There is a difference between using technology to develop a game and using a game to develop a technology. But back in the day, there were some companies who despite using new technology, focused on gameplay.
My favorite example is Unreal Tournament, my favorite game ever. It had advanced 3D models, an awesome engine, great physics, dynamic lighting - you name it. But what do I remember the most about that game? FUN. With capitals.
Half Life 2 is also a great example to make this point: it had many innovations, like ragdoll physics and whatnot, but they were all utilized to maximize the immersion and make the gameplay better. Exhibit A: Gravity Gun. One of the greatest ideas ever in video game history. In my book, it is tied with the translocator (from UT of course) as the best FPS-weapon ever.
Valve focused on the gameplay and the experience. Others fccused on floating crystals. Guess which games are still remembered today?
With the rise of the graphics processor and 3-D graphics, PC games became an arms race to make the most technologically impressive, most accurate depiction of reality, and shoehorn a game into it. Memory banks became large enough for massive, wide-open levels, and so free-roaming gameplay was born. GPUs became capable of colored lighting, and, for a while, games had floating crystals that emitted light everywhere. Then developers were able to make things shine and glisten in light, but instead of keeping this to wet floors and gooey blob monsters, it was put on everything, even human beings, which made them look like sweaty plastic action figures. The technology was there and it needed to be used. To look back on a lot of these games is embarrassing, now that “realistic” has been redefined seven times since.
Minidisc Rainbow. A small miracle in our everyday life :-)
via limowreck666 on Flickr.