What Moments In Games Do You Remember That Felt Like The Future?

Image: Kotaku

Games are great at reminding us of the past, even their own. But far less common is the feeling that you're looking forward in time, playing a game that will set the standard for what follows.

The rabbit hole of what what games or moments felt like the next generation had truly arrived is a little more fun, because that's how people tend to remember things: by special moments, rather than entire entities. Plenty of gamers when asked about their favourite stories can cite the Bloody Baron quest vividly from The Witcher 3. I've heard long recitals of particular characters and their arcs from Baldur's Gate. Or HK-47 from Knights of the Old Republic.

You get the picture. But moments that feel like the future? Those are rarer.

This struck a chord with me because it reminded me, by chance, of a weekend with a Tesla last year. Tegan was trialling one over a weekend, which meant a little sojourn to the Blue Mountains and some of the nearby cellars.

It was a little surreal, having not gone in an extended ride before. Seeing a car automatically reverse park when you're stopping off at the shops, or getting used to the feeling of inertia in a car because you're missing that vibration that you'd normally get from a vehicle.

It's those little experiences that made me comment that the Tesla actually felt like a car "from the future", as opposed to a car that just has more modern and convenient tech from other parts of our daily life.

When it comes to games, the first time I saw in-game ads for Battlefield 2142 was a bit like the Tesla. I saw the Intel logos as I jogged past. I remember thinking, "Developers are going to absolutely love this."

It never quite took off, at least in the form of banners and traditional ads anyway. That kind of branded advertising has eventually seeped through - think things like the KFC-branded Fornite skin or the V energy drink mod for Fallout 4.

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For me, someone who grew up with a PC in an era that saw a lot of graphical advancements quite rapidly, a lot of "holy shit" moments were visual or technological:

  • Playing Prince of Persia for the first time and comparing the roto-scoped animation to other games;
  • Roaming around Deus Ex and having such a broad degree of freedom to tackle objects, in an era where most first-person games were still very much on-rails affairs;
  • Getting ADSL for the first time, and playing a game of Counter-Strike with 45-50ms as opposed to 220ms;
  • The way Metal Gear Solid broke the fourth wall, and being stunned that games could - or hadn't before - accessed that kind of information;
  • Seeing Mark Hamill and the all-star cast from the original Wing Commander games and being dumb enough to think that FMV could truly be the way forward (it wasn't);
  • Getting a demo CD from a gaming mag, the first time our family owned a CD-ROM drive, and just going through and exploring a wealth of games that my brother and I would have never discovered otherwise.

What moments do you remember from games that make you stop and think that the next generation, or the future, had truly arrived?


    Playing Everquest when it first launched was filled with so many wow moments I don't think I could list them all. Outdated graphics by todays standards of course, but by the standards of 1999, the game felt so real that it screamed the future to a lot of us that started together.

    Just exploring that game in the early days was exciting, and a challenge given mobs never stopped chasing you while you stayed in the zone.

    Given the only real MMO I'd played before that was UO, the game really did feel like it was the future. Think it turned out to be a defining moment as well, given how many others followed its basic examples.

      Hah, I was just scrolling down to mention Everquest.

      Somehow, no game has managed since to fill me with the feelings I got stepping into Everquest for the first time (High Elf Cleric, Greater Faydark forest). It was so "lifelike", even though it was pure fiction. Fog and mist, and environmental sound effects (owls, birds, insects etc).

      I agree, I think a lot of games owe a lot to the early 3d online games (which in themselves, owed a lot to text based online games, to be fair).

      But yeah, Everquest.. it really felt like the future of games, from the first moment I played.

        Wood Elf Bard, so similar hunting grounds but more Kelethin than Felwithe. Man I loved playing that toon. They could just do so much, and I loved pushing the limits with him. I ran to Qeynos at about level 6 to team up with friends, which left a lasting memory. Thank the Gods for Selo's.

        I doubt we'll see something that felt as gamechanging as that did ever again. It was just such a wonderful crossroads of events all happening at once, from MMO's starting, to the internet really taking off that it will be hard to see so much happening that can come together like the late 90's. Might happen with VR, but that's a stretch.

    Really old one, but the movie footage morphing into the in game animation in the old return of the king game. Felt really cinematic, and then... Kinda went nowhere as film tie in games died.

      The graphics were really good, then you got into the actual level, and the character models were worse.

    That moment in COD: Ghosts where the fish swim away from you if you get too close.

    Playing Mario 64 on the DS, for no other reason than sparking the idea that handheld devices would one day be powerful enough to play the console games of the present day.

    I remember playing Ocarina of Time for the first time and loudly announcing that the graphics were "Toy Story good!" (they weren't) and that I'd be happy forever if this the peak of graphics processing power forever because OMFG it looks beautiful!

    Decades later I can see I was just hyped to be playing Zelda in 3D and that I had a limited imagination when it came to the future of video game aesthetics.

      Don't think of it as limited. That was truly a defining game for a number of reasons. We've moved on considerably since then, but that's only because games like OoT forced others to innovate and be better.

      Which led to better technology, better visuals, better hardware elsewhere, and eventually to the games we have today.

      Breath of the Wild wouldn't have been the masterpiece it was if OoT hadn't come before it though, just like WoW wouldn't have worked the same if LotR hadn't been written ~50 years earlier.

        I know we have had disagreements in the past, but I really do like the way you use your words.
        You are right. OOT really WAS a milestone and I was absolutely, 100% justified in my enthusiasm for its overall excellence.

        One of my happiest memories of that year was walking into the Hyrule Castle grounds and hearing Malon sing her little song somewhere in the distance as the sun went down.That one moment just brought a sense of distance, space, and time into my video game playing in a way I hadn't previously experienced. I doubt I will ever have that same notion of amazement in a game again (but I hope I'm wrong about that).

    Mechwarrior 2's superb opening, for a game released in 1995 there really was nothing like it.

    Playing Starglider on the Atari ST, from the digitised song at the start, to flying around a 3D landscape in realtime that felt like an open world, it unlocked the promise of video games becoming 'real'.
    Later on, Carrier Command, having multiple Mantas in the air, and multiple Walrus vehicles in the water or on land, and switching immediately between the view from any of those to the turret view from the ship, that felt like the future, the game space felt like a real world.

      Various versions of Elite did that for me around the same time, but man Carrier Command was a brilliant game. That, Leaderboard golf on the C64 and Elite combined to show that 3D games were going to be a big part of our future.

    First Diablo game coming with a manual that also has a lot of lore and backstory. Spent lots of time on the toilet seat reading that thing. Was used to game manuals that only had installation and troubleshooting instructions, and if we're lucky, in-depth explanations of game controls and features.

    Sidetracking a bit, but also had a similar "it's the future!" experience with The Matrix DVD when it was first released. It was the first DVD I bought and with all the features it came with, I honestly thought that this was how all DVDs were like back then. Was disappointed when the next one I bought only came with the movie and subtitles...

      OMFG you just reminded me of when I got Heroes 3 for Christmas and spent ages just going through the drawings of the archangels, demons, manticores etc. in the faction sections.

      *sigh* what a game

        Warcraft 2 had a similar book. Metzan's dope-ass art of berserkers and elves, a couple of tech trees, it was a core part of my wee childhood.

    For me it was major synchronous leaps in animation and effects coupled with developers using them to enhance environments instead of just making everything bloomy and shiny:
    - water and lighting in Unreal, then the volumetric effects added in UT.
    - shaders and character animation in Ubi's Jade Engine games - I got a new video card to run Sands of Time and Beyond Good & Evil!
    - when Just Cause 2 brought everything together and you could just watch god rays splintering between tree canopies, or coast along the shallows in a speedboat ...the reflections on the water and the shadows on the sea bed and the fronds of seaweed between...

    There are of course a lot more after following the industry from EGA to 4K VR, vertex animation to Euphoria(tm), single screen games to entire streaming worlds... but those were some of my more formative moments in appreciation for the medium as an artform.

      - water and lighting in Unreal
      This. It just blew me away when I left the prison ship for the first time.

      I remember when we upgraded from a Voodoo2 to a Matrox G400MAX and we got to see all the reflections and shiny surfaces in Unreal for the first time. It was one of those "graphics will never get better than this" moments.

    Super Mario 64. Full 3D and the freedom to go all over.

    Goldeneye 007 - seeing full 3D graphics in the FPS blew me away.

    Then again in Zelda OOT, just such a big world to explore.

    Super Mario 64
    Because I could never picture as a kid how those games would translate to 3D - the solution control and gameplay wise was amazing

    Zelda Ocarina of Time
    Similarly the open world (tiny by today's standards) and the innovation on display (z-targeting and auto jumping) made it the perfect 3D translation of a 2D game

    Soul Calibur (Dreamcast)
    This to me the biggest leap in graphics from one generation to the next - when I first saw what they could I couldn't believe they pulled it off

    GTA San Andreas
    I got this on the PS2 (a console I begrudgingly bought so my wife could play Singstar - I was a Nintendo tragic) not knowing anything about it and I was dumbfounded by how good it was - so much to discover, so much to do - I was already an urban design nerd - here I could run around facsimiles of actual US cities and what's more the gameplay was fun and made several genres (racing especially) completely redundant to me!

    When I realised that the cars were playing radio stations with real songs mixer with hilarious spoof advertising I knew I was living in the future (plot twist - I got that game in December 2008!)

    Xbox 360
    Playing my brother's 360 for the first time in December 2009 was amazing to me - specifically the wireless controller which I had never seen before then. It was hard to go back to wires afterwards and I joined that generation less than a month later on the boxing day sales!

    Assassin's Creed
    Felt like a whole new style of realistic platforming (coupled with ultraviolence!)

    The gravity gun from Half Life 2 is one nobody seems to have mentioned yet. I hadn't played many games that used physics until Half Life 2 came along and suddenly we have a weapon that lets us use just about anything as a weapon or solve puzzles, felt like "this is the future of FPS games" even if it didn't REALLY turn out that way. Even the general physics in HL2 was amazing to me back then, these days it's just a given.

    Final Fantasy XII's gambit system was an exciting new idea for me and opened up all sorts of ideas about AI companions that would actually be useful and could add strategic value. Unfortunately Dragon Age was about the only other game that experimented with it and we're still stuck with dumb party AIs that use all their items and MP in one go or run madly at the enemy with 1HP.

    One I recall recently was the npcs in Red Dead Redemption turning to watch you. Making eye contact.
    I hadn't noticed it much before that but I'm sure it's pretty standard now.
    They have something similar in Anthem but it's not tuned quite right. Seems unnatural.

    Seeing Super Mario World running for the first time was a moment like this for me as a kid. I'd seen screenshots in magazines, but they didn't really translate the parallax scrolling background layers like seeing it in motion did.

    My friends and I used to have a thing where we'd try to imagine what graphics would look like in the future. This was in the 8/16-bit era, and it was hard for us to really understand that the world would move to 3D graphics in just a few years. When we all first saw the Project Reality demos for the first time it was mindblowing, and then seeing KI and Cruisn' USA in the arcades felt like the future was arriving (we were all Nintendo/Sega kids, the Playstation hadn't really crept into our world at that point).

    More recently, the volumetric cloud systems in both No Man's Sky and Red Dead Redemption II definitely feel like something that's heralding the future of video game graphics. As was getting to see the Metro Exodus RTX demo in person last year.

    I like to say every so often that a game has "the best graphics I've ever seen", even though it's kind of meaningless because a new game comes out and outdoes it. RDR2 is the current champion for me in this regard, knocking off previous reigning champion Horizon Zero Dawn, which itself knocked off The Witcher 3.

    The N64. Specifically mario 64, goldeneye and Turok 2. Mario 64 because it was my first real 3d game (actually bought the n64 for it after 5 minutes playing it at the store. Goldeneye because it was the first time a game was better than my expectations. Finally turok 2 for the expansion pack that came with it, a mid gen upgrade with having to buy a new console! It's a shame it never caught on.

    Assassin's CreedUnity was my first game after a 10 year break from gaming. And wow it blew me away.. i saw the openinh cutscenes and gameplay and I was like wow this is the future. ????????

    Also Horizon Zero Dawn. Seeing that first tall neck was awe-inspiring.

    The rudimentary physics on the dead bodies and dual wielding in Halo 2.
    The light shining through the ocean waves in AC Black Flag.
    The water and sound design in Bioshock.
    Everything about the original Assassin's Creed.
    The music in Assassin's Creed II.
    The character interactions and story in Dragon Age Origins and Mass Effect 2.
    The grass and bow in Far Cry 3.
    The ballistics modelling in, and atmosphere of Stalker.
    The in-game character animations in The Last of Us.
    Being able to shoot apart the PhysX enabled cloth in Borderlands 2.
    The environmental destruction in BLACK.
    The use of shadows/lighting and stealth in Escape From Butcher Bay.
    The raindrops on the windows even with your face right up against it in Battlefield 4.
    The gunplay/gore in Call of Juarez.
    The art design of Dishonored.
    The skies in Mad Max.
    The number of enemies in Serious Sam.
    The rubbery looking tires in GRID.
    The damage modelling in Burnout 3.
    The hud-less, seamless gameplay experience of Dead Space.
    The humour of Armed & Dangerous.
    The skin in Crysis 3.
    The gravity effects in the original
    The brutal physical combat in Condemned Criminal Origins.
    The slow motion gunplay in FEAR.
    The open-world destruction in Mercenaries.
    The customisation in NFS Underground 2.
    The gravity effects and incredibly optimisation of the original Prey.
    Of course, everything about the original Portal.
    The telekinesis in PsyOps.
    The boss battles in Demon's Souls.
    The intensity of Heavy Rain.
    The freedom of GTA, any GTA.
    Everything about the original Red Dead Redemption.
    The powers, graphics, and environmental interaction in the original Crysis.
    Cannonballs breaking through buildings in Age of Empires 3.

    I'm sure there are others, but man I've had too many moments to remember. There are so many amazing things which are done, and then never done again. For example, as far as I know there has never again been anything like the unique joy that is Stubbs The Zombie.

    The first and second for me would be Doom and System shock.

    With Doom it was actually seeing a properly 3D world like that even if it technically wasn't 3D. I still remember catching myself trying to look around the side of the monitor to see what was there..

    System shock.. A fully 3D world with a fully realised story and an iconic bad guy that felt like it was personal and actually wanted you dead

    Crysis. That was the first game where I really felt the whole experience just came together in an amazingly spectacular way. Picking up a soldier by his throat and almost being able to inspect every pore on his face.

    Then being able to fly a dropship later in the game. I thought "Wow, this is the game that just keeps giving!"

    I still play it every couple of years.

    The intro cutscene for FFVIII. A couple years later, the intro cutscene for Chrono Cross.

    The water in Age of Mythology.

    The mechanics of Super Mario Galaxy.

    I still remember when I begged Mum for enough cash to rent a brand new Sega Saturn (with Daytona USA and Virtua Fighter). Took it straight to a mates place and spent the weekend gobsmacked at the CD Audio and the arcade graphics (even if they weren't), and somehow the old Mega Drive just didn't cut it anymore.

    Wow, really? Not one mention of the first Half-Life game?
    It has been consistently been in most top ten games of all time.
    Proper levels, great story, truly launched modern gaming and still influences most games within its field.
    Oh and bankrolled Valve to become a giant with Steam etc.
    I can still vividly remember the first time a face hugger fell from the ceiling...

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