10 "Firsts" That Changed Video Games Forever

9. The First To Implement Procedural Generation

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Don Worth

First: Beneath Apple Manor (1978)

Released in 1978, Beneath Apple Manor – a roguelike released for microcomputers – introduced the world to procedural generation – a system of creating content automatically using mathematical algorithms, as opposed to manually designing every single aspect individually. In the game, players are tasked with retrieving a golden apple from the bottom of a dungeon, navigating rooms and obstacles, and combating monsters in the process.

Honestly, there’s not much to say about the game, besides that it was the first of its kind. In reality, the true potential of procedural generation would only be reached six years later with the release of Elite, an open-ended space combat simulator written and developed by David Braben and Ian Bell, and published by Acornsoft.

Released in 1984, Elite was way ahead of its time in several noteworthy ways, revolutionising wire-frame 3D graphics, and influencing everything from EVE Online to Wing Commander. In the game, players assume the role of Commander Jameson, tasked with exploring the galaxy, and accumulating credits through bounty hunting, military escapades and asteroid mining, which in turn allows the player to upgrade his ship, upgrade his weaponry and access new equipment.

It may not have been the first to use procedural generation, but it was the first to develop the concept into something more meaningful, generating eight unique galaxies and over two hundred and fifty distinct planets, each with its own properties, ecosystems and personality. Interestingly, the scope of the game – while certainly impressive – did lead to several problems, occasionally generating objectives in impossible to reach places, trapping the player in distant quadrants of the universe. In some cases, planets were also given profane names – such as “arse” – the random element to procedural generation making certain eventualities impossible to predict.

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Formerly an assistant editor, Richard's interests include detective fiction and Japanese horror movies.