Prominent game designers from the doctors at BioWare to Peter Molyneaux to Jonathan Blow from Braid sound off on the games that most influenced them, and you'll be surprised at some of the answers.
Like any artist, videogame designers take inspiration from all of the games that have come before them. Some of these are obvious choices, quintessential games that inspired a whole generation of people, not just game designers. But sometimes a designer takes a special interest in a certain facet of a lesser-known game and that pushes them into recreating that experience for others. Here is what some of our most prominent game designers chose as the game title that most inspired them.
"I'd go way back to 1979, 1980," Dr. Ray Muzyka from BioWare said, back when he was in sixth grade. "My science teacher said, 'Hey, I think you'll like this, you should check this out,' because he knew I was into technology and board games.
"It was Pirate Cove [aka Pirate Adventure] by Scott Adams. It was a text adventure game. It took three tries, each about three minutes, to load this cassette tape - the old squealing sound. The first two failed. I was ready to give up, and he said, 'No, trust me, you'll like it once it loads.' I played it, and in the first couple of minutes I was completely in love with videogames. I'd played some arcade games before that, but this was the first PC-based experience. It was just awesome, and it captured my imagination."
The other founding half of BioWare also went back to an old PC game. "There's this game called Dogfight on the Apple II Plus. You had a single screen, it had helicopters and planes, and you had left, right and shoot," Dr. Greg Zeschuk said. "We literally would have eight or 10 people play this game, and you'd just put your arm on this computer, seeing the screen through this forest of heads.
"We spent the whole summer playing, changing seats and hot swapping. It was our very first multiplayer experience. I look at that and go, 'Wow, that was remarkable,' because literally the amount of pain we would go through to play this every day, all summer. When you played this you realized how incredibly compelling that play experience was in a group of people."
You wouldn't think that Jonathon Blow, designer of creative platformer Braid, would be so moved by a shooter, but he names Counter-Strike as an inspiration. "Counter-Strike is influential because subtlety really matters in that game," he said. "What the texture is on a wall at the end of a long hallway matters hugely, because then that controls how well you can see whether a guy steps in front of it with a sniper rifle, and that determines your reaction time."
Some designers are inspired by offline games, like Chris Hecker, formerly of Maxis Games, who is most inspired by the Asian game of black and white stones. "It would have to be Go. Go is the most beautiful game ever made," Hecker said. "The saying about Go is, when the space aliens come down and they land on earth and we're trying to communicate with them and then we show them Go, they're like, 'Oh yeah, we have that.' For me it's inspirational because it shows the fractal complexity that can come from really simple rules, which is just amazing depth and beauty."
Peter Molyneux has said that the touch mechanic in Fable III was taken from ICO but here he goes even farther. "I think it's probably ICO," he said. "You go back to that title and have a look at it - there were no icons on screen to speak of, the story was told in such an amazing way, it was told without language, it was incredibly iconic, the environment still is one of the most mystical, enchanting environments ever made, its gameplay with the hand-holding mechanic was brilliant.
"If I made something like ICO, I'd be very happy to die."