Come one, come all, and let us take a journey to a time before time. If time was “good fashion sense”.
While today’s spoiled gaming brats whine about a game’s lack of 1080p 60fps graphical eyegasm capabilities, it’s tough to imagine that the game studios who probably cry themselves to sleep because of all the entitled gamer hate directed at them actually came from pretty humble beginnings.
Who knew Bethesda started out in sport? And what’s with up Naughty Dog trying to be your maths teacher?
Find out what we are talking about, and more, as we check out some of these game studios’ first games.
When you think of Bethesda, what is the first thing you think of? That’s right – lawsuits.
The second thing you may think of is a lesser-known game series called The Elder Scrolls. There have been five of them, I hear.
But before the sweeping, snowy landscapes of Skyrim and dull-eyed stares from the citizens of Cyrodiil, Bethesda started out in…sport.
Released on the Amiga in 1986, GridIron! was a football game – of sorts. It was a lot of dots on a green field, and, well, look, I don’t even understand the real-world version of the sport.
Apparently it was cool enough to catch the eye of EA, which got Bethesda to develop a follow-up title for them. The title never hit retail, which led Bethesda to believe EA just used them to get hold of the game’s code.
To cut a long story short, eventually Bethesda sued EA. So it was a time of many firsts for the studio, apparently.
BioWare, master of the open-ended choose-your-own-adventure RPG games and massive universes (with colour-coded endings) saw its start with a mech sim called Shattered Steel, in 1996.
Of course, the studio’s real passion was in pen-and-paper RPGs, which led to the development of Baldur’s Gate in 1998 – and we all know how it went from there.
Interestingly enough, when EA teased a new BioWare game in 2011, a lot of speculation pointed to a new Shattered Steel title. It ended up that BioWare was having a hand at Command and Conquer – but the IP is still out there, so you never know.
Long before Capcom was giving players the directive to destroy all zombies in the Resident Evil series it’s widely known for, it was giving gamers the directive to destroy all flying pixels!
Capcom’s first-ever game was Vulgus – a scrolling shooter released in 1984.
The developer’s most popular early titles, MegaMan and the seminal beat-em-up, Street Fighter, only came out 3 years later in 1987.
It would be almost a decade before the undead would wreak havoc in the forests on the outskirts of Racoon City.
Most gamers know EA as the “big bad” that gobbles up all the game developers it can get.
Having acquired many big studios (including BioWare, listed above), it comes as no suprise that EA hasn’t really developed many first-party AAA titles of its own in recent times.
Actually, that’s a lie – EA Sports totally counts, and that developer pumps out all kinds of epic sports titles like a beast. Fitting, then, that EA’s first actual self-developed title was 1988’s skate-em-up, Skate or Die! Skating is a sport, right?
Probably best known for Gears of War and Infinity Blade, Epic Games knows a thing or two about pushing the Unreal engine to the max and pushing out shiny graphics and action gameplay.
But back when the studio was born, under the name of Epic MegaGames, all they had to work with were blocky ANSI characters and rather striking colours.
The first game made by Epic (actually under Potomac Computer Systems) was ZZT, an adventure game set in a number of game worlds, that involved…adventuring. And battles.
The game was released in 1991.
You would be hard-pressed to find a game developer as widely acclaimed as id Software.
John Carmack, John Romero, Tom Hall – these are names that any self-respecting gamer born before 2000 should know. If you do not, there is only shame.
From the studio and minds that brought us Doom, Wolfenstein, and Quake, came a title that established the “shooter” bit, before “first-person” become a thing to go in front of it: Dangerous Dave.
I can’t think of anyone who grew up in the 90s who didn’t get a hand at playing DD, but if anyone missed out, there’s no way they didn’t play id’s next title: Commander Keen.
Dave launched in 1988, while Keen’s first adventure followed in 1990. Wolfenstein came around in 1992, with Doom following a year later in 1993.
Like Nintendo, Konami’s early days were spent away from the gaming world and also focused around trading cards, and making it big in the arcade.
The first-ever games from Konami were a handful of arcade titles in 1978, including a game simply named “Block Game” and a Space Invaders clone called Space King. Awkward.
The company’s first console debut (on the Atari 2600) was Strategy X in 1981, the same year it hit arcades – along with another little title called Frogger.
Nowadays, Konami is a game development and publishing powerhouse with many successful franchises under its belt. Just take a look at the coming release in the Metal Gear series to see how far it’s come.
Before chronicling the adventures of Nathan Drake, Naughty Dog was the platform king of the PlayStation-era. With Jak and Daxter in the PlayStation 2 era, and Crash Bandicoot in the PSOne days, it’s tough to imagine the ND crowd as maths teachers.
But before starting Naughty Dog, founders Jason Rubin and Andy Gavin had Jam Software, the “studio” of two which developed edutainment title, Maths Jam in 1985 – while they were still in high school.
If you don’t count maths as a game (who does?) then the duo’s first proper game title was Ski Crazed, which, as the name implies, is all about skiing down a slope and dodging obstacles.
As Naughty Dog, the duo’s first title was Keef the Thief, released in 1989. Interesting fact: I was 2 and still pooping myself back then.
Before Rockstar was Rockstar, a studio housing many studios under the moniker making mega money for publisher Take-Two, it, and its most prolific title (a little something called Grand Theft Auto) were playing cops and robbers as DMA Design.
But even before the cops and robbers, Rockstar was playing with something else – little rodent thingies in blue robes and a tuft of green hair that would follow each other to certain doom: Lemmings.
Of course, while Lemmings is probably more widely known, it was not Rockstar’s first game – that was a side-scrolling shooter called Menace, released in 1988.
Another mega publisher with humble roots. While Square-Enix may now represent some of the biggest names in gaming – from Final Fantasy to Lara Croft – it wasn’t so long ago that it was simply known as two separate companies in the form of Squaresoft and Enix.
Squaresoft (of Final Fantasy fame) first went to market with an interactive fiction title called The Death Trap in 1986 (a whole year before the not-so-final Final Fantasy hit the gaming world).
Enix, known for the Dragon Quest series, actually started off with that exact title – though it was called Dragon Warrior in US markets. A slime draws near!
Nowadays, Square-Enix has taken its JRPG roots in a far more mature direction.
BONUS – Atari
While not strictly the first game ever made, nor the first game made by Atari (that honour would belong to Computer Space), Pong is widely regarded as the game that made gaming a thing.
We’re all familiar with it, so it’s no real surprise that Atari went on to pioneer much of the gaming market as we know it.
What is a surprise is where Atari has ended up (at least in name): with its latest title, Rollercoaster Tycoon 4 Mobile, causing a stink with gamers who don’t seem keen on in-app purchases.
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Off the rails, as it were.
Luckily, Rollercoaster Tycoon 4 is a getting a full PC release next year, sans pay to win, so that’s something, right?
Can you think of any other game dev firsts? Were you guys even ALIVE back then? Let us know in the comments or on the forum.