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Author name #1
Member since Sep 2007 · 22 posts
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Subject: The History of Video Games
(Written in 1999)

The Beginning: A Brief Introduction

    In the fall of 1972, the very first video game, Pong, was released at a small bar in Sunnyvale, California. The game’s creator, Nolan Bushnell, is now known as “The Father of Video Games” (Sheff p. 133). His monumental success with this game led to one of the first video game companies, Atari. Other companies such as Coleco and Magnavox joined the ranks with competing products similar to that of Atari. However, Bushnell, in his early twenties, filled with ambition and a unique vision, formed the path for Atari to be the most successful video game company throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s.
    However, this success was cut short when Atari was bought out by Warner Bros. Communications. Bushnell left Atari two years later after he felt that his creativity was being stifled by corporate rules and regulations. With Bushnell’s vision gone, the large company had no direction to go.
    Totally blind to the concepts of individual game quality and creativity, Atari started to release a flood of “copycat” titles, with other companies following their way. Many older titles would just be re-released with slight graphical changes or sped up game levels. These events led to a total collapse of the gaming market in 1984, the year loosely known to many individuals as “The Great Video Game Crash.”
    However, Nintendo (a Japanese company famous for its trading cards at the time) still believed that there was potential in the idea of video games; it was simply poor executive decisions and a lack of quality software that shattered the industry. Despite the bitter taste that Atari had left in consumers’ mouths, Nintendo was determined to take a stab at the home game market. This was partially influenced by the continuing success of arcade centers around the world despite what had happened with the home gaming market. With attention to precise arcade-to-home conversions along with an innovative controller, Nintendo moved in for the kill with their revolutionary NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) in 1985.
    The launch of this system would forever change the face of video gaming. Nintendo went on to sell millions of NES systems along with hundreds of millions of cartridges. The NES supported some of history’s all time greatest games such as the “Mario” series, Mega Man, Zelda, Contra, Ninja Gaiden and Tetris just to name a few. Nintendo’s attention to quality was unquestionable and they remained virtually unchallenged by any competitor for the next five years.

The Unstoppable Force?   

    By the early 1990’s, video games had evolved from a simple child’s toy into a powerful electronic medium with a loyal following. The NES was a household item, much like a TV or VCR. Mario’s face was recognized by more kids than Mickey Mouse.
    However, this evolution brought a new player to the video game field, Sega. Having failed by competing on a direct level with their Master System, Sega introduced their “Genesis” system which boasted 16-bit power versus the NES’s 8-bit. Coupled with Nintendo’s inability to adapt quickly enough to the new 16-bit technology along with the introduction of more “mature” games, the Genesis became a powerful force in the gaming industry. For the first time, Nintendo’s dominance was threatened and consumers were now faced with two main choices when it came to console video games.
    When Nintendo finally responded, they came in full force. The fourth quarter of 1991 saw the introduction of Nintendo’s long awaited 16-bit Super NES. Games such as Super Mario World, Gradius 3, UN Squadron and Actraiser were instant hits with gamers all over the nation. But while the SNES’ debut was incredible, there was one significant flaw: it did not play the library of old NES games. This was ground for concern to many consumers and Sega took full advantage of it. Along with a superior marketing campaign and the introduction of their “mascot” (Sonic the Hedgehog), Sega took the lead in the 16-bit gaming wars. Nintendo had been usurped. Despite this, analysts all agreed that the gaming market was big enough for both of them to survive well. The market was still expanding at an incredible level with no end in sight.
    Around the same time, a coin-op video game by the name of Street Fighter 2 was taking arcades around the world by storm. Players from countries all over the world were helplessly addicted to the sharp graphics, responsive gameplay, and overall competitive fun that this game provided. The company who created it, Capcom, was reveling in the amount of success that this one game had brought in.
    Success was not unusual for Capcom as they had created some of arcades’ most memorable titles such as Strider, Ghosts n’ Goblins, and 1943. Not surprisingly, all these titles were converted for play on Nintendo’s NES. Through this co-operation, Nintendo and Capcom became very close partners. Thus, when Street Fighter 2 was announced to be translated to a home system in 1992, the SNES was the obvious gaming platform of choice. This game singlehandedly put Nintendo back into the position as the frontrunner in the video game wars.
    There was a significant problem with the translation of this game, however. Being that the original was such an advanced arcade game, Street Fighter 2 on the SNES required more memory than the highest SNES cartridge (8 megabits) could hold. Not wishing to leave out any important elements from the original, Capcom decided to double the memory capacity of the SF2 cartridge to 16 megabits. This was a very risky decision; a single 8-meg chip (at the time) could swallow up to half the cost of a cartridge to the consumer (around $85). Thus, when Street Fighter 2 was released, its average retail cost tipped the $120 mark. This did not seem to matter though; SF2 went on to become the best selling game of 1992 and ranking among the top selling games of all time. It received countless awards and praise wherever it went as was hailed as the ultimate power in home videogaming. Capcom, seeing that their game was an unstoppable force, began to release annual “upgrades” of the original SF2 (in arcades first then at home around 6 months after) which included character refinements, faster game speed, and more memory. These upgrades did astonishingly well and Capcom is still riding the “SF2 wave” to this day. From this monumental success, fighting games and titles with higher memory in general were clearly (at the time) the wave of the future.

The Invasion of Interactivity

    Observing the incredible success of Street Fighter 2, gaming companies around the globe began to churn out countless “copycat” titles, all of which coincided with more memory with each release. These titles varied greatly from variations of SF2’s martial arts theme to licensed characters (Ninja Turtles, Batman, Sailormoon) fighting one another. While many of these titles sold, very few came close to SF2’s success. Many companies were quick to blame this lack of success on the idea that there were too many limitations involving 16-bit hardware and software. But when one reads between the lines, the failure lied mostly in the software companies’ lack of originality and programming talent.
    Frustrated by this fact, the majority of the gaming development community blindly turned to a new storage medium for video games, CD-ROM, which first became mass-market in 1993. The advantages of CD-ROM were clear: a single CD could hold up to 4000 times more memory than the average (8-meg) cartridge and cost less than a dollar to produce. CD’s were labeled as the “knight in shining armor” (West 1) savior of video games. Full-motion-video (FMV), stereo soundtracks and real voices were now a reality with the advent of CD-ROM technology. It was regarded as superior by the entire gaming community (less Nintendo, who had major financial interests tied in their cartridge factory) and videogamers alike.
    Unfortunately, things only got worse. With the monster amount of memory storage available, companies began to create video games that were labeled as “interactive.” In these games, players could not control on-screen characters in the conventional sense; a player would view FMV (which often featured frequent, awkward loading complete with atrocious on-screen acting) and make a decision every few minutes based on what he or she saw. In addition, interactive games were much cheaper and easier to create than the average video game due to the lack of creative skills needed.
    An example of a first wave title in this genre is a game called “Night Trap.” Your goal was to protect scantily-clad women in your hotel from creatures trying to kill them. The player would view different rooms of the hotel at the click of a button from the “control room.” When a creature entered, the player had to eliminate the threat by trapping or killing it. If the player was successful, he or she would witness a FMV clip of the creature dying; if the player failed, he or she would witness a scene where the woman would be tortured to death. Needless to say, the shallowness and mediocrity of this game (and all others like it) were incredible.
    Because of Night Trap’s early success, companies everywhere flooded the market with countlessly lame interactive titles with themes ranging from already-seen movies, “make-your-own-video”, and Playboy centerfolds. One 32-bit system, the Panasonic 3-D-O, failed miserably on the market after having released more than half its software as interactive titles. Sega’s 16-bit CD-ROM system also failed for similar reasons, despite having a strong library of RPG’s to translate from Japan.
This post was edited on 2010-03-10, 14:49 by Millartime.
Author name #2
Member since Sep 2007 · 22 posts
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Subject: Part 2
A disturbing trend was starting to evolve in the gaming industry. Quantity was once again being placed over quality. Interactive games were becoming the norm as innovative genres such as RPG’s and shooters fell on the endangered species list. In 1994, game sales plunged to an all time low and “industry experts” could no figure out why. A select few gamers could see the answer: gaming companies were going for the quick sale of an FMV game that had roots in an established culture like Hollywood rather than trying to test out an original idea. This theory is summed up well with Dave Halverson’s editorial on the situation at the time: “The enthusiast gamer is considered expendable in many companies’ master plan... They want to appeal to a new audience that is easier to please (and easier sold) instead” (Halverson 2).
    Also, by this time, the “fighting craze” (started by Street Fighter 2) was spinning out of control. Every third party licensee had at least one fighting game in their lineup, often being a poor effort with loads of memory and media hype. SNK, a popular niche game company, nearly ruined their Neo Geo 24-bit system and its quality reputation by releasing fighting games exclusively, ignoring all other genres. This alienated the majority of their user-base that enjoyed quality titles such Magician Lord, Nam ’75, Last Resort, and Pulstar.
    Despite enthusiast gamers’ plea that lack of quality software was the reason that the industry had been hurt so badly, companies continued to blame it on the hardware platforms available at the time (although they were beginning to catch on that interactive games weren’t as “neat” as they originally thought). This led to the quick arrival of the CD-ROM based Sega Saturn and 32-bit game systems, launched in the 2nd and 4th quarter of 1995 respectively. These systems were the last ditch effort made to finally bring the “arcade experience” home and bring back the NES’ “glory days” of quality software.
   
“A Sea of Shiny Polygons...” – D. Halverson
   
    Around the time of the introduction of these systems, a revolutionary type of game development was sweeping arcades across the world. Players were now demanding more realistic 3-D environments in video games, thus leading to the introductions of “polygon” based video games. Instead of composing on-screen characters as hand-drawn sprites, they were made up of geometric polygons. This gave the player the sensation of “real-time gameplay.” While polygon games were nothing new (games such as Atari’s Hard Drivin’ and Stun Runner had been around long before) it took 32-bit processing and Sega’s Virtua Fighter to bring them to the mass market. Like so many other genres before it, polygon games quickly became the new trend for companies all over (minus SNK, who was still locked in “the quest for the ultimate 2-D fighting game”).
    Polygon games also had one significant flaw: the technology had not been perfected due to the limitations of the industry’s knowledge of 3-D programming. This led to a wave of titles that were great to look at (and even listen to) but had shallow gameplay second only to that of interactive titles. The melding of the fighting genre with polygons was an incredibly popular trend along with a countless myriad of racing and flight simulator games. While these games had short-term appeal, they often lacked the “replayability factor” that many 2-D games had.
    By now, enthusiast gamers everywhere were very concerned. Mindless fighting and interactive titles (Tos Shin Den, Scavenger 4) were being cranked out at an alarming rate while quality titles such as Arc the Lad, Hermie Hopperhead and Gunners’ Heaven were left in Japan, never to be localized for the North American market. If the trend was to continue on this path, they feared video game industry would undoubtedly crash again. Dave Halverson (an opinion leader and top game magazine publisher) recognizes the problem and offers a simple and clearly effective solution:

“The game business undeniably revolves around the select few titles that make an impact. Take Doom of Street Fighter for instance... since their initial success, they’ve launched countless spawn... one does not have to make a corridor adventure or polygon fighter to enjoy sales. While everyone clamors to have created the next great thing, the obvious is staring them right in the face. Bring us enhanced versions of what we’ve traditionally embraced and we will come! Couldn’t you tell me you wouldn’t buy a 32-bit version of Castlevania, Ghouls & Ghosts, Metroid, or Zelda? I thought not” (Halverson 55)

As he suggested, returning to the concepts that made games so glorious in the first place was the answer, not upgraded hardware.

Sony Makes Their Mark With The Playstation

    In 1996, the software industry was finally getting-to-grips with polygon-based programming. The Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation (PSX) were going head-to-head in an all out 3-D war that echoed the rivalry of the Genesis versus SNES days. Sega had the experience in the gaming industry while Sony had a powerful built-in geometry engine and programmer-friendly development tools. However, Sega’s “experience” brought them failure as they continued to release interactive titles and ignore gamers’ requests for the great RPG’s that were available in Japan. Coupled with Sony’s advantages, Sega started to lose much of its market share.
    The first polygon game that made a major impact was Resident Evil, by Capcom (once again), for the PSX. This game featured all the “bells and whistles” one with associate with a quality 32-bit title, but also showcased some remarkable gameplay which excited gamers across the globe.
    1996 also saw the long-awaited release of the Nintendo 64, Nintendo’s reluctant answer to the PSX and Saturn. While the launch brought Super Mario 64 (hailed by many as one of the greatest games ever) to the marketplace, the majority of the remaining software was mediocre at best. Despite this, the N64 sold well, mainly due to the “Nintendo” brand name established with the NES and SNES.
    Things were definitely starting to improve, but one major genre was still being neglected: RPG’s. This all changed when Sony released Square’s Final Fantasy 7 backed by a major marketing campaign (much to the bewilderment of many industry “experts”). Sony took a chance on RPG’s and hit a gold mine, as many game enthusiasts had predicted. This title inspired many companies to localize RPG’s from Japan such as Alundra, Suikoden, Star Ocean 2nd, Xenogears and Wild Arms. This one move put Sony in favor with many gamers. They were willing to bring over Japanese titles, not concerned on “americanization” of japanese titles. Not surprisingly, Sony defeated Nintendo and Sega both that Christmas with titles such as Final Fantasy 7, Castlevania X, Tekken 2, Soul Blade and Wipeout XL. Nintendo’s best showing was child-oriented titles like Diddy Kong Racing and Starfox 64. Sega was still assaulting the market with fighting and interactive titles leaving masterpieces such as Grandia, Thunderforce V, Princess Crown, Metal Slug, Keio Yu Getikai and countless others in Japan forever.
    In 1998, Sony went even further to satisfy gamers everywhere. That year gamers were able to feed their PSX with a myriad of sensational titles such as Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil 2, Gran Turismo, Tekken 3, Brave Fencer Musashi, Tomba, and Klonoa. The Saturn market had collapsed (no big surprise) while Nintendo had small successes on the N64 with titles such as Goldeneye 007, F-Zero X and Zelda 64.
    The pessimism of ’94 and ’95 was all but gone. Sony had delivered a system at a great price with loads of quality software to choose from. They were committed to the casual gamer as well as the enthusiast gamer, which brought them success from all fields. Needless to say, the PSX became Sony’s biggest product after the ’98 Christmas season surpassing the Walkman.
This post was edited on 2010-03-10, 14:50 by Millartime.
Author name #3
Member since Sep 2007 · 22 posts
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Subject: Part 3
1999 and beyond: Sega Casts a Dream; Sony Crafts a Sequel

    With the Playstation in full force and the N64 managing a respectable second, Sega was determined to become a powerful force in the gaming industry. On September 9, 1999, Sega released the Dreamcast (DC) 128-bit system, powered by a Microsoft CE OS and internet capabilities. While the launch had a few bugs (such as defective disks) it was a success overall, and is currently the fastest selling system of all time. Games such as Soul Caliber and Power Stone have had many gamers used to dated Playstation graphics quickly plunk down cash to get a taste of the future.
    However, Sony has little reason to be concerned at this time. Titles such as Gran Turismo 2, Dino Crisis, Suikoden 2, and Resident Evil Nemesis will ensure the PSX’s dominance this Christmas. Nintendo will have Donkey Kong 64, another game in their weary line-up of children’s titles.
    Sony is not taking the threat of the DC lightly though. Next year will see the release of the Playstation 2, Sony’s ultimate gaming system. Powered by a custom chip dubbed “The Emotion Engine”, this new system will outperform Sega’s Dreamcast and Pentium III PC games by miles. Also a plus in Sony’s favor is that the will make the system backwards compatible for all the original Playstation titles and peripherals. Full DVD movie playback won’t hurt the system’s value as well. Nintendo also has a DVD-based system in the works, but will not be available until late 2001.
    Of course, if history has taught us anything, the proof will be in the software available for these platforms. Although the DC is underpowered compared to the PS2, there are some great titles in development including Phantasy Star Online, an RPG that create a virtual world where players can interact from all over the world. Talks of a hard drive, zip drive and other such upgrades are in the works. Clearly, the console system and the PC are getting closer everyday.
    Since its inception, video games have been a fantastic source of electronic entertainment. It has spanned countless companies, created an entire culture and is becoming more powerful everyday. As long as the commitment to quality software continues, gamers’ everywhere will be glad that they were born during this age of unparalleled entertainment.



References


Works Consulted

Harris, Steve, ed. Electronic Gaming Monthly. Lombard: Sendai Media Group / Ziff Davis, 1989-1999

Halverson, Dave, ed. Gamers’ Republic. Westlake Village: Millennium  Publishing, 1998-1999

Pozinkow, Dan. Personal Interview. 17 Oct. 1999.

Wright, Lawrence. Personal Interview. 13 Sept. 1999

Halverson, Dave, ed. Die Hard Game Fan. Agoura Hills: Die Hard / Metropolis Publishing, 1992-1996

West, Neil, ed. Next Generation. Brisbane: Imagine Publishing, 1994-1996

Sheff, David. Game Over. Toronto: Random House, 1993.


Works Cited

Sheff, David. Game Over. Toronto: Random House, 1993. P. 133

Halverson, Dave, ed. Die Hard Game Fan. Agoura Hills: Die Hard / Metropolis Publishing, Jan ’95 (2), Dec 95 (55)
This post was edited on 2010-03-10, 14:51 by Millartime.
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