|1980s . 1990s in video gaming . 2000s|
|Other events: 1990s . Games timeline|
The 1990s were a decade of marked innovation in video gaming. It was a decade of transition from sprite-based graphics to full-fledged 3D graphics and it gave rise to several genres of video games including, but not limited to, the first person shooter, real-time strategy, survival horror, and MMO. Handheld gaming began to become more popular throughout the decade, thanks in part to the release of the Game Boy. Arcade games, although still relatively popular in the early 1990s, begin a decline as home consoles become more common.
- 1 Consoles of the 1990s
- 2 Technological innovation
- 3 Genre innovation
- 4 Notable video-game franchises established in the 1990s
- 5 Other
- 6 References
Consoles of the 1990s
Fourth generation consoles (1990–1993)
Starting in 1990 and ending in 1993, the fourth generation of video game consoles consisted primarily of games and systems programmed for the 16-bit era. During this generation, 2D graphics had improved over the previous generation and experimentation began to occur with 3D graphics, although 3D games were more prevalent on the PC at the time. The fourth generation also was the first time Compact Discs were considered a viable port for video game retail sales with the CD-i. Some of the most notable systems released during this generation were the Mega Drive/Genesis (1988), the Super NES (1990) and the Neo Geo (1990). Nintendo's Game Boy was also released during the fourth generation, which would later become the most popular series of handheld gaming systems during the 1990s. A rivalry between Sega and Nintendo occurred during this generation, starting the 2nd major console war, The 1st being between Atari 2600 & Intellivision.
Fifth generation consoles (1993–1999)
Starting in 1993 and ending in 1999, the fifth generation of video games are most widely known to be the 32/64 bit era and for being the transition period for video games to evolve into the third dimension. The Nintendo 64 (1996), PlayStation (1994), and Sega Saturn (1994) are considered to be the big three gaming systems of this generation. With the introduction of the PlayStation and Saturn, compact discs (CDs) began to replace cartridges however the Nintendo 64 remained loyal to them due to the load times on CDs at the time and became one of the last cartridge based systems in mass production.
Early sixth generation console
The sixth generation was initiated by the release of the Dreamcast in 1999. It introduced several innovations including Internet gaming as a standard feature through its built-in modem, and a web browser. It was also the first home console to always display full SD resolution. Despite its early success, the Dreamcast was discontinued prematurely as sales slowed following the release of the PlayStation 2 on March 4, 2000.
Introduction of 3D environments and polygons
Said to be one of the most revolutionary video games, Super Mario 64 (1996) was praised for how it took to 3D environments of wide open spaces and graphics at the time. Many games that moved onto 3D also tried to mimic Mario's success. Instead of pixels, polygons became a standard sight to be in video games from then on as they looked more lifelike when programmed into the right shapes.
Optical disc storage
Nearly every system released in the mid-late 1990s began to move to the new CD-ROM technology, with the Nintendo 64 being the last major home video game console to use ROM cartridges. Also appealing to publishers was the fact that CDs could be produced at significantly less expense and with more flexibility (it was easy to change production to meet demand), and they were able to pass the lower costs onto consumers. In particular, the fifth generation marked a turning point for optical-based storage media. As games grew more complex in content, sound, and graphics, the CD proved more than capable of providing enough space for the extra data. The cartridge format, however, was pushed beyond the limits of its storage capacity. Consequently, many game developers shifted their support away from the Nintendo 64 to the PlayStation.
Due to CD-ROMs lacking the built-in memory of ROM Cartridges, the Sony PlayStation introduced the use of memory cards to store saved game data. This became the standard for video game consoles until it was replaced by the use of hard drives and built-in flash memory during the seventh generation in the late first decade of the 21st century.
The Super NES controller introduced a more rounded dog-bone like design and added two more face buttons, "X" and "Y", arranging the four in a diamond formation. Another addition was the "L" and "R" shoulder buttons, which have been imitated by most controllers since.
The PlayStation controller was the first standard operating device for a home console to use two handle-bars at the bottom of the controller whereas previously this feature had been relegated to niche specialist controllers. This has been standard in most game controllers since, until the Wii appeared.
The Virtual Boy controller was a controller which utilized dual joypads similar to how analog sticks functioned in later "dual control" sixth-generation systems. The presence of two pads was an effort to control objects in a 3D environment (one pad controlling pitch and turning while the other controlling forward movement and strafing).
- Analog stick
In 1996 Nintendo introduced the first analog thumbstick on the Nintendo 64 controller. It was subsequently followed in the industry during the fifth generation by the 3D Control Pad (packaged with Nights into Dreams...), the Sony Dual Analog gamepad which introduced the use of two analog sticks, and the Sony DualShock. Since then, all major video game console controllers have included two analog thumbsticks, except for the Wii's "Wii-mote".
- Force feedback
The optional Rumble Pak for the Nintendo 64 controller introduced the use of haptic force feedback technology in gaming. It was later followed by the DualShock controller for the PlayStation which had built-in haptic feedback. Since then, built-in force feedback has become standard for most game controllers.
- Pressure-sensitive button
The use of pressure-sensitive buttons was introduced by the Dreamcast in 1999. It has trigger-like shoulder buttons, similar to the earlier Nintendo 64 controller, but the main difference being that DreamCast controller's shoulder buttons are pressure-sensitive. Since then, most game controllers have included pressure-sensitive buttons.
Online gaming, which in previous generations had been the exclusive domain of PC games, became prominent in video game consoles starting in the late 1990s. The Dreamcast initiated this change in 1999 with its built in modem, internet browsing software, and ability to play certain games online. Nearly all consoles since released then have had support for online gaming.
Many technically innovative and genre-defining games were developed during the 1990s, largely due to the impact of 3D graphics allowing three-dimensional environments as well as optical discs which allowed much greater storage capacity.
The release of Street Fighter II in 1991 is often considered a revolutionary moment in the fighting game genre. Yoshiki Okamoto's team developed the most accurate joystick and button scanning routine in the genre thus far. This allowed players to reliably execute multi-button special moves, which had previously required an element of luck. The game was also highly successful because its graphics took advantage of Capcom's CPS arcade chipset, with highly detailed characters and stages. Whereas previous games allowed players to combat a variety of computer-controlled fighters, Street Fighter II allowed players to play against each other. The popularity of Street Fighter II surprised the gaming industry, as arcade owners bought more machines to keep up with demand.
SNK released Fatal Fury: King of Fighters a few months later, adding a two-plane system where characters could step into the foreground or background. Meanwhile, Sega experimented with Dark Edge, an early attempt at a 3D fighting game where characters could move in all directions. Sega however, never released the game outside Japan because it felt that unrestrained 3D fighting games were unenjoyable. Several fighting games achieved greater commercial success, including SNK's Art of Fighting and Samurai Shodown as well as Sega's Eternal Champions. Nevertheless, Street Fighter II remained the most popular, spawning a special Champion Edition that improved game balance and allowed players to use additional characters. The popularity of Street Fighter II led it to be released for home game consoles and allowed it to define the template for fighting games.
Sega began to attract attention with the 1993 release of Virtua Fighter in arcades. It was the first fighting game with 3D polygon graphics and a viewpoint that zoomed and rotated with the action. Despite the graphics, players were confined to back and forth motion as seen in other fighting games. By the time the game was released for the Sega Saturn in Japan, the game and system were selling at almost a one-to-one ratio. In 1994, SNK released The King of Fighters '94 in arcades, where players choose from teams of three characters to eliminate each other one by one. A follow-up to Street Fighter II, Street Fighter Alpha, was released in 1995 but was unable to match the popularity of its predecessor. Throughout this period, the fighting game was the dominant genre in competitive video gaming, with enthusiasts popularly attending arcades in order to find human opponents.
The fighting game genre continued to evolve as several strong 3D fighting games emerged in the late 1990s. Namco's Tekken (released in arcades in 1994 and on the PlayStation in 1995) proved critical to the PlayStation's early success, with its sequels also becoming some of the console's most important titles. In 1995, Mortal Kombat became a popular fighting game due to its sprites being real people digitalized into the game with graphic and controversial depictions of violence, most notably, the fatalities. The Soul series of weapon-based fighting games also achieved considerable critical success, beginning with 1997's Soul Edge. Tecmo's Dead or Alive (released in 1996 in Japanese arcades and 1998 on the PlayStation) spawned a long-running franchise, known for its fast-paced control system and innovative counterattacks. The series again included titles important to the success of their respective consoles.
The first-person shooter (FPS) typically features the player as the protagonist. Most often the player does not see the face of who they are playing, but will always see the weapon of choice located in the players hand in the lower left or right hand corner. FPSs are usually violent and feature blood and gore, which has sparked controversy from parent groups.
With the introduction of the fifth generation of games, 3-D graphics become the standard by end of decade. Although FPSs had been some of the first games to become 3-D.
In 1992 Wolfenstein 3d is released, creating interest in what fps games could become. Doom (1993) bursts onto the world scene and instantly popularizes the FPS genre, and even how games are played, as Doom is among the first games to feature multiplayer capabilities. It was Goldeneye 007 (1997), that introduced an engine that made development of first-person shooters for home consoles a practical idea. It is not until Quake (1996), however, that game developers begin to take multiplayer features into serious consideration when making games. Quake II (1997), Unreal (1998) and Half-Life (1998) feature the next evolutionary step in the genre with continual progression of the game (no levels in the traditional sense) and an entirely in-person view, and become one of the most popular video games in history.
In the early-to-mid-1990s, several video game developers experimented with plot twists and providing alternative storylines and endings into their games. They even went as far as to film live action scenes and scripted popular actors to play the parts. Night Trap, released in 1992, was highly acclaimed for implementing live action scenes into video games and later the Wing Commander series dove into live action as well. Wing Commander IV: The Price of Freedom was given an unheard of budget of US$12 million and starred Mark Hamill of Star Wars fame. The Wing Commander series was known for providing several alternate endings depending on how the player followed the story and interacted with the characters.
The platform game genre evolved through several distinct phases throughout the 1990s. The first was an evolutionary step during the fifth generation in the early 1990s, followed by a complete transformation of the genre during the sixth generation in the late 1990s.
- Second-generation side-scrollers
The advent of 16-bit home consoles in the early 1990s marked an evolutionary step for the genre. By the time the Mega Drive and Super Nintendo Entertainment System launched, platform games were the most popular genre in home console gaming and were seen as vital for winning the console war. There was a particular emphasis on having a flagship platform title exclusive to a format, featuring a "mascot" character. Sega's Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (1989) was only modestly successful, and Sega realized would need a stronger mascot to move Genesis units. In 1990, Hudson Soft released Bonk's Adventure featuring a character that would be positioned as NEC's mascot.
1990 marked the release of the Super NES, along with the much awaited Super Mario World. In order to fend off the new competition, Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog. Whereas Nintendo's offering featured a conservative design, true to the Mario tradition, Sonic showcased a new style of design made possible by a new generation of hardware. Sonic featured large fields that scrolled effortlessly in all directions, as well as all manner of uneven terrain, curved hills, and a complex physics system that allowed players to rush through its levels with well-placed jumps and rolls. It proved to be a massive hit, was a successful pack-in with new systems, and cemented the view that platform games would make or break a console.
The Sonic character was also seen as a new model for mascots in the early 1990s, particularly for his perceived "attitude," which characterized him as a rebel from the status quo. This "attitude" would soon become the status quo, as companies attempted to duplicate Sonic's success with their own brightly colored anthropomorphisms. Very frequently these were characterized by impatience, sarcasm, and frequent quipping to give them personality. These mascots, which included the likes of Gex, Bug!, and Bubsy, have mostly faded from relevance.
- 3D platformers
In 1996, Nintendo released Super Mario 64. Until this time there had been no established archetype for bringing platform games into 3D. Mario 64 set a new standard and would be imitated by many 3D platformers to follow. Its gameplay allowed players to explore open 3D environments with greater freedom than any previous attempt at a 3D platform game. To aid this, Nintendo incorporated an analog control stick to their standard Nintendo 64 controller, something which had not been included in a standard console controller since the Vectrex (and since incorporated into the DualShock among other controllers). This allowed for the finer precision needed for a free perspective. Players no longer followed a linear path to the ends of levels, either, with most levels providing objective-based goals. There were, however, a handful of "boss" levels that offered more traditional platforming, and showed what a more direct conversion to 3D might have been like.
Some argue that many modern 3D platformers, especially those influenced heavily by Super Mario 64, are not platformers at all, or at least are not really an extension of 2D platformers. Super Mario 64 brought a change in the goals of some platformers. In most 2D platformers, the player only had to reach a single goal to complete a level, but in many 3D platformers, each level had to be combed for collectible items such as puzzle pieces (Banjo-Kazooie) or stars (Super Mario 64). This allowed for more efficient use of large 3D areas and rewarded the player for thorough exploration, but they also often involved more elements of action-adventure games, and less jumping on platforms.
In 1992, Sega produced Virtua Racing, one of the first games with full 3D graphics. It was able to combine the best features of games at the time, along with multiplayer machine linking and clean 3D graphics to produce a game that was above and beyond the arcade market standard of its time. Also, Nintendo broke new ground by introducing the Mario Kart series on the SNES with Super Mario Kart. Using the familiar characters from the Mario franchise, the game not only departed from the realism paradigm by using small karts for the players to drive, but also featured bright, colourful environments and allowed the players to pick up power-ups to improve performance or hamper other racers. This franchise also spawned multiple sequels such as Mario Kart 64 which would release on the N64 making the first Mario Kart game to feature 3D computer graphics while still using pre-rendered sprites for the characters and items.
In 1993, Namco struck back with Ridge Racer, and thus began the polygonal war of driving games. Sega struck back in 1994 with Daytona USA, while Midway introduced Cruis'n USA. Atari didn't join the 3D craze until 1997, when it introduced San Francisco Rush. In 1996, Konami introduced GTI Club which allowed free roaming of the environment – something of a revolution that had only been done in 3D before in Hard Drivin'.
In 1997, Gran Turismo was released for the PlayStation. It was considered the most realistic racing simulation game in its time, combined with playability, enabling players of all skill levels to play. The Gran Turismo series has since become one of the most popular racing franchises ever, with the series selling more than 50 million copies worldwide. Colin McRae Rally was introduced in 1998 to the PC world, and was a successful semi-simulation of the world of rally driving (previously only available in Sega's less serious Sega Rally Championship). Motorhead, a PC game, was later adapted back to arcade.
1999 marked a change of games into more "free form" worlds. Midtown Madness allows the player to explore a simplified version of the city of Chicago using a variety of vehicles and any path that they desire. In the arcade world, Sega introduced Crazy Taxi, where you are a taxi driver that needed to get the client to the destination in the shortest amount of time. A similar game also from Sega is Emergency Call Ambulance, with almost the same gameplay (pick up patient, drop off at hospital, as fast as possible).
The 1990s saw the emergence of several distinct subgenres of the role-playing video game genre.
- Action role-playing games
1990 would see the release of Crystalis for the Nintendo Entertainment System and also Golden Axe Warrior for the Master System. Both games featured Zelda-like gameplay blended with genuine RPG elements, such as experience points, statistics-based equipment, and a magic-casting system. In 1991, Square released Seiken Densetsu for the Game Boy, also known as Final Fantasy Adventure in the West. Like Crystalis, the action in Seiken Densetsu bore a strong resemblance to that of Zelda, but added more RPG elements. Seiken Densetsu 2, also known as Secret of Mana, implemented an innovative multiplayer function, and further developed its combat with more diverse weaponry and spell-casting.
Unique among video games are Capcom's Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom (1993) and Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara (1996). These games were released for the arcades, and featured a blending of beat 'em up and RPG characteristics. The games were later released for the Sega Saturn together as the Dungeons & Dragons Collection (1999). Several later beat 'em ups followed this same formula, including Guardian Heroes, Castle Crashers and Dungeon & Fighter.
In Japan on Super Famicom, Tales of Phantasia was released in Japan in 1995, featuring real-time side-scrolling combat mode and an exploration mode similar to classic console RPGs. In 1996, Star Ocean was released that also has real-time combat and classic exploration but features bird's eye view. Namco and Enix did not publish these two revolutionary titles in America, even though sequels in the two series would become wildly popular on future generations of consoles in the US. Fifth generation era saw several popular action RPGs, such as Tales of Eternia, Brave Fencer Musashi and Legend of Oasis. In 1996 Nintendo released Super Mario RPG, for the SNES . Super Mario RPG was the first role playing game in the series and it launched to critical acclaim. It spawned two spiritual successors, Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi
- Role-playing video games
It was in the early 1990s that the console role-playing video game genre distinguished itself greatly from computer RPGs, with the Final Fantasy series playing an instrumental role. Final Fantasy III introduced the "job system", a character progression engine allowing the player to change a character's class, as well as acquire new and advanced classes. Final Fantasy IV (1991) was one of the first role-playing games to feature a complex, involving plot, placing a much greater emphasis on character development and pioneering "the whole concept of dramatic storytelling in an RPG." It also introduced a new battle system: the "Active Time Battle" system, developed by Hiroyuki Ito, where the time-keeping system does not stop. Square Co., Ltd. filed a United States patent application for the ATB system on March 16, 1992, under the title "Video game apparatus, method and device for controlling same" and was awarded the patent on February 21, 1995. On the battle screen, each character has an ATB meter that gradually fills, and the player is allowed to issue a command to that character once the meter is full. The fact that enemies can attack or be attacked at any time is credited with injecting urgency and excitement into the combat system. Both the "job system" and the ATB system were fully developed in Final Fantasy V (1992) and continued to be used in later Final Fantasy games  as well as other Square games such as Chrono Trigger (1995). Final Fantasy VI (1994) and the Megami Tensei series were some of the first RPGs to move away from the typical medieval setting, with Final Fantasy VI instead being set in a steampunk environment  and the Megami Tensei games set in modern-day Japan.
The next major revolution came in the late 1990s, which saw the rise of optical disks in fifth generation consoles. The implications for RPGs were enormous—longer, more involved quests, better audio, and full-motion video. This was first clearly demonstrated by Final Fantasy VII (1997). The explosion of Final Fantasy VII's sales and the ascendance of the PlayStation were proof of this and represented the dawning of a new era of RPGs. Backed by a clever marketing campaign, Final Fantasy VII brought the first taste of CRPGs to many of the new gamers brought in by the PlayStation gaming console. Subsequently, CRPGs, previously a niche genre, skyrocketed in popularity.
In 1997, a new Internet fad began, influenced by the popularization of console RPGs. A large group of young programmers and aficionados began creating and sharing independent CRPG games, emulating the gameplay and style of the older Super NES and Genesis games. The majority of such games owe their achievement to simplistic software development kits such as the Japanese RPG Maker series.
- MUDs and MMORPGs
1989 and the early 1990s saw the release and spread of the MUD codebases DikuMUD and LPMud, leading to a tremendous increase in the proliferation and popularity of MUDs. Before the end of the decade, the evolution of the genre continued through "graphical MUDs" into the first massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), a term coined by Richard Garriott in 1997. That genre, as currently defined, began with Meridian 59 in 1995, but first truly came into its own with Ultima Online in 1997, a game that provided a core idea of what later MMORPGs would become, featuring a massive continent on which players could interact with others from around the world, fight mythical creatures, and cast spells. After earlier games broke ground, widespread popularity for MMORPGs arrived with the debut of EverQuest and Asheron's Call in 1999. MMORPGs would become a common form of social interaction in the 2000s.
- Tactical role-playing games
In 1990, Nintendo released and published the first tactical RPG, Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryū to Hikari no Tsurugi for the Family Computer (or Famicom) in Japan, co-developed with Intelligent Systems. Released in Japan in 1990, Fire Emblem was an archetype for the whole genre, establishing gameplay elements that are still used in tactical CRPGs today (although some of these elements were influenced by Ultima III). Combining the basic console RPG concepts from games like Dragon Quest and simple turn-based strategy elements, Nintendo created a hit, which spawned many sequels and imitators.
Among the first imitators was Langrisser by NCS/Masaya, first released for the Mega Drive in 1991. It was localized for North American release under the title Warsong, with a few graphical alterations. The Langrisser series differed from Fire Emblem in that it used a general-soldier structure instead of controlling main characters. Master of Monsters was a unique title by SystemSoft. Where Langrisser and Fire Emblem used a square-based grid, Master of Monsters used a hexagonal grid. Players could choose one of four different Lords to defend their Towers and areas on the grid by building an army of creatures to destroy the opposing armies.
The first game in the long-running Super Robot Wars series is another early example of the genre, released for the Game Boy in 1991. Another influential early tactical RPG was Sega's Shining Force for the Genesis, which was released in 1992. Shining Force used even more console RPG elements than earlier games, allowing the player to walk around towns and talk to people and buy weapons. One game released solely in Japan for the Super Famicom (SFC), Bahamut Lagoon, began Square's (now Square Enix) famous line of tactical RPGs.
Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen was released for the Super NES and is more of a real-time strategy game in which the player forms role-playing video game-like character parties that are moved around a map in real-time. When two parties meet, the combat plays out with minimal user interaction. A later release, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, was originally a SNES game that was later ported to the PlayStation. Tactics Ogre is a much more direct influence on the sort of tactical RPGs that gamers recognize today such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. It was also the first to bear the name "Tactics" in the title, a term gamers would come to associate with the genre. Not only are characters moved individually on a grid, but the view is isometric, and the order of combat is calculated for each character individually. The game defined the genre in many ways.
While stealth elements have been present in video games as far back as 005, a 1981 video game by Sega, it was in the 1990s that the stealth game genre was established. Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake was released in 1990 for the MSX2 and was a major improvement over its predecessor, Metal Gear (1987). Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake improved on the first game in many ways, including improved graphics, more player abilities (such as crouching, crawling into hiding spots, disguising in enemy uniforms and cardboard boxes, and distracting guards by knocking on surfaces), improved enemy AI (such as a greater field of vision, the ability to detect various noises, and a three-level security alert), and additions such as a radar, as well as a complex storyline. The game was only released for the MSX2 in Japan, however, which limited its accessibility to consumers in the US. An alternative Metal Gear sequel named Snake's Revenge was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America and Europe instead, also in 1990. Kojima was not involved in the game's development, which was instead conducted by another Konami team.
1998 is seen as a turning point in gaming history because of the release of Metal Gear Solid, as well as Tenchu: Stealth Assassins and Thief: The Dark Project. The ninja-themed game Tenchu: Stealth Assassins was released several months before Metal Gear Solid, making it the first 3D stealth based-game. The highly anticipated Metal Gear Solid transformed its modestly successful franchise into a large mainstream success. The increased power of the PlayStation console over previous platforms allowed for greater immersion in terms of both story and game environment. Metal Gear Solid has been credited with popularizing the stealth genre. The core elements of these games, such as avoiding confrontation, minimizing noise, and attacking antagonists from "the shadows", influenced many future stealth game series.
While elements of the survival horror genre can be traced back to the 1989 Capcom game Sweet Home, which served as a major influence on the genre, it was in the 1990s that survival horror was established as a genre. Another precursor appeared in 1992 when Infogrames released Alone in the Dark, which is also considered a forefather of the genre. The game featured a lone protagonist against hordes of monsters, and made use of traditional adventure game challenges such as puzzle-solving and finding hidden keys to new areas. Graphically, Alone in the Dark utilized static prerendered camera views that were cinematic in nature. Although players had the ability to fight monsters as in action games, players also had the option to evade or block them.
The term "survival horror" was first used by Capcom to market their 1996 release, Resident Evil, thus establishing it as a genre. The game was influenced by Capcom's Sweet Home, released seven years earlier. Resident Evil also adopted several features seen in Alone in the Dark, including puzzle-solving challenges and fixed cinematic camera angles. The control scheme in Resident Evil also became a staple of the genre, and future titles would imitate its challenge of rationing highly limited resources and items. The game's commercial success is credited with helping the PlayStation become the dominant game console, and also led to a series of Resident Evil films. Many games have tried to replicate the successful formula seen in Resident Evil, and every subsequent survival horror game has arguably taken a stance in relation to it.
Silent Hill (1999) drew heavily from Resident Evil while using realtime 3D environments in contrast to Resident Evil's pre-rendered graphics. The game was praised for moving away from B movie horror elements to the psychological style seen in art house or Japanese horror films, due to the game's emphasis on a disturbing atmosphere rather than visceral horror. The original Silent Hill is considered one of the scariest games of all time.
Notable video-game franchises established in the 1990s
- Ace Combat (ARC; 1995)
- Age of Empires (PC; 1997)
- Asheron's Call (PC; 1999)
- Baldur's Gate (PC; 1998)
- Banjo-Kazooie (N64; 1998)
- Battletoads (ARC; 1991)
- Bioforge (Origin; 1995)
- Civilization (PC; 1991)
- Command & Conquer (PC; 1995)
- Crash Bandicoot (PS1; 1996)
- Chrono Cross (PS1; 1999)
- Cruis'n (ARC; 1994)
- Diablo (PC; 1996)
- Donkey Kong Country (SNES; 1994)2
- DOOM (PC; 1993)
- Duke Nukem (PC; 1991)
- Dungeon Keeper (PC; 1997)
- Earthworm Jim (SGA; 1994)
- The Elder Scrolls (PC; 1994)
- EverQuest (PC; 1999)
- Fallout (PC; 1997)
- Fire Emblem (Famicom; 1990)
- F-Zero (SNES; 1990)
- Gabriel Knight (PC; 1993)
- Gran Turismo (PS1; 1997)
- Grand Theft Auto (PC; 1997)
- Half-Life (PC; 1998)
- Harvest Moon (SNES; 1996)
- Heroes of Might and Magic (PC; 1995)
- Jurassic Park (MUL; 1993)1
- Kirby (GB; 1992)
- Mario Kart (SNES; 1992)2
- Mario Party (N64; 1998)2
- Medal of Honor (PS1; 1999)
- Monkey Island (PC; 1990)
- Mortal Kombat (ARC; 1992)
- Myst (PC; 1993)
- NBA Jam (ARC; 1993)
- Need for Speed (3DO; 1994)
- Neverwinter Nights (PC; 1991)
- OddWorld (PC; 1997)
- Pajama Sam (PC; 1996)
- Parasite Eve (PS1; 1998)
- Pokémon (GB; 1996)
- Postal (PC; 1997)
- Quake (PC; 1996)
- Rayman (SGA; 1995)
- Resident Evil (PS1; 1996)
- Ridge Racer (ARC; 1993)
- Rollercoaster Tycoon (PC; 1999)
- Silent Hill (PS1; 1999)
- Sonic The Hedgehog (SGA; 1991)
- Soulcalibur (ARC; 1998)
- Spec Ops (PC; 1998)
- Spyro, The Dragon (PS1; 1998)
- Star Control (Accolade; 1990)
- Starcraft (PC; 1998)
- Star Fox (SNES; 1993)
- Star Ocean (SNES; 1996)
- Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (N64; 1998)1
- Streets of Rage (SGA; 1991)
- Super Smash Bros. (N64; 1999)
- Syphon Filter (PS1; 1999)
- System Shock (PC; 1994)
- Tales of Phantasia (SNES; 1995)
- Tekken (ARC; 1994)
- Thief (PC; 1998)
- Time Crisis (ARC; 1995)
- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six (PC; 1998)
- Tomb Raider (PC; 1996)
- Tony Hawk's Pro Skater(PS1; 1999)
- Turok (N64; 1997)
- Twisted Metal (PS1; 1995)
- Ultima Online (PC; 1997)2
- Unreal (PC; 1998)
- Warcraft (PC; 1994)
- Wario Land (Game Boy; 1994)
- Wing Commander (PC; 1990)
- WipEout (PS1; 1995)
- Worms (PC; 1995)
- Yoshi (NES; 1991)
- 1Game franchises that also accompany major film or television franchises.
- 2Game franchises that are considered spin-offs of previously established
- In the late 1990s Nintendo released their earliest Mario Party in which players competed against each other to win minigames.
- Fighting games like Capcom's Street Fighter II, Sega's futuristic Virtua Fighter and the more violent Mortal Kombat from Acclaim prompted the video game industry to adopt a game rating system, and hundreds of knock-offs are widely popular in the mid-to-late 1990s.
- The real-time strategy (RTS) genre is introduced in 1992 with the release of Dune II. Warcraft: Orcs & Humans (1994) popularizes the genre, with Command & Conquer and Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness in 1995 sets up the first major real-time strategy competition and popularizes multiplayer capabilities in RTS games. StarCraft in 1998 becomes the second best-selling computer game of all time. It remains among the most popular multiplayer RTS games to this day, especially in South Korea. Homeworld in 1999 becomes the first successful 3d RTS game. The rise of the RTS genre is often credited with the fall of the turn-based strategy (TBS) genre, popularized with Civilization in 1991. The Civilization franchise is the only TBS franchise that remains popular.
- Final Fantasy debuted (in North America) in 1990 for the NES, and remains among the most popular video game franchises, with 12 new titles to date, with another in development, plus numerous spin-offs, sequels, movies and related titles. Final Fantasy VII, released in 1997, especially popularized the series.
- Pokémon entered the world scene with the release of the original Game Boy Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green games in Japan in 1996, later changed to Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue for worldwide release in 1998. It soon becomes popular in the U.S. and is adapted into a popular children's anime series and trading card game, among other media forms. Its popularity remains well into the first decade of the 21st century with several new games and spin-offs.
- Sonic Adventure was a launch title for the Dreamcast. It featured realistic graphics, 6 stories and fast gameplay; this became the best selling Dreamcast game, selling 2.5 million units.
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