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History of computer and video games

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Home video-game systems became popular during the 1970s and 80s. The game featured on the stamp is Defender for the Atari 2600.
Home video-game systems became popular during the 1970s and 80s. The game featured on the stamp is Defender for the Atari 2600.

Computer and video games were first presented in 1948 as a United States patent. Upon the release of the first video game console in 1972, they have continued to contribute to popular culture worldwide.


A device called the Cathode-Ray Tube Amusement Device was patented in the United States by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann.[1] The patent was filed on January 25, 1947 and issued on December 14, 1948. It uses eight vacuum tubes to simulate a missile firing at a target and contains knobs to adjust the curve and speed of the missile. Because computer graphics could not be drawn electronically at the time, small targets drawn on a simple overlay are placed on the screen.

Tennis for Two
Tennis for Two

OXO, a graphical version of tic-tac-toe, was created by A.S. Douglas in 1952 at the University of Cambridge, in order to demonstrate his thesis on human-computer interaction. It was developed on the EDSAC computer, which uses a cathode ray tube for a visual display. The player competes against the computer (which incorporates basic Artificial Intelligence) using a rotary dial.

The first video game introduced to the public was created in 1958 by William Higinbotham using an oscilloscope.[1] Aptly titled Tennis for Two, it was used to entertain visitors of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York.[2] Tennis for Two showed a simplified tennis court from the side, featuring a gravity-controlled ball that needed to be played over the "net", unlike its successors. The game was played with two box-shaped controllers, both equipped with a knob for trajectory and a button for hitting the ball.[1] Tennis for Two was exhibited for two seasons before its dismantlement in 1959.[3]

The 1960s

The majority of early computer games ran on university mainframe computers in the United States and were developed by individuals as a leisure. The limited accessibility of early computer hardware meant that these games were short in number and forgotten by posterity.

Spacewar! is credited as the first widely available and influential computer game.
Spacewar! is credited as the first widely available and influential computer game.

In 1961, a group of students at MIT, including Steve Russell, programmed a game titled Spacewar! on the DEC PDP-1, a new computer at the time. The game pits two human players against each other, each controlling a spacecraft capable of firing missiles. A black hole in the center creates a large gravitational field and another source of hazard. The game was eventually distributed with new DEC computers and traded throughout primitive cyberspace. Spacewar! is credited as the first widely available and influential computer game.

Multics, an operating system by Ken Thompson, continued development (after AT&T halted funding) because of his desire to develop (and play) a game called Space Travel. Although the game was never released commercially, it led to the invention of the first UNIX operating system.

In 1966, Ralph Baer created a simple video game named Chase that displays on a standard television set, the first to do so. Under assistance of Baer, Bill Harrison created the light gun and developed several video games with Bill Rusch in 1967. Ralph Baer continued development, and in 1968 a prototype was completed that runs several different games such as table tennis and target shooting.

Circa 1970

At this time, computer and video game development split to many areas, such as arcade machines, university computers, handhelds, and home computers.

Coin-operated gaming: the dawn of The Golden Age

Main article: Golden age of arcade games
Space Invaders is one of the most well known games of The Golden Age.
Space Invaders is one of the most well known games of The Golden Age.

In 1971, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney created a coin-operated arcade version of Spacewar! and called it Computer Space. Nutting Associates bought the game and manufactured 1,500 Computer Space machines. The game was unsuccessful due to its difficulty.

As Bushnell and Dabney felt they did not receive enough earnings by licensing Computer Space to Nutting Associates, Atari was founded in 1972. The first arcade video game with widespread success was Atari's Pong, released the same year. The game is loosely based on table tennis: a ball is "served" from the center of the court and as the ball moves towards their side of the court each player must maneuver their bat to hit the ball back to their opponent. Atari sold 19,000 Pong machines, creating many imitators.

The arcade game industry entered its Golden Age in 1978 with the release of Space Invaders by Taito, a success that inspired dozens of manufacturers to enter the market. In the same year, Atari released Asteroids. Color arcade games became more popular in 1979 and 1980 with the arrival of titles such as Pac-Man. The Golden Age saw a prevalence of arcade machines in malls, traditional storefronts, restaurants and convenience stores.

University mainframe computers

University mainframe game development blossomed in the early 1970s. There is little record of all but the most popular games, as most were created by individuals as a leisure. There were at least two major distribution networks for the student game designers of this time; the PLATO system and the DECUS system.

Highlights of this period, in approximate chronological order, include:

  • 1971: Don Daglow wrote the first Computer Baseball game on a PDP-10 mainframe at Pomona College. Players could manage individual games or simulate an entire season. Daglow went on to team with programmer Eddie Dombrower to design Earl Weaver Baseball, published by Electronic Arts in 1987.
  • 1971: Star Trek was created, probably by Mike Mayfield on a Sigma 7 minicomputer at MIT. This is the best-known and most widely played of the 1970's Star Trek titles, and was played on a series of small "maps" of galactic sectors printed on paper or on the screen. It was the first major game to be ported across hardware platforms by students. Daglow also wrote a popular Star Trek game for the PDP-10 during 1971-72, which presented the action as a script spoken by the TV program's characters. A number of other Star Trek themed games were also available via PLATO and DECUS throughout the decade.
  • 1972: Gregory Yob wrote Hunt the Wumpus for the PDP-10, a hide-and-seek game, though it could be considered the first text adventure. Yob wrote it in reaction to existing hide-and-seek games such as Hurkle, Mugwump, and Snark.
  • 1974: Both Maze War (on the Imlacs PDS-1 at the NASA Ames Research Center in California) and Spasim (on PLATO) appeared, pioneering examples of early multi-player 3D first person shooters.
  • 1975: Will Crowther wrote the first text adventure game as we would recognize it today, Adventure (originally called ADVENT, and later Colossal Cave). It was programmed in Fortran for the PDP-10. The player controls the game through simple sentence-like text commands and receives descriptive text as output. The game was later re-created by students on PLATO, so it is one of the few titles that became part of both the PLATO and PDP-10 traditions.
  • 1975: Before the mid-1970's games typically communicated to the player on paper, using teletype machines or a line printer, at speeds ranging from 10 to 30 characters per second with a rat-a-tat-tat sound as a metal ball or belt with characters was pressed against the paper through an inked ribbon by a hammer. By 1975 many universities had discarded these terminals for CRT screens, which could display thirty lines of text in a few seconds instead of the minute or more that printing on paper required. This led to the development of a series of games that drew "graphics" on the screen.
  • 1975: Daglow, then a student at Claremont Graduate University, wrote the first Computer Role Playing Game on PDP-10 mainframes, Dungeon. The game was an unlicensed implementation of the new role playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Although displayed in text, it was the first game to use line of sight graphics, top-down dungeon maps that showed the areas that the party had seen or could see, allowing for light or darkness, the different vision of elves and dwarves, etc.
  • 1975: At about the same time the RPG dnd, also based on Dungeons and Dragons first appeared on PLATO system CDC computers. For players in these schools dnd, not Dungeon, was the first computer role-playing game.
  • 1977: Kelton Flinn and John Taylor create the first version of Air, a text air combat game that foreshadowed their later work creating the first-ever graphical online multi-player game, Air Warrior. They would found the first successful online game company, Kesmai, now part of Electronic Arts. As Flinn has said: "If Air Warrior was a primate swinging in the trees, AIR was the text-based amoeba crawling on the ocean floor. But it was quasi-real time, multi-player, and attempted to render 3-D on the terminal using ASCII graphics. It was an acquired taste."
  • 1977: The writing of the original Zork was started by Dave Lebling, Marc Blank, Tim Anderson, and Bruce Daniels. Unlike Crowther, Daglow and Yob, the Zork team recognized the potential to move these games to the new personal computers, and they founded text adventure publisher Infocom in 1979. The company was later sold to Activision. In a classic case of "connections", Lebling was a member of the same D&D group as Will Crowther, but not at the same time. Lebling has been quoted as saying "I think I actually replaced him when he dropped out. Zork was 'derived' from Advent in that we played Advent... and tried to do a 'better' one. There was no code borrowed... and we didn't meet either Crowther or Woods until much later."
  • 1980: Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman and Ken Arnold released Rogue on BSD Unix after two years of work, inspiring many roguelike games ever since. Like Dungeon on the PDP-10 and dnd on PLATO, Rogue displayed dungeon maps using text characters. Unlike those games, however, the dungeon was randomly generated for each play session, so the path to treasure and the enemies who protected it were different for each game. As the Zork team had done, Rogue was adapted for home computers and became a commercial product.

Early handhelds

Microvision was the first handheld videogame with interchangeable cartridges.
Microvision was the first handheld videogame with interchangeable cartridges.

The first handheld electronic game was Tic Tac Toe, made in 1972 by a company called Waco. The display consisted of a grid of nine buttons, that could turn red or green when pushed. The first handheld game console with interchangeable cartridges was the Microvision designed by Smith Engineering, and distributed and sold by Milton-Bradley in 1979. Crippled by a small, fragile LCD display and a very narrow selection of games, it was discontinued two years later. Although neither would prove popular, they paved the way for more advanced single-game handhelds, often simply called "LED games" or "LCD games" depending on their display system.

Mattel had seen car-race games in arcades, and wanted to mass-produce something similar, but a video-game version would have been too costly. In 1974, Mattel engineers George Klose and Richard Cheng contracted with John Denker to write the Mattel Auto Race game as we know it, played on a 7x3 array of LED dots. Mark Lesser at Rockwell International Microelectronics Division ported the code to a calculator chip. The program was 512 bytes long. Subsequently, the same team produced Mattel Football I, which sold well over one million units and ushered in a short golden age of LED handheld games, especially sports games. At first composed of simple arrangements of LEDs, later games incorporated vacuum fluorescent displays allowing for detailed graphics in bright colors. The heyday of LED and VFD would last until the early 80s, when LCD technology became cheap and durable enough to be a viable alternative.

Home computers

While the fruit of development in early video games appeared mainly (for the consumer) in video arcades and home consoles, the rapidly evolving home computers of the 1970s and 80s allowed their owners to program simple games. Hobbyist groups for the new computers soon formed and game software followed.

The Tandy TRS-80, the first Tandy computer and one of the responsibles of the personal computer revolution.
The Tandy TRS-80, the first Tandy computer and one of the responsibles of the personal computer revolution.

Soon many of these games (at first clones of mainframe classics such as Star Trek, and then later clones of popular arcade games) were being distributed through a variety of channels, such as printing the game's source code in books (such as David Ahl's Basic Computer Games), magazines (Creative Computing), and newsletters, which allowed users to type in the code for themselves. Early game designers like Crowther, Daglow and Yob would find the computer code for their games -- which they had never thought to copyright -- published in books and magazines, with their names removed from the listing. Early home computers from Apple, Commodore, Tandy and others had many games that people typed in.

Another distribution channel was the physical mailing and selling of floppy disks, cassette tapes and ROM cartridges. Soon a small cottage industry was formed, with amateur programmers selling disks in plastic bags put on the shelves of local shops, or sent through the mail. Richard Garriott distributed several copies of his 1980 computer role-playing game Akalabeth in plastic bags before the game was published.


First generation (1972-1977)

See also: History of first generation video game consoles

Ralph Baer's 1969 video game console prototype was finally sold to Magnavox and released in May, 1972 as the Magnavox Odyssey. It was the first commercial video game console. Built mostly using analog electronics, the console was connected to a home television set. It was not a large success, although other companies with similar products (including Atari) had to pay a licensing fee for some time. It wasn't until the introduction of Atari's home version of Pong (at first under the Sears Tele-Games label) for Christmas of 1975 that home video games really took off. The success of Pong sparked hundreds of clone games, including the Coleco Telstar, which went on to be a success in its own right, with over a dozen models.

Second generation (1977-1983)

See also: History of second generation video game consoles

In the earliest consoles, the computer code for one or more games was hardcoded into microchips using discrete logic, and no additional games could ever be added. By the mid-1970's video games were found on cartridges. Programs were burned onto ROM chips that were mounted inside plastic cartridge casings that could be plugged into slots on the console. When the cartridges were plugged in, the general-purpose microprocessors in the consoles read the cartridge memory and ran whatever program was stored there. Rather than being confined to a small selection of games included in the box, consumers could now amass libraries of game cartridges.

Three machines dominated the second generation of consoles in North America, far outselling their nearest rivals:

  • In 1977, Atari released its cartridge-based console called the Video Computer System (VCS), later called Atari 2600. Nine games were designed and released for the holiday season. It would quickly become by far the most popular of all the early consoles.
  • Intellivision, introduced by Mattel in 1980. Though chronologically part of what is called the "8-bit era", the Intellivision had a unique processor with instructions that were 10 bits wide (allowing more instruction variety and potential speed), and registers 16 bits wide. The system, which featured graphics superior to the older Atari 2600, rocketed to popularity.
  • Colecovision, an even more powerful machine, appeared in 1982. Its sales also took off, but the presence of three major consoles in the marketplace and a glut of poor quality games began to overcrowd retail shelves and erode consumers' interest in video games. Within a year this overcrowded market would crash.

In 1979, Activision was created by disgruntled former Atari programmers. It was the first third-party developer of video games. Many new developers would follow their lead in succeeding years.

By 1982 a glut of games from new third-party developers less well-prepared than Activision appeared, and began to overflow the shelf capacity of toy stores. In part because of these oversupplies, the video game industry crashed, starting from Christmas of 1982 and stretching through all of 1983. See the main article: Video game crash of 1983.

The 1980s

In the early 1980s, the computer gaming industry experienced its first major growing pains. Publishing houses appeared, with many honest businesses (and in rare cases such as Electronic Arts, successfully surviving to this day) alongside fly-by-night operations that cheated the games' developers. While some early 80s games were simple clones of existing arcade titles, the relatively low publishing costs for personal computer games allowed for many bold, unique games, a legacy that continues to this day. The primary gaming computers of the 1980s emerged in 1982: the Commodore 64, Apple II and ZX Spectrum. The ZX Spectrum was mostly used and known only in the UK, whilst the USA had the Apple II, Commodore 64, and Atari 800. Over the run of 15 years, the Apple II had a total of almost 20,000 programs, making it the 8-bit computer with the most software overall.

The Golden age of arcade games reached its full steam in the 1980s, with many technically innovative and genre-defining games in the first few years of the decade. Defender (1980) established the scrolling shooter and was the first to have events taking place outside the player's view, displayed by a radar view showing a map of the whole playfield. Battlezone (1980) used wireframe vector graphics to create the first true three-dimensional game world. 3D Monster Maze (1981) was the first 3D game for a home computer (meanwhile a 3D game for the PET computer was discovered, dating back to 1977), while Dungeons of Daggorath (1982) added various weapons and monsters, sophisticated sound effects, and a "heartbeat" health monitor. Pole Position (1982) used sprite-based, pseudo-3D graphics when it pioneered the "rear-view racer format" where the player's view is behind and above the vehicle, looking forward along the road with the horizon in sight. The style would remain in wide use even after true 3D graphics became standard for racing games. Pac-Man (1980) was the first game to achieve widespread popularity in mainstream culture and the first game character to be popular in his own right. Dragon's Lair (1983) was the first laserdisc game, and introduced full-motion video to video games.

With Adventure establishing the genre, the release of Zork in 1980 further popularized text adventure games in home computers and established developer Infocom's dominance in the field. As these early computers often lacked graphical capabilities, text adventures proved successful. When affordable computers started catching up to and surpassing the graphics of consoles in the late 1980s, the games' popularity waned in favor of graphic adventures and other genres. The text adventure would eventually be known as interactive fiction and a small dedicated following has kept the genre going, with new releases being nearly all free.

Also published in 1980 was Roberta Williams' Mystery House, for the Apple II. It was the first graphic adventure on home computers. Graphics consisted entirely of static monochrome drawings, and the interface still used the typed commands of text adventures. It proved very popular at the time, and she and husband Ken went on to found Sierra On-Line, a major producer of adventure games. Mystery House remains largely forgotten today.

The Commodore 64 system
The Commodore 64 system

In August of 1982, the Commodore 64 was released to the public. It found initial success because it was marketed and priced aggressively. It had a BASIC programming environment and advanced graphic and sound capabilities for its time, similar to the Colecovision console. It would become the most popular home computer of its day in the USA and many other countries and the best-selling single computer model of all time internationally.

At around the same time, the ZX Spectrum was released in the UK and quickly became the most popular home computer in many areas of Western Europe, and later the Eastern bloc due to the ease with which clones could be produced.

SuperSet Software created Snipes, a text-mode networked computer game in 1983 to test a new IBM PC based computer network and demonstrate its capabilities. Snipes is officially credited as being the original inspiration for Novell NetWare. It is believed to be the first network game ever written for a commercial personal computer and is recognised alongside 1974's Maze War (a networked multiplayer maze game for several research machines) and Spasim (a 3d multiplayer space simulation for time shared mainframes) as the precursor to multi-player games such as Doom and Quake.

The true modern adventure game would be born with the Sierra King's Quest series in 1984. It featured color graphics and a third person perspective. An on-screen player-controlled character could be moved behind and in front of objects on a 2D background drawn in perspective, creating the illusion of pseudo-3D space. Commands were still entered via text. Lucasarts would do away with this last vestige feature of text adventures when its 1987 adventure Maniac Mansion built with its SCUMM system allowed a point-and-click interface. Sierra and other game companies quickly followed with their own mouse-driven games. For more on the history of adventures games, see Adventure games, history of

With Elite in 1984, David Braben and Ian Bell ushered in the age of modern style 3d graphics in the home, bringing a convincing vector world with full 6 degree freedom of movement and thousands of visitable planetary systems into the living room. Initially only available for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron, the success of this title caused it eventually to be ported to all popular formats, including the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST and even the Nintendo Entertainment System, although this version only received a European release.

The IBM compatible PC became a technically competitive gaming platform with IBM's PC/AT in 1984. The new 16-color EGA display standard allowed its graphics to approach the quality seen in popular home computers like the Commodore 64. The primitive 4-color CGA graphics of previous models had limited the PC's appeal to the business segment, since its graphics failed to compete with the C64 or Apple II. The sound capabilities of the AT, however, were still limited to the PC speaker, which was substandard compared to the built-in sound chips used in many home computers. Also, the relatively high cost of the PC compatible systems severely limited their popularity in gaming.

The Apple Macintosh also arrived at this time. It lacked the color capabilities of the earlier Apple II, instead preferring a much higher pixel resolution, but the operating system support for the GUI attracted developers of some interesting games (e.g. Lode Runner) even before color returned in 1987 with the Mac II.

In computer gaming, the later 1980s are primarily the story of the United Kingdom's rise to prominence. The market in the UK was primely positioned for this task: personal computer users were offered a smooth scale of power versus price, from the ZX Spectrum up to the Amiga, developers and publishers were in close enough proximity to offer each other support, and the NES made much less of an impact than it did in the United States, being outsold by the Master System.

The arrival of the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga in 1985 was the beginning of a new era of 16-bit machines. For many users they were too expensive until later on in the decade, at which point advances in the IBM PC's open platform had caused the IBM PC compatibles to become comparably powerful at a lower cost than their competitors. The VGA standard developed for IBM's new PS/2 line in 1987 gave the PC the potential for 256-color graphics. This was a big jump ahead of most 8-bit home computers but still lagging behind platforms with built-in sound and graphics hardware like the Amiga, causing an odd trend around '89-91 towards developing to a seemingly inferior machine. Thus while both the ST and Amiga were host to many technically excellent games, their time of prominence proved to be shorter than that of the 8-bit machines, which saw new ports well into the 80s and even the 90s.

The Yamaha YM3812 sound chip.
The Yamaha YM3812 sound chip.

Dedicated sound cards started to address the issue of poor sound capabilities in IBM PC compatibles in the late 1980s. AdLib set an early defacto standard for sound cards in 1987, with its card based on the Yamaha YM3812 sound chip. This would last until the introduction of Creative Labs' Sound Blaster in 1989, which took the chip and added new features while remaining compatible with AdLib cards, and creating a new defacto standard. However, many games would still support these and rarer things like the Roland MT-32 and Disney Sound Source into the early 90s. The initial high cost of sound cards meant they would not find widespread use until the 1990s.

Shareware gaming first appeared in the late 1980s, but its big successes came in the 1990s.

Bulletin Board Systems and early online gaming

Dialup bulletin board systems were popular in the 1980s, and sometimes used for online game playing. The earliest such systems, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, had a crude plain-text interface, but later systems made use of terminal-control codes (the so-called ANSI art, which included the use of IBM-PC-specific characters not actually part of an ANSI standard) to get a pseudo-graphical interface. Some BBSes offered access to various games which were playable through such an interface, ranging from text adventures to gambling games like blackjack (generally played for "points" rather than real money). On multiuser BBSs (where more than one person could be online at once), there were sometimes games allowing the different users to interact with one another; some such games of the fantasy role-playing variety were known as MUDs, for "multi-user dungeons". Today, a popular game in this category is Urban dead.

Commercial online services also arose during this decade, starting with a plain-text interface similar to BBSs (but operated on large mainframe computers permitting larger numbers of users to be online at once), and moving by the end of the decade to fully-graphical environments using software specific to each personal computer platform. Popular text-based services included CompuServe, The Source, and GEnie, while platform-specific graphical services included Quantum Link for the Commodore 64, AppleLink for the Apple II and Macintosh, and PC Link for the IBM PC, all of which were run by the company which eventually became America Online; and a competing service, Prodigy. Interactive games were a feature of these services, though until 1987 they used text-based displays, not graphics.

Handheld LCD games

One of the Game & Watch handhelds. This look was recreated as a playable stage in Super Smash Bros. Melee.
One of the Game & Watch handhelds. This look was recreated as a playable stage in Super Smash Bros. Melee.

Nintendo's Game & Watch line began in 1980. The success of these LCD handhelds spurred dozens of other game and toy companies to make their own portable games, many being copies of Game & Watch titles or adaptations of popular arcade games. Improving LCD technology meant the new handhelds could be more reliable and consume less batteries than LED or VFD games, most only needing watch batteries. They could also be made much smaller than most LED handhelds, even small enough to wear on one's wrist like a watch. Tiger Electronics borrowed this concept of videogaming with cheap, affordable handhelds.

Videogame crash of 1983

Main article: Videogame crash of 1983

The video game crash of 1983 was the year long crash of the video game industry and the bankruptcy of a number of companies producing home computers and video game consoles in North America in late 1983 and early 1984. It brought an end to what is considered the second generation of console video gaming.

Third generation (1985-1989)

Main article: History of video game consoles (third generation)

In 1984, the computer gaming market took over from the console market following the crash of that year; computers offered equal gaming ability and since their simple design allowed games to take complete command of the hardware after power-on, they were nearly as simple to start playing with as consoles.

The Nintendo Entertainment System or Famicom
The Nintendo Entertainment System or Famicom

In 1985, the North American video game console market was revived with Nintendo's release of its 8-bit console, the Famicom, known in the United States under the name Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It was bundled with Super Mario Bros. and suddenly became a success. The NES dominated the North American market until the rise of the next generation of consoles in the early 1990s. Other markets were not as heavily dominated, allowing other consoles to find an audience like the PC Engine in Japan and the Sega Master System in Europe, Australia and Brazil (though it was sold in America as well).

In the new consoles, the gamepad took over joysticks, paddles, and keypads as the default game controller included with the system. The gamepad design of an 8 direction D-pad with 2 or more action buttons became the standard.

The Dragon Quest series made its debut in 1986 with Dragon Quest, and has created a phenomenon in Japanese culture ever since. Also at this time, SquareSoft was struggling and Hironobu Sakaguchi decided to make their final game, titled Final Fantasy (1987), a role-playing game (RPG) modelled after Dragon Quest, and the Final Fantasy series was born as a result. Final Fantasy saved Squaresoft from bankruptcy, and would later go on to become the most successful RPG franchise. At around the same time, the Legend of Zelda series made its debut on the NES with The Legend of Zelda (1986). Hideo Kojima's Metal Gear series also made its debut with the release of Metal Gear (1987) on the MSX2 computer, giving birth to the stealth-based game genre. Metal Gear was ported to the NES shortly after. In 1989, Capcom released Sweet Home (1989) on the NES, which served as a precursor to the survival horror game genre.

In 1988 Nintendo published their first issue of Nintendo Power Magazine.

The 1990s

If the 1980s were about the rise of the industry, the 1990s were about its maturing into a Hollywood-esque landscape of ever-increasing budgets and increasingly consolidated publishers, with the losers slowly being crushed or absorbed. As this happens, the wide variety of games that existed in the 1980s appears to fade away, with the larger corporations desiring to maximize profitability and lower risk.

With the increasing computing power and decreasing cost of processors like Intel 386, 486, and Motorola 68030, the 1990s saw the rise of 3D graphics, as well as "multimedia" capabilities through sound cards and CD-ROMs.

In the early 1990s, shareware distribution was a popular method of publishing games for smaller developers, including then-fledgling companies such as Apogee (now 3D Realms), Epic Megagames (now Epic Games), and id Software. It gave consumers the chance to try a trial portion of the game, usually restricted to the game's complete first section or "episode", before purchasing the rest of the adventure. Racks of games on single 5 1/4" and later 3.5" floppy disks were common in many stores, often only costing a few dollars each. Since the shareware versions were essentially free, the cost only needed to cover the disk and minimal packaging. As the increasing size of games in the mid-90s made them impractical to fit on floppies, and retail publishers and developers began to earnestly mimic the practice, shareware games were replaced by shorter demos (often only one or two levels), distributed free on CDs with gaming magazines and over the Internet.

Shareware was also the distribution method of choice of early modern first-person shooters (FPS) like Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. Following Doom, the retail publishers and developers began to earnestly mimic the practice of offering demos, which had the effect of reducing shareware's appeal for the rest of the decade. During this time, the increasing computing power of personal computers began to allow rudimentary 3D graphics. 1993's Doom in particular was largely responsible for defining the genre and setting it apart from other first-person perspective games. The term FPS has generally come to refer to games where the player has full control over a (usually humanoid) character and can interact directly with the environment; almost always centering around the act of aiming and shooting with multiple styles of weapons and limited ammunition. See main article: First-person shooters, history of.

1992 saw the release of real-time strategy (RTS) game Dune II. It was by no means the first in the genre (that being 1983's Stonkers for the ZX Spectrum), but it set the standard game mechanics for later blockbuster RTS games like Warcraft and Command and Conquer. The RTS is characterised by an overhead view, a "mini-map", and the control of both the economic and military aspects of an army. The rivalry between the two styles of RTS play - WarCraft style, which used GUIs accessed once a building was selected, and C&C style, which allowed construction of any unit from within a permanently visible menu - continued into the start of the next millennium.

Alone in the Dark (1992) planted the seeds of what would become known as the survival horror genre. It established the formula that would later flourish on CD-ROM based consoles, with games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill.

Adventure games continued to evolve, with Sierra's King's Quest series, and LucasFilms'/LucasArts' Monkey Island series bringing graphical interaction and the creation of the concept of "point-and-click" gaming. Myst and its sequels inspired a new style of puzzle-based adventure games. Published in 1993, Myst itself was one of the first computer games to make full use of the new high-capacity CD-ROM storage format. It went on to remain the best-selling game of all time for much of the decade. Myst, along with Star Wars: Rebel Assault and Trilobyte's The 7th Guest, were among the "killer apps" that made CD-ROM drives standard features on PCs. Despite Myst's mainstream success, the increased popularity of action-based and real-time games led adventure games and simulation games, both mainstays of computer games in earlier decades, to begin to fade into obscurity.

It was in the 1990s that Maxis began publishing its successful line of "Sim" games, beginning with SimCity, and continuing with a variety of titles, such as SimEarth, SimCity 2000, SimAnt, SimTower, and the wildly popular day to day life simulator, The Sims in 2000.

In 1996, 3dfx released the Voodoo chipset, leading to the first affordable 3D accelerator cards for personal computers. These devoted 3D rendering daughter cards performed most of the computation required for rendering higher-resolution, more-detailed three-dimensional graphics, allowing for more-detailed graphics than would be possible if the CPU were required to handle both game logic and graphical tasks. First-person shooter games (notably Quake) were among the first to take advantage of this new technology. While other games would also make use of it, the FPS would become the chief driving force behind the development of new 3D hardware, as well as the yardstick by which its performance would be measured, usually quantified as the number of frames per second rendered for a particular scene in a particular game.

Several other, less-mainstream, genres were created in this decade. Looking Glass Studios' Thief and its sequel were the first to coin the term "first person sneaker", although it is questionable whether they are the first "first person stealth" games. Turn-based strategy progressed further, with the Heroes of Might and Magic (HOMM) series (from 3DO) luring many main-stream gamers into this complex genre.

The 90s also saw the beginnings of Internet gaming, with MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) in the early years. Id Software's 1996 game Quake pioneered play over the Internet in first-person shooters. Internet multiplayer capability became a defacto requirement in almost all FPS games. Other genres also began to offer online play, including RTS games like Microsoft's Age of Empires, Blizzard's WarCraft and StarCraft series, and turn-based games such as Heroes of Might and Magic. MMORPGs (Massively Multiplay Online Roleplaying Games), such as Ultima Online and EverQuest freed users from the limited number of simultaneous players in other games and brought the MUD concept of persistent worlds to graphical multiplayer games. Developments in web browser plugins like Java and Macromedia Flash allowed for simple browser-based games. These are small single player or multiplayer games that can be quickly downloaded and played from within a web browser without installation. Their most popular use is for puzzle games, classic arcade games, and multiplayer card and board games.

Gamers in the 90s began to take their fates into their own hands, with the creation of modifications (or "mods") for popular games. It is generally accepted that the earliest mod was Castle Smurfenstein, for Castle Wolfenstein. Eventually, game designers realised that custom content increased the lifespan of their games, and so began to encourage the creation of mods. Half-Life spawned perhaps the most successful (or, at the very least, one of the most widely played) mods of all time, with a squad-based shooter entitled CounterStrike. Since CounterStrike, many games have encouraged the creation of custom content. Other examples include Unreal Tournament, which allowed players to import 3dsmax scenes to use as character models, and Maxis's The Sims, for which players could create custom objects.

Few new genres have been created since the advent of the FPS and RTS, with the possible exception of the third-person shooter. Games such as Grand Theft Auto III, Splinter Cell, Enter The Matrix and Hitman all use a third-person camera perspective but are otherwise very similar to their first-person counterparts.

Decline of arcades

With the 16-bit and 32-bit consoles, home video games began to approach the level of graphics seen in arcade games. By this time, video arcades had earned a reputation for being seedy, unsafe places. An increasing number of players would wait for popular arcade games to be ported to consoles rather than going out. Arcades had a last hurrah in the early 90s with Street Fighter II and the one-on-one fighting game genre. As patronage of arcades declined, many were forced to close down. Classic coin-operated games have become largely the province of dedicated hobbyists. The gap left by the old corner arcades was partly filled by large amusement centres dedicated to providing clean, safe environments and expensive game control systems not available to home users. These are usually based on sports like skiing or cycling, as well as rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution, which have carved out a large slice of the market.

Handhelds come of age

In 1989, Nintendo released the Game Boy, the first handheld console since the ill-fated Microvision ten years before. The design team headed by Gunpei Yokoi had also been responsible for the Game & Watch systems. Included with the system was Tetris, a popular puzzle game. Several rival handhelds also made their debut around that time, including the Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx. Although most other systems were more technologically advanced, they were hampered by higher battery consumption and less third-party developer support. While some of the other systems remained in production until the mid-90s, the Game Boy remained at the top spot in sales throughout its lifespan.

Fourth generation (1989-1994)

Main article: History of video game consoles (fourth generation)

The Sega Genesis (known elsewhere as the Mega Drive) proved its worth early on after its debut in 1989. Nintendo responded with its own next generation system known as the Super NES in 1991. The NEC TurboGrafx-16 debuted early on alongside the Genesis, but did not achieve a large following, partly due to a limited library of English games and effective marketing from Sega.

Mortal Kombat, released in both SNES and Genesis consoles, was one of the most popular game franchises of its time.
Mortal Kombat, released in both SNES and Genesis consoles, was one of the most popular game franchises of its time.

The intense competition of this time was also a period of not entirely truthful marketing. The TurboGrafx-16 was billed as the first 16-bit system but its central processor was an 8-bit HuC6280, with only its HuC6260 graphics processor being a true 16-bit chip. Additionally, the much earlier Mattel Intellivision contained a 16-bit processor. Sega, too, was known to stretch the truth in its marketing approach; they used the term Blast Processing to describe the simple fact that their console's CPU ran at a higher clock speed than that of the SNES (7.67 MHz vs 3.58 MHz).

In Japan, the 1987 success of the PC Engine (as the TurboGrafx-16 was known there) against the Famicom and CD drive peripheral allowed it to fend off the Mega Drive (Genesis) in 1988, which never really caught on to the same degree as outside Japan. The PC Engine eventually lost out to the Super Famicom, but retained enough of a user base to support new games well into the late 1990s.

CD-ROM drives were first seen in this generation, as add-ons for the PC Engine in 1988 and the Megadrive in 1991. Basic 3D graphics entered the mainstream with flat-shaded polygons enabled by additional processors in game cartridges like Virtua Racing and Star Fox.

SNK's Neo-Geo was the most expensive console by a wide margin when it was released in 1990, and would remain so for years. It was also capable of 2D graphics in a quality level years ahead of other consoles. The reason for this was that it contained the same hardware that was found in SNK's arcade games. This was the first time since the home Pong machines that a true-to-the-arcade experience could be had at home.

Fifth generation (1994 - 1999)

Main article: History of video game consoles (fifth generation)
Super Mario 64 became a defining title for 3D platformers
Super Mario 64 became a defining title for 3D platformers

In 1994-1995, Sega released Sega Saturn and Sony made its debut to the video gaming scene with the PlayStation. Both consoles used 32-bit technology; the door was open for 3D games, though the Sega Saturn launch in the US started with a controversial advert launch which saw a PlayStation console being thrown out of a window of a tower block in an attempt to appeal that the Sega Saturn was much better than the PlayStation.

After many delays, Nintendo released its 64-bit console, the Nintendo 64 in 1996, selling more than 1.5 million units in only three months. The flagship title, Super Mario 64, became a defining title for 3D platformer games.

PaRappa the Rapper popularized rhythm, or music video games in Japan with its 1996 debut on the PlayStation. Subsequent music and dance games like Beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution became ubiquitous attractions in Japanese arcades. They became known as Bemani games, the name derived from Beatmania. While Parappa, DDR, and other games found a cult following when brought to North America, music games would not gain a wide audience in the market until the next decade.

Other milestone games of the era include Rare's Nintendo 64 title GoldenEye 007 (1997), which was critically acclaimed for actually being a good movie-licensed game as well as the first good FPS on a console. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998), Nintendo's 3D debut for the Legend of Zelda adventure game series, is often regarded as the greatest game of all-time by various critics. The success of Metal Gear Solid (1998) for the PlayStation established stealth-based games as a popular genre.

Nintendo's choice to use cartridges instead of CD-ROMs for the Nintendo 64, unique among the consoles of this period, proved to have negative consequences. In particular, SquareSoft, which had released all previous games in its Final Fantasy series for Nintendo consoles, now turned to the PlayStation; Final Fantasy VII (1997) was a huge success, establishing the popularity of role-playing games in the west and making the PlayStation the primary console for the genre.

By the end of this period, Sony had become a competitor in the video game market. The Saturn was successful in Japan but a failure in North America, leaving Sega outside of the main competition.

The 2000s

Sixth generation (1998 - 2006)

Main article: Sixth generation era


  • Sega released the Dreamcast in Japan. It would come out in the US in 1999.
  • Dance Dance Revolution is released in Japan.
  • Nintendo released the Game Boy Color.
  • Connectix Corporation released the Virtual Game Station, a successful PlayStation emulator. Sony went to fight the system, but Connectix won. The Bleem company released Bleem!, another PlayStation emulator.


  • Sony released the PlayStation 2.
  • The Sims was released. It was an instant hit and became the best-selling computer (non-console) game of all time, surpassing Myst.


  • Nintendo released the GameCube and the successor to the Game Boy Color, the Game Boy Advance.
The Xbox, Microsoft's ticket into the videogame console industry.
The Xbox, Microsoft's ticket into the videogame console industry.
  • Microsoft entered the videogame console industry by releasing its home console, Xbox. Its flagship game, Halo, is also available at the system's launch.
  • Sega announced they would no longer manufacture hardware and discontinue the Dreamcast. However, from that time through 2006, the DC has seen continued publication of hardcore games like arcade shooters, graphic adventures, and homebrew software.


  • Sega became a third-party developer and publisher for all other current machines and the PC.


  • Infogrames, owner of the Atari intellectual properties, changed its name to Atari.
  • Nintendo released the improved Game Boy Advance SP in March.
  • Nokia entered the handheld market with its N-Gage game-phone hybrid on October 7.
  • PS2 Linux Kit is launched


  • Halo 2 becomes the best selling Xbox game.
  • Half-life 2 has gone gold.
  • Doom 3 has gone gold.
  • Sony released the PlayStation 2 Slim in November


  • Resident Evil 4 for Nintendo GameCube becomes the most critically acclaimed game of the year.


  • Sony announces PSOne manufacturing ending in March
  • Reggie becomes President of Nintendo of America on May 25, 2006
  • PlayStation is the first console to sell 103 million consoles as of March

Seventh generation (2004 - present)

Main article: Seventh generation era


  • Nokia releases a re-tooled N-Gage, the N-Gage QD.
  • Nintendo released the Nintendo DS in the U.S. on November 21.
  • Sony released the PSP in Japan on December 2nd


  • Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) is released to the U.S. market on March 23.
  • Nintendo reveals early details of their next-generation video game console, the Wii (then codenamed Nintendo Revolution) during E3. At TGS Nintendo reveals their "revolutionary" controller. It includes tilt, position and movement sensors, and is one-handed (though an attachment can occupy the other hand for some games.)
  • The Hot Coffee Mod is found on all versions of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas which includes a hidden "sex minigame." The game's rating is raised to AO in the US, which removes it from virtually all mainstream stores. Rockstar Games rereleases the game without the hidden content, bringing it back to an M rating - as well as a patch to remove the minigame from existing PC versions.
  • Sony demonstrates the PlayStation 3 during a pre-E3 press conference. Anticipation for the console's release grows steadily until it suspected that the system will, while being hands-down the fastest home console ever released, have an estimated MSRP of either $500 or $600 USD, possibly depending on the included accessories.
  • Nintendo reinvents the Game Boy Advance yet again to make the Game Boy Micro on October 2.
  • Nokia announces the N-Gage will be discontinued until at least 2007 in November.
  • Microsoft releases their second video game console, the Xbox 360 on November 22, with a rare simultaneous release in both America and Japan. It is well received in America, with resold units going for much higher than MSRP on the secondary market but suffered in the Japanese market, with many retailers having to go to extreme measures just to get them off the shelves.[4] Although widely regarded as a superb console, stock shortages as well as system instability or poorly manufactured systems have marred this otherwise-successful launch.
  • The video-game Spore is shown at the GDC, and is received well, due to its procedural generation and Massively Single-Player style.


The Nintendo DS Lite
The Nintendo DS Lite
  • The Nintendo DS Lite is announced on January 26, with a Japanese release set for March 2nd, 2006. It is a redesign of the Nintendo DS; it's 42% smaller, 21% lighter and with a brighter screen. It also features some cosmetic changes, including a repositioning of the speakers, microphone and some of the face buttons. All stores stocking the DS Lite were sold out within minutes of opening.
  • Nintendo announces Wii on April 27, 2006. Wii (pronounced "we") features a new controller with an unorthodox, remote control-like shape, to encourage new users to play, which is based around the concept of direct motion control - whatever you do in real life affects what happens on the screen.
  • Again, Sony demonstrates the PlayStation 3 at a pre-E3 press conference. First- and third-party games are revealed. The redesigned controller is said to have tilt-sensitivity, looks more like the dualshock controllers, and has lost rumble functionality in order to accommodate a motion sensor within the controller and comply with legal action taken against them. It is confirmed that there will be two packages. One is sold for about $499 with a 20GB hard drive, and the other $599 with 60GB and wifi. Prices in Europe and Australasia are set to be as much as 33% higher or more. The system launched with 80,000 consoles in Japan on November 11, 2006 and 400,000 consoles in North America on November 17, with Europe and Australasia (the PAL markets) following in March 2007. Originally the PAL markets were also going to have a November 2006 release, but was pushed back due to a shortage of parts.[5]
  • Envizions Computer Entertainment announced Evo: Phase One, a "next generation media hub" that "allows customers to pause, rewind and record live TV, store family photos, play 3D PC games, and access console like applications." Though noted as being a powerful system, its pricetag is higher than that of any other console this generation; its RRP is set at 679.99 USD

Sony releases the Playstation 3 on November 17, and chaos erupts in several locations in the US. Two men were shot, many were injured. Nintendo launched the Wii on November 19, boasting an 800,000 unit launch across the nation and relatively few injuries. Nintendo will ship at least 4,000,000 units by the end of December.

See also

  • Golden age of arcade games
  • Chronology of console role-playing games
  • Computer and video games
  • Home computing (the 8-bit era)

Further reading

  • The first quarter: A 25-year history of video games by Steven L. Kent
  • From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games by Ed Halter
  • Game Over: the maturing of mario by David Sheff
  • High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games by McGraw-Hill Osborne Media.
  • Joystick Nation by J.C. Herz
  • Masters of Doom by David Kushner
  • My Tiny Life by Julian Dibbell. A narrative history of LambdaMOO.
  • Opening the Xbox: Inside Microsoft's Plan to Unleash an Entertainment Revolution by Dean Takahashi
  • Phoenix, The Rise and Fall of Video Games by Leonard Herman
  • Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture by TL Taylor
  • SMARTBOMB: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution by Heather Chaplin and Aaron Ruby.
  • The Video Game Theory Reader edited by Mark J.P. Wolf and Bernard Perron.
  • Videogames in the Beginning by Ralph Baer
  • The Ultimate History of Video Games by Steven L. Kent
  • Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life by Chris Kohler.


  1. ^ a b John Anderson. [ WHO REALLY INVENTED THE VIDEO GAME?]. Atari Magazines. Retrieved on November 27, 2006.
  2. ^ Unknown. The First Video Game. Brookhaven National Laboratory. Retrieved on November 27, 2006.
  3. ^ Unknown. Video Games Did They Begin at Brookhaven?. Office of Scientific & Technical Information. Retrieved on November 27, 2006.
  4. ^ Xbox 360 Cold Debut in Japan ConsoleWatcher
  5. ^ playstation 3 delayed in australiasia and eurasia Console Watcher
  • Herman, Leonard (3rd edition - 2001). Phoenix: The Fall & Rise of Videogames. Rolenta Press. ISBN 0-9643848-5-X. [2]
  • Kohler, Chris (2005). Power-Up: How Japanese Video Games Gave the World an Extra Life. Brady Games. ISBN 0-7440-0424-1.
  • Forster, Winnie (2005). The Encyclopedia of Game Machines - Consoles, handheld & home computers 1972-2005. Gameplan. ISBN 3-00-015359-4.
  • DeMaria, Rusel (2 edition (December 18, 2003)). High Score!: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games. McGraw-Hill Osborne Media. ISBN 0-07-223172-6.
  • Day, Walter. The Golden Age of Video Game Arcades (1998) - A 200-page story contained within Twin Galaxies' Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records. ISBN 1-887472-25-8
  • The Video Game Revolution (2004) is a documentary from PBS that examines the evolution and history of the video game industry, from the 1950s through today, the impact of video games on society and culture, and the future of electronic gaming.
  • Video Game Invasion: The History of a Global Obsession (2004) (Documentary. Press Release, IMDb)
  • The First Video Game a description at Brookhaven National Laboratory
  • Leonard Herman, Jer Horwitz, Steve Kent, and Skyler Miller (2002). The History of Video Games. Gamespot. CNET Networks International Media.
  • Ars Technica's The evolution of gaming: computers, consoles, and arcade

External links

  • A Santa Clara University student's History of Video Games
  • A History of Video Games with separate sections for Arcade games and home consoles and numerous photos
  • The Dot Eaters, a detailed history of various types of video games
  • PONG-Story, on the history of Pong and other early video games
  • COIN-OP TV interviews with classic game designers like Eugene Jarvis, Mike Hally and Keith Robinson
  • Dungeons Deep A good selection of working PC executables (freeware - archived and links) of Hack, Rogue, DND/Telengard, and many other well known early to modern "dungeon crawl" games.
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