Chronology of the History of Video Games
editor: Ted Stahl
vs Vector graphics
History of Computing
It is difficult to identify a particular point as a transition from the Modern Age into the Next Generation. One defining moment is the migration from the limited and more expensive format of a ROM cartridge to larger and more cost-effective media format of the CD. The introduction of NEC’s Turbo CD addition and the Sega CD mark such a point. Another pivotal point in the evolution of video games in the 90s is the step into a full 32-bit architecture and the rollout of the 3DO identifies that moment. However, I have chosen a different designation of this evolutionary stage.
I believe that the American introduction of the Saturn the PlayStation ended the Modern Age of video games. It marked a new era in video game consoles and the industry in general. Both systems demonstrate a maturity of the industry that provided titles targeted to an older audience. Such defining games include Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid, and Silent Hill. These titles are examples of a maturation of the narrative form that truly impacted the masses. Though the Sega Saturn shares many of the same titles, the PlayStation made it’s way into more homes and is significantly responsible for moving the age of the average gamer out of the teens and into the 20s.
In an effort to get the jump on Sony, Sega pushes the Saturn’s release date four months earlier. As one might expect, this catches their developers off guard and very few of the originally planned launch titles are available. Though Sega had a strong following in North America with their Genesis, the high cost of the Saturn ($399) opens the door for Sony. Yet the system is a collector’s dream with a number of extraordinary titles including the Panzer Dragoon series. In fact, most die hard Saturn fans will tell you that Panzer Dragoon Saga is the best RPG ever made. Since the Saturn quickly fell into the shadow of the PlayStation in North America and Europe, most of the best Saturn games were only released in Japan.
July bears witness to the Japanese launch of one of Nintendo’s least successful platforms: the Virtual Boy. This 3D “portable” system used an array of red LEDs that was notorious for causing eyestrain. In fact, the system was packaged with a warning that it could be dangerous for children under the age of 7 to use the unit because of how it strained the eyes. Furthermore, to relieve eye muscles, most games on the system automatically paused every 15 to 30 minutes to enable the player to take a break. With so much going against the system, it had an uphill battle in the marketplace. Unlike the GameBoy and GameBoy Pocket, the Virtual Boy wasn’t really portable. This meant that it was in direct competition with the other home consoles at the time including Sega’s Saturn and Sony’s PlayStation. This left it little hope for success. Though the 3D version of Space Invaders for the system is considered exemplary, little else is worth risking the headaches to play. The North American launch followed only a month later and it proved what the Japanese market had already observed: Nintendo’s Virtual Boy was a flop.
|September 9th marks Sony’s American launch of the PlayStation. They presell 100,000 units before the release and sell out the rest of the stock shortly thereafter. Much like the Atari 2600 marked the first success story for the Golden Age and the Nintendo Entertainment System is the powerhouse that ushered in the Modern Age, the Sony PlayStation marks a powerful moment in the evolution of gaming as an entertainment medium. As its library grows in size and variety, the PlayStation garners the interest of an older demographic along with the typical teen. Titles like Resident Evil, Fear Effect 1 & 2, Silent Hill, Metal Gear Solid, Parasite Eve 1 & 2, as well as Final Fantasy VII, VIII, & IX offered a more mature entertainment experience for many who had not been as interested in console-based gaming. Other series on the system, such as Gran Turismo, Ace Combat, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Tekken, Colony Wars, and many of the classic sports franchises made the PlayStation a popular system for all ages.|
In an effort to take advantage of their large 16-bit library amassed for the Genesis, Sega released a portable system entitled the Nomad. Unlike the GameGear (which was more like a portable Sega Master System), the Nomad did not use it’s own proprietary cartridge. Instead, it played Genesis games. It had a large (3 inch) backlit active matrix color LCD screen. This meant that it had incredible quality for a handheld system. However, it also made the Nomad a battery hog. It used a battery cartridge that snapped onto the back of the unit and held 6 AA batteries. This powered the system for only 4-6 hours. Though it was a novel way to bring renewed life to the Genesis library, the combination of short battery life and a rather steep price ($180 U.S.) led many to pass on this console.
|In June Nintendo finally releases the Nintendo 64 console in Japan. It is their answer to the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation. However, unlike their competition, the N64 still uses cartridges to store the software rather than compact discs. This limited the space in which the programmers could store textures, digital audio, and pre-rendered animations. The largest Nintendo 64 titles were around 32 megabytes. Considering that many PlayStation and Saturn games used multiple CDs (each of which can hold 650-700 megabytes), this was a fraction of what the other platforms enabled programmers to utilize. This limit, combined with the minimal third party support and the fact that the platform arrived a year after their competition, made it very difficult for the N64 to compete. Granted, there are some extraordinary titles available for the system that make it a worthwhile console. These include the launch title Super Mario 64, as well as the other Mario games (Mario Kart 64, Mario Tennis, Mario Golf, Paper Mario, and Mario Party 1, 2, & 3), The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Smash Bros., GoldenEye, and the controversial Conker’s Bad Fur Day. In addition to these, Nintendo also secured some exclusive titles through LucasArts including Battle for Naboo, Rogue Squadron, and Shadows of the Empire. In spite of its downfalls, the system is the first true 64-bit console, it has four controller ports and a number of multi-player games, home to a small but impressive library.|
Tiger rolls out their affordable Game.com handheld system. Though it has a number of interesting features, it has one tragic flaw: a horrible screen. Its 200 x 160 black & white (4 shades of gray) screen refreshed at such a slow rate that many of the arcade style games were practically unplayable. This made it difficult to get third party developers to author games for the platform which further accelerated the system’s demise. On the plus side, the Game.com had a touch screen interface and included a stylus for interaction. This, combined with a built-in calendar and address book, gave the unit PDA functionality. Tiger also sold an internet kit that utilized the Game.com’s serial port. This enabled the unit to go online via a 2400 baud modem. Though all of these concepts were forward thinking, they didn’t help Tiger’s handheld play games. And even if there had been more support for the system (only about 20 games were ever made for the platform), Nintendo was ready to pound the nails in the Game.com’s coffin the following year.
Fall of 1998 marks a very important introduction for handheld gaming enthusiasts throughout the world. Nintendo rolls out the GameBoy Color to Japan in October, and to the rest of the world in November. Not only does this bring color to the most popular platform of all time, but it keeps backward compatibility so that the new system launched with huge pre-existing GameBoy library. The system still runs the same Z80 processor, but the clock speed is doubled along with the screen buffer and the RAM is tripled.
|November marks Sega's attempt to usher in the 128-bit era with their introduction of the Dreamcast. They also recognize the future potential of online gaming by including a 56k modem as part of the system. This is the first gaming console to have built-in hardware to handle online gaming. Furthermore, Sega made this modem a modular component and later released a broadband adapter that could easily replace the modem by an end user.|
|Though the system beat the PlayStation 2 to market by an entire year, it never got the foothold in the market that many expected it would. It's graphics were revolutionary and its potential for online gaming seemed promising. It became home to the sequel to Soul Edge (Soul Blade in America) entitled Soul Calibur. This, along with Dead or Alive 2 and a number of unique titles like Samba de Amigo, ChuChu Rocket, Rez, and Ikaruga make it a system worth owning. Unfortunately, due to its GDROM drive and the ported version of Windows CE that it used for an operating system, the Dreamcast titles were rather easily pirated. With so much consumer interest in the PlayStation 2 after its launch, most third party developers focused their efforts on Sony's product because of its growing installed base. This led to the Dreamcast's untimely demise.|
In October SNK releases the Neo Geo Pocket in Japan. This system played grayscale versions of many popular Neo Geo titles. However, in spite of a crystal clear screen, it didn’t fare well against the new GameBoy Color.
|SNK makes an effort to compete with the GameBoy Color by releasing the Neo Geo Pocket Color in Japan in March and in North America in June. The screen maintained the crispness that the original grayscale edition had. Unfortunately, in spite of some excellent licenses (i.e., Metal Slug, Samarai Showdown, Fatal Fury, Puyo Pop, and Bust-A-Move), the system couldn’t compete with the vast library offered by Nintendo.|
Sega brings the Dreamcast to America and Europe in September.
|In February Maxis releases what is to be the best selling computer game to date. The Sims takes the throne from Myst as it sells more than 16 million copies and is translated into over 17 languages. This is the latest in Will Wright's simulation games that began with SimCity. Maxis and EA find creative ways to get the most out of the franchise by releasing numerous expansion packs for The Sims, thus enabling the characters of the game to do things that are not possible with the original title alone. These add-ons include: Makin' Magic, Superstar, Unleashed, Vacation, Hot Date, House Party, and Livin' Large. Like Myst, The Sims appeals to a much broader audience because of its lack of violence.|
|Sony launches the PlayStation 2 in Japan in March and introduces it to North America in October. The PlayStation 2 sells out immediately in both markets in spite of only a few launch titles available. However, like the GameBoy systems, Sony recognizes the value of backward compatibility and enables the PS2 to play the original PlayStation library. Sony continues the trend of establishing gaming as an entertainment form for adults as well as children with their second console. Many franchises continue forward including Ace Combat, Armored Core, Final Fantasy, Hot Shots Golf, Metal Gear Solid, Parappa, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Suikoden, Tekken, and Twisted Metal. However, one of the most important franchises takes a big leap forward on the PS2 – Grand Theft Auto. With the release of Grand Theft Auto III, the franchise enters a fully 3D immersive city and the series takes this to new heights in the following two sequels, GTA: Vice City and GTA: San Andreas. Though these titles are all eventually available on the Xbox and PC, their initial incarnation on the PS2 helps to define Sony’s system as a mature entertainment machine. New franchises worth noting on the PlayStation 2 include Devil May Cry, Jak and Daxter, Onimusha, Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper, and Zone of the Enders.|
Sega releases two important titles for their Dreamcast: ChuChu Rocket and Phantasy Star Online. These are significant because of their online components. ChuChu Rocket is the first online console title and Phantasy Star Online is the first console-based online RPG. These are but the beginning of what this generation of systems will offer for connected gameplay.
In January Infogrames buys out Hasbro and acquires the intellectual property rights to the Atari library that they own.
Sega announces that they will cease production of the Dreamcast at the end
of March. Instead of investing in hardware development, they will re-focus their
efforts on continued software development for the remaining platforms. Sadly,
this marks the end of an era. One of the most innovative console manufacturers
of the past decade has bowed out.
|Nintendo releases the GameBoy Advance to Japan in March and to North America and Europe in June. The system is essentially has the processing power of a Super Nintendo and receives many ports from that system. It maintains the GameBoy legacy of backward compatibility by playing original GameBoy and GameBoy color titles.|
|GamePark, a Korean company, releases the GP32. This 32-bit handheld console differs from the GameBoy and other handheld systems because of its open architecture. Rather than using proprietary ROM cartridges for games, the GP32 uses re-writable Smart Media cards. This makes the system very appealing to amateur programmers and developers. In fact, many emulators are ported to the system because of its architecture. The original unit uses a reflective screen like the GameBoy Advance. Eventually, a front-lit unit (FLU) is released and finally a back-lit unit (BLU) is made available.|
|Nintendo enters this generation of consoles with their GameCube. It is first available in Japan in September, then in North America in November. The system does not see a European launch until May of 2002. This system is their first attempt to use a disc-based format rather than a cartridge in order to distribute their content. Unlike the PS2 and the Xbox, the GameCube does not use DVD media. Rather, Nintendo uses their own proprietary smaller disc. Though many see it as a format that is more easily handled by children, others speculate that it is Nintendo’s attempt to make their content difficult to duplicate illegally. Though the graphics are superior to the PlayStation 2, the third party support for the system eventually reduces. For example, the Burnout series is available for all three systems for its first two installments. However, by the time Burnout 3 releases, it’s only available for the PS2 and Xbox. Many believe that Electronic Arts figures it wouldn’t make enough on the port. Other titles that are originally GameCube exclusive releases (i.e., Viewtiful Joe, Super Monkey Ball, and Resident Evil 4) eventually find their way onto the other platforms in an attempt to sell to a larger audience. In spite of these setbacks and the less than stellar market saturation of the GameCube, it’s a system worth owning because of its noteworthy library including exclusive franchises like the Mario titles (Mario Kart: Double-Dash, Mario Golf, Super Mario Sunshine, and Mario Tennis), as well as Metroid, Rogue Squadron, Skyfox, and Zelda.|
|Microsoft enters into the console ring with their introduction of the Xbox in November. This marks the first American console in over a decade. The system sells well initially in North America thanks to what many believe is the best first-person-shooter to grace a console system: Halo: Combat Evolved. Unfortunately, the system is not as successful in Japan. This is partially due to the original first-party controller. Microsoft’s initial Xbox controller is nothing short of massive. It's an almost solid brick of plastic over 6” (15cm) wide and 5” (over 12cm) tall. Microsoft eventually releases a smaller controller (the “S controller”) for the Japanese market and later makes it their standard controller and discontinues production of the original unit. Though the Xbox gets a slow start, a number of factors facilitate it claiming a significant market share. First, the system is the most powerful of the three home consoles of its generation. This gives it a graphical advantage on all ports. The unit also has an internal harddrive and a built-in network card. This means that few people feel the need to purchase a memory card for game saves and multi-player gaming via system link and over broadband is supported the best on the Xbox. This is further enhanced by Microsoft’s Xbox Live online play strategy. This enables gamers to pay one subscription fee to play all Xbox online enabled games, rather than title specific licensing. Finally, since the Xbox is based on an Intel Pentium III 733Mhz processor, it is easy to port PC titles to the platform. Because of this, titles like Counter Strike, Doom III, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and Tron 2.0 are available for the Xbox. Other notable franchises for the system include: Advent Rising, Crimson Skies, Fable, Knights of the Old Republic, Morrowind, Ninja Gaiden, Project Gotham Racing, Shenmue 2, Steel Battalion, Syberia, Theif: Deadly Shadows, and Unreal Championship.|
Nintendo finally graces Europe with the GameCube in May.
September marks Nintendo's attempt to bolster their card-collecting legacy, as well as provide an interesting spin on handheld gaming. They launch the e-Reader for the GameBoy Advance in North America. This peripheral enables a GBA owner to scan cards into the system and play mini-games as well as modify GBA and GameCube titles. Though a number of sucessful franchises utilize the device (including Pokemon, Animal Crossing, and Super Mario), it proves to be more of a novelty to the gaming public and many titles originally planned for release are cancelled.
In mid-February, Nintendo releases the GameBoy Advance SP in Japan and follows with its European and North American launches in late March. This is a more compact version of the GameBoy Advance that uses a rechargeable lithium ion battery and includes a fold-up back-lit display. Though some complain that the placement and the size of the left and right shoulder buttons is less comfortable than the original, most agree that this is an acceptable compromise considering the advantages of the new design.
|Infogrames decides to take advantage of the name recognition of the intellectual property that they acquired from Hasbro at the beginning of 2001 and renames their company Atari on May 7th, 2003.|
|Nokia launches their N-Gage in October. Though many cel phones have color LCDs and are capable of playing games, Nokia developed this phone with gaming in mind. Unfortunately, it proves to be less than successful. The button layout proves clumsy and the launch price of $299 proves unacceptable for the portable gaming market. Though Nokia offers rebates and eventually drops the price, it doesn’t compensate for the initial negative reaction to the system. Many believe that the games are not as interesting as those available for the GameBoy series.|
|November sees Sony’s EyeToy USB camera for the PlayStation 2 and gamers see themselves on their televisions everywhere. The first title to take advantage of the peripheral is Sony’s Play. This is a series of mini games that use the interface to control simple onscreen movement. Later in 2004, Sony releases Groove for the EyeToy which is a rhythm game reminiscent of the Dreamcast’s Samba de Amigo. The concept of the EyeToy is that many people are intimidated by the typical game controller with over a dozen buttons on its face. By using a camera to capture motion as input control, anyone can comfortably interface with a game. Though the concept seems appropriate for party type titles, the interface is not seen to offer the robust control of a typical controller and thus as a replacement method of controlling all games.|
|Atari (formerly Infogrames) decides to make it an interesting retro Christmas season by releasing The Atari Flashback Classic Gaming Console. Modeled after the Atari 7800 (internally and externally), this unit comes with 20 installed games and two joystick controllers. The 20 installed games (15 titles from the 2600 and 5 titles from the 7800) are all that the system is intended to play because it has no cartridge port. Though limited, it offers the opportunity to relive fond memories with a friend for under $50 USD.|
|Nintendo has the video game public seeing double in the last quarter of 2004. On November 21st, they release the Nintendo DS (Dual Screen) to North America and follow with the Japanese release on December 2nd. The DS’s unique claim to fame is that it uses two discreet color LCD screens. The upper of the two screens is the main display while the lower is what separates the DS from other systems. It is touch-sensitive and, thus, serves as an input device. Some of the launch titles use this screen to show an overhead map view of a level while others use it for virtual buttons for an alternate control interface. However, no matter what the utilization, the technology offers a new spin on gameplay interaction. Furthermore, the built-in microphone serves as yet another input source. Though this system is capable of playing GameBoy Advance games, it is not backward compatible with the previous generations of GameBoy titles.|
|December sees Sony’s entrance into the handheld video game market with its Japanese launch of the PlayStation Portable. The system sells out its initial shipment immediately. The system is essentially a portable PS2, whereas Nintendo’s GBA is closer to a Super Nintendo and their DS is comparable to a N64. The PSP is also capable of MP3 playback, MPEG movie playback, and it includes WiFi capability to play local multiplayer as well as internet play via wireless router access. Sony hopes to help the maturation of handheld gaming in much the same way that they encouraged the coming of age of the home console.|
|Last Updated on 3 November, 2006||For suggestions please mail the editors|