Saturday, May 26, 2007

History of Video Games

Howdy folks! Here’s another article from me, regarding the history of video games. Today we’ll be covering some of the key questions that were asked in the tutorial!

1. What are the significant milestones in the history of electronic game development?
2. Who are the pioneers in game development, and how did they contribute to the industry?
3. How did the game industry evolve from coin-operated electromechanical and mainframe computer games of the 60's to today's console, personal computer, online and mobile industries?
4. What factors contributed to the video game slump of the early '80s?
5. Why did certain game companies and game titles succeed during game development history - and why did some fail miserably?

Milestones in the video game industry

The video gaming industry is a fairly new one, beginning only in the last 50 - 60 years or so. In fact, the video gaming industry did not begin as video games, but rather, mechanical coin-operated games in America, and then later, Japan.

Mechanical coin operated games (1950s – 1960s)

These originally began in America, and started as simple arcade pinball machines. They started becoming popular in during the 1950s during the American economy boom after World-War II. Some key companies at this time included:

Bally Manufacturing

A successful pinball machine company set up in America for the last 70 years, considered one of the forefathers of video games. It later moved into the Health Care and Gambling industries.

Williams Manufacturing

Another successful pinball machine company set up in America. It was originally founded by Harry E. Williams. In the 1970s Williams Manufacturing branched into Arcade Coin Operated Video Games, where it succeeded for a number of years. It has since declined and was later bought by Midway Games

Midway Games

One of the pioneers of the game industry Midway started as a pinball company and later from a merger with Bally Manufacturing became: Bally Midway. Midway has continued since by producing Arcade Games and has founded many of the popular old school games such as: Mace: The Dark Age, Mortal Kombat and Crusin’ USA.

These would later be brought to Japan due to the strong American military presence in Japan. Many independent companies in Japan soon rose and began making mechanical coin based games.

The first electronic games (1960s – 1970s)

The first electronic games would not come about until the 1970s. It was then when electronic games were first made. University students were the first to start creating games on their large mainframe computers. This was the period when university students began defining the basic genres of game-play. Of course, it was also during this period where the first console device was made. It was called the Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device, patented by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann. However, this machine was not readily available to the public and was not typically competing in the game industry at that time. One of the more popular games developed on that console would be: Tennis for two, by William Higinbotham.

The Rise of Video Games (1972)

It was 1972 when the video game industry was borne. This was when the video game industry became a recognized industry, with 3 distinguished divisions, namely market games, computer games and arcade games. Spacewar! was the first commercial and widely known game ever created.


Spacewar was conceived by the Tech Model Railroad Club, which consisted of Steve Russell, Wayne Witanen, and J. Martin Graetz. The trio created Spacewar for the newly released DEC PDP-1 computer that was made to replace the previous mainframe computer set. Spacewar! was later added as a demo for PDP computers that were on sale, and became one of the most influential video games in the industry.

Not long after Spacewar! was released, two students from Stanford University managed to hook the Spacewar! game to a computer with a monitor and coin slot. This was later adapted by Nolan Bushnell, in a clone called Computer Space. Hence the first arcade machine was borne. However because of the complicated controls and bad game design, it was not a success. However Bushnell, undaunted by his failure, preserved and together with Ted Dabney formed Atari Corporation, which was to be one of the greatest contributors to the game industry.

It was also during this period when the Magnavox Odyssey was invented by Ralph Baer. The Odyssey was the first home entertainment system, and succeeded rather spectacularly. It featured a cartridge system which housed various video games such as chase and paddle games. However, due to the impression that the Odyssey was only capable of running on Magnavox television sets, it did not sell well, but rather only moderately so.

Another hit game released in this era was PONG! And it really originated from another game altogether.


Pong was Atari’s kick-start into the game industry. This game began as a Tennis game developed by Al Alcorn. Bushnell, Atari’s founder, wanted to enlist Bally Manufacturing’s assistance in producing the game, but because of policy had to test run it himself first. After setting up a prototype in a bar, he realized that the machine was earning major profits for him and decided to develop the machines without Bally’s assistance. PONG! was then borne, becoming an immediate sensation in 1972. Soon after PONG!’s success, Bushnell bought out Dabney and became Atari’s sole founder.

Soon later, Atari founded a rival company known as Kee Games. This action was really done so that Atari could expand further into the Arcade industry. Kee Games, led by Atari’s second in command, Joe Keenan, began inventing Atari clones and eventually even made a successful unique game of its own, Tank.

The Decline of the Video Game Industry(1976-1977)

Apparently, people soon got bored of the reused game genres. Games were pretty similar in this period with clones being made from the two industry giants of the time, Bally, under its Midway subsidy and Atari, as Joe Keenan as the new president, after Nolan Bushnell’s retirement. During this period the video game industry suffered its greatest lost and began declining, however this would soon change.

The Golden Age of Gaming (1978 ++)

It was the year 1978, when it began. Atari and Taito were responsible for this new growth and spur in the industry with two very different games. Taito, a small Japanese company at the time, was responsible for the creation of Space Invaders, one of the greatest hits in the game industry. Invented by Toshihiro Nishikado, Space Invaders was a slow selling but simple craze that was later shifted from Japan to America via Bally Midway. Space Invaders were apparently so addictive that the Japanese Government had to begin an increased production of 100 yen coins (The coins used to operate the machine). At the same time, Atari released a revolutionary sports game called: Atari Football. This featured a track-ball as a control and a smooth scrolling screen.

It was also during this period when Vector Graphics was introduced. Vector Graphics was pioneered by Larry Rosenthal, and was later patented under Cinematronics, which created a whole array of Vector games, including a clone of Spacewar! called Space Wars. This industry, however did not last very long because of technological advancements in Raster Graphics.

Space Invaders apparently was the beginning of many Japanese video game companies. After the launch of Space Invaders, Konami and Namco joined the Video Game industry. Beginning as a Jukebox rental and rocking horse company respectively, they joined the industry fresh off the shelf. Namco released the first color version of Space Invaders, called Galaxian. Namco also brought video games firmly into America with the release of Puck Man (known as Pac Man today). Puck Man was created by Toru Iwatani, a pinball enthusiast. Iwatani wanted to create a video game that appealed to both sexes and that was non violent, hence Puck Man was borne. Puck Man was widely accepted in America and defined arcade games with its intriguing design. Puck Man was later renamed to Pac Man.

Evolution of Games

Of course, games didn’t reach their current state over-night, so here is a quick recap on the evolution of games. (A more detailed description can be found above, in the milestone section)

Mainframe Computers

Games were originally developed for the mainframe university computers. These games were not widely available, but were the original games in the market. Rather than coding in C++ or any standard language available now, these games were coded mainly in Assembly and with hardware chips. The development of these kinds of games spanned from 1971 – 1980.

Early Handhelds

The first handhelds included OXO which was a tic tac toe game, and Microvision, a console with interchangeable cartridges. Later on, technology evolved and color became an advancement in early handhelds.

Home Computers

Source code for early computer games could be bought in books. These games were usually made by hobbyist and only featured text on the screen. The games were generally distributed via Floppy disks and game cartridges.

First Generation (1972 – 1977)

First generation consoles include the Magnavox Odyssey and the home version of PONG. These were generally simple and had counter parts in arcades around the same time.

Second Generation (1977 – 1983)

Also known as the 8-bit era, the second generation generally consisted of game consoles such as the Atari VCS, Intellivision, and Colecovision.

Third Generation (1985 – 1989)

This was the period when Nintendo finally stepped into the game industry. Games from this period are generally more widely known. This was also the generation when Super Mario Bros. and the Nintendo Entertainment System was created. This device set the standards for console gaming, and the basic design of the machine is still widely used.

Fourth Generation (1989 – 1996)

The creation of Sega’s Mega Drive and Nintendo’s Super NES appeared. Sega and Nintendo were the market dominators in this period of time. This was also the debut of CD-ROMs and the Neo-Geo system which was the most advanced 2D rendering machine at the time. Game consoles generally had their 8-bit chips replaced with 16-bit alternatives, and an immense improvement of graphics was seen.

Fifth Generation (1994 – 1999)

This was the period when Nintendo’s Nintendo 64 emerged. This was also the period Sega’s Saturn and Dreamcast was made. Coming fresh into the market, the Sony Playstation managed to become one of the best selling consoles, placing Sony high in the market in this period. Games were now rendered in 32-bit glory, with 3D titles springing all over the place. Many great games were also created during this period including “GoldenEye 007” which revolutionized first person shooters on consoles, and Legend of Zelda – The Ocarina of Time, which is regarded by game critics as the greatest games of all time. Following these games is the highly regarded Final Fantasy series and various Playstation releases.

Sixth Generation (1998 – 2005)

This was the generation which I personally got the best look of. Being a growing boy at the time, I was exposed to all the consoles developed in this generation. This included the Playstation 2, the Xbox, the Gameboy, Gameboy Advance and GameCube. Many innovative games were also created in this period, including the Sims, GTA III, Halo 2 and Resident Evil 4.

Seventh Generation (2006 – Present)

This generation of video games is still occurring, with many of the latest hits we see now. This is also the boom of the mobile game industry, starting with Nokia’s N-Gage in the Sixth Generation. Some of the consoles in the seventh generation include: handhelds such as: the Nintendo DS & DS Lite and the Sony PSP. The competitors: Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft also release new Next-Gen consoles, namely the Nintendo Wii, Sony Playstation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360. The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 feature a new graphical rendering system capable of outputting HD quality video output. The Nintendo Wii features a new interface and controller design.

Factors to the 1983 game industry crash

In 1983, the video game industry crashed terribly. I believe that the reason for this is due to the fact that the game industry had extremely bad titles such as E.T. and a badly ported version of Pac Man. There were apparently so many left over copies of E.T. that they had to be buried in a hole in New Mexico. Due to the release of such titles, the game industry crashed badly, and only managed to recover in 2 years.

Why did games succeed or fail?

The answer to this question is perhaps the most obvious. The games crashed because they were badly designed! This shows that game design is extremely important and knowing the intricate principles of game design is vital in the production of a successful game. Game’s that were well designed often succeeded, and games that had bad design just crashed (Like E.T.).

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