, as it’s better known – is one of the gaming industry’s most infamous features. Asking players to input certain time-sensitive commands with on-screen prompts, the QTE once felt like a creative and cutting-edge middle ground between cutscenes and gameplay, and seemed as though it might be the future of gaming. Ground-breaking immersion that blurred the lines between the interactive and non-interactive aspects of games, the QTE was heralded as something new and exciting, popularized as it was by Shenmue in the late 1990s. That was, at least, until things turned sour.
No sooner had quick time events spread to practically every title under the sun than players began to tire of them. Where they once felt fun and exciting, they soon seemed nothing more than a lazy way for developers to keep players engaged during cutscenes. The consensus on QTEs rapidly shifted as the novelty wore off, and they were ridiculed.
Now, quick time events are largely a thing of the past. In today’s gaming landscape, the very idea of mindlessly mashing on-screen prompts seems unspeakably outdated, and we all shudder at the thought that we ever considered it a cutting-edge feature.