Video gaming, have you ever asked yourself where it all began, how it all began and why it all began? What influenced it the most, what started the industry and why gaming didn't stop being popular like most fads eventually do? Questions every gamer should know the answer to. In this blog I'll try to present some of the people, games and companies that changed the course of gaming starting from the late 50's to the early 2000's.
How it all began
A laboratory, expensive government equipment, frustration and the need for relaxation or simply put something to have fun with. The earliest form of electronic entertainment is probably the analog CRT missile simulator game created in 1947 by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr.. Since his "game" did not have graphics within the system, the 1st game was created in 1958 by William Higinbotham on an oscilloscope titled "Tennis for Two".
The oscilloscope provided the graphics and motion – it had 2 controllers for 2 players. In the cold war there was of course the race for space and in 1961, Yuri Gagarin was the 1st man to orbit the moon which influenced not only the US to push even higher but also programmers using and making programs on college computers. Steve Russell was no stranger there, this pushed him to create a game using their campus computer(DEC PDP-1).
Called SpaceWar! the game became increasingly popular over the coming years, the 1st shooting game. It was open source meaning Steve gave the code to everyone who wanted it or had access to such a computer – every campus had one. Initially it was played using the computer's switches but later got separate control or switch boxes – laddies and gentleman, I give you the birth of the game controller! Now jump to 1966 – the cold war, constant bad news on TV, the fear of total destruction of the world... Ralph Baer understood this, he knew there were a lot of TV's out there that could do something fun. He had a vision that one could play his TV. It took him 6 years but by 1972 he had done it – he had created the 1st video game console called the Magnavox Odyssey. In the same era we have Nolan Bushnell who saw this new video game fad as a potential successful business and founded Atari – the 1st video game company, the company that made the coin operated Pong arcade machine and later their 1st home Pong console.
Golden age of video arcade games
An era where arcades ruled the land, more and more video game companies started to emerge, new innovative games started showing up on arcades and this is where arcade games reached their peek in popularity. A key figure in this era is definitely Tomohiro Nishikado, the creator of one of the most popular games in history – Space Invaders. The game shows how the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki influenced the culture there.
The enemies were initially humans but due to criticism of it being inhumane, he changed it to aliens. But when you look at the game it clearly shows invaders attacking Japan, bombing it and you were there to shoot at them and defend yourself. With all the violence and shooting in games, there was certainly a need for something else, something less violent, something cute. In 1980 Tōru Iwatani brought us just that along with the 1st game protagonist who would to this day become the most known video game hero of all time – Pac-Man. Inspired by a pizza with one slice taken out, Pac-Man was not about violence and shooting, it was about eating, something completely different than other games, something that made it so widely popular. To give you a feeling how popular it really was, think of cartoons, music, tons of merchandise all made in relation to that one game. Never before in history has this happened. Now onto a much larger break trough in gaming. For games to ever be as big as movies, they needed a story and to connects with a story, you need a character. Although there was Pac-Man, he didn't have a story. Here's where Nintendo comes in. Founded in 1889 they were primarily in the playing card business and started exploring video games in 1975. Their 1st experience with it was publishing the 1st game console in Japan - Magnavox Odyssey. They had created some arcade titles at that time but nothing worth mentioning. When Nintendo of America was created they ordered some 3000 Radar Scope game units and had faith that it would sell big. Sadly a test unit was not doing so well and the didn't know what to do with all these units. So they got Shigeru Miyamoto, an artist at the time to create them a whole new game to put onto the units. Influenced by anime and manga he created the arcade game Donkey Kong(released 1981). The main character design was very limited due to what hardware allowed at the time so it had to be simple. A big nose and mustache instead of a mouth formed the face and a red jumpsuit the body to make him look recognizable – give it up for Mario everyone! The game also had a simple story, something new to video games and something we see in every game today. Mario or Jumpman had to rescue the girl from Donkey Kong (influenced by King Kong).
Some notable arcade games:
The video game crash of 1983
I'm sure most people know how it happened and what were the key things that caused it, a quick look at the year that ended the video game fad and put a scar on game console manufacturers in the US. And what a scar it was, not until 2001 would a north American company launch a successful game console(Microsoft, Xbox). The founder of Atari sold the company to Warner Communications and that's where we could say it all began. The new owners started making millions of dollars while the programmers only earned 20k per year so they left the company and started Activision – the 1st 3rd party video game developer. By the time Atari released its 1st widely popular home console, the Atari 2600, the system could play games off of cartridges like many of its competitors. This was very crucial as there were a lot (and I do mean a lot) of developers making games for all these consoles and most of those games were...how should I put this...total crap! You see at that time video gaming became so popular that making money out of a game was like throwing a game in the air and waited for money to come down. The new Atari owners were no strangers to this and were ordering shovelware games, the only cared about the money they would gain. Naturally the market was flooded with bunch of consoles and a bunch of games no one wanted to play no more, hence the crash in US and of course the death of Atari. PC gaming wasn't as much effected because PC gaming popularity was not as high sine all the computers were pretty expensive and were mostly used in offices.
The "restoration" and new dominance of gaming
Like the cold war had influence on many games being made in the US, it was also the case in the Soviet Union. Dark times, low moral, not much hope and the wish for more entertainment. At the time Alexey Pazhitnov was working as a computer engineer and becoming bored with it. He liked puzzles so he had an idea of how differently you can configure a set of blocks, a few tweaks here and there made the blocks fall down and, just like that in1984, Tetris was born. In the beginning is was mostly a computer game as PC's were becoming more and more affordable but was later ported to probably every console in existence. The game was one of the 1st that was very different from any other game because it required the player to use his brain (at least just a little bit). In 2 years he signed a publishing deal for 10 years and the game instantly became widely popular generating millions of dollars. Due to USSR copyright laws he didn't make as much money. In the early 90's the Soviet Union collapsed which effectively ended the cold war and the spark that started gaming but thanks to the Japanese gaming industry didn't stop gaming. After the crash there was a sense in the US that console gaming is over, more and more companies were starting to produce games for computers. But thanks to Nintendo, video game consoles would shine again. In 1985 Nintendo released NES in the US, most retailers taking huge risks there and they didn't know if it would sell or not. Bundled with Super Mario Bros. The console and game were a big success. Super Mario Bros had a larges sense of a story, you always knew you have to rescue the princess and that she was in a castle that was always on the right side of the level – foundations of a platforming game anyone? I figure if there were no Super Mario Brothers or Nintendo or Miyamoto, gaming, especially in the US, would have been a whole lot different and there would actually be a possibility that game consoles wouldn't be as popular as they are today.
The next generation
The late 80's and 90's games changed dramatically, one big influence on previous games was definitely the cold war but now that it was over the influence came from somewhere else, gaming began to take on the form of art, games were a product of artist expressing themselves. Games began to have stories, different new genres started to emerge, with the advancement in technology came more powerful hardware so games began to have better graphics, more sounds. Computer gaming also took the next step as PC's were becoming more and more affordable and were now not just used to create spreadsheets, but also to play games. Miyamoto already proved himself as one of the most important and influential people in the gaming industry but he still wasn't done changing it.
He had an interesting life as a child, he explored caves and forests around Kyoto and he liked it so much that he just wanted to make a game out of it. In the late 80's, Miyamoto designed one of the 1st adventure games that became widely popular world wide and really presented itself as what a story telling game should be. Although Donkey Kong had the basic principles of a story, The Legend of Zelda took it to the next level. It had a story told trough the game, item collection, exploring, impressive sounds... Even though it was not the 1st RPG, it definitely had a great mixture of action and RPG elements seen in a lot of today's games. In the 90's gaming changed, as the Nintendo generation grew up into their early 20's there was a need for something new and not as childish as Mario and saving princesses. This is what Sega knew. They also started marketing in the US after the crash and came out with Mega Drive(Genesis), superior in hardware than its NES competitor(SNES came out a year later), the 16 bit system had a game and lovable character that appealed more to young adults than Mario did. Of course I'm talking about Sonic the Hedgehog.
This was also understood by Sony. When Nintendo was making its 3rd game system they partnered with Sony to create one that uses CD's as media. This of course didn't happen due to disputes and N64 read games trough cartridges. However Sony than came out with PlayStation that was targeted at kids in their late teens and early 20's and on. They knew there was a wide audience out there that still wanted to play games and since it used CD's it didn't feel so much as a kids toy like other consoles did. And because it used CD's to lead games from it meant more data could be stored on them, more sounds and higher quality sounds, more sophisticated graphics higher quality video - 650MB on CD's vs 64MB on N64 cartridges.
Games also became more and more mature and this could especially apply to GTA III and its sequels. I mean you were free to go around killing people, cops, stealing vehicles, doing missions for not necessarily good people. The game also showed a mix of hollywood and gaming with a lot of the voice cast being known actors and licensed sound tracks above all just a good hollywood like presentation. Suddenly games were as popular as movies it had even come to a point that beating a video game gave you more satisfaction than watching a movie (with some cases at least). Another mix of hollywood may be seen with motion capture. More and more developers started using motion capture to get realistic animations and make the game look more authentic. Even with all the high quality graphics, sound and animation, one of the things still need to conquer is the ability to care for the game characters and make the player cry.
The leap to 3D
The 1st game that sort of looked like 3D was Battlezone (Atari, 1980) that displayed a wireframe view vith vector graphics. It was quite popular at the time since nothing like it ever existed. Battlezone also showed the military that games aren't just for fun but can be used to train people and the US military actually asked Atari to make them a simulation "game" for one of their tanks. The next step was LucasArts game Rescue on Fractalus!, made in 1984, which was basically a 2D game using fractals to give a depth of field look But these 2 technologies could never last that long as they just didn't capture the designers vision for the game. 6 years of technology advancement later and CPU's were powerful enough to draw more and more stuff on the screen. The new technology drove to the creation of the 1st person shooter and no game did it better than Wolfenstein 3D. Designed by John Romero, Tom Hall and John Carmack from idSoftware, it used sprites rather than polygons as 3D graphics were not yet available. Its worthy to mention the game came on the PC rather than a console which proved computers were just as good to play games on than consoles. The next step was Doom which was a total redesign of Wolfenstein in which you could climb, the levels had multi level floors, better lighting effects and even miltiplayer. Doom was probably the definitive 1st person shooter ever released as it laid the foundations of all other shooters to come. With it the popularity of shooters skyrocketed, it was a way for gamers to express the way they feel. With the arrival of 3D graphics in 1996 idSoftware released Quake which also was quite a genre defining game and was one of the 1st games to finally use polygons instead of sprites.
Some notable games later released(before 2000):
Medal of Honor
...in part 2: God games, online games and where I started gaming...