The Future of Gaming: The Past of Gaming

Jon Martin - 2T Civil
Posted on: November 17, 2010

Hey everyone, for this issue I thought it would be good to look back at the history of the video game industry – from the humble beginnings to the current behemoths of gaming. Since this issue also marks the 30th anniversary of The Iron Warrior I think it is a fitting tribute as well.

For this article my main sources of information are the Guinness Book of World Records – Gamers Edition 2008 as well as Wikipedia, of course. There is some debate over the actual beginning and end of the so called gaming ‘generations’ so this is for fun information only.

So, to begin with we are actually going to go back a bit farther than thirty years – got to start at the beginning right? Right (I know I just agreed with myself, but that’s OK). Console gaming is generally accepted to have start in 1972 with the Magnavox Odyssey, a simple system running off batteries and connected to your TV. Colour was simulated using coloured overlays attached to your screen, while the system itself was also available with dice, poker chips and score cards for games. The system sold approximately 300,000 units between 1972 and 1975.

The classic Pong game that most of our parents will remember was created by gaming giant Atari. It debuted in arcades in 1972, followed by a release on simple home consoles like the Odyssey system in 1975. Pong inspired many copy-cat games that were popular until the introduction of microprocessor based systems – which heralded the second generation of gaming.

In 1976 the Fairchlld Semiconductor company released the Fairchild VES (Video Entertainment System) which allowed users to purchase new games rather than just being able to play the same games that had been programmed into the first generation systems. Atari responded with the release of the Atari VCS (Video Computer System) in 1977, the system was renamed in 1982 to the more commonly known Atari 2600.

In 1980 (now we reach the 30 year mark) Mattel created a threat to Atari with the release of the Intellivision console. While the Atari 2600 had used 2 kilobyte cartridges, the Intellivision used 4 kilobyte cartridges, allowing for more advanced games. This trend of increasing the cartridge memory size increased until it had reached 32K. Around 1983 the American gaming industry crashed, leading to a new generation of systems.

The third generation of gaming saw the focus of gaming numbers change from cartridge size to the processor power, this is where the 8-bit systems ruled the industry. One of the first systems in the new post-crash landscape was the Famicon console, which was released in Japan in 1983. The system was later renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System, or more commonly NES. The main competitor to Nintendo was the Sega Master System, released in 1986. It became very successful in other countries, despite never conquering the NES in North America.

The fourth generation started with the release of the first 16 bit system, the PC Engine, known as the TurboGrafx in North America. In this generation Sega and Nintendo were the biggest contenders, both releasing numerous consoles taking advantage of new technology. It was also during this time period that gaming controllers shifted from joysticks and keypads to the gamepad we know now. In 1991 Atari discontinued the 2600 model, making it the longest production run of a gaming console.

The fifth generation was again dominated by Nintendo and Sega, though they were now threatened by personal computers, which had finally reached the point where they could produce 3D graphics (not the jump out at you 3D we hear about now). This prompted the jump to 32 and 64 bit systems, while simultaneously facing a new threat in the console market with Sony jumping into the industry. The original Sony Playstation was released in 1994, and it was one of the first systems to use disk media instead of the standard cartridge system. While cartridges could load faster they had vastly inferior storage capacities, the Nintendo 64 was one of the very last systems to use cartridges. Atari dropped out of the console business following the 1993 release of the Atari Jaguar which failed to attain a viable market share.

Now we get to the Sixth generation, started by the Sega Dreamcast in 1998, the first 128 bit console while also offering online gaming. Sony released the Playstation 2 in 2000, to amazing success, which probably contributed greatly to the discontinuation of the Dreamcast system in 2001. Also in 2001, Microsoft entered the gaming market with the Xbox. Interestingly the Xbox was only a 32bit system when most other systems in the generation were 64 bit, but the powerful processor made it the fastest console of that generation. Nintendo also released their successor to the Nintendo 64 in 2001, with the Gamecube.

So, that brings us to the current generation – that’s the seventh in case you lost count – which is ruled by Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft, with the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360 respectively. While all the systems use disk media the PS3 is the only one to use blu-ray technology while the other two still use standard dvd. With the economic recession, experts are predicting 10 to 15 year lifespans for the current generation systems, making this one of the longest generations in the history of the gaming industry. To this end, all of the companies are trying to develop and expand their existing consoles to make them commercially viable for a longer time. 2010 has seen the release of the Playstation Move controller, adding motion control to the system, as well as the Microsoft Kinect camera, adding controller free motion control to the Xbox. Nintendo, meanwhile, has released the Wii in special edition alternate colours – ooooh, ahhh, red. After the lack of innovation on Nintendo’s part you knew I would sneak in an insult somewhere J. Come on Nintendo, do something interesting, anything would be an improvement at this point.

So that is the history of gaming, in a heavily condensed form. Hopefully everyone can appreciate a little more the huge advancements that have been made in gaming when you think of how different the current systems are from the Magnavox Odyssey, with only 38 years separating them. As for the future, keep on Gaming.