The History of Video Game Consoles | TIME


-5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Xbox One. -Wii U, PlayStation 4, Xbox One – we’re officially in the eighth generation of video game consoles. We made it. If you’re as old as me, you feel old, maybe a little creepy. Maybe your back hurts when you get up in the morning. Maybe the other parts of your body just hurt for no reason. That’s how long video game consoles has been around. -My very first video game console was a NES FamiCon. -The Gameboy. -Sega Genesis. -Probably the ColecoVision. -Was the Nintendo 64. -The original NES, man. -It’s important to look back and ask ourselves, “How did we get here? How did the industry evolve to where it is today?” In the ’60s, a man named Ralph Baer was working at a defense company in Nashua, New Hampshire. He thought to himself, “Why can’t I hook something up to this TV to make it more fun?” So he got together with two of his engineers, and they cobbled together the first of seven Brown Boxes. These were video game consoles, early video game consoles that played simple games. They eventually sold the final Brown Box to Magnavox, which rebranded it as the Magnavox Odyssey. -From most of the 20th century, the idea of actually being able to play video games in your house was the fantasy. You couldn’t do it. Not until the Magnavox Odyssey, where people were actually able to play video games in their homes. -The Odyssey itself had a really rough start. I mean, it came out and it was marketed incredibly poorly– -Odyssey, the electronic game of the future that lets you do your own thing on television. -It was brand new technology that people didn’t get. -The Odyssey was odd. It’s the best word to describe– But it was really the Atari 2600 that kicked everything off for me as a home console player. When you look back now at the Atari 2600 games, they all look very basic, but at that time, they were nothing short of amazing. They– -The Atari 2600 was the game console that everybody had. Well, I didn’t have it and I was really jealous of my neighbor who had one. But this one was iconic. This was the system that got people crazy about playing video games at home. -It was as ubiquitous as a refrigerator or a TV in most households. -In the successful years of the Atari 2600 we got to over $2 Billion business in the United States, only on video games. It’s kind of a number that is important to understand because we will understand what happened when video games go into what this universally recognized as the big crash of video games in 1983. -Game over. -There was a video game crash as a result of just this flood of terrible games on the 2600. And for awhile, it seemed like maybe home video games and video game consoles had just been a fad. -And video games really went out of fashion altogether. -Then something happened. What happened was Nintendo happened. Nintendo, a company that has been around making trading cards for nearly a century. They decided, “We’re gonna make a video game system.” The key thing is they didn’t call it a video game system. In the United States, they marketed it as a toy. They have Rob, the robot. They have the Zapper, which was a little gun you plugged in to the console. They didn’t want people to think that it was a video game machine because that had a stink to it because of the Atari 2600 and the crash. -With the third generation of home video game systems, it was not a fair fight. The Nintendo Entertainment System mopped the floor with the Sega Master System. -The Nintendo Entertainment System is the console that changed everything. This is the system, the little gray box that shipped and suddenly connected with everyone. Whether it’d be Mario– This is– this is Mario Brothers. This is the start of everything for Nintendo and for the industry as well, all right? All of a sudden, the new games had what they didn’t have before – a mascot, someone you could connect with. -It was not just something that was big as a video game system, but it helped launch Nintendo into being just a cultural force. So everything from Nintendo cereal– -Nintendo Cereal System is a super power system of nutritious breakfast– -Or Fred Savage’s famous, or infamous movie The Wizard. Power Glove, this ridiculous glove that you would wear, in theory, to control games better. It was more than just a gaming system. It was a cultural phenomenon. -There can be only one. -Sega challenges you with the ultimate video game – the Sega Master System. -When I started my career in this industry, I was testing games on the Sega Master System, and quite frankly I didn’t even know it had existed. The only thing that was in my world was the Nintendo Entertainment System at that time. -The Sega Master System is notable in that it’s what brought Sega into home video games. -I saw– I saw it, I put my little pudgy finger on the glass, I said, “Mom, that’s what I want for my birthday. What is that?” That was the second question. And they made that happen and I got the Sega Master System. And man did I pick a losing horse in this race, becoming a Sega kid over a Nintendo kid, but it was one of those things where that was your source of pride. That was your identity as video games were getting a foothold [unk], right? -There’s certainly a rivalry, you know, somebody else had a Sega Master System and you had a Nintendo [unk]. You know, you picked sides in a war. You kinda– you had one, you didn’t have the other. And it was the beginning of a rivalry between Nintendo and Sega that would go on for generation after generation. It would take awhile before there was a clear victor in it. -So you’re talking about the NES or the Sega Master System, or just video games of that generation, you’re talking about, literally for what I think, is the foundation for what video games will be. Right, because there was suddenly all these kids like me, who started to grow up with these, and started to understand these characters and these things and what video games would be. And so, as we make that jump to the Super NES to, you know, the Sega Genesis, what you see is the video game companies realizing that their audience is maturing, and so they need to as well. -And then the fourth generation – the empire strikes back. Sega comes out with the Sega Genesis, saying “Genesis does what Nintendon’t.” -Genesis does– -What Nintendon’t. -I mean, Sega Genesis was Sega’s coming out party, you know. Sega Master System was the system that I owned, and nobody knew what that was. But Sega Genesis, everybody knew because it was when Sega came out and adopted an identity and said, “We are this blue hedgehog–” -Sonic 2 handles stubborn stains. Embarrassing bald spots? No problem. But wait, you can play it, too. -Sonic was just– he had attitude. You know, history has shown that Mario’s a great character, but he’s kinda just this schlubby plumber guy who jumped on turtles and– -It was one of those things that Sega said, “We’re the underdog.” And in a way, it summed up fans, like me, right? Like we needed a rallying crowd– -Genesis. -Does. -Genesis. -Does. -There has to be a line on the sand for what you are what you are a kid and your parents won’t buy you both systems. -Sega people could look to the Genesis and say, “This is the thing. This is what gets us over Nintendo.” -Super power. -The Super Nintendo was Nintendo putting its foot down and saying, “We basically started this home console business, and we aren’t going anywhere. -It’s been very unusual in gaming history for any one console maker to have two great platforms in a row. But Nintendo pulled that off. The Nintendo Entertainment System was phenomenal. The Super Nintendo, I would say, it was even better. -It was when Nintendo said, “We are going to make these things that you loved in the last– on the last system franchised. These are things that are gonna be here to stay because you loved them. Here’s another Metroid. Here’s the Final Fantasy. Here are all these different experiences that we’re gonna give you and make this definitive video gaming platform for the time. -Super Nintendo kind of quietly proved itself out to be one of the best machines ever made. -You realize there was no ceiling to what was happening, and 16-bit was our first taste of that. -The fifth generation was a [unk] show. Can I say “[unk] show”? There’s too many players here. There’s too many players in the fifth generation. Something’s gotta give.

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