There are a ton of great games to look forward to in 2018. Of course, you’ve read GL’s Most Anticipated Titles of 2018 and you probably have your own games you’re looking forward to as well. While we’re waiting for those games to release, let’s look back at one of modern gaming’s most important years: 1998.
1998 helped us welcome in many hallmarks of a new generation of gaming. This is the year that the Unreal game engine was released, followed by the release of the first person shooter of the same name. “Rated E for Everyone” floods T.V. advertisements. Rockstar Games is formed, and Sega made the switch from the Saturn to the Dreamcast. Kids across the world rejoiced with advances from Nintendo, with the GameBoy Color and its camera attachment.
Aside from the great leaps in technology and game development as an industry, there were also tons of games that captured our imaginations and our enduring respect. Let’s take a look at some of the best.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
As with other games in the Zelda franchise, the heart and soul of Ocarina of Time is encompassed through battling fantastic creatures, solving puzzles, and helping townsfolk. Ocarina of Time increased the feeling of being inside a living, breathing world by implementing a daytime and nighttime system, under which characters and entire towns would change their behavior accordingly. Developers further played with our idea of time by incorporating it as a gameplay mechanic. Link can plant a seed as a child, only to see it grow into a tree seven years later, as an adult; and he can climb it to access new areas! This piece of the franchise also introduced target locking and situation dependent buttons, both of which were intrinsic to the real-time battle system implemented for this game.
Ocarina of Time’s gaming revolution didn’t stop there. Developers ended up using the emerging technology of motion-captured animations in parts of the game such as opening chests, which creator Miyamoto said “cost twice as much… but what’s the point of doing something that’s already been done before?” This game made Hyrule come alive in the series’ trademark feel of large-scale adventuring.
Praised by fans and critics alike for its revitalization of the RPG genre on the computer, BioWare’s first role playing game invited us to explore D&D’s Sword Coast with a focus on the titular city of Baldur’s Gate. Obviously, Dungeons and Dragons encompasses a huge world, and even though Baldur’s Gate is a small slice of that world, it still feels massive and lived-in even by today’s standards. In fact, many of us cite the game’s dedication to story, breadth of adventure, and incredible settings as some of the reasons we hold it in such high regard.
One of the best feelings Baldur’s Gate gives us is the sensation that we are sitting down with our buddies in a living, breathing game of Dungeons and Dragons. This is due to the fact that developers made it ridiculously easy to play the game with friends in multiplayer coop mode and over a LAN connection. Not to mention that we didn’t have to assign someone to be the dungeon master; the game’s programming held us to D&D’s 2nd edition rulebook, freeing up all members of the party to play together.
Pokémon Red and Blue
1998 was the year we discovered we wanted to catch ‘em all. Made for the GameBoy, this first installment of the Pokémon franchise introduced countless children and adults to the addiction of collecting all 150 Pokémon in the quest to become the best Pokémon trainer in all of Kanto. One of the most well-loved features of Red and Blue was the joy of trading with friends and PvP battles using a linking cable between GameBoy systems. The series became a huge hit in the States, selling nearly 10 million copies of the Red and Blue video games alone. Personally, I pin Red and Blue as one of the most influential games of all time, with its successors changing and growing over the years, making the transition from 2D, to 3D, to augmented reality, and encompassing several types of gaming genres through its numerous released titles. Its twenty year legacy is growing stronger by the year, with heartwarming stories to be found all over the internet of parents passing down their love of Pokémon to their own kids.
StarCraft: Brood War
As one of the ultimate real time strategy game series of all time, StarCraft’s unique sci-fi feel immediately captured the imagination of players around the world upon its early 1998 release, followed a couple months later by its essential expansion Brood War. Developed by Blizzard, the game focuses on three races across three campaigns: the familiar Terran, the insectoid Zerg, and the highly advanced Protoss. StarCraft’s impeccable gameplay combined with compelling narrative was so revolutionary to the genre that it spearheaded the entirety of competitive gaming as we know it today. Although first person shooters like Quake are generally considered the first of the eSports, StarCraft’s chess-like gameplay made it the ideal spectator game because of its complex gameplay and easy-to-watch graphics and animations. This is the franchise that made a career in playing competitive video games a viable option.
In the middle of 1998, Epic Games unveiled their new game engine, which they called Unreal Engine. Along with it, they released a game of the same title that showcased the capabilities of that engine, namely the graphics, lighting, and rendering. To experience the “Quake-killer” in its fullest capacity, we had to manually upgrade our computer’s rendering to meet the steep requirements of running the “3D accelerated mode.” Even more importantly, it implemented a unique technique that made it so that the computer didn’t have to render geometry that wasn’t immediately visible, meaning more complex items could be built into the levels. Today this is common, and we can fit hundreds of items into a scene, but we wouldn’t have this process without Unreal. In its beautiful blend of sci-fi and fantasy, we also had the freedom to create our own playable maps and battle friends online in worlds of our own design. Its legacy is a lasting one; the newest installment in the series is currently in playable alpha and is expected to release sometime this year, while the current iteration of Unreal Engine 4 is being used by developers to create even more beautiful worlds.
Rather than a cinematic or text-based exposition, Half-Life begins with us standing in a tram traveling through a series of passageways. As we roam about the cabin, an automated voice from the intercom explains the nature of the Black Mesa research facility and on-screen text introduces a very complicit Dr. Freeman. A sense of dread builds as the ominous sci-fi ambiance intensifies with every passing moment. After we exit the tram, we enter the chilling experience of Half-Life. Valve’s hit debut had an unspeakable impact on shooters, with IGN even saying that they can be sorted into “pre-Half-Life and post-Half-Life eras.” This is because Half-Life used a ton of scripted events in the place of cutscenes, and as such we never really lose bodily control of main character Gordon Freeman. This iconic narrative style changed the way people thought about how storytelling could be integrated with gameplay.
This crowbar-wielding, forge-your-own-way experience is a mix between a shooter and a first person puzzle game. It requires us to solve environmental riddles alongside the usual enemy massacre to reward our exploration of the world. Half-Life was a game unlike any other. It’s inspired tons of people to get into gaming and spawned a modding community like no other.
Thief: The Dark Project
It would be criminal to talk about revolutions in stealth games without talking about Thief: The Dark Project. Created by Looking Glass Studios, the game focuses on master thief Garrett, who accidentally entangles himself in a sinister plot. This was the first video game to use light, shadow, and sound as functional game mechanics. We could literally enshroud ourselves in the darkness around us to hide from enemies. Using enhanced arrows, like water arrows to put out lights or moss arrows to silence our footsteps, Thief allowed us to deceive and evade enemies by maneuvering through levels in a variety of ways. It added a layer of gameplay and strategy that made us all feel like we could truly interact with the world around us. This multifaceted stealth gameplay, along with open-ended exploration, rocketed Thief to cult stardom. Combined with its first-person camera (also a first for stealth games), Thief: The Dark Project was an incredibly fun and cerebral turning point for the stealth genre.
In a blended world of 3D and pixel art, we found ourselves huddled hour after hour exploring new towns, then flying and bashing steel against steel in massive open landscapes. The experience was surreal, it was new, and, most of all, it was exquisite. With incredible martial arts and giant mech battle systems, Xenogears’ real claim to fame is its story. Fully fleshing out nine main characters and seven antagonists in addition to several other tertiary characters, this was the plot-based thrill ride of the year. At the time, the subject matter of the story was thought to be so inflammatory to western audiences that it nearly didn’t get localized into Europe and America, and its localization lead said it was one of the most troublesome games he had ever worked on. However, Xenogears received critical acclaim and went on to be one of the most well loved JRPGs among hardcore fans, with a critic rating of 84 and a fan rating of 8.5. according to Metacritic.
Known by gamers as the video game that destroys friendships, Mario Party bounced onto the gaming scene in December of 1998. Mimicking an actual tabletop game board, Mario Party’s four player setup consisted of over 50 minigames played by landing on different spaces on the virtual board. The goal of the game was to collect the most stars out of all the players before turns run out. The friendship ruining part? The game makes it extremely rewarding to steal stars and other resources from friends, while the AI mercilessly crushes any player characters.
Metal Gear Solid
Scoring an average of 94/100 with critics, Metal Gear Solid was the game that popularized the stealth genre. Written, produced, and directed by legendary Hideo Kojima, Metal Gear Solid had us take on the role of Solid Snake, ducking under cardboard boxes, distracting enemies with noises, and crawling into tight spaces to progress through the levels. Progress in the game is speckled with integrated feedback. The shock of hearing a teammate telling us to remember to save our game or explaining which buttons to press sent us into a frenzy. We loved it! Twenty-three Metal Gear games have been made in total, including an arcade game, and a twenty-fourth installment is rumored to be coming this year.
In another franchise 3D first, Sonic the Hedgehog got his dimensional debut in Japan in 1998. Made for the Dreamcast, which was also released that year, Sonic Adventure is considered one of the most influential platforming games during that generation of consoles. Being the first 3D Sonic game, it was well-loved by fans for having a grand overarching story above and beyond previous installments in the franchise along with being able to play as Sonic’s friends.
One of the reasons this game has such a lasting legacy is that it continued to get ported to console after console, eventually making it to PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. I’m considering this game an honorable mention only because the North American release was technically in 1999, though the initial Japanese debut was in 1998.
Wrapping it up...
This was a year that truly marked the gaming community as a force to be reckoned with. As a whole, we bonded together over experiences we could share with each other, worlds we could live in together, and challenges we faced with and against our friends. The games created in 1998, for the most part, went on to give us franchises we still love and trials we want to overcome again and again.
Were there any other games from 1998 that impacted you? Let's talk about it in the comments. Let us know your favorite games from 1998 and why they were awesome.
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Herz, J.C. "Holding the Reins of Reality." The New York Times. June 25, 1998. Accessed January 10, 2018. http://www.nytimes.com/library/tech/98/06/circuits/game-theory/25game.html.
Fruzzetti, Ben. "Ocarina of Time: Forever timeless." Nintendo Wire. February 10, 2017. Accessed January 10, 2018. https://nintendowire.com/news/2017/02/10/ocarina-time-forever-timeless/.
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"Sonic Adventure: (Dreamcast) Sonic's Story." YouTube. September 06, 2012. Accessed January 10, 2018. https://youtu.be/XwtNXo1aQgs.