13 – THE SIMS (2000) – MAXIS
The idea of playing God has always been an alluring concept – the power to essentially do what you want, when you want also happens to translate to a very popular gaming concept. Before the turn of the millennium there were quite a few games (all of them noticeably using the superior logic and processing abilities of the PC) that had cashed in on the stratagem, including the likes of Populous: The Beginning (1998), Sid Meier’s Civilization (1991), and Sim City (1989). The designer of the latter game, Will Wright, created The Sims in 2000; a game with no perceivable end point and no objectives to complete. Instead, The Sims gives you complete dominion over a small neighbourhood and the individuals that live there. You can make them eat, sleep, get a job, pay taxes, get married, or even let them die. Alongside this, you can fashion the houses they live in, and shape the relationships with other Sims. It’s a virtual dollhouse that you can alter at will.
The Sims captured the imagination of the public in a way that few other games had done so before, and achieved the status that all games pray for – it became a mainstream phenomenon. Two years after its release it became the best selling PC game to date, and after seven different expansions it would shift over 16 million copies – noticeably, it was estimated that near to 60% of the audience for the game was female, making it one of the first games since Pac-Man to get the attention of the female market in a industry dominated by male orientated games. The Sims changed the playing field by demonstrating that you didn’t need flashy graphics or an Oscar winning plot to succeed; sometimes simply tapping into subconscious ideas can do the trick just as well.
14 – GTA III (2001) – ROCKSTAR NORTH
Seeing GTA III running on a PS2 for the first time was nothing short of a revolution. The GTA series, which had formerly featured cartoonish violence from an overhead 2D perspective, made the jump to 3D and pretty much single handedly created the sandbox genre. Whereas games before held your hand and pushed you in very obvious directions, Rockstar gave players the city of Liberty City to explore at their own will, and the tools to cause utter mayhem in the process.
It wasn’t just the freedom that impressed; it was the way that Liberty City felt like a fully functioning world inside of your television. Travel from one side of the city, and people will be living out their normal lives, driving to work and chatting on street corners. Commit a crime and the local authorities will be hot on your tail. Hop inside a car and you can tune the radio to listen to real life tunes. And when you got bored of the world, you could engage in the mission based structure of the game that let you go about completing things the way you wanted. GTA III spawned many clones, but none managed to perfect the formula until Rockstar released outstanding sequels in the form of Vice City (2002), San Andreas (2004) and GTA IV (2008). Every sandbox game since the start of the millennium owes its dues to GTA III for taking the great leap in the first place and getting so much right at the first attempt.