The Guinness Book of World Records recently issued its list of the Top 50 games ever. Reading through it, all I could think was what a terrible list it was. So I figured I'd come up with my own.
Here are my choices for the 50 Most Important Games of All Time. My chosen criteria were how immediately significant and/or lastingly influential a particular game was to the industry at large. Please note that I've ranked them in chronological order rather than importance. So bear in mind this is not a list of the best games ever, although there are obviously many quality titles below. Are there any games I missed? Are there any you feel don't merit inclusion? What do you consider the most important games ever made?
Spacewar! Created in 1962, Spacewar! is generally regarded as the very first video game. And it doesn't really get much more important than that.
Pong Single-handedly responsible for kickstarting both the arcade and the home video game industries.
Zork Although built upon the earlier but primitive Colossal Cave, Zork's extensions to the puzzles and enhancements to the parser meant it quickly exemplified the text adventure.
Space Invaders After Pong, Space Invaders brought about the second big arcade explosion. It was the first shoot 'em up, too, so things exploded even more.
Adventure Gave the text adventure a graphical makeover on the Atari 2600 and, with it, paved the way for every RPG and action/adventure you've played since.
Rogue This was Dungeons & Dragons on your PC in all but name only, delivering a randomly-generated dungeon crawl with the first implementation of a rule-set similar to the then-popular pen-and-paper RPGs. You'll be playing Rogue next year when you load up Diablo III.
Defender In many ways, Defender pioneered the scrolling shoot 'em up, although few titles copied its wrap-around landscape. However, its sheer difficulty and novel risk-reward mechanics would go on to dominate the genre
Donkey Kong Nintendo's arcade game witnessed the birth of Mario and the popularisation of the early platformer.
Pac-Man The Pac-Man phenomenon signalled the third wave of arcade popularity. Was also the first game character to achieve widespread recognition.
Track & Field Perhaps the original multiplayer "party game", Track & Field's button-mashing mini-games depicted its range of athletics in unprecedented visual detail.
M.U.L.E. Combining elements of turn-based strategy, management sims and boardgames, M.U.L.E. can be seen as a precursor to the likes of Civilization and SimCity.
King's Quest While Adventure simplified Zork for a one-button joystick, King's Quest retained the text input but decorated it with full-screen graphics and an on-screen avatar. Thus, the point-and-click graphic adventure was born.
Super Mario Bros The core mechanics of Super Mario Bros - scrolling levels, running, jumping, power-ups and collectibles - laid down the template for all future platformers. It also made the Famicom/NES the biggest console of the 80s.
Ultima IV Previous RPGs were hack-and-slash loot-fests. Ultima IV lent significant narrative weight to the "quest of the avatar" to return virtue to the world of Britannia. Modern RPGs such as Fallout 3 and KOTOR borrow heavily from Ultima IV's themes of morality and ethics, albeit arguably with less success.
Tetris I don't think I need to justify the place in the list of the greatest puzzle game ever.
Legend of Zelda Designed to be the antithesis of Mario, the original Zelda let Link explore a non-linear world that was realised to an extent not-yet-seen on a home console. It swiftly became one of Nintendo's core franchises.
Dragon Quest At the same time as the Ultima series was maturing, a group fo Japanese developers were doing the same with Dragon Quest. More so than Final Fantasy, this is the game that defines the JRPG.
Outrun Remember the first time you saw Outrun in the arcade? That shock-of-the new sensation is why it makes this list. Oh, and the soundtrack. "Splash Wave" was awesome.
Metroid I nearly included Prince of Persia here instead, but I think Metroid deserves recognition for combining the exploration of Zelda with the platforming mechanics of Mario. Kudos to the Prince though.
R-Type Irem's arcade classic remains the definitive side-scrolling shmup. Incorporating power-ups with strategic applications was one reason; breathtaking pixel art was another.
Double Dragon Scrolling beat 'em ups had been around for a little while before Taito's decision to add two-player co-op to Double Dragon took the genre to a new high point. If you visited an arcade in the last 20 years, you played this.
SimCity Will Wright's management simulation managed to strike the required balance between depth and accessibility. In doing so, he created the first truly successful sandbox game.
Sonic the Hedgehog Sega finally got the video game mascot they need to compete with Mario. It's telling that Sonic is more remarkable for its unrivalled marketing campaign than its actual gameplay. Later, as Sonic's fortunes wavered, so did Sega's.
Street Fighter II Capcom knocked out the competition in 1991 by delivering a fighting game with depth. Every character brought a fistful of unique moves, including the crucial ability to cancel out of attacks.
Civilization While borrowing elements from the boardgame of the same name, Sid Meier designed a turn-based strategy experience on an epic scale. This is the game to which the phrase "just one more turn" is most appropriately applied.
John Madden Football '92 Sports games had languished behind primitive abstractions of their real life counterparts until Madden showed what could be done. It's the series that built the EA Sports brand.
Dune II With nods to the earlier Ancient Art of War and Herzog Zwei, Westwood made the first real-time strategy game to gain widespread appreciation. The core base-building, resource-gathering and troop-lassoing are genre mainstays to this day.
Alone in the Dark One of the earliest implementations of polygonal characters in an action game, this Lovecraft-inspired tale is the forefather of the survival horror genre.
International Superstar Soccer As EA did with Madden, Konami did with ISS. Only this time it brought elements of realism to a video game simulation the world's most popular sport, thus laying the foundations for EA's FIFA and Konami's own Winning Eleven/Pro Evolution games.
Myst For its time, Myst was a graphical showpiece thanks to its cutting edge pre-rendered scenes. It was also one of the first games to utilise CD storage for its wealth of fully-speeched video footage. And it sold like crazy.
DOOM All three major id Software franchises have claims for inclusion here, but DOOM's pioneering level-editing and network play give it the edge over Wolf3D and Quake. To my mind it's a stronger gaming icon too.
Donkey Kong Country Like Myst, DKC wowed gamers with pre-rendered graphics a world apart from the blocky sprites jagged polygons we had been used to. Although not a great game, the sales of Rare's SNES platformer may well have struck a decisive blow in the battle against the Mega Drive.
Super Mario 64 Nintendo designed an entire console and its controller around enabling Shigeru Miyamoto to reinvent Mario in a 3D world. While the clones arrived - Crash, Spyro, Banjo, Jak, etc - they only emphasised the genius of how Nintendo got it right the very first time.
Tomb Raider Lara Croft was the face of the PlayStation, her status as icon clearly demonstrated how Sony had won over the 20-something gamers who felt they had outgrown the likes of Mario.
Pokemon Red and Blue Whatever you think of the gameplay, the enormous success of Pokemon and its ability to shift handheld hardware is undeniable.
Final Fantasy VII Not just for taking the JRPG to the West, but Square's decision to "defect" from Nintendo to Sony (and its CD format) helped shape an entire console generation.
Gran Turismo Prior to Gran Turismo, racing games tended towards the arcade model of Outrun, Daytona and Ridge Racer. Polyphony decided to strive towards realism - with a staggering number of cars - in the self-styled "real driving simulator". It remains the best-selling PlayStation branded series.
StarCraft Blizzard perfected the real-time strategy formula with StarCraft, so much so that it's still a massively popular multiplayer game and perennial of pro gaming tournaments worldwide - and especially in Korea.
Metal Gear Solid Hideo Kojima didn't just popularise stealth mechanics but his grandiose, cinematic vision ushered in a new way of video game storytelling. The MGS series is consistently the high water mark for game production values.
Dance Dance Revolution Konami's "bemani" rhythm games, spearheaded by DDR, reinvigorated a stagnant arcade industry. Its legacy can be found in everything from Frequency and Space Channel 5 to Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
Half-Life An unbroken first-person perspective? Seamless level transitions? Show, don't tell, story-telling? On all three counts, Valve created the shooter model we still play today. They also fomented the mod scene that spawned Counter-Strike.
The Sims The best-selling PC game of all time is an industry unto itself. In fact, The Sims is such an important milestone that few others have even dared to copy it.
Phantasy Star Online Sega's last hurrah as a console maker ushered in a quiet revolution in console gaming. The influence of the Dreamcast's online community - of which PSO was the leading light - is there for all to see in the subsequent development of online services on console.
Grand Theft Auto III Alongside Metal Gear Solid 2, Final Fantasy X and Gran Turismo 3, GTAIII stood at the forefront of the "perfect storm" of games that hit the PS2 in 2001, accelerating the Sony console's domination of its rivals. Every open-world game since has studied how Rockstar built its sandbox.
Halo: Combat Evolved The significance of Bungie's FPS can be summed up by one question: what would have become of Microsoft's foray into console gaming without Halo?
Singstar The most popular of Sony's lauded "party starter" games (Buzz and EyeToy being the others), Singstar and its endless iterations are perhaps responsible for shifting more PS2s than any other software.
World of Warcraft Sure, Ultima Online and Everquest got there first, for example, but World of Warcraft is the MMO that became synonymous with the genre. The modern trend towards digital distribution and micro-transactions can be linked with the runaway success of Blizzard's subscription payment model.
Nintendogs When the DS launched, developers struggled with the touch screen. Nintendogs demonstrated exactly how the device enabled an intuitive interface that, coupled with content boasting broad appeal, would sell hardware by the truckload.
Brain Training Equally tied inextricably to the success of the DS is Brain Training. Nintendo continued its strategy of reaching out to non-traditional gamers by delivering an experience that everyone could relate to and where ideas of winning and losing totally missed the point.
Wii Sports Once again, as with Super Mario 64, Miyamoto and his colleagues designed a console around its launch title. The simplicity of Wii Sports and the Wii controllers allowed Nintendo to reconnect with the tens of millions of so-called lapsed gamers alienated by the increased complexity of more recent consoles. And with just one game Nintendo won the console war.
[Many thanks to Dan @ Eegra for his advice on compiling this list, even though he wrongly disagrees with Donkey Kong Country's inclusion.]