By which I mean what other big games have a much less popular precursor made by the same developer? Games that contain many of the ideas and concepts that made the later game a hit but weren’t popular themselves.
The first one that come to mind is Marathon. Those games contained of lot of the same themes and ideas as Halo, including rampant AIs. But simply because they were Mac exclusive Doom clones, they never received anywhere near the attention that Halo would.
Microsoft made a lot of mistakes in the Xbox One generation, but they also had a bit of bad luck with two “King’s Fields” in the early goings. The first was Sunset Overdrive, where Insomniac cut their teeth on open world design and movement mechanics. A highly underrated game at the time of release, but the developer then got their flowers by applying the lessons learned on the sublime Spider-Man. The other was Quantum Break, which had Remedy experimenting with cinematic shooter design and reality bending super powers. Of course, this led to the masterpiece that is Control.
Frankly, I think we’re always looking at a ton right now. There are so many little gems that are full of talent and I feel like at some point something these folks work on will blow up eventually. Every one of these indies has the opportunity to become a big name in their own right.
I might be nitpicking, but I feel like Quantum Break owes more to Alan Wake than Control does to Quantum Break - but they all share Remedy’s third person cinematic shooter lineage going back to Max Payne, which is why I’d be hesitant to call Quantum Break a King’s Field (and Max Payne is too successful in its own right to take its place).
Sunset Overdrive is a great call though.
I’d maybe point at the Shenmue to Yakuza pipeline (which is now where I start to bend the rules as they aren’t the same developer, but do share staff…). Shenmue remains a cult favourite but never achieved the breakout success Yakuza did in Japan or post-Yakuza 0 in the west.
The Drakengard Series and the original Nier fit in this framework! I haven’t played the earlier stuff in the series, but a lot of what works (and also what doesn’t) about Nier Automata is already there in the previous games. This is also bending the rules a little, as Cavia went under before Drakengard 3, but a lot of the creative team went to Square Enix to continue work on the series.
There are some really direct analogues between Quantum Break and Control that aren’t present in earlier Remedy games (e.g. the shield power) but my point was just that there are such strong connections between all of Remedy’s games I’d find it hard to single one out as an overlooked precursor. The combat in Quantum Break feels much more like the slightly clunky combat (in a good way!) in Alan Wake, while Control feels like it owes more to the pace of Max Payne; Quantum Break does surprisingly little with using the environment against enemies, whereas this is obviously key in Control through the telekinesis power, and I’d argue that goes back to the environmental hazards in Alan Wake or the gas cylinders rocketing around in Max Payne.
And outside of mechanical gameplay stuff, the tone, the TV shows-within-the-world, the use of live action material or setpieces with music - all that stuff has been there the whole time. So I’d absolutely agree that Quantum Break no doubt informed Control, but I think relying on it as the primary precursor overlooks how important the other games are to it.
God I love Sunset Overdrive. Some of its aesthetic choices are a bit… questionable at times, but I’ve genuinely never had so much fun moving around a world. You can really see how Insomniac went from that to Spider-Man.
The one that comes to mind for me isn’t actually one I’ve played, but one I read about (here, actually). It’s Ingress, the AR game Niantic made before Pokémon Go. I still remember this fascinating pre-pandemic piece about the kinds of real-life spy games it initiated between the people who played it really seriously.
I actually did go back and try out Ingress after Pokemon Go’s success reminded me of it (I actually knew people who played it back when it was new, but never got into it at the time).
There’s actually quite a lot of people still playing it - or there were a few years back when this was - but it was a much more frustrating experience to be a “new” player, since the player ecosystem is now “99% super experienced high-level players with all the bells and whistles” and 1% newbies whose efforts are trivially ignorable/reversible by any one of the 99%.
(What was and is interesting is that the “points of interest” data clouds are the same between Ingress and Pokemon Go - an Gym in Go will be at the same location as one of the Ingress “capture points” - and that because Ingress is more “augmented reality”, it gives you a photo of each capture point to help you find it… some of which no longer exist in real life, as the space changed since Ingress was originally set up!)
I feel very strongly that this is what’s going to happen with Loop Hero. Great base game that just needs some tightening up on the end game grind. Can not wait to see what they do next or what it inspires.
No one rightfully remembers Codename Eagle an alternate history game by Refraction Games that would set the groundwork for what would become Battlefield 19424. DICE acquired them while they were working on Battlefield 1942 and so no one really thinks of that game as having come from Refraction.
Can I make an argument for Metal Gear to Metal Gear Solid? Perhaps it’s just because they’re before my time, but I feel like MGS is still held up as a classic that can be revisited today as much as it was beloved at the time, but MG and MG2 have largely been forgotten (though how much of that is down to access I don’t know - are they even playable on anything remotely modern other than as extras from the MGS HD Collection?)
To be honest, I never thought about it, but Paladins and Overwatch are literally the concept of Team Fortress 2 + Dota 2. Although the games are not similar to each other in any way. Maybe Super People and Pubg?
The top-down Grand Theft Auto games preceding III would fit. Modestly popular, then vaulted to a different echelon after III.
Maybe you could make this case for Supergiant’s pre-Hades games? I haven’t played Pyre, but the combat in Hades is reminiscent of Transistor in real-time and of course Bastion before that. There’s a pretty clear lineage. Bastion sold super well, of course, but it seems to me like Hades has gone fully mainstream more than their previous titles. I suspect a lot of people who played Hades last year didn’t know the back catalogue.
This is an interesting example. Pyre certainly seems like their least popular/most underrated game. I think it fits, sort of, though the moment to moment of Hades is definitely closer to the quite popular and well-received Transistor.