Entertainment and technology have worked hand-in-hand on the path of progress since the beginning. Computer gaming has had an ever changing face ever since it was first introduced. We take a look at the predecessor of the heavily upgraded video consoles in the market today.
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A Video Game console is a device generally used for playing video games for non-commercial purposes. The video game console can be either an interactive computer or an electronic device. It produces a video display signal that is displayed using a display device (a television, monitor, etc.) to display a video game. The term “video game console and is used to differentiate a machine designed for consumers to buy and use solely for playing video games from a personal computer, which has many other functions, or arcade machines, which are designed for video game businesses.
The video game console requires a monitor, be it a television screen or a computer monitor, to display the images. The video game console is termed such to differentiate between arcade game machines, which are used for commercial purposes and personal computers, which offer many more features to the end-user.
The first video game console was the brainchild of Ralph Baer of Sander’s Associates. It was termed the Magnavox Odyssey and was released in 1972. Later, Atari came up with the extremely popular ‘PONG’ games, which brought a flurry of Pong and Pong related games into the market.
Apart from PONG, the other players in the market were Coleco Telstar and APF TV Fun. These consoles are known to be the first generation of video game consoles.
The term ‘videogame console’ was first used by Fairchild Systems for their ‘Video Entertainment Systems’ (VES) in 1976. This was the first console to contain a programmable microprocessor. Soon, other manufacturers like RCA and Atari came up with microprocessor based video game consoles. These consoles are known as the second generation of videogame consoles.
The Video Game console market faced its second and biggest crash in 1983. While the first crash in 1977 was mainly due to obsolete gaming consoles being sold at a loss-making price, the crash of 1983 had entirely different reasons behind it. In 1977, manufacturers of older, obsolete consoles sold their systems at a loss to clear stock, creating a glut in the market and causing Fairchild and RCA to abandon their game consoles.
It was not until Atari released a conversion of the arcade hit Space Invaders in 1980 that the home console industry was completely revived. Many consumers bought an Atari just for Space Invaders. Its unprecedented success started the trend of console manufacturers trying to get exclusive rights to arcade titles, and the trend of advertisements for game consoles claiming to bring arcade experience home. Other companies released video game consoles of their own, throughout the early 1980’s. Many of them were technically superior to Atari 2600. However Atari dominated the console market in the early 1980’s.
By 1983, the video game console market was in full bloom, and a number of companies had invested money and released either their own console games or consoles. Many of these were low on quality, high on advertising products which tried to bank on the popularity wave of video game consoles.
One such game which gained massive unpopularity, and is often blamed (wrongly) for the video game crash of 1983 is E.T. The game was made with only six weeks of development time and tried to bank on two of the biggest booms at that time, E.T the movie and the video game console boom.
It was full of programming bugs, improper and illogical programming and features and concepts which made the game unplayable. It has been dubbed as ‘the worst video game of all time’ by many. This was critical in putting to an end the second generation of video game consoles.
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In 1983, Nintendo came up with the Famicom (Family Computer) or NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) series of games, which brought about a change in the video game console market. The NES series featured full colour, high resolution and longer games with detailed graphics. The game was bundled with a plastic Robot and a light gun. Like Space Invaders for the 2600, Nintendo found its breakout hit game in Super Mario Bros. Nintendo’s success revived the video game industry and new consoles were soon introduced in the following years to compete with the NES.
The NES’s massive success with Super Mario Bros, which heralded the return of video game consoles. This wrapped up the success of the third generation of video game consoles. Nintendo ran a tight ship as regards its NES system. It introduced a lockout system, which forced game manufacturers to go through Nintendo only for their games. Also, it allowed third party game manufacturers to make only five games per year for the NES.
The fourth generation of video game consoles saw the release of Sega’s Master System and Sega’s Sega Mega Drive. The Sega Mega Drive was released on October 29, 1989, two years before the release of Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). Sega extended the Mega Drive with the Mega CD/Sega CD, to provide increased storage space for multi-media based games that were then in vogue among the development community. Later Sega released the 32X, which added some of the polygon processing functionality common in the fifth-generation machines. However the peripheral was a commercial failure due to the lack of software support, with developers more keen to concentrate on more powerful machines, with a wider user base, such as Saturn that followed shortly after.
The fifth generation video game consoles were feature-rich and had many other capabilities as compared to their previous counterparts. Chief among these was the Sony PlayStation and the Nintendo 64. The other players in the market were 3DO and Atari. Atari Jaguar and the 3DO, both of these systems were much more powerful than SNES or Mega Drive. They were better at rendering polygons, could display more onscreen colours and the 3DO contained discs that contained far more information than cartridges and were cheaper to produce. Neither of these consoles were serious threat to Sega or Nintendo, though. It was not until Sega’s Saturn, Sony’s Play station and the Nintendo 64 were released that fifth generation consoles started to become popular. The Saturn and PlayStation used CDs to store games, while the Nintendo 64 used cartridges. All three cost far less than the 3DO, and were easier to program than the Jaguar. The Saturn also had 2D sprite handling power on par with the Neo-Geo.
The sixth generation of video game consoles saw updates and new releases. This generation saw a move towards Pc-like architectures in gaming consoles, as well as a shift towards using DVDs for game media. This brought games that were visually more appealing. Furthermore, this generation also saw experimentation with online console gaming and implementing both flash and hard drive storage for game storage. Sony’s released the next version of the PlayStation, the PlayStation 2, while Nintendo and Microsoft fought competition with the GameCube and the Xbox respectively. Sega came up with the Dreamcast, but has since then stopped production. The Xbox heralded a new age in video game consoles, by being the first console to have a hard disk drive. It had many similarities to a low end computer.
The features introduced in the seventh generation include the support of the new disc formats: Blu-Ray Disc, utilized by the PlayStation-3, and HD DVD supported by the Xbox 360. Another new technology is the use of motion as input, and IR tracking (as implemented in Wii). Microsoft kicked off the seventh generation with the release of the Xbox 306 in 2005. It featured processing power never before seen until Sony stroked back with its PlayStation 3 one year later.
The software used on these dedicated computer systems has evolved amazingly from the simple rectangular blips used in Pong. Games today feature richly textured, full-colour graphics, awesome sound and complex interaction between player and system. The increased storage capacity of the cartridges and discs allows game developers to include incredibly detailed graphics and CD-quality soundtracks. Several of the video game systems have built-in special effects that add features like unique lighting or texture mapping in real-time. Each new generation of console hardware made use of the rapid development of processing technology. Newer machines could output a greater range of colours, more sprites, and introduced graphical technologies such as scaling and vector graphics.}
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