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The History Of Gaming Part 3

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Written by DM on Monday, November 14 2005

Part III: The Golden Age Of Gaming

When last we left off, the age of home console gaming had just begun. Colecovision and Intellivision, while not playing a major part in early home gaming, were more of a hold-over until the NES. The NES was the system which really opened up the age of home console gaming.

In 1985, the Nintendo corporation decides to test market its home console, the NES in New York. Retailers were so skeptical that Nintendo had to agree to buy back any unsold stock. Satisfied with the system\'s performance in New York, Nintendo decides to market the console world-wide. They ship the system with an arcade port of the game Super Mario Brothers, and the NES becomes a resounding success.

Meanwhile, Atari is not doing so well. The Atari corporation is dumped by Warner due to lack of profit, and sold to the former head of Commodore computers, Jack Tramiel. Warner keeps the arcade division of Atari, and renames it Atari games. Tramiel develops the Atari 7800 which is generally ignored by everyone due to the huge success of the NES.

Nintendo ends up outselling the competition by 10 to 1. Encouraged by this success, the Sega corporation of Japan releases the Sega Master System (SMS). It is similar in design and function to the NES, but does not perform anywhere near as well. Encouraged by Nintendo\'s sales, several companies sign on with Nintendo as theird-party developers. Namco was among them. In 1987, Nintendo releases one of the best selling games of all time for the NES, the Legend Of Zelda. This was originally designed for a disk drive add-on which the Famicom used in Japan, but Nintendo decides to scrap the disk drive for the US and release Zelda on a cart. Smart move. Kid Icarus and Metroid are also released, offering gamers longer and better looking adventures right in their own homes.

1987 also saw the release of the first "16-bit" game system, the NEC Turbo Grafix 16 (Pc-Engine In Japan). This system was not a true 16-bit system, as it had an 8 bit processor which was supplemented by a 16-bit GPU. NEC also produced the first color handheld, the Turbo Express. This unit is still highly sought after, and sells even today for over $300 dollars.

In 1988 the Atari corporation, close to death, decides to release games for the NES under the Tengen brand name. Their role as a third-party developer however does not last long because they end up taking Nintendo to court over "unfair business practices and creating a video game monopoly." As the trial is continuing, Tengen discovers how to work around Nintendo\'s "lockout" chip in the NES, and announces it will release NES compatible games without the blessing of the Nintendo corporation. Tengen uses this ability to release Tetris even though they do not have the rights to the game, thus begins the war for the rights to Tetris, which is another article entirely.

In 1989, using capital from the unbridled success of the NES, Nintendo decides to launch the Gameboy. For about $100 dollars, gamers could now take gaming anywhere, and the unit is packaged with Tetris. Tetris helps to attract many non-hardcore gamers, females especially. The Gameboy reaches historic sales levels in a very short time. A Gameboy version of Super Mario, Breakout, and eventually Zelda are released, thus adding to the stellar success of the handheld.

The Sega corporation unveils its Sega Genesis system, the first true 16-bit console for the home. They market the system as a "true arcade experience" and package it with a port of the arcade hit Altered Beast. The system does well after limited success in Japan, and the 16-bit era is born.

Meanwhile Nintendo released Super Mario Brother 3, the all time best selling video game cartridge. Even with the NEC and 16-bit Sega system competing for market share, the NES enjoys its best sales year ever, and Nintendo capitalizes on the success once again by announcing the Super Famicom, a 16-bit system which has better graphics and sound then both the NEC and Sega units. An interesting side note for 1990 is that this was the year Nintendo took Blockbuster to court claiming that game rentals were ruining their sales. Blockbuster won of course, but Nintendo got them in the end by winning a suit filed against Blockbuster for copyright infringement when Blockbuster illegally copied the instruction manuals of games for rental purposes. Go figure.

Sega shifts in to high gear and capitalizes on its Arcade games to push the Genesis to higher sales. Games like Afterburner, E-Swat, and Space Harrier all add to the sales of the console, and exclusive rights to Capcom\'s Strider which was an unknown but award winning game helped immensely as well. During this Nintendo versus Sega sales battle, a company called SNK who used to release games for the NES decided to release their own console, the NeoGeo. This console crushed the graphics and sound of the current 16-bit systems, but due to its $500 dollar price tag, it saw few sales.

1991-1992 was a year that saw 3 systems launch that were doomed to fail. Sega CD, Panasonic\'s 3D0, and Atari\'s Jaguar all began their life in 1991 and more or less ended them in 1991 as well. The 3D0 unit stuck around for 5 or 6 years, with the infamous Trip Hawkins, founder of EA, at the helm. The Jaguar, of course, was a total and complete failure, with what are surely the worst control pads ever released to date (we reserve judgment until the PS3 pads are released). The Sega CD was not a success by any means even though some of the hardcore gamers out there will certainly disagree with me. Yes, it did produce those 3 games which were some of the best ever released. By that we mean Snatcher, Lunar, and SonicCD of course. Beyond that the SegaCD was almost worthless. Some other notable game industry releases of 1991 included Street Fighter II and the Game Genie, the first hardware designed specifically for cheating home console games.

By 1993-1994, the 16-bit era seems to be starting its death throes. Sega and Nintendo both announce their next generation systems, the Sega Saturn and a 64-bit console which Nintendo has simply titles "Project Reality." By the end of 1994, Sony announced its intention to jump in to the video game industry with the Sony Playstation. By the end of 1994 experts are already pointing to the Playstation as the superior machine of the next generation. Thus began the great age of gaming we now live in. Tune in next time for Part 4: Playstation Mania.


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 The History Of Gaming Part 2
 The History Of Gaming Part 1

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