History of video games


History of video games
The history of video games goes as far back as the early 1950s, when academics began designing
simple games, simulations, and artificial intelligence programs as part of their computer
science research. Video gaming would not reach mainstream popularity until the 1970s and
1980s, when arcade video games, gaming consoles and home computer games were introduced to
the general public. Since then, video gaming has become a popular form of entertainment
and a part of modern culture in most parts of the world. As of 2014, there are eight
generations of video game consoles. Early history
Origins of the computer game (1940-1958) The video game, by the popular and most all-encompassing
definition of the term, developed as an outgrowth of computer research in fields such as artificial
intelligence. As computer technology evolved through the 1940s from the electromechanical
Z3 (1941) to the electronic Atanasoff–Berry Computer (1942) to the Turing-complete ENIAC
(1945) and finally to the stored-program EDSAC (1949), computers became both powerful and
flexible enough to serve a variety of scientific and business functions. In 1951, the computer
was commercialized for the first time by the UNIVAC division of typewriter company Remington
Rand, paving the way for the adoption of the mainframe by academic institutions, research
organizations, and corporations across the developed world. Adoption of computer technology
was initially limited to only the largest such organizations, however, by prohibitive
cost, expansive space requirements, enormous power consumption, and the need to employ
a highly trained staff to maintain and operate the machines. This created an environment
in which every second of computer use needed to be justified as part of a serious scientific
or business endeavor. Early game creation was thus largely limited to testing or demonstrating
theories relating to areas such as human-computer interaction, adaptive learning, and military
strategy. Due to the haphazard nature of early computer
game creation and the lack of concern for preservation at the time, it will likely be
impossible to pinpoint the first video game ever created. There are probably a number
of logic puzzles, board games, card games and military simulations that have never been
properly documented and are now unrecoverable from long-vanished computer systems. Some
of the earliest known games include the Nimrod (1951), a computer custom-built by Ferranti
specifically for display at the Festival of Britain that could play the mathematical game
Nim; OXO by A.S. Douglas (1952), which he programmed as part of his master’s thesis
and is the earliest known game to display graphics on a monitor; Hutspiel (1955), a
war game built by the United States military to simulate a conflict with the Soviet Union
in Europe; IBM employee Arthur Samuel’s checkers program (1956), one of the earliest computer
games demonstrated on national television in the United States and eventually capable
of defeating skilled players; and the NSS Chess Program developed at Carnegie Mellon
University (1958), the first chess program to defeat a human opponent, a secretary taught
the rules of the game two hours before the match.
One program that stands out in this early period — both for its atypical subject matter
and its subsequent notoriety in a series of patent lawsuits — is Tennis for Two (1958),
created by physicist William Higinbotham to entertain guests at the annual visitor’s day
held by the Brookhaven National Laboratory. This program displayed a tennis court in side
view on an oscilloscope and allowed two players to volley a ball using box-shaped controllers
equipped with a knob for trajectory and a button for hitting the ball. Displayed for
two seasons at Brookhaven, Tennis for Two proved popular with the public, but was ultimately
dismantled so its parts could be re-purposed for other tasks. Higinbotham never considered
adapting the successful game into a commercial product. Like the other game creators in the
1950s, his focus remained on research rather than entertainment. Ultimately, the widespread
adoption of computers to play games had to wait for the machines to spread from serious
academics to their students on U.S. college campuses.
Spacewar! By 1960, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
(MIT) was one of the premiere centers of computer research in the world, home to both the Lincoln
Laboratory and the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. The former provided MIT with a
custom-built transistorized computer, the TX-0, that was both smaller and more interactive
than the typical mainframe, while the latter provided the institution with Steve Russell,
who followed Artificial Intelligence Lab founder John McCarthy from Dartmouth College to MIT
in 1958 to help him develop the LISP programming language. The TX-0 operated under fewer restrictions
than MIT’s more powerful IBM mainframes and could actually be operated by students during
off-peak hours in the middle of the night. The computer soon attracted a group of engineering
undergrads with membership in a student organization called the Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC)
who referred to themselves as “hackers” after the word “hack” members of the club had defined
to describe a particularly clever feat of ingenuity. Soon, Alan Kotok, Bob Saunders,
Peter Sampson and other hackers were spending their nights punching out computer code on
paper tape to create improved programming tools, music programs, and simple AI routines
like Mouse in a Maze and a Tic-tac-toe program. Steve Russell and his friends Martin Graetz
and Wayne Witanen were attracted to the TX-0 as well, which in 1961 was joined by a PDP-1
from the Digital Equipment Corporation, a computer company established by former Lincoln
Laboratory engineers. Equipped with a high-quality vector display, the PDP-1 offered the promise
of more sophisticated visual hacks than the aging TX-0. Russell and friends, who were
great fans of the science fiction novels of E.E. Smith, decided to exploit the new hardware
by creating a game in which two human-controlled spaceships attempted to destroy each other
by firing torpedoes. Dubbed Spacewar! (1962), this hack, programmed primarily by Russell
with several crucial enhancements from members of the TMRC, became one of the first computer
games to achieve national distribution when DEC decided to include it as a test program
on every PDP-1 it sold. By the end of the 1960s, Spacewar! could be found in university
computer labs across the United States and served as an inspiration for students to create
their own variations of the game alongside entirely new designs. These creations remained
trapped in the lab for the remainder of the decade, however, because even though some
adherents of Spacewar! had begun to sense its commercial possibilities, it could only
run on hardware costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. As computers and their components
continued to fall in price, however, the dream of a commercial video game finally became
attainable at the beginning by the 1970s. Nolan Bushnell and the commercialization of
the video game Even in 1971, the components for a system
capable of running a program with the sophistication of Spacewar! were too expensive to transform
the game into home entertainment. A new generation of minicomputers like the Data General Nova
and the DEC PDP-11 debuted in 1969-70, however, that dropped the price of computing low enough
that it could seriously be considered for the coin-operated games industry, which at
the time was experiencing its own technological renaissance as large electro-mechanical driving
and target shooting games like Sega Enterprises’s Periscope (1967) and Chicago Coin’s Speedway
(1968) pioneered the adoption of elaborate visual displays and electronic sound effects
in the amusement arcade. While this coin-op industry was controlled almost exclusively
by a group of established firms in Chicago, the promise of integrating solid-state components
like integrated circuits into coin-operated games attracted a small number of engineers
and entrepreneurs in California’s Silicon Valley, where the first commercial video game
products would be introduced. Nolan Bushnell stood uniquely between the
worlds of coin-op and computers that would join forces to introduce the video game to
the general public. As an electrical engineering student at the University of Utah in the mid-1960s,
Bushnell received limited exposure to computer programming through his classes while gaining
work experience maintaining the coin-operated games at the Lagoon Amusement Park. Upon graduation,
Bushnell found employment at Ampex in Silicon Valley, where he was soon exposed to the Spacewar!
game at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL). Already possessed of an
entrepreneurial streak, Bushnell immediately looked for a commercial avenue for the game
and had the idea of developing a coin-operated version on a minicomputer like the Nova. Enlisting
his office mate at Ampex, an older and more experienced engineer named Ted Dabney, Bushnell
orchestrated the creation of a partnership called Syzygy Engineering to develop the game.
Using a minicomputer proved prohibitively expensive, however, so Bushnell hit on a new
concept of controlling the cathode ray tube of a television through transistor–transistor
logic (TTL) circuits to generate and move dots around the screen. This conceptual breakthrough,
which was actually implemented by Dabney, allowed the duo to create a take-off on Spacewar!
called Computer Space, in which the player controls a spaceship and attempts to destroy
two hardware-controlled flying saucers before they destroy him.
Released in 1971 by one of the few Silicon Valley coin-op companies, Nutting Associates,
Computer Space failed to sell its entire production run due to several factors including marketing
blunders by Nutting and an overly complicated physics system and control scheme that alienated
the working-class bar patrons that were the primary market for coin-operated games at
the time. Meanwhile, a second attempt to bring Spacewar! into the arcade market called Galaxy
Game by Hugh Pitts and Stan Tuck that began market testing at roughly the same time as
Computer Space failed to even expand beyond its initial location, as Pitts took the route
Bushnell rejected of recreating Steve Russell’s landmark hack on a PDP-11, resulting in a
product that was too expensive for mass production. Both Computer Space and Galaxy Game proved
popular with the sophisticated engineering crowd centered around Stanford University,
but in order to gain mass market acceptance, the video game would have to evolve to be
both cheaper and simpler to play. Ralph Baer and the birth of home consoles
The seeds of a commercially successful video game industry were not sown in Silicon Valley,
but in far away Nashua, New Hampshire, at military contractor Sanders Associates. It
was at Sanders that Ralph Baer, the head of the company’s instrumentation division, began
a skunk works project in 1966 with a small group of engineers to create an interactive
game playable on a television set. A graduate of the American Television Institute of Technology
with a degree in television engineering, Baer had long been interested in evolving television
entertainment beyond passive network programming and had almost implemented a built-in game
on a television he was designing for Loral Corporation back in 1951 before his boss told
him to abandon the concept. Now over a decade later, he was inspired to try again. Working
primarily with co-worker Bill Harrison, who built most of the actual hardware, Baer developed
a series of prototype systems based around diode-transistor (DTL) logic circuits that
would send a video signal to a television set to generate spots on the screen that could
be controlled by the player. These spots were used to play a variety of simple button-mashing,
quiz, and chase games as well as a target shooting game using a light gun. Originally
capable of generating only two spots, the system was modified in November 1967 at the
suggestion of engineer Bill Rusch to generate a third spot for use in a ping pong game in
which each player controlled a single spot that served as a paddle and volleyed the third
spot, which acted as a ball. As a defense contractor struggling in a recession,
Sanders Associates was in no position to launch a consumer product, but management saw enough
potential in the Baer prototype to allow him to attempt to find a manufacturing partner.
This proved to be a difficult prospect, as no company involved in the television industry
had ever shown much interest in interactive entertainment. Indeed, the only known previous
attempt by a television company to use a CRT for a game, a cathode ray tube amusement device
developed in 1947 by DuMont Laboratories and sometimes erroneously credited as the first
video game concept despite not incorporating a computer, a video signal, or a monitor,
was abandoned without ever entering production. After being turned down by cable company TelePrompTer
Corporation, Baer approached every important television manufacturer in the United States,
but received only a lukewarm response. After rejecting an offer from RCA due to what Sanders
considered unreasonable terms, the company entered an agreement to license the system
to Magnavox in 1971. Released as the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972,
Baer’s system represented both the first home console system and the first actual video
game by the original and legal definition of the term as an apparatus that transmits
a video signal to a television receiver for the purpose of generating images that can
be manipulated by individuals to play a game. The system launched with a dozen included
games in the box, four more sold with a separate light gun, and six games sold separately.
These games were largely variations on the quiz, chase, shooting, and ball-and-paddle
games conceived by Baer and his team and made use of screen overlays and accessories such
as cards and dice that were also included with the system for additional graphical and
gameplay elements. While the games were activated using individual circuit cards inserted into
the system, these devices did not contain memory and merely unlocked games already wired
into the hardware. Retailing for roughly $100.00, the Odyssey sold under 100,000 units in 1972
from a production run topping 140,000, leaving tens of thousands of unsold stock and upsetting
plans to expand the product line. Indeed, Magnavox almost dropped the Odyssey entirely
at the end of the year, but ultimately decided to do a modest second manufacturing run in
1973. Sales were hampered in part by the relatively high price of the system, advertising that
implied the system was only compatible with Magnavox televisions, and limited distribution
exclusively through Magnavox-authorized franchise dealers. While the system failed to catch
on in a big way, however, its legacy would be the birth of a vibrant video arcade game
industry when Ralph Baer’s design ingenuity intersected Nolan Bushnell’s entrepreneurial
ambition. A new industry
Early arcade video games (1971–1977) Bushnell and Dabney founded Atari, Inc. in
1972, before releasing their next game: Pong. Pong was the first arcade video game with
widespread success. The game is loosely based on table tennis: a ball is “served” from the
center of the court and as the ball moves towards their side of the court each player
must maneuver their paddle to hit the ball back to their opponent. Allan Alcorn created
Pong as a training exercise assigned to him by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell. Bushnell
based the idea on an electronic ping-pong game included in the Magnavox Odyssey, which
later resulted in a lawsuit against Atari. Surprised by the quality of Alcorn’s work,
Bushnell and Dabney decided to manufacture the game. Atari sold over 19,000 Pong machines,
spawning many imitators. Another significant game was Gun Fight, an
on-foot, multi-directional shooter, designed by Tomohiro Nishikado and released by Taito
in 1975. It depicted game characters, game violence, and human-to-human combat, controlled
using dual-stick controls. The original Japanese version was based on discrete logic, which
Dave Nutting adapted for Midway’s American release using the Intel 8080, making it the
first video game to use a microprocessor. This later inspired original creator Nishikado
to use a microprocessor for his 1978 blockbuster hit, Space Invaders.
Mainframe computers University mainframe game development blossomed
in the early 1970s. There is little record of all but the most popular games, as they
were not marketed or regarded as a serious endeavor. The people–generally students–writing
these games often were doing so illicitly by making questionable use of very expensive
computing resources, and thus were not eager to let very many people know of their endeavors.
There were, however, at least two notable distribution paths for student game designers
of this time: The PLATO system was an educational computing
environment designed at the University of Illinois which ran on mainframes made by Control
Data Corporation. Games were often exchanged between different PLATO systems.
DECUS was the user group for computers made by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). It
distributed programs–including games–that would run on the various types of DEC computers.
A number of noteworthy games were also written for Hewlett-Packard minicomputers such as
the HP2000. Highlights of this period, in approximate
chronological order, include: 1971: Don Daglow wrote the first interactive
baseball game, computer baseball, on a DEC PDP-10 mainframe at Pomona College. Players
could manage play-by-play strategy for individual games, or simulate an entire season. Daglow
went on to team with programmer Eddie Dombrower to design Earl Weaver Baseball, published
by Electronic Arts in 1987. 1971: Star Trek was created (probably by Mike
Mayfield) on a Sigma 7 minicomputer at University of California. This is the best-known and
most widely played of the 1970s Star Trek titles, and was played on a series of small
“maps” of galactic sectors printed on paper or on the screen. It was the first major game
to be ported across hardware platforms by students. Daglow also wrote a popular Star
Trek game for the PDP-10 during 1970–1972, which presented the action as a script spoken
by the TV program’s characters. A number of other Star Trek themed games were also available
via PLATO and DECUS throughout the decade. 1972: Gregory Yob wrote the hide-and-seek
game Hunt the Wumpus for the PDP-10, which could be considered the first text adventure.
Yob wrote it in reaction to existing hide-and-seek games such as Hurkle, Mugwump, and Snark.
1974: Both Maze War (on the Imlac PDS-1 at the Ames Research Center in California) and
Spasim (on PLATO) appeared, pioneering examples of early multi-player 3D first-person shooters.
1974: Brand Fortner and others developed Airfight as an educational flight simulator. To make
it more interesting, all players shared an airspace flying their choice of military jets,
loaded with selected weapons and fuel and to fulfill their desire to shoot down other
players’ aircraft. Despite mediocre graphics and slow screen refresh, it became a popular
game on the PLATO system. Airfight was the inspiration for what became the Microsoft
Flight Simulator. 1975: William Crowther wrote the first modern
text adventure game, Adventure (originally called ADVENT, and later Colossal Cave). It
was programmed in Fortran for the PDP-10. The player controls the game through simple
sentence-like text commands and receives descriptive text as output. The game was later re-created
by students on PLATO, so it is one of the few titles that became part of both the PLATO
and DEC traditions. 1975: By 1975, many universities had discarded
these terminals for CRT screens, which could display thirty lines of text in a few seconds
instead of the minute or more that printing on paper required. This led to the development
of a series of games that drew “graphics” on the screen. The CRTs replaced the typical
teleprinters or line printers that output at speeds ranging from 10 to 30 characters
per second. 1975: Daglow, then a student at Claremont
Graduate University, wrote the first role-playing video game on PDP-10 mainframes: Dungeon.
The game was an unlicensed implementation of the new tabletop role-playing game Dungeons
& Dragons. Although displayed in text, it was the first game to use line of sight graphics,
as the top-down dungeon maps showing the areas that the party had seen or could see took
into consideration factors such as light or darkness and the differences in vision between
species. 1975: At about the same time, the game dnd,
also based on Dungeons & Dragons first appeared on PLATO system CDC computers. For players
in these schools dnd, not Dungeon, was the first computer role-playing video game.
1976: The earliest role-playing video games to use elements from Dungeons & Dragons are
Telengard, written in 1976, Sega Released the very first Fighting game a Boxing game
called Heavyweight Champ in October 1976 by Sega and Zork (later renamed Dungeon), written
in 1977. 1977: Kelton Flinn and John Taylor create
the first version of Air, a text air combat game that foreshadowed their later work creating
the first-ever graphical online multi-player game, Air Warrior. They would found the first
successful online game company, Kesmai, now part of Electronic Arts. As Flinn has said:
“If Air Warrior was a primate swinging in the trees, AIR was the text-based amoeba crawling
on the ocean floor. But it was quasi-real time, multi-player, and attempted to render
3-D on the terminal using ASCII graphics. It was an acquired taste.”
1977: The writing of the original Zork was started by Dave Lebling, Marc Blank, Tim Anderson,
and Bruce Daniels. Unlike Crowther, Daglow and Yob, the Zork team recognized the potential
to move these games to the new personal computers and they founded text adventure publisher
Infocom in 1979. The company was later sold to Activision.
1978: Multi-User Dungeon, the first MUD, was created by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle,
beginning the heritage that culminates with today’s MMORPGs.
1980: Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman and Ken Arnold released Rogue on BSD Unix after two years
of work, inspiring many roguelike games ever since. Like Dungeon on the PDP-10 and dnd
on PLATO, Rogue displayed dungeon maps using text characters. Unlike those games, however,
the dungeon was randomly generated for each play session, so the path to treasure and
the enemies who protected it were different for each game. As the Zork team had done,
Rogue was adapted for home computers and became a commercial product.
Video game crash of 1977 In 1977, manufacturers of older, obsolete
consoles and Pong clones sold their systems at a loss to clear stock, creating a glut
in the market. Atari and Magnavox remained in the home console market, despite suffering
losses in 1977 and 1978. The crash was largely caused by the significant
number of Pong clones that flooded both the arcade and home markets. The crash eventually
came to an end with the success of Taito’s Space Invaders, released in 1978, sparking
a renaissance for the video game industry and paving the way for the golden age of arcade
video games. Soon after, Space Invaders was licensed for the Atari VCS (later known as
Atari 2600), becoming the first big hit and quadrupling the console’s sales. This helped
Atari recover from their earlier losses. The success of the Atari 2600 in turn revived
the home video game market, up until the North American video game crash of 1983.
Second generation consoles (1977–1983) In the earliest consoles, the computing logic
for one or more games was hardwired into microchips using discrete logic, and no additional games
could ever be added. In other words, these consoles were single-purpose computers, not
programmable computers; there was no software, only hardware, so no change of software was
possible. This was an obvious issue for developers; customers would have to buy a whole new device
to attach to their TV sets in order to play different games. By the mid-1970s, game consoles
contained general-purpose microprocessors and video games were found on cartridges,
starting in 1976 with the release of the Fairchild Video Entertainment System (VES). Programs
were burned onto ROM chips (ICs) that were mounted inside plastic cartridge casings that
could be plugged into slots on the game console. When the cartridges were plugged in, the ROM
electrically became a part of the microcomputer in the console, just as if the ROM ICs were
on the same circuit board with the microprocessor inside the console, and the microprocessor
would execute whatever program was stored in the ROM. Rather than being confined to
a small selection of games included in the game system, consumers could now amass libraries
of game cartridges. However video game production was still a niche skill. Warren Robinett,
the famous programmer of the game Adventure, spoke on developing games: “In those old far-off
days, each game for the 2600 was done entirely by one person, the programmer, who conceived
the game concept, wrote the program, did the graphics—drawn first on graph paper and
converted by hand to hexadecimal—and did the sounds.”
Three machines dominated the second generation of consoles in North America, far outselling
their rivals: The Video Computer System (VCS) ROM cartridge-based
console, later renamed the Atari 2600, was released in 1977 by Atari. Nine games were
designed and released for the holiday season. While the console had a slow start, its port
of the arcade game Space Invaders would become the first “killer app” and quadruple the console’s
sales. Soon after, the Atari 2600 would quickly become the most popular of all the early consoles
prior to the North American video game crash of 1983. Notably, the VCS did this with only
an 8-bit 6507 CPU, 128 bytes (i.e. 0.125 KB) of RAM, and at most 4 KB of ROM in each “Game
Program”(tm) cartridge. The Intellivision, introduced by Mattel in
1980. Though chronologically part of what is called the “8-bit era”, the Intellivision
had a unique processor with instructions that were 10 bits wide (allowing more instruction
variety and potential speed), and registers 16 bits wide. The system, which featured graphics
superior to the older Atari 2600, rocketed to popularity.
The ColecoVision, an even more powerful machine, appeared in 1982. With its port of arcade
game Donkey Kong included as a pack-in, sales for this console also took off. However, the
presence of three major consoles in the marketplace and a glut of poor quality games began to
overcrowd retail shelves and erode consumers’ interest in video games. Within a year, this
overcrowded market would crash. In 1979, Activision was created by disgruntled
former Atari programmers “who realized that the games they had anonymously programmed
on their $20K salaries were responsible for 60 percent of the company’s $100 million in
cartridge sales for one year”. It was the first third-party developer of video games.
By 1982, approximately 8 million American homes owned a video game console, and the
home video game industry was generating an annual revenue of $3.8 billion, which was
nearly half the $8 billion revenue in quarters generated from the arcade video game industry
at the time. Golden age of arcade video games (1978–1986)
The arcade game industry entered its golden age in 1978 with the release of Space Invaders
by Taito, a success that inspired dozens of manufacturers to enter the market. The game
inspired arcade machines to become prevalent in mainstream locations such as shopping malls,
traditional storefronts, restaurants and convenience stores during the golden age. The game also
became the subject of numerous articles and stories on television and in newspapers and
magazines, establishing video gaming as a rapidly growing mainstream hobby. Space Invaders
would go on to sell over 360,000 arcade cabinets worldwide, and by 1982, generate a revenue
of $2 billion in quarters, equivalent to $4.6 billion in 2011. In 1979, Namco’s Galaxian
sold over 40,000 cabinets in the United States, and Atari released Asteroids which sold over
70,000 cabinets. The total sales of arcade video game machines
in North America increased significantly during this period, from $50 million in 1978 to $900
million by 1981, with the arcade video game industry’s revenue in North America reaching
nearly $1 billion in quarters by the end of the 1970s, a figure that would triple to $2.8
billion by 1980. Color arcade games also became more popular in 1979 and 1980 with the arrival
of titles such as Pac-Man, which would go on to sell over 350,000 cabinets, and within
a year, generate a revenue of more than $1 billion in quarters; in total, Pac-Man is
estimated to have grossed over 10 billion quarters ($2.5 billion) during the 20th century,
equivalent to over $3.4 billion in 2011. By 1981, the arcade video game industry was
generating an annual revenue of $5 billion in North America, equivalent to $12.3 billion
in 2011. In 1982, the arcade video game industry reached its peak, generating $8 billion in
quarters, equivalent to over $18.5 billion in 2011, surpassing the annual gross revenue
of both pop music ($4 billion) and Hollywood films ($3 billion) combined at that time.
This was also nearly twice as much revenue as the $3.8 billion generated by the home
video game industry that same year; both the arcade and home markets combined add up to
a total revenue of $11.8 billion for the video game industry in 1982, equivalent to over
$27.3 billion in 2011. The arcade video game industry would continue to generate an annual
revenue of $5 billion in quarters through to 1985.
While the fruit of retail development in early video games appeared mainly in video arcades
and home consoles, home computers began appearing in the late 1970s and were rapidly evolving
in the 1980s, allowing their owners to program simple games. Hobbyist groups for the new
computers soon formed and PC game software followed.
Soon many of these games—at first clones of mainframe classics such as Star Trek, and
then later ports or clones of popular arcade games such as Space Invaders, Frogger, Pac-Man
(see Pac-Man clones) and Donkey Kong—were being distributed through a variety of channels,
such as printing the game’s source code in books (such as David Ahl’s BASIC Computer
Games), magazines (Creative Computing), and newsletters, which allowed users to type in
the code for themselves. Early game designers like Crowther, Daglow and Yob would find the
computer code for their games—which they had never thought to copyright—published
in books and magazines, with their names removed from the listings. Early home computers from
Apple, Commodore, Tandy and others had many games that people typed in.
Games were also distributed by the physical mailing and selling of floppy disks, cassette
tapes, and ROM cartridges. Soon a small cottage industry was formed, with amateur programmers
selling disks in plastic bags put on the shelves of local shops or sent through the mail. Richard
Garriott distributed several copies of his 1980 role-playing video game Akalabeth: World
of Doom in plastic bags before the game was published.
1980s The video games industry experienced its first
major growing pains in the early 1980s as publishing houses appeared, with many businesses
surviving 20+ years, such as Electronic Arts—alongside fly-by-night operations that cheated the games’
developers. While some early 1980s games were simple clones of existing arcade titles, the
relatively low publishing costs for personal computer games allowed for bold, unique games.
Genre innovation The golden age of arcade video games reached
its zenith in the 1980s. The age brought with it many technically innovative and genre-defining
games developed and released in the first few years of the decade, including:
Action-adventure game: The Legend of Zelda (1986) helped establish the action-adventure
genre, combining elements from different genres to create a compelling hybrid, including exploration,
transport puzzles, adventure-style inventory puzzles, an action component, a monetary system,
and simplified RPG-style level building without the experience points. The game was also an
early example of open world, nonlinear gameplay, and introduced innovations like battery backup
saving. Action role-playing games: Dragon Slayer II:
Xanadu (1985) is considered the first full-fledged action role-playing game, with character stats
and a large quest, with its action-based combat setting it apart from other RPGs. Zelda II:
The Adventure of Link (1987), developed by Shigeru Miyamoto, further defined and popularized
the emerging action-RPG genre. Adventure games: Zork (1980) further popularized
text adventure games in home computers and established developer Infocom’s dominance
in the field. As these early computers often lacked graphical capabilities, text adventures
proved successful. Mystery House (1980), Roberta Williams’s game for the Apple II, was the
first graphic adventure game on home computers. Graphics consisted entirely of static monochrome
drawings, and the interface still used the typed commands of text adventures. It proved
very popular at the time, and she and husband Ken went on to found Sierra On-Line, a major
producer of adventure games. King’s Quest (1984) was created by Sierra, laying the groundwork
for the modern adventure game. It featured color graphics and a third-person perspective.
An on-screen player character could be moved behind and in front of objects on a 2D background
drawn in perspective, creating the illusion of pseudo-3D space. Commands were still entered
via text. Maniac Mansion (1987) removed text entry from adventure games. LucasArts built
the SCUMM system to allow a point and click interface. Sierra and other game companies
quickly followed with their own mouse-driven games.
Beat ’em up: Karateka (1984), with its pioneering rotoscoped animation, and Kung-Fu Master (1984),
a Hong Kong cinema-inspired action game, laid the foundations for side-scrolling beat ’em
ups with simple gameplay and multiple enemies. Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun (1986), also released
as Renegade, deviated from the martial arts themes of earlier game, introducing street
brawling to the genre, and set the standard for future beat ’em up games as it introduced
the ability to move both horizontally and vertically.
Cinematic platformer: Prince of Persia (1989) was the first cinematic platformer.
Computer role-playing video games: Akalabeth (1980) was created in the same year as Rogue
(1980); Akalabeth led to the creation of its spiritual sequel Ultima (1981). Its sequels
were the inspiration for some of the first Japanese role-playing video games, alongside
Wizardry (1981). The Bard’s Tale (1985) by Interplay Entertainment is considered the
first computer role-playing video game to appeal to a wide audience that was not matched
until Blizzard Entertainment’s Diablo. Console role-playing video games: Dragon Warrior
(1986), developed by Yuji Horii, was one of the earliest role-playing video games. With
its anime-style graphics by Akira Toriyama (of Dragon Ball fame), Dragon Quest set itself
apart from computer role-playing video games. It spawned the Dragon Quest franchise and
served as the blueprint for the emerging console RPG genre, inspiring the likes of Sega’s Phantasy
Star (1987) and Square’s Final Fantasy (1987), which spawned its own successful Final Fantasy
franchise and introduced the side-view turn-based battle system, with the player characters
on the right and the enemies on the left, imitated by numerous later RPGs. Megami Tensei
(1987) and Phantasy Star (1987) broke with tradition, abandoning the medieval setting
and sword and sorcery themes common in most RPGs, in favour of modern/futuristic settings
and science fiction themes. Fighting games: Karate Champ (1984), Data
East’s action game, is credited with establishing and popularizing the one-on-one fighting game
genre, and went on to influence Yie Ar Kung-Fu. Konami’s Yie Ar Kung Fu (1985), which expanded
on Karate Champ by pitting the player against a variety of opponents, each with a unique
appearance and fighting style. Street Fighter (1987), developed by Capcom, introduced the
use of special moves that could only be discovered by experimenting with the game controls.
Hack and slash: Golden Axe (1988) was acclaimed for its visceral hack and slash action and
cooperative mode and was influential through its selection of multiple protagonists with
distinct fighting styles. Interactive movies: Astron Belt (1983), an
early first-person shooter, was the first Laserdisc video game in development, featuring
live-action FMV footage over which the player/enemy ships and laser fire are superimposed. Dragon’s
Lair (1983) was the first Laserdisc video game to be released, beating Astron Belt to
public release. Platform games: Space Panic (1980) is sometimes
credited as the first platform game, with gameplay centered on climbing ladders between
different floors. Donkey Kong (1981), an arcade game created by Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto,
was the first game that allowed players to jump over obstacles and across gaps, making
it the first true platformer. This game also introduced Mario, an icon of the genre. Mario
Bros. (1983), developed by Shigeru Miyamoto, offered two-player simultaneous cooperative
play and laid the groundwork for two-player cooperative platformers.
Scrolling platformers: Jump Bug (1981), Alpha Denshi’s platform-shooter, was the first platform
game to use scrolling graphics. Taito’s Jungle King (1982) featured scrolling jump and run
sequences that had players hopping over obstacles. Namco took the scrolling platformer a step
further with Pac-Land (1984), which was the first game to feature multi-layered parallax
scrolling and closely resembled later scrolling platformers like Super Mario Bros. (1985)
and Wonder Boy (1986). Scrolling shooters: Defender (1980) established
the use of side-scrolling in shoot ’em ups, offering horizontally extended levels. Scramble
(1981) was the first side-scroller with multiple, distinct levels. Jump Bug (1981) was a simple
platform-shooter where players controlled a bouncing car. It featured levels that scrolled
both horizontally and vertically. Vanguard (1981) was both a horizontal and vertical
scrolling shooter that allowed the player to shoot in four directions. Xevious (1982)
is frequently cited as the first vertical shooter and, although it was preceded by several
other games featuring vertical scrolling, it was the most influential. Moon Patrol (1982)
introduced the parallax scrolling technique in computer graphics. Gradius (1985) gave
the player greater control over the choice of weaponry, thus introducing another element
of strategy. The game also introduced the need for the player to memorise levels in
order to achieve any measure of success. Thrust (1986) has the player maneuver a spaceship
through a series of 2D cavernous landscapes, with the aim of recovering a pendulous pod,
while counteracting gravity, inertia and avoiding or destroying enemy turrets.
Isometric platformer: Congo Bongo (1983), developed by Sega, was the first isometric
platformer. Isometric shooter: Zaxxon (1982) was the first
game to use isometric projection. Light gun shooter: The NES Zapper was the
first mainstream light gun. The most successful lightgun game was Duck Hunt (1984), which
came packaged with the NES. Maze games: Pac-Man (1980) was the first game
to achieve widespread popularity in mainstream culture and the first game character to be
popular in his own right. 3D Monster Maze (1981) was the first 3D game for a home computer,
while Dungeons of Daggorath (1982) added various weapons and monsters, sophisticated sound
effects, and a “heartbeat” health monitor. Platform-adventure games: Metroid (1986) was
the earliest game to fuse platform game fundamentals with elements of action-adventure games, alongside
elements of RPGs. These elements include the ability to explore an area freely, with access
to new areas controlled by either the gaining of new abilities or through the use of inventory
items. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1987) and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (1987) are
two other early examples of platform-adventure games.
Racing games: Turbo (1981), by Sega, was the first racing game with a third-person perspective,
rear-view format. Pole Position (1982), by Namco, used sprite-based, pseudo-3D graphics
when it refined the “rear-view racer format” where the player’s view is behind and above
the vehicle, looking forward along the road with the horizon in sight. The style would
remain in wide use even after true 3D graphics became standard for racing games.
Rail shooter: Astron Belt (1983) was an early first-person rail shooter, in addition to
being a Laserdisc video game. It featured live-action FMV footage over which the player/enemy
ships and laser fire are superimposed. Space Harrier (1985) was an early rail shooter that
broke new ground graphically and its wide variety of settings across multiple levels
gave players more to aim for than high scores. It was also an early example of a third-person
shooter. Real-time strategy: Herzog Zwei (1989) is
considered to be the first real-time strategy game, predating the genre-popularizing Dune
II; unlike its 1988 predecessor (Herzog), it features outposts that can be used to gain
additional revenue; making it a strategic game as well as a tactical one. It is the
earliest example of a game with a feature set that falls under the contemporary definition
of modern RTS. Run & gun shooters: Hover Attack (1984) for
the Sharp X1 was an early run & gun shooter that freely scrolled in all directions and
allowed the player to shoot diagonally as well as straight ahead. The following year
saw the release of Thexder (1985), a breakthrough title for run & gun shooters. Commando (1985)
was the first influential example of a shooter featuring characters on foot rather than in
vehicles. Rhythm game: Dance Aerobics was released in
1987, and allowed players to create music by stepping on Nintendo’s Power Pad peripheral.
It has been called the first rhythm-action game in retrospect.
Stealth games: 005 (1981), an arcade game by Sega, was the earliest example of a stealth-based
game. Metal Gear (1987), developed by Hideo Kojima, was the first stealth game in an action-adventure
framework, and became the first commercially successful stealth game, spawning the Metal
Gear series. Survival horror: Haunted House (1981) introduced
elements of horror fiction into video games. Sweet Home (1989) introduced many of the modern
staples of the survival horror genre. Gameplay involved battling horrifying creatures and
solving puzzles. Developed by Capcom, the game would become an influence upon their
later release Resident Evil (1996), making use of its design concepts such as the mansion
setting and “opening door” load screen. Vehicle simulation games: Battlezone (1980)
used wireframe vector graphics to create the first true three-dimensional game world. Elite
(1984), designed by David Braben and Ian Bell, ushered in the age of modern style 3D graphics.
The game contains convincing vector worlds, full 6-degree freedom of movement, and thousands
of visitable planetary systems. It is considered a pioneer of the space flight simulator game
genre. Visual novels: The Portopia Serial Murder
Case (1983), developed by Yuji Horii (of Dragon Quest fame), was the first visual novel and
one of the earliest Japanese graphic adventure games. It is viewed in a first-person perspective,
follows a first-person narrative, and was the first Japanese adventure game to feature
color graphics. It inspired Hideo Kojima (of Metal Gear fame) to enter the video game industry
and later produce his own classic graphic adventure, Snatcher (1988).
Gaming computers Following the success of the Apple II and
Commodore PET in the late 1970s, a series of cheaper and incompatible rivals emerged
in the early 1980s. This second batch included the Commodore VIC-20 and 64; Sinclair ZX80,
ZX81 and ZX Spectrum; NEC PC-8000, PC-6001, PC-88 and PC-98; Sharp X1 and X68000; and
Atari 8-bit family, BBC Micro, Acorn Electron, Amstrad CPC, and MSX series. These rivals
helped to catalyze both the Home computer and Games markets, by raising awareness of
computing and gaming through their competing advertising campaigns.
The Sinclair, Acorn and Amstrad offerings were generally only known in Europe and Africa,
the NEC and Sharp offerings were generally only known in Asia, and the MSX had a base
in North and South America, Europe, and Asia, while the US based Apple, Commodore and Atari
offerings were sold in both the USA and Europe. In 1984, the computer gaming market took over
from the console market following the crash of that year; computers offered equal gaming
ability and, since their simple design allowed games to take complete command of the hardware
after power-on, they were nearly as simple to start playing with as consoles.
The Commodore 64 was released to the public in August 1982. It found initial success because
it was marketed and priced aggressively. It had a BASIC programming environment and advanced
graphic and sound capabilities for its time, similar to the ColecoVision console. It also
utilized the same game controller ports popularized by the Atari 2600, allowing gamers to use
their old joysticks with the system. It would become the most popular home computer of its
day in the USA and many other countries and the best-selling single computer model of
all time internationally. At around the same time, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum
was released in the United Kingdom and quickly became the most popular home computer in many
areas of Western Europe—and later the Eastern Bloc—due to the ease with which clones could
be produced. The IBM PC compatible computer became a technically
competitive gaming platform with IBM’s PC/AT in 1984. The primitive CGA graphics of previous
models, with only 4-color 320×200 pixel graphics (or, using special programming, 16-color 160×100
graphics) had limited the PC’s appeal to the business segment, as its graphics failed
to compete with the C64 or Apple II. The new 64-color EGA display standard allowed its
graphics to approach the quality seen in popular home computers like the Commodore 64. The
sound capabilities of the AT, however, were still limited to the PC speaker, which was
substandard compared to the built-in sound chips used in many home computers. Also, the
relatively high cost of the PC compatible systems severely limited their popularity
in gaming. The Apple Macintosh also arrived at this time.
It lacked the color capabilities of the earlier Apple II, instead preferring a much higher
pixel resolution, but the operating system support for the GUI attracted developers of
some interesting games (e.g. Lode Runner) even before color returned in 1987 with the
Mac II. The arrival of the Atari ST and Commodore
Amiga in 1985 was the beginning of a new era of 16-bit machines. For many users they were
too expensive until later on in the decade, at which point advances in the IBM PC’s
open platform had caused the IBM PC compatibles to become comparably powerful at a lower cost
than their competitors. The VGA standard developed for IBM’s new PS/2 line in 1987 gave the
PC the potential for 256-color graphics. This was a big jump ahead of most 8-bit home computers
but still lagging behind platforms with built-in sound and graphics hardware like the Amiga.
This caused an odd trend around ’89–91 towards developing to a seemingly inferior machine.
Thus while both the ST and Amiga were host to many technically excellent games, their
time of prominence proved to be shorter than that of the 8-bit machines, which saw new
ports well into the 1980s and even the 1990s. Dedicated sound cards started to address the
issue of poor sound capabilities in IBM PC compatibles in the late 1980s. Ad Lib set
an early de facto standard for sound cards in 1987, with its card based on the Yamaha
YM3812 sound chip. This would last until the introduction of Creative Labs’ Sound Blaster
in 1989, which took the chip and added new features while remaining compatible with Ad
Lib cards, and creating a new de facto standard. However, many games would still support these
and rarer things like the Roland MT-32 and Disney Sound Source into the early 1990s.
The initial high cost of sound cards meant they would not find widespread use until the
1990s. Shareware gaming first appeared in the mid-1980s,
but its big successes came in the 1990s. Early online gaming
Dial-up bulletin board systems were popular in the 1980s, and sometimes used for online
game playing. The earliest such systems were in the late 1970s and early 1980s and had
a crude plain-text interface. Later systems made use of terminal-control codes (the so-called
ANSI art, which included the use of IBM-PC-specific characters not part of an ANSI standard) to
get a pseudo-graphical interface. Some BBSs offered access to various games which were
playable through such an interface, ranging from text adventures to gambling games like
blackjack (generally played for “points” rather than real money). On some multiuser BBSs (where
more than one person could be online at once), there were games allowing users to interact
with one another. SuperSet Software created Snipes, a text-mode
networked computer game in 1983 to test a new IBM Personal Computer based computer network
and demonstrate its capabilities. Snipes is officially credited as being the original
inspiration for NetWare. It is believed to be the first network game ever written for
a commercial personal computer and is recognized alongside 1974’s Maze War (a networked multiplayer
maze game for several research machines) and Spasim (a 3D multiplayer space simulation
for time shared mainframes) as the precursor to multiplayer games such as 1987’s MIDI Maze,
and Doom in 1993. In 1995 iDoom (later Kali.net) was created for games that only allowed local
network play to connect over the internet. Other services such as Kahn, TEN, Mplayer,
and Heat.net soon followed after. These services ultimately became obsolete when game producers
began including their own online software such as Battle.net, WON and later Steam.
The first user interfaces were plain-text—similar to BBSs— but they operated on large mainframe
computers, permitting larger numbers of users to be online at once. By the end of the decade,
inline services had fully graphical environments using software specific to each personal computer
platform. Popular text-based services included CompuServe, The Source, and GEnie, while platform-specific
graphical services included PlayNET and Quantum Link for the Commodore 64, AppleLink for the
Apple II and Macintosh, and PC Link for the IBM PC—all of which were run by the company
which eventually became America Online—and a competing service, Prodigy. Interactive
games were a feature of these services, though until 1987 they used text-based displays,
not graphics. Handheld LCD games
In 1979, Milton Bradley Company released the first handheld system using interchangeable
cartridges, Microvision. While the handheld received modest success in the first year
of production, the lack of games, screen size and video game crash of 1983 brought about
the system’s quick demise. In 1980, Nintendo released its Game & Watch
line, handheld electronic game which spurred dozens of other game and toy companies to
make their own portable games, many of which were copies of Game & Watch titles or adaptations
of popular arcade games. Improving LCD technology meant the new handhelds could be more reliable
and consume fewer batteries than LED or VFD games, most only needing watch batteries.
They could also be made much smaller than most LED handhelds, even small enough to wear
on one’s wrist like a watch. Tiger Electronics borrowed this concept of videogaming with
cheap, affordable handhelds and still produces games in this model to the present day.
Video game crash of 1983 At the end of 1983, the industry experienced
losses more severe than the 1977 crash. This was the “crash” of the video game industry,
as well as the bankruptcy of several companies that produced North American home computers
and video game consoles from late 1983 to early 1984. It brought an end to what is considered
to be the second generation of console video gaming. Causes of the crash include the production
of poorly designed games, an immature distribution system which left retail stuck with unsold
copies to discount, as well as a general thought among retail that video games were just another
toy fad and that home computers were the next big thing.
Third generation consoles (1983–1995) (8-bit) In 1985, the American video game console market
was revived with Nintendo’s release of its 8-bit console, the Famicom (a contraction
of “Family Computer”), known outside Asia as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
In its original release it was offered in three tiered bundles: the Control Deck bundle
came in two versions, one with no game and priced at $89.99, and one with Super Mario
Bros. priced at $99.99, and both including two controllers. The third version offered
was the Deluxe Set, retailing at US$199.99, and included R.O.B., a light gun, two controllers,
and two game paks: Gyromite, and Duck Hunt. More packages were offered in the following
few years including The Action Set released in 1988 for US$149.99, which came with the
console, two game controllers, an NES Zapper, and a dual game pack containing Super Mario
Bros. and Duck Hunt, and the Power Set was released in 1989 and came with the console,
two game controllers, a NES Zapper, a Power Pad, and triple game pack containing Super
Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, and World Class Track Meet. The NES instantly became a success,
dominating the North American and Japanese home console gaming markets until the rise
of the next generation of 16-bit consoles in the early 1990s. Other markets were not
as heavily dominated by Nintendo, because of heavy competition from Home Computers like
the ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and Commodore 64 preventing the NES having much success
in Europe, or lack of marketing, allowing other consoles to find an audience like the
Master System in Australia and Brazil (the Master System was also sold in North America
and Japan, but was less successful). In the new consoles, the gamepad or joypad,
took over for joysticks, paddles, and keypads as the default game controller included with
the system. The gamepad design of an 8 direction Directional-pad (or D-pad for short) with
2 or more action buttons became the standard. This generation also marked a shift in the
dominance of home video game console hardware and console game production from the United
States to Japan. The Legend of Zelda series made its debut
in 1986 with The Legend of Zelda. In the same year, the Dragon Quest series debuted with
Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior), and has created a phenomenon in Japanese culture ever since.
The next year, the Japanese company Square was struggling and Hironobu Sakaguchi decided
to make his final game—a role-playing game (RPG) modeled after Dragon Quest and titled
Final Fantasy—resulting in the Final Fantasy series, which would go on to become the world’s
most successful RPG franchise spawning 15 main series titles to date and a host of spin-off
games, movies and other media. 1987 also saw the birth of the stealth game genre with Hideo
Kojima’s Metal Gear series’ first game Metal Gear on the MSX2 computer—ported to the
NES shortly after. In 1989, Capcom released Sweet Home on the NES, which served as a precursor
to the survival horror genre. In 1988, Nintendo published their first issue
of Nintendo Power magazine. By 1989 the market for cartridge-based console
games was more than $2 billion, while that for disk-based computer games was less than
$300 million. Large computer-game companies such as Epyx, Electronic Arts, and LucasArts
began devoting much or all of their attention on console games. Computer Gaming World warned
that computer gaming could become a “cultural backwater” similar to what had happened a
few years earlier with 8-bit computers. In 1990, Commodore and Amstrad entered the console
market with their C64GS and GX4000 game machines respectively. These were both based on the
8-bit computers of their manufacturers, and had only limited success due to a lack of
software support and the arrival of 16-bit machines. Amstrad’s GX4000 sold just over
15,000 units, with only 25 officially released game cartridges. Even though it was technically
superior to the Master System and Nintendo Entertainment System, it was discontinued
after 6 months. This generation ended with the discontinuation
of the NES in 1995. 1990s
The 1990s were a decade of marked innovation in video gaming. It was a decade of transition
from raster graphics to 3D graphics and gave rise to several genres of video games including
first-person shooter, real-time strategy, and MMO. Handheld gaming began to become more
popular throughout the decade, thanks in part to the release of the Game Boy in 1989. Arcade
games, although still relatively popular in the early 1990s, begin a decline as home consoles
became more common. The video game industry matured into a mainstream
form of entertainment in the 1990s. Major developments of the 1990s included the beginning
of a larger consolidation of publishers, higher budget games, increased size of production
teams and collaborations with both the music and motion picture industries. Examples of
this were Mark Hamill’s involvement with Wing Commander III and the introduction of QSound.
The increasing computing power and decreasing cost of processors such as the Intel 80386,
Intel 80486, and the Motorola 68030, caused the rise of 3D graphics, as well as “multimedia”
capabilities through sound cards and CD-ROMs. Early 3D games began with flat-shaded graphics
(Elite, Starglider 2 or Alpha Waves), and then simple forms of texture mapping (Wolfenstein
3D). 1989 and the early 1990s saw the release and
spread of the MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) 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 MMORPGs (Massively multiplayer
online role-playing games), such as Ultima Online and EverQuest, which freed users from
the limited number of simultaneous players in other games and brought persistent worlds
to the mass market. A prime example of an MMORPG MUD is the game RuneScape created by
Jagex. In the early 1990s, shareware distribution
was a popular method of publishing games for smaller developers, including then-fledgling
companies such as Apogee (now 3D Realms), Epic Megagames (now Epic Games), and id Software.
It gave consumers the chance to try a trial portion of the game, usually restricted to
the game’s complete first section or “episode”, before purchasing the rest of the adventure.
Racks of games on single 51⁄4″ and later 3.5″ floppy disks were common in many stores,
often only costing a few dollars each. Since the shareware versions were essentially free,
the cost only needed to cover the disk and minimal packaging. As the increasing size
of games in the mid-1990s made them impractical to fit on floppies, and retail publishers
and developers began to earnestly mimic the practice, shareware games were replaced by
shorter game demos (often only one or two levels), distributed free on CDs with gaming
magazines and over the Internet. In 1991, the game and character Sonic the
Hedgehog was introduced. The game gave Sega’s Mega Drive/Genesis console mainstream popularity,
and rivaled Nintendo’s Mario franchise. Its namesake character became the mascot of Sega
and one of the most recognizable video game characters in history.
In 1992 the game Dune II was released. It was by no means the first in the genre (several
other games can be called the first real-time strategy game, see the History of RTS), but
it set the standard game mechanics for later blockbuster RTS games such as Warcraft: Orcs
& Humans, Command & Conquer, and StarCraft. The RTS is characterized by an overhead view,
a “mini-map”, and the control of both the economic and military aspects of an army.
The rivalry between the two styles of RTS play—Warcraft style, which used GUIs accessed
once a production building was selected, and C&C style, which allowed construction of any
unit available from any production building from within a permanently visible menu—continues
to the present day, with the Warcraft-style gaining prominence in other franchises such
as Homeworld and Age of Empires. Alone in the Dark (1992), while not the first
survival horror game, planted the seeds of what would become known as the survival horror
genre today. It took the action-adventure style and retooled it to de-emphasize combat
and focus on investigation. An early attempt to simulate 3D scenarios by mixing polygons
with 2D background images, it established the formula that would later flourish on CD-ROM
based consoles, with games such as Resident Evil which coined the name “survival horror”
and popularized the genre, and Silent Hill. Adventure games continued to evolve, with
Sierra Entertainment’s King’s Quest series (which spawned the adult-humor Leisure Suit
Larry franchise by the same publisher), and Lucasfilm/LucasArts’ Monkey Island series
bringing graphical interaction and the creation of the concept of “point and click” gaming.
Myst and its sequels inspired a new style of puzzle-based adventure games. Published
in 1993, Myst itself was one of the first computer games to make full use of the new
high-capacity CD-ROM storage format. Despite Myst’s mainstream success, the increased
popularity of action-based and real-time games led adventure games and simulation video games,
both mainstays of computer games in earlier decades, to begin to fade into obscurity.
It was in the 1990s that Maxis began publishing its successful line of “Sim” games, beginning
with SimCity, and continuing with a variety of titles, such as SimEarth, SimCity 2000,
SimAnt, SimTower, and the best-selling PC game in history, The Sims, in early 2000.
In 1996, 3dfx Interactive released the Voodoo chipset, leading to the first affordable 3D
accelerator cards for personal computers. These devoted 3D rendering daughterboards
performed a portion of the computations and memory-handling required for more-detailed
three-dimensional graphics (mainly texture filtering), allowing for more-detailed graphics
than would be possible if the CPU were required to handle both game logic and all the graphical
tasks. First-person shooter games (notably Quake) were among the first to take advantage
of this new technology. While other games would also make use of it, the FPS would become
the chief driving force behind the development of new 3D hardware, as well as the yardstick
by which its performance would be measured, usually quantified as the number of frames
per second rendered for a particular scene in a particular game.
Several other less mainstream genres were created in this decade. Looking Glass Studios’
Thief: The Dark Project and its sequel were the first to coin the term “first person sneaker”,
although it is questionable whether they are the first “first person stealth” games. Turn-based
strategy progressed further, with the Heroes of Might and Magic (HOMM) series (from The
3DO Company) luring many mainstream gamers into this complex genre.
Id Software’s 1996 game Quake pioneered play over the Internet in first-person shooters.
Internet multiplayer capability became a de facto requirement in almost all FPS games.
Other genres also began to offer online play, including RTS games like Microsoft Game Studios’
Age of Empires, Blizzard’s Warcraft and StarCraft series, and turn-based games such
as Heroes of Might and Magic. Developments in web browser plug-ins like Java and Adobe
Flash allowed for simple browser-based games. These are small single player or multiplayer
games that can be quickly downloaded and played from within a web browser without installation.
Their most popular use is for puzzle games, side-scrollers, classic arcade games, and
multiplayer card and board games. Few new genres have been created since the
advent of the FPS and RTS, with the possible exception of the third-person shooter; games
such as Grand Theft Auto III, Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, Enter the Matrix, and Hitman
all use a third-person camera perspective which provides more information about the
player character’s immediate surroundings, but are otherwise very similar to their first-person
counterparts. Decline of arcades
Arcade games, which had seen a slow decline with the increase in popularity of home gaming,
experienced a brief resurgence in the early-to-mid-1990s with games such as Street Fighter II, Mortal
Kombat, and other games in the one-on-one fighting game genre, as well as racing games
such as Virtua Racing and sports games such as NBA Jam. However, with the advent of 16-bit
and 32-bit consoles, home video games began to approach and even exceed the level of graphics
seen in arcade games, and increasing numbers of players would wait for popular arcade games
to be ported to consoles rather than pumping coins into arcade kiosks. This trend increased
with the introduction of more realistic peripherals for computer and console game systems such
as force feedback aircraft joysticks and racing wheel/pedal kits, which allowed home systems
to approach the level of realism and immersion available in the arcade. As patronage of arcades
declined, many were forced to close down. Classic coin-operated games have largely become
the province of dedicated hobbyists and as a tertiary attraction for some businesses,
such as movie theaters, batting cages, miniature golf courses, and arcades attached to game
stores such as F.Y.E. The gap left by the old corner arcades was
partly filled by large amusement centers dedicated to providing clean, safe environments and
expensive game control systems not available to home users. These newer arcade titles offered
games based on driving, and sports like skiing or cycling, as well as rhythm games like Dance
Dance Revolution and path-based shooting gallery games like Time Crisis, which have carved
out a large slice of the market. Dave & Buster’s and GameWorks are two large chains in the
United States with this type of environment. Aimed at adults and older kids, they feature
full service restaurants with full liquor bars and have a wide variety of video game
and hands on electronic gaming options. Chuck E. Cheese’s is a similar type of establishment
focused towards younger children. Handhelds come of age
In 1989, Nintendo released the Game Boy, the first handheld game console since the ill-fated
Microvision ten years before. The design team headed by Gunpei Yokoi had also been responsible
for the Game & Watch systems. Included with the system was Tetris, a popular puzzle game
with incarnations on the NES, Super NES and arcade consoles. Several rival handhelds also
made their debut around that time, including the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx (the first
handheld with color LCD display). Although most other systems were more technologically
advanced, they were hampered by higher battery consumption and less third-party developer
support. While some of the other systems remained in production until the mid-1990s, the Game
Boy, and its successive incarnations the Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance,
would be virtually unchallenged for dominance in the handheld market through its lifetime,
until the PlayStation Portable was released in 2004 to compete with Nintendo’s successor
to the Game Boy line, the Nintendo DS. Fourth generation consoles (1988–1999) (16-bit)
The Mega Drive/Genesis proved its worth early on after its debut in 1988. Nintendo responded
with its own next generation system known as the Super NES (SNES) in 1990. The TurboGrafx-16
(1987) debuted early on alongside the Genesis, but unlike in Japan it did not achieve a large
following in the USA due to a limited library of games and excessive distribution restrictions
imposed by Hudson. The intense competition of this time was also
a period of not entirely truthful marketing. The TurboGrafx-16 was billed as the first
16-bit system but its central processor was an 8-bit HuC6280, with only its HuC6270 graphics
processor being a true 16-bit chip. Additionally, the much earlier Mattel Intellivision contained
a 16-bit processor. Sega, too, was known to stretch the truth in its marketing approach;
they used the term “Blast Processing” to describe the simple fact that their console’s CPU ran
at a higher clock speed than that of the SNES (7.67 MHz vs 3.58 MHz).
In Japan, the 1987 success of the PC Engine (as the TurboGrafx-16 was known there) against
the Famicom and CD drive peripheral allowed it to fend off the Mega Drive (Genesis) in
1988, which never really caught on to the same degree as outside Japan. The PC Engine
eventually lost out to the Super Famicom, but, due to its popular CD add-ons, retained
enough of a user base to support new games well into the late 1990s.
CD-ROM drives were first seen in this generation, as add-ons for the PC Engine in 1988 and the
Mega Drive in 1991. Nintendo experimented with optical media formats for the SNES in
a joint venture with Sony, who would go on to develop this concept into the PlayStation
and rise to prominence as a major competitor to Nintendo and Sega. Basic 3D graphics entered
the mainstream with flat-shaded polygons enabled by additional processors in game cartridges
like Virtua Racing and Star Fox, and occasionally without special processors, as in the Genesis
port of Hard Drivin’, which managed pure 3D polygon graphics on the ~8 MHz 68000 chip
by using extremely simplified polygon models, a slow frame rate (less than 4 fps), and reduced
resolution. SNK’s Neo-Geo was the most expensive console
by a wide margin when it was released in 1990, and would remain so for years. It was also
capable of 2D graphics in a quality level years ahead of other consoles. The reason
for this was that it contained the same hardware that was found in SNK’s arcade games. This
was the first time since the home Pong machines that a true-to-the-arcade experience could
be had at home. This generation ended with the SNES’s discontinuation
in 1999. Fifth generation consoles (1993–2006) (32
and 64-bit) In 1993, Atari re-entered the home console
market with the introduction of the Atari Jaguar. Also in 1993, The 3DO Company released
the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer, which, though highly advertised and promoted, failed to
catch up to the sales of the Jaguar, due to its high pricetag. Both consoles had very
low sales and few quality games, eventually leading to their demise. In 1994, three new
consoles were released in Japan: the Sega Saturn, the Sony PlayStation, and the PC-FX,
the Saturn and the PlayStation later seeing release in North America in 1995. The PlayStation
quickly outsold all of its competitors mainly on the strength of its available titles, with
the exception of the aging Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which still had the
support of many major game companies. The Virtual Boy from Nintendo was released
in 1995 as one of the first consumer consoles providing 3D depth perception, but did not
achieve high sales, largely due to the monochrome display and the lack of third-party support.
In 1996 the Virtual Boy was taken off the market.
After many delays, during which Sony’s PlayStation gained industry acceptance, Nintendo released
its 64-bit console, the Nintendo 64 in 1996. The console’s flagship title, Super Mario
64, became a defining title for 3D platformer games.
PaRappa the Rapper popularized music video games in Japan with its 1996 debut on the
PlayStation. Subsequent music and dance games like beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution
became ubiquitous attractions in Japanese arcades. While Parappa, DDR, and other games
found a cult following when brought to North America, music games would not gain a wide
audience in the market until the next decade with titles like Guitar Hero. Also in 1996
Capcom released Resident Evil, the first well known survival horror game. It was a huge
success selling over 2 million copies and is considered one of the best games on the
PlayStation. Other milestone games of the era include Rare’s
Nintendo 64 title GoldenEye 007 (1997), which was critically acclaimed for bringing innovation
as being the first major first-person shooter that was exclusive to a console, and for pioneering
certain features that became staples of the genre, such as scopes, headshots, and objective-based
missions. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) for the Nintendo 64 is one of
the highest critically acclaimed games of all time, currently number 2 all-time on GameRankings’
list, second only to another Nintendo franchise favorite Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii. The
title also featured many innovations such as Z-targeting, which has persisted through
subsequent Zelda titles on newer consoles and is commonly used in many other franchises
today. Nintendo’s choice to continue using ROM cartridges
instead of moving to CD-ROMs for the Nintendo 64, unique among the consoles of this period,
proved to have negative consequences for the console and for Nintendo’s market share. While
cartridges had faster access times, were more durable and resistant to piracy, CDs could
hold far more data (650MB, over ten times the capacity of the largest N64 ROM at 64MB)
and were much cheaper to produce, causing many game companies to turn to Nintendo’s
CD-based competitors. In particular, Square Enix, which had released all previous games
in its Final Fantasy series for Nintendo consoles, now turned exclusively to the PlayStation;
Final Fantasy VII (1997) was a massive success, establishing the popularity of role-playing
video games in the west and making the PlayStation the primary console for the genre, taking
the crown from Nintendo who had enjoyed it with the SNES and Square’s then Nintendo-exclusive
Final Fantasy, Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger titles. Copies of FFVII still command like-new
prices of between US$30–$50 on the used market. Square would not return to Nintendo’s
main console platforms until 2003 with the GameCube and the cross-platform title Final
Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (the only Square-published title for that console), and has not, to date,
released a “main series” Final Fantasy title for a Nintendo platform since FFVI for the
SNES. Capcom also largely departed from Nintendo during the N64 days; the next 4 installments
of its popular Mega Man 2D platform shooter were released on PlayStation and Saturn. Capcom
was somewhat quicker and more eager to return than Square, however, providing two anthologies
of Mega Man titles for the GameCube, including Mega Man 8 and Mega Man X4-6 that Nintendo
players had missed. By the end of this period, Sony had become
the leader in the video game market. The Saturn was moderately successful in Japan but a commercial
failure in North America and Europe, leaving Sega outside of the main competition. The
N64 achieved huge success in North America and Europe, though it never surpassed PlayStation’s
sales or was as popular in Japan, and began to show a decline in third-party support for
Nintendo’s home consoles. This generation ended with the discontinuation
of the PlayStation (known in its re-engineered form as the “PSOne”) in March 2006.
Transition to 3D and CDs The fifth generation is most noted for the
rise of fully 3D games. While there were games prior that had used three dimensional environments,
such as Virtua Racing and Star Fox, it was in this era that many game designers began
to move traditionally 2D and pseudo-3D genres into full 3D. Super Mario 64 and The Legend
of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the N64, Crash Bandicoot, and Spyro the Dragon on the PlayStation
and Nights into Dreams… on the Saturn, are prime examples of this trend. Their 3D environments
were widely marketed and they steered the industry’s focus away from side-scrolling
and rail-style titles, as well as opening doors to more complex games and genres. Games
like GoldenEye 007, Ocarina of Time or Virtua Fighter were nothing like shoot-em-ups, RPGs
or fighting games before them. 3D became the main focus in this era as well as a slow decline
of cartridges in favor of CDs, which allowed much greater storage capacity than what was
previously possible. The N64 was the last major home console to use the cartridge format,
although it persists to this day in handheld games on Nintendo and Sony devices using memory
cards similar to SD cards. Mobile phone gaming
Mobile phones began becoming video gaming platforms when Nokia installed Snake onto
its line of mobile phones in 1997 (Nokia 6110). Soon every major phone brand offered “time
killer games” that could be played in very short moments such as waiting for a bus. Mobile
phone games early on were limited by the modest size of the phone screens that were all monochrome
and the very limited amount of memory and processing power on phones, as well as the
drain on the battery. 2000s
The 2000s (decade) showed innovation on both consoles and PCs, and an increasingly competitive
market for portable game systems. The phenomena of user-created modifications
(or “mods”) for games, one trend that began during the Wolfenstein 3D and Doom-era, continued
into the start of the 21st century. The most famous example is that of Counter-Strike;
released in 1999, it is still one of the most popular online first-person shooter, even
though it was created as a mod for Half-Life by two independent programmers. Eventually,
game designers realized the potential of mods and custom content in general to enhance the
value of their games, and so began to encourage its creation. Some examples of this include
Unreal Tournament, which allowed players to import 3dsmax scenes to use as character models,
and Maxis’ The Sims, for which players could create custom objects.
In China, video game consoles were banned in June 2000. This has led to an explosion
in the popularity of computer games, especially MMOs. Consoles and the games for them are
easily acquired however, as there is a robust grey market importing and distributing them
across the country. Another side effect of this law has been rampant video game piracy.
Sixth generation consoles (1998–2013) In the sixth generation of video game consoles,
Sega exited the hardware market, Nintendo fell behind, Sony solidified its lead in the
industry, and Microsoft developed a gaming console.
The generation opened with the launch of the Dreamcast in 1998. It was the first console
to have a built-in modem for Internet support and online play. While it was initially successful,
sales and popularity would soon begin to decline with contributing factors being Sega’s damaged
reputation from the relative failures of the 32X and Saturn, software pirating, and the
overwhelming anticipation for the upcoming PlayStation 2. Production for the console
would discontinue in most markets by 2002 and would be Sega’s final console before it
reorganized its business as a third party game provider only, partnering primarily with
its old rival Nintendo. The second release of the generation was Sony’s
PlayStation 2, which featured DVD-based game discs with 4.7GB capacity, increased processor
and graphics capability over its predecessor including progressive-scan component video
connections, built-in 4-player connection capability, available Ethernet adapter (which
became built-in with the winter 2004 release of the “slimline” PS2 chassis), and the ability
to play DVD movies and audio CDs, eliminating the need for a separate DVD player and making
the PS2 a complete home entertainment console. Nintendo followed a year later with the GameCube
(code-named “Dolphin” while in development), its first optical disc-based console, which
used 80mm “mini-DVD” discs holding 1.4GB of data each (over 200 times the capacity of
the largest N64 cartridge ROM). While it had the component-video capability of its contemporaries,
the GameCube suffered in several ways compared to Sony’s PS2. First, the PS2’s high anticipation
and one-year head start gained it player and developer attention before the GCN’s release.
As a result, the GameCube had less third-party backing and very few third-party exclusives,
mostly from Nintendo-faithful studios such as the now-defunct Rare Ltd. and Midway Games,
and ironically its old rival Sega which released several of its Sonic the Hedgehog titles originally
planned for Dreamcast. Cross-platform giants like Capcom, Electronic Arts and Activision
released most of their GameCube titles on other consoles as well, while other developers
like Square Enix continued to release high-demand PS2 exclusives like Final Fantasy X. The GCN’s
game disc capacity was a third that of the PS2’s full-size DVD dics, forcing a few games
to be released on multiple discs and most titles to compromise on texture quality and
other features of GameCube games, when other platforms had no such limitations on their
versions. It had no backwards-compatibility with the now-obsolete cartridges of the N64
(its only cartridge-based adapter allowed playing Game Boy/GBC/GBA games), making the
GCN’s title count a small fraction of the combined titles for the PlayStation and PS2
that were playable on the fully backward-compatible PS2 console. It was a dedicated game console,
with the optical drive being too small to hold a full-size CD or DVD.
Lastly, and most significantly, the GameCube was hindered by a not-undeserved reputation
for being a “kid’s console”, due to its initial launch color scheme (mostly purple, derived
from the SNES but with the colors reversed; Nintendo would later release a grey-on-black
version), small gamepad design with no neutral color options and a face button layout catering
to smaller and less-coordinated hands (though the reversal of the D-pad and the left analog
stick positions as compared to the Dual Shock controller of the PlayStation was an advantage
to many), and lack of mature-content games which the current market appeared to want.
Though T- and M-rated titles including the GCN-exclusive Metroid Prime franchise did
exist, the overwhelming majority of GCN games were E-rated and mostly cartoon-style in their
art design. Before the end of 2001, Microsoft Corporation,
best known for its Windows operating system and its professional productivity software,
entered the console market with the Xbox. Based on Intel’s Pentium III CPU, the console
used a great deal of PC technology to leverage its internal development, including the ability
for developers to write games that leveraged the popular DirectX accelerated-graphics library
and other Windows-based APIs, making games for PC easily portable to the Xbox. In order
to gain market share and maintain its toehold in the market, Microsoft reportedly sold the
Xbox at a significant loss and concentrated on drawing profit from game development and
publishing. Shortly after its release in November 2001 Bungie Studio’s Halo: Combat Evolved
instantly became the driving point of the Xbox’s success, and the Halo series would
later go on to become one of the most successful console shooters of all time. By the end of
the generation, the Xbox had drawn even with the Nintendo GameCube in sales globally, but
since nearly all of its sales were in North America, it pushed Nintendo into third place
in the American market. In 2001 Grand Theft Auto III was released,
popularizing open world games by using a non-linear style of gameplay. It was very successful
both critically and commercially and is considered a huge milestone in gaming. It was also yet
another set piece in the debate over video game violence and adult content, with advocacy
groups decrying the series’ glorification of prostitution, the mafia, and of course
violence, including violence against first responders such as police and EMS.
Nintendo still dominated the handheld gaming market in this generation. The Game Boy Advance
in 2001, maintained Nintendo’s market position with a high-resolution, full-color LCD screen
and 16-bit processor allowing ports of SNES games and simpler companions to N64 and GameCube
games. Finnish cellphone maker Nokia entered the handheld scene with the N-Gage, but it
failed to win a significant following. Console gaming largely continued the trend
established by the PlayStation toward increasingly complex, sophisticated, and adult-oriented
gameplay. Game developers continued to cater to the late Gen-X and early Gen-Y gamers that
had been their base as pre-teens and tweens in the 1970s and 80s, and were now in their
twenties and thirties. Most of the successful sixth-generation console games were rated
T and M by the ESRB, including many now-classic gaming franchises such as Halo, Grand Theft
Auto and Resident Evil, the latter two of which were notable for both their success
and notoriety. Even Nintendo, widely known for its aversion to adult content (with very
few exceptions, most notably Conker’s Bad Fur Day for the Nintendo 64), began publishing
more M-rated games, with Silicon Knights’s Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem and Capcom’s
Resident Evil 4 being prime examples. This trend in “hardcore” console gaming would partially
be reversed with the seventh generation of consoles and their focus on motion-based gameplay,
leading to more family-friendly titles. In January 2013, Sony announced that the PlayStation
2 had been discontinued worldwide, ending the sixth generation.
Return of alternative controllers One significant feature of this generation
was various manufacturers’ renewed fondness for add-on peripheral controllers. While alternative
controllers weren’t new (Nintendo supported several for the NES and PC games have long
supported driving wheels and aircraft joysticks), console games built around them became some
of the biggest hits of the decade. Konami sold a soft-plastic mat version of its foot
controls for its Dance Dance Revolution franchise in 1998. Sega came out with Samba de Amigo’s
maraca controllers. Nintendo’s bongo controller worked with a few games in its Donkey Kong
franchise. Publisher RedOctane introduced Guitar Hero and its distinctive guitar-shaped
controllers for the PlayStation 2. Meanwhile, Sony developed the EyeToy peripheral, a camera
that could detect player movement, for the PlayStation 2. This would further be developed
into whole-body tracking technologies such as Sony’s PlayStation Move and Microsoft’s
Kinect. Online gaming rises to prominence
As affordable broadband Internet connectivity spread, many publishers turned to online gaming
as a way of innovating. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) featured
significant titles for the PC market like RuneScape, World of Warcraft, EverQuest, and
Ultima Online. Historically, console based MMORPGs have been few in number due to the
lack of bundled Internet connectivity options for the platforms. This made it hard to establish
a large enough subscription community to justify the development costs. The first significant
console MMORPGs were Phantasy Star Online on the Sega Dreamcast (which had a built in
modem and aftermarket Ethernet adapter), followed by Final Fantasy XI for the Sony PlayStation
2 (an aftermarket Ethernet adapter was shipped to support this game). Every major platform
released since the Dreamcast has either been bundled with the ability to support an Internet
connection or has had the option available as an aftermarket add-on. Microsoft’s Xbox
also had its own online gaming service called Xbox Live. Xbox Live was a huge success and
proved to be a driving force for the Xbox with games like Halo 2 that were overwhelmingly
popular. Mobile games
In the early 2000s (decade), mobile games had gained mainstream popularity in Japan’s
mobile phone culture, years before the United States or Europe. By 2003, a wide variety
of mobile games were available on Japanese phones, ranging from puzzle games and virtual
pet titles that utilize camera phone and fingerprint scanner technologies to 3D games with PlayStation-quality
graphics. Older arcade-style games became particularly popular on mobile phones, which
were an ideal platform for arcade-style games designed for shorter play sessions. Namco
began making attempts to introduce mobile gaming culture to Europe in 2003.
Mobile gaming interest was raised when Nokia launched its N-Gage phone and handheld gaming
platform in 2003. While about two million handsets were sold, the product line wasn’t
seen as a success and was withdrawn from Nokia’s lineup. Meanwhile, many game developers had
noticed that more advanced phones had color screens and enough memory and processing power
to do reasonable gaming. Mobile phone gaming revenues passed 1 billion dollars in 2003,
and passed 5 billion dollars in 2007, accounting for a quarter of all videogaming software
revenues. More advanced phones came to the market such as the N-Series smartphone by
Nokia in 2005 and the iPhone by Apple in 2007 which strongly added to the appeal of mobile
phone gaming. In 2008 Nokia didn’t revise the N-Gage brand, but published a software
library of games to its top-end phones. At Apple’s App Store in 2008, more than half
of all applications sold were iPhone games. Seventh generation consoles (2004–2012)
The generation opened early for handheld consoles, as Nintendo introduced their Nintendo DS and
Sony premiered the PlayStation Portable (PSP) within a month of each other in 2004. While
the PSP boasted superior graphics and power, following a trend established since the mid-1980s,
Nintendo gambled on a lower-power design but featuring a novel control interface. The DS’s
two screens, one of which was touch-sensitive, proved extremely popular with consumers, especially
young children and middle-aged gamers, who were drawn to the device by Nintendo’s Nintendogs
and Brain Age series, respectively. While the PSP attracted a significant portion of
veteran gamers, the DS allowed Nintendo to continue its dominance in handheld gaming.
Nintendo updated their line with the Nintendo DS Lite in 2006, the Nintendo DSi in 2008
(Japan) and 2009 (Americas and Europe), and the Nintendo DSi XL while Sony updated the
PSP in 2007 and again with the smaller PSP Go in 2009. Nokia withdrew their N-Gage platform
in 2005 but reintroduced the brand as a game-oriented service for high-end smartphones on April
3, 2008. In console gaming, Microsoft stepped forward
first in November 2005 with the Xbox 360, and Sony followed in 2006 with the PlayStation
3, released in Europe in March 2007. Setting the technology standard for the generation,
both featured high-definition graphics over HDMI connections, large hard disk-based secondary
storage for save games and downloaded content, integrated networking, and a companion on-line
gameplay and sales platform, with Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, respectively.
Both were formidable systems that were the first to challenge personal computers in power
(at launch) while offering a relatively modest price compared to them. While both were more
expensive than most past consoles, the Xbox 360 enjoyed a substantial price edge, selling
for either $300 or $400 depending on model, while the PS3 launched with models priced
at $500 and $600. Coming with Blu-ray Disc and Wi-Fi, the PlayStation 3 was the most
expensive game console on the market since Panasonic’s version of the 3DO, which retailed
for little under $700. The PlayStation 3’s high price led to the console being defeated
by the Xbox 360 (also resulting in Xbox 360 gaining market leadership until 2008), thus
breaking the streak of dominance that the PlayStation brand once had, which was started
in 1994 with the success of the original PlayStation. However, the slim model and the PlayStation
Move controllers caused a massive recovery for PlayStation 3, and the console would soon
outsell Xbox 360 by 2013. In this generation, Nintendo not only secured
its dominance in the handheld video game market, but also successfully regained total dominance
on the both the home video game market and the entire video game industry with the release
of its home console, the Wii. While the Wii had lower technical specifications than both
the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, only a modest improvement over the GameCube and the only
7th-gen console not to offer HD graphics, its new motion control was much touted, and
its lower pricepoint of around $200–$250 appealed to budget-conscious households. Many
gamers, publishers, and analysts initially dismissed the Wii as an underpowered curiosity,
but were surprised as the console sold out through the 2006 Christmas season, and remained
so through the next 18 months, becoming the fastest selling game console in most of the
world’s gaming markets. As a result, the Wii became a global success, having outsold the
Xbox 360 and relegated PlayStation 3 to third place, thus making the Wii the first Nintendo
console to outsell a PlayStation console, and the runaway market leader of the seventh
generate of consoles. As of September 2013, the Wii has sold 100.3 million units worldwide
and is currently Nintendo’s best selling home console. Also, the Wii became the first Nintendo
console to have its number of units sold reach 100 million.
The Wii’s major strength was its appeal to audiences beyond the base of “hardcore gamers”,
with its novel motion-sensing, pointer-based controller design allowing players to use
the Wii Remote as if it were a golf club, tennis racket, baseball, sword, or steering
wheel. The intuitive pointer-based navigation was reminiscent of the familiar PC mouse control,
making the console easier for new players to use than a conventional gamepad. The console
launched with a variety of first-party titles meant to showcase what the system could do,
including the commonly bundled Wii Sports, the party game Wii Play, and The Legend of
Zelda: Twilight Princess which received widespread critical acclaim for its art, story and gameplay,
including its intuitive sword-and-shield use of the motion-sensing controllers. Third-party
support, on the other hand, was slower in coming; game designers, used to the conventional
gamepad control sets, had difficulty adapting popular franchises to the heavily motion-based
Wii controller, and some didn’t bother, preferring instead to concentrate on what they felt to
be their core audience on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Of the top 15 best-selling
games for Wii, 12 were developed by Nintendo’s in-house EAD groups.
In June 2009, Sony announced that it would release its PSP Go for 249.99USD on October
1 in Europe and North America, and Japan on November 1. The PSP Go was a newer, slimmer
version of the PSP, which had the control pad slide from the base, where its screen
covers most of the front side. Increases in development budgets
With high definition video an undeniable hit with veteran gamers seeking immersive experiences,
expectations for visuals in games along with the increasing complexity of productions resulted
in a spike in the development budgets of gaming companies. While some game studios saw their
Xbox 360 projects pay off, the unexpected weakness of PS3 sales resulted in heavy losses
for a few developers, and many publishers broke previously arranged PS3 exclusivity
arrangements or cancelled PS3 game projects entirely due to rising budgets.
Nintendo capitalizes on casual gaming Meanwhile, Nintendo took cues from PC gaming
and their own success with the Nintendo Wii, and crafted games that capitalized on the
intuitive nature of motion control. Emphasis on gameplay turned comparatively simple games
into unlikely runaway hits, including the bundled game, Wii Sports, and Wii Fit. As
Wii sales spiked, many publishers were caught unprepared and responded by assembling hastily
created titles to fill the void. Although some hardcore games continued to be produced
by Nintendo, many of their classic franchises were reworked into “bridge games”, meant to
provide new gamers crossover experiences from casual gaming to deeper experiences, including
their flagship Wii title, Super Mario Galaxy, which in spite of its standard-resolution
graphics dominated critics’ “best-of” lists for 2007. Many others, however, strongly criticized
Nintendo for its apparent spurning of its core gamer base in favor of a demographic
many warned would be fickle and difficult to keep engaged.
Motion control revolutionizes game play The way gamers interact with games changed
dramatically, especially with Nintendo’s wholesale embrace of motion control as a standard method
of interaction. The Wii Remote implemented the principles to be a worldwide success.
To a lesser extent, Sony experimented with motion in its Sixaxis and subsequent DualShock
3 controller for the PS3, and a wave of titles supporting the PlayStation Eye camera and
the Wii-like PlayStation Move remote wands, while Microsoft continually mentioned interest
in developing the technology for the Xbox 360, ultimately resulting in the Kinect peripheral
for their Xbox 360. The Wii’s infrared-based pointing system has been widely praised, and
cited as a primary reason for the success of games such as Nintendo’s Metroid Prime
3: Corruption and EA’s Medal of Honor: Heroes 2. Despite the success of these titles, reliable
motion controls have been more elusive, with even the most refined motion controls failing
to achieve true 1-to-1 reproduction of player motion on-screen. Some players have even found
that they must move slower than they would like or the Wii will not register their movements,
but this is rare. Nintendo’s 2008 announcement of its Wii MotionPlus module largely addressed
these concerns by adding extra gyroscopic sensors to achieve true 1:1 attitude tracking
of the Wii Remote, which when coupled with assumptions made about how the player is holding
the controller allows for relatively accurate position tracking. Wii Sports Resort launched
alongside the new MotionPlus add-on as a showcase of its abilities, and many games since, including
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword have used it. The MotionPlus technology has since been
integrated into new Wii Remotes, avoiding the extra length and custom protective sleeve
that the add-on module requires. The introduction of motion-sensing controllers
has caused an uptick in repetitive motion injuries normally seen in athletes, such as
“Wii elbow”, a derivative of tennis elbow linked to motion-sensing controller use. Most
of these injuries are minor aches or pains and create no lasting effect. More seriously,
the use of motions such as throwing while holding the controller have also caused issues,
as some players have reportedly actually thrown the controller at the TV, resulting in significant
damage to both. Injuries and damage from flailing arms and legs while playing are also reported.
Nintendo foresaw these possible issues, and each Wii Remote ships with a wrist strap tether
and a silicone rubber sleeve to prevent flying remotes and damage on impact, and the Wii
System Menu includes screens prior to game startup reminding players to use these, and
to make sure breakable objects and other players are out of reach. Some reports of damage surfaced
soon after launch stating that the wrist straps were breaking due to a thin cord being used
to tether the strap to the remote; Nintendo responded in December 2006 with an upgraded
wrist strap with thicker tether cord, which was standard on all Wii Remotes sold after
January 1, 2007 and available as a free replacement for all Wii consoles shipped prior to that
date. Alternate controllers also continue to be
important in gaming, as the increasingly involved controllers associated with Red Octane’s Guitar
Hero series and Harmonix’s Rock Band demonstrate. In addition to this, Nintendo has produced
various add-on attachments meant to adapt the Wii Remote to specific games, such as
the Wii Zapper for shooting games and the Wii Wheel for driving games. With the introduction
of the Wii Balance Board in Nintendo’s Wii Fit package, motion controls have been extended
to players’ feet. The Balance Board has been supported by dozens of games since its introduction.
At Electronic Entertainment Expo 2009, Microsoft and Sony each presented their own new motion
controllers: Project Natal (later renamed Kinect) and PlayStation Move, respectively.
On September 17, 2010, Sony released PlayStation Move, which uses the PlayStation Eye camera
to track the motion of a wand controller, PlayStation Move has sold 8.8 million units
as of E3 2011. Rise of casual PC games
Beginning with PCs, a new trend in casual gaming, games with limited complexity that
were designed for shortened or impromptu play sessions, began to draw attention from the
industry. Many were puzzle games, such as Popcap’s Bejeweled and PlayFirst’s Diner Dash,
while others were games with a more relaxed pace and open-ended play. The biggest hit
was The Sims by Maxis, which went on to become the best selling computer game of all time,
surpassing Myst. Other casual games include Happy Farm and
Zynga games like Mafia Wars, FarmVille, and Café World, among many others, which are
tied into social networking sites such as Myspace, Facebook, and Mixi. These games are
typically free to play, with the option to buy in game items and stats with money and/or
reward offers. In 2008, social network games began gaining
mainstream popularity following the release of Happy Farm in China. Influenced by the
Japanese console RPG series Harvest Moon, Happy Farm attracted 23 million daily active
users in China. It soon inspired many clones such as Sunshine Farm, Happy Farmer, Happy
Fishpond, Happy Pig Farm, and Facebook games such as FarmVille, Farm Town, Country Story,
Barn Buddy, Sunshine Ranch, Happy Harvest, Jungle Extreme, and Farm Villain. The most
popular social network game is FarmVille, which has over 70 million active users worldwide.
Other popular social network games include YoVille, Mob Wars, Mafia Wars, and FrontierVille.
Cloud computing comes to games In 2009, a few cloud computing services were
announced targeted at video games. These services allow the graphics rendering of the video
games to be done away from the end user, and a video stream of the game to be passed to
the user. OnLive allows the user to communicate with their servers where the video game rendering
is taking place. Gaikai streams games entirely in the user’s browser or on an internet-enabled
device. Experts estimate the streaming games market will grow nine-fold by 2017, reaching
8 billion dollars. 2010s
The new decade has seen rising interest in the possibility of next generation consoles
being developed in keeping with the traditional industry model of a five-year console life
cycle. However, in the industry there is believed to be a lack of desire for another race to
produce such a console. Reasons for this include the challenge and massive expense of creating
consoles that are graphically superior to the current generation, with Sony and Microsoft
still looking to recoup development costs on their current consoles and the failure
of content creation tools to keep up with the increased demands placed upon the people
creating the games. On June 14, 2010, during E3, Microsoft revealed
their new Xbox 360 console referred to as the Xbox 360 S or Slim. Microsoft made the
unit smaller and quieter, while also installing a 250GB hard drive and built-in 802.11n WiFi.
It started shipping to US stores the same day, not reaching Europe until July 13.
The Onlive cloud based gaming system would be one of the first cloud gaming systems known
in video game history. Gaming without controllers
On November 4, 2010, Microsoft released Kinect in North America, and later in other parts
of the world, as a peripheral for the Xbox 360; it was packaged with the console as well.
It uses a sensor and dual-camera device to track the motion of the players themselves.
It sold an average of 133,333 units a day for the first 60 days and a total of 8 million
units during the same period, earning it the Guinness World Record for the “fastest selling
consumer electronics device”. Sales passed 10 million units as of March 9, 2011.
Eighth generation consoles (2012–present) The Nintendo 3DS is a handheld video game
console, revealed at Nintendo’s 2010 E3 press conference. Released in Japan in February
2011, it was released worldwide less than a month later. It uses autostereoscopic 3D
to produce a 3D effect on-screen. On January 27, 2011, the PlayStation Vita
(code-named Next Generation Portable, or NGP, during development) was announced. It has
a 5-inch OLED multi touch front screen and a rear touch pad, two analog sticks, 3G and
WiFi connection, Sixaxis control and 3-axis electronic compass. It was released on December
17 in Japan and has been released on 15th (First edition bundle) and on February 22
in Europe (3G/ Wifi Vita, release bundle Vita, or the WiFi only Vita), and also in the Middle
East, Australia and North America. Sony is looking to have up to forty launch titles
for the western release and up to 100 within the release window.
The Wii U is a video game console from Nintendo. Billed as the successor to the Wii, it was
mentioned in statement released by Nintendo on April 25, 2011, that the company was planning
to reveal it during E3 2011 and that playable console units would be present as well. Code-named
Project Café, it was officially introduced on June 7, 2011 with its final name, Wii U.
The console released in North America on November 18, and in Europe, Australia and New Zealand
on November 30, 2012, officially starting the “eighth generation” of video game consoles.
Features of the new console include HD graphics support (on Wii U only), and a controller,
the Wii U GamePad, which features a 6.2 inch touch screen built-in that can be used as
a second screen providing additional info and interactivity, such as “asymmetric gameplay”.
The Wii U GamePad allows some games to be played without the need of a TV set, through
Off-TV Play. Most peripheral hardware from its predecessor, the Wii, such as the Wii
Remote and Wii Nunchuk, Classic Controller and Wii Balance Board are confirmed to work
with the new console, as well as the console itself being backward compatible with all
Wii and Virtual Console titles. The Wii U discontinues backwards-compatibility support
for Nintendo GameCube discs and controllers, which also means that Wii games that support
the GameCube’s controller will instead require use of an alternate control scheme such as
the Classic Controller when playing them on the Wii U. The Wii U also has its own more
conventional controller, the Wii U Pro Controller, which resembles an Xbox 360 controller in
form and function and is compatible with most Wii U and Virtual Console titles, but not
original Wii games. The console is available in two sets. The basic set includes the Wii
U console with 8 GB of internal memory, the Wii U GamePad, an AC adapter, an HDMI cable,
and the Wii Sensor Bar. The Deluxe set includes all of the items in the basic set but it has
32 GB of internal memory instead of only 8 GB, and is bundled with a GamePad charging
cradle, stands for the GamePad and the console, and Nintendo Land. On November 30, 2012, the
Wii U was released in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. A sensor bar is not included
in the Basic set in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
The PlayStation 4 (or PS4) is a video game console from Sony Computer Entertainment.
Billed as the successor to the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation 4 was officially announced
at a press conference on February 20, 2013. The fourth home console in Sony’s PlayStation
series, it was launched on 15-November-2013 in North America and 29-November-2013 in Europe,
and is set to launch Q1 2014 in Japan. Moving away from the Cell architecture, the PlayStation
4 is the first in the Sony series to feature compatibility with the x86 architecture, specifically
x86-64, which is a widely used platform common in many modern PCs. The idea is to make video
game development easier on the next-generation console, attracting a broader range of developers
large and small. These changes highlight Sony’s effort to improve upon the lessons learned
during the development, production and release of the PS3. Other notable hardware features
of the PlayStation 4 include 8 GB of GDDR5 RAM memory and a faster Blu-ray drive.
The Xbox One is a video game console from Microsoft. Billed as the successor to the
Xbox 360, the Xbox One was officially announced at a press conference on May 21, 2013. Microsoft
had intended to implement strict controls over game resale and DRM controls, but later
reversed its decision due to public backlash. It is the third home console in Microsoft’s
Xbox series and launched on November 22, 2013 in North America, United Kingdom, Spain, Mexico,
Italy, Ireland, Germany, France, Canada, Brazil, Austria,New Zealand and Australia. The release
was delayed until sometime in 2014 in 8 European countries (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands,
Norway, Russia, Sweden, and Switzerland) due to various localization issues.
Microconsoles Ouya is an Android based console that was
released in mid 2013, costing $99 USD. The console runs Android games downloadable from
an integrated store, mainly from independent developers. Its graphics capabilities are
much lower than other eighth generation consoles to keep costs low, reflecting other Android
hardware. In 2014, Amazon announced the release of the
Amazon Fire TV. The $99 box features a Qualcomm Quad Core Snapdragon Krait 300 processor with
Adreno 320GPU, and 2GB of RAM to support “high performance game experiences.” A gaming specific
controller is also available for $40.

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