10: Civilization (PC, 1991)
The sheer scale of Civilization’s ambition is hard to beat. Shaping an entire nation while simultaneously jockeying for world domination with a bunch of rivals is definitely a step up from London Underground Simulator. Over the eighteen or so game and expansion packs very little changed. But that’s because Sid Meier got it so right in the first place.
The simple grid-marked playing area and turn-based structure meant that a player could learn the basics in minute but take months, if not years to achieve mastery. The fact that there are dozens of Civilization imitators, you can barely log on to Facebook without being invited to play one, is testament to the game’s enduring appeal.
9: Starcraft (PC, 1998)
It’s impossible to overestimate the influence of a videogame so popular that matches are even televised. OK, that’s only in South Korea, where the levels of bonkersness about videogames are some 138% above our own, but still…
Starcraft also pops up in the Guinness Book Of Records under the "Best Selling PC Strategy Game," "Largest Income in Professional Gaming," and "Largest Audience for a Game Competition" headings and, perhaps most surprisingly, in US Air Force training courses. Not because the USAF honestly believes that future conflicts will take the form of a tripartite war between alien races: it’s just that the game’s sci-fi setting enables players to concentrate on pure tactics without bringing any baggage to the table.
While Warhammer fans will point out that Starcraft itself didn’t spring de novo from Blizzard’s research team, its popularity means that every real time strategy game since lives in Starcraft’s shadow.
8: Super Mario 64 (N64, 1996)
We had to roll the entire Mario franchise into one entry - the sheer proliferation of titles featuring the moustachioed plumber would fill most lists like this twice over. Since 1983 Mario and his brother Luigi have capered through simple 2D platform games, cartoon racing simulations, 3D platformers, pinball games — they’ve even turned up at the Olympics once or twice.
But if we had to pick one outing for the little pixellated Ron Jeremy lookalike that set the tone for what came afterwards, it’s Super Mario 64. In that 1996 title for the Nintendo 64 Mario was liberated from the pyramid-paintings of the past and set loose into a wider, and deeper, world. And not just in terms of dimensions.
Martin Hollis, who produced and directed seminal shooter GoldenEye 007, told the 2004 European Developer’s Forum that a number of the ideas for that game you’re cross with me for not including “came from Super Mario 64".
7: Tetris (Various, 1984)
The venerable box stacker is more than just a game. It’s part of our collective psyche. Play anyone over 30 that mad little tune that accompanies the game and they’ll instantly start seeing tumbling polygons.
There’s a version of Tetris for virtually every computer, games console and smartphone in existence. You can play it online. It even pops up as a secret game on some calculators and oscilloscopes. There have been 8 million copies of Tetris sold on NES alone.
Further, its shape-matching challenge concept pops up in too many games to count. Now, 30 years after it first challenged the minds, and thumbs, of devoted players, Tetris has lost none of its playability. In fact, I’ve got a game paused on my phone right now. Pray for a ‘long yellow.’
6: Tomb Raider (Saturn, 1996)
A lot of games take their cues from hit movies, rather than other games. James Cameron’s Aliens is still popping up in shooters nearly three decades after Hudson screamed “game over, man!”
Derbyshire outfit Core Design had an idea for a game inspired by the Indiana Jones flicks. In fact they had more than one idea; they’d already made a platformer called Rick Dangerous that owed a little to Harrison Ford’s adventuresome archaeologist. But, wary of straying too close to Lucasfilm’s intellectual property, Core made a few adjustments. Instead of a middle-aged American man, the hero of Tomb Raider was a young British woman.
While the story about the 150% increase in her bust size is probably apocryphal, it’s undeniable that her feminine appeal helped drive interest in what was to become one of the most iconic games in history. And not just among hormone-addled young boys. Today 42% of gamers are female.
That’s not just because of Lara Croft. But few would deny that gaming’s first heroine (unless you count Ms. Pac-Man) had a lasting impact on how videogames were popularly perceived.