History of Video Game Features and Mechanics

Timeline created by Fox_Noises
  • Pong

    Other games may technically have come before (Tennis for Two, 1958), but Pong was the first publicly available, mass produced electronic video game. By extension Pong is also the first example of a multiplayer game, a high score, and the first video arcade cabinet.
  • Space Race

    Space Race
    Atari's second game (after Pong) featured two spaceships flying through an asteroid field in a race for first place. It marked the first-ever racing game and the first obstacle course in a video game.
  • Speed Race

    Speed Race
    This Japan-only arcade cabinet brought a drastic upgrade from the knobs of the Atari: Speed Race was the first video game to feature a steering wheel, shifter, and gas pedal for input. It offered a simple top-down monochromatic view of your car as you passed opponents, or crashed into them and ended the game. It featured an analogue tachometer and LED speedometer in 1974, before the controller was invented.
  • Gun Fight

    Gun Fight
    This 1975 arcade cabinet was the first game to portray human combat. It provides you with a revolver, six rounds, a series of obstacles to use as cover, ricochet shots, and a second player at the same machine to battle against. It was played using two joysticks, one for movement and one to aim. Gun Fight is the first example of what would, further into the future in a time of 3D games on powerful systems, become known as a third-person shooter game. (Picture copyright Midway Games Inc.)
  • Breakout

    Established the Brick Breaker genre, with Arkanoid (1986, Arcade, NES, Atari) adding the concept of power-up abilities.
  • Death Race

    Death Race
    In 1976, the first game to attract heavy controversy was made: Death Race, where the objective is to run over and kill moving humanoid gremlin figures for points. While it was intended as temporary (Exidy only had manufacturing rights to Demolition Derby, which was the same game but with cars instead, and their host company went bankrupt forcing a design change), it created outrage among parents, reporters, and the NSC. The argument that video games are violent and sadistic begins here.
  • Colossal Cave

    The first text-adventure game to become widely known, distributed, and modified. First open, non-linear world you may explore at your own pace. First Easter eggs, weight-limited inventory, bottomless pits, random encounters (the dwarves), darkness & light source, collectible treasures. Origin of the XYZZY meme, which persists in modern games.
  • Space Invaders

    Space Invaders
    Precursor to all 2D top and side scrolling shooter games. First game to introduce a number of lives (remaining spacecraft). First game to (inadvertently) provide scaling difficulty as you play. The first time a game had continuous background music.
  • Galaxian

    First game to have bonus points and additional lives (1-ups) available. The sequel (Galaga, 1981) brought with it the concept of Bonus Stages, a player vehicle upgrade, and a hit/miss percentage after the game.
  • Zork

    Diagonal movement first appears in this fantasy text-adventure, before the thumbstick and even before the SNES. Origin of the Grue. Peaceful actions & resolutions in battle. Developer foresight, with a wide variety of clever and inane actions available. A post-mortem gameplay segment, as a ghost.
  • Rogue

    The game for which all roguelikes are named, thus making this the grandfather of an entire genre. First game with randomly generated levels, allowing each play-through to have unique challenges and rewards. First Hardcore mode; death is permanent, and means starting all over as a new character. Hunger mechanic. Early example of copy protection. First appearance of Mimics in a video game.
  • Pac-Man

    First genre-breaking game: in an age of scrolling shooters and fighting games, this was a strange game of eluding ghosts in a maze. The enemy programming is responsive and intelligent instead of scripted, which had never been seen before. First cutscenes after each level. First minus world (the 256 glitch). Most longevity of any arcade game; Pac-Man machines are still taking quarters in 2021.
  • Donkey Kong

    Donkey Kong
    The first true platform game (precise jumps on a series of small platforms to achieve your objective without falling off). Introduced Mario Mario (Jumpman) and Donkey Kong.
  • Frogger

    In 1981, this adventure and puzzle game was the first to feature multiple soundtracks (Eleven background music options or more depending on the version) alongside unique musical themes for the level-start and game over.
  • Xerox Star

    Xerox Star
    While not ostensibly related to video games, this PC introduced concepts that are now taken for granted: The first modern scroll bar, windows and menus, Ethernet networking, folders and icons. Without these innovations, modern cinematic video games would not be able to manage and organize their menus, in-game encyclopedias, and story information.
  • Pole Position

    Pole Position
    While it was not the first game to feature cars or involve racing them (Rally-X, 1980, and Night Driver, 1976), Pole Position was the foundation of the racing genre. It featured a third-person rear view of a formula car driving down the track, a qualifying lap, a four-lap race, a time bonus at the finish line, and explosive penalties for collisions.
  • The Tower of Druaga

    The Tower of Druaga
    First breakable "weapons". While the pick-axe cannot be used to attack enemies, it can mine through walls and break after a number of uses.
  • Dragon Buster

    Dragon Buster
    Released for arcades in 1984, Dragon Buster is a side-scrolling platform game like Super Mario with sword combat like Zelda. This game is the very first example of a double jump: jump once, then again in midair to obtain more height. Dragon Buster would see console releases in the future.
  • NES & Famicom

    NES & Famicom
    The Nintendo Entertainment System (and Famicom Disk System in Japan) was more than the first console from Nintendo; the NES saved video games from extinction after the 1983 crash. At the time it was cutting-edge and revolutionary: Scrolling levels, a broad spectrum of colors, sound chips capable of basic music, vast library of games on external cartridge, peripherals. It could not have persevered without its games, however, and the games developed for the NES were iconic and legendary.
  • Super Mario Bros.

    Super Mario Bros.
    Introduced the world to scrolling platforming stages throughout multiple colorful worlds (themed areas of the game containing a number of levels). Brought us the Goomba and the Goomba-stomp. First game with the ability to slide. Origin of the classic Mario theme, Bowser, Peach, and Luigi. Your Princess is in Another Castle! comes from this game. Perhaps the first final boss battle against a singular, powerful enemy (outside of text-adventures). The first New Game+ with enhanced difficulty.
  • The Legend of Zelda

    The Legend of Zelda
    First battery powered save, open-world RPG (you may explore wherever you wish), Heart Containers (for additional life points), and knock-back (enemy attacks can send you back a few steps). The origin of vitality represented by hearts, the Zelda theme, and It's Dangerous to go Alone! Take this! Introduced Link, Zelda, Ganon, the Tri-Force, and many recurring minor enemies.
  • Metroid

    The introduction of Samus Aran, who shocked the world by being a girl beneath the armor she wears. Metroid was the first game with secret & multiple endings (based on completion time), powerups found in hidden locations, back tracking and exploring to the left (at the time anything except going right was unthinkable), an annoying beeping noise at low health, and sequence-breaking (unintended level skipping due to glitches, popular with speedruns).
  • Air Fortress

    Air Fortress
    The first hybrid video game (to the best of my knowledge), Air Fortress starts as a rather common side-scrolling shooter in space. It transitions to an indoor platforming adventure in each fortress, similar to Metroid, and returns to a shooter upon escape.
  • Tetris

    More than a falling block puzzle with good music, Tetris shattered cultural barriers. The first game imported to the west from Russia, Tetris made it out of the iron curtain in a way that nothing else could. After an intense legal battle and talks with Russian authorities, a deal was made and Tetris was officially licensed. 1989 would see the Gameboy release. Tetris is on every console, PC, mobile phone, even building lighting systems can display Tetris on the windows.
  • Mega Man

    Mega Man
    The first Mega Man game (along with Mega Man 2-6 on the NES) brought with it a brilliant idea: Let the player select the stage they want to play instead of progressing through a linear world. It also featured powerful weapons obtained from each boss battle and weapon strategies, as not all weapons worked well against every enemy. Some enemies were weak to certain weapons and immune to others. This upgrade concept would continue for the entirety of the Mega Man series.
  • Ninja Gaiden

    Ninja Gaiden
    Notable as the first game to feature an elaborate story, with the plot told in cutscenes between levels. Also a very detailed, intricate game for the era, with many maneuvers and abilities to learn and precision platforming. First game that allowed you to cling to walls and jump off of them. Considered one of the most difficult NES titles.
  • Nintendo Game Boy

    Nintendo Game Boy
    The first durable, quality, and commercially successful handheld video game system, the Game Boy sold millions of units and had hundreds of game cartridges made for it. Preceded by the Milton-Bradley Microvision (1979-1981, first handheld with interchangeable cartridges) and the Nintendo Game & Watch (single-game LCD devices), the Game Boy offered long battery life, a rugged build quality, and simple audio output. It was followed by the equally popular Game Boy Color in 1998.
  • Super Famicom Naizou TV SF1

    Japan exclusive, this was a TV combined with a SNES. Through the Sattelaview program, customers could download games and additional content over cable. This is the first true example of DLC; the NES had an e-reader, but it scanned physical cards.
  • Castle of Illusion

    Castle of Illusion
    This Sega Genesis game from 1990, starring Mickey Mouse, holds the honor of being the first game with a hub world. You explore a central castle which leads to various levels six years before Mario 64, whose hub world was inspired by this game.
  • SNES & Super Famicom

    SNES & Super Famicom
    Released in the USA in 1991 (1990 Japan), the SNES brought 16-bit graphics and an advanced controller which formed the basic framework all modern controllers are based on. With more memory, capacity for save states, more complexity of sound, music, input, and graphical output, games for the SNES were able to be more story-rich and immersive than ever before. Mode 7 allowed psuedo-3D graphics to be possible.
  • Super Mario Kart

    Super Mario Kart
    Established the mascot racer genre and began the long legacy of Mario Kart for both the casual player and the obsessed speedrunner. First example of a racing game based upon power-ups.
  • Wolfenstein 3D

    Wolfenstein 3D
    Founder of the First Person Shooter (FPS) genre in 1992. Other attempts had been made before, but none had the polish, quality and controls of Wolfenstein. This game set down numerous standards for the genre alongside DOOM (1993) and all modern FPS games can trace their fundamental design back to Wolfenstein.
  • Dune II

    Dune II
    The game that created the Real Time Strategy (RTS) genre, with RPG elements, a vast branching storyline, and terrain effects.
  • Star Fox

    Star Fox
    Although Star Fox 64 (1997) was the more popular title, the original Star Fox for SNES was the first game to make use of the Super FX chip and Mode 7 graphics to provide an impressive 3D depth of field complete with motion blur as you battle enemies in space. It also introduced us to Fox McCloud, Falco Lombardi, Slippy, Peppy, and Wolf.
  • Nintendo 64

    Nintendo 64
    With the success of the SNES, Nintendo were able to wait patiently and release the N64 without rushing it. For the time, it offered impressive 3D graphics and a surprising complexity of sound which was diluted by the solid-state cartridges the system used. It was the only major console to offer 4 controller ports out of the box. Although Nintendo was very slow at releasing games for it, the N64 provided several groundbreaking games and set down future standards.
  • Super Mario 64

    Super Mario 64
    Although it was not actually the first full 3D game world, Mario 64 was a milestone in gaming. It had a detailed hub world full of secrets; fluid movement, jumps, and combat in 3D; camera controls; distinctive level themes and music; the invention of now-standard platforming mechanics such as the triple jump, long jump, cartwheel jump, ground pound, and crawling; 3D water levels with an air meter; collectible power stars and secret areas; it was the first portable 3D game on DS in 2004.
  • Quake

    This 1996 FPS from the makers of DOOM brought us the rocket jump: Aiming a bazooka straight down will send your character flying. This amusing and practical ability would be referenced in many future games.
  • Ultima Online

    Ultima Online
    The first Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) to see massive commercial success, Ultima Online is still running in 2021 with an active player base of dedicated fans. Origin of the term "Nerf": As the online player count drastically exceeded expectations, new players found themselves constantly killed by veterans. To counter this behavior, weapons were decreased in power. One player noted that his sword now felt like using a Nerf bat, resulting in wide use of the word Nerf.
  • Pokemon Red and Blue

    Pokemon Red and Blue
    In 1998, this fascinating RPG was released that would begin a cultural phenomenon. Rather than fight against monsters, you would capture them, train them, and battle against other trainers. It introduced the Pokedex and Pokemon collecting. Challenging the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four offered a unique challenge. Legendary Pokemon existed to test your mettle. Mew went from being unknown even to Nintendo to becoming a truly mythical mon. Missingno became the first well-known glitch entity.
  • Mario Party

    Mario Party
    In 1999, after the massive success of Pokemon, Nintendo once again brought a new genre to the world: the party game. Players would take turns on a digital board game, rolling dice and landing on various spaces, with mini-games at the end of each turn to win coins. The goal was simple: Obtain more power stars than your opponents. Mario Party 2 and 3 would add items, a shop, more play modes, a story for the game, and a hub world.
  • Halo: Combat Evolved

    Halo: Combat Evolved
    In addition to being the first chapter in a thrilling sci-fi FPS series and hosting a popular multiplayer mode, the first Halo game also brought with it a Quick Melee button. For the first time, you could attack aliens with your knife if you ran out of ammo just by pressing the corresponding button. This feature has since become standard in FPS games.
  • Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand

    Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand
    This Game Boy Advance title is the only solar-powered GBA game. A light sensor on the cartridge would, when exposed to sunlight, recharge your solar-powered weapons within the game, allowing you to fight vampires with bolts of sunlight.
  • Undertale

    This simple RPG belies ideas never seen before in game design. Interface elements are a part of the game, such as Saving and Resetting, and if you do quit and load a save, some characters will remember what you did. Each alternate ending is a different character. You can be attacked by the end credits. The good ending can be forever corrupted by your actions. A bonus boss appears in an off-map room at a very specific time. The tale of WD Gaster can only be learned on specific playthroughs.
  • Star Fox 2

    Star Fox 2
    Available on the SNES Mini, Starfox 2 became the latest official SNES release in 2017 (replacing Frogger from 1998). This game continued the story of the original Star Fox. It was replaced by Star Fox 64 to showcase the new system.