Classic Consoles: The Three ErasMar 8, 2001 Write an essay on this topic.
Popular Products in FurnitureThe Bottom Line The following is a brief history of console video gaming, spanning nearly twenty years. I hope that you enjoy reading it.
If you were to ask someone to identify any "classic console", you might be surprised at the variety of responses that you receive. There are really three identifiable eras of time that classic consoles can be separated into: The Atari Era (pre-1984), the Nintendo era (1985-1990), and the 16-Bit Era (1990-1994). In theory, a Super Nintendo (launched in 1991) can be considered a classic console, as can an Intellivision, which has 20 years of history behind it. This article will give you a brief overview of the major systems in each era, so that you'll have a better understanding of these three important periods in console history.
The Atari Era introduced families to the idea of playing video games at home, right in their own living room. As far back as the mid-1970's, the first "consoles" were Pong imitations and were precursors to Atari's Video Computer System, also known as the Atari 2600 or Atari VCS. For the first time, players could plug in different games via cartridges. This enabled Atari owners to use their console for more than just one game. The Atari 2600 enjoyed a good deal of success with arcade conversions, sports games, adventure games, shooters, and more. Mattel would later jump into the console market and try to get their pie of the pie with their Intellivision console, which sported better graphics and a slightly more complex controller than Atari's simple joystick. Atari was still dominant, but Mattel would be right behind them. The Colecovision would also make it's presence felt during this era, although it was late in the game. By this time, the market was seeing a supersaturation of games in the marketplace, thanks in part to the full realization of a third-party publishing system, spearheaded by a company call Activision. Other third-parties would come to pass, including Fox, Imagic, Parker Brothers, and even Mattel. This supersaturation would eventually spell doom for the console gaming market, which would be fully realized in the Great Video Game Crash. Rumors still fly about Atari burying thousands upon thousands of unsold Atari VCS games, like E.T. and Raiders of the Lost Ark. By the time 1984 was over, it looked like the console market was deader than a doornail.
The Nintendo Era almost didn't happen. Retailers were reluctant to carry any more consoles or home video games because of their losses attributed to the Great Video Game Crash. Nintendo simply would not take "no" for an answer and, after a successful market test in New York City in 1985, made agreements with several retailers to sell the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES. Nobody could have guessed at that time just how big the NES would be or what effect that the NES would eventually have within the toy & game marketplace. Despite a recession, the NES would find its way into millions of homes not only across the United States, but all over the world. Hundreds of NES games would be released over the lifespan of the NES, and several franchises are still being kept alive even today through sequels for current systems. While the NES was dominant, there were two other consoles of interest during the Nintendo era. Sega (remember than name) would introduce a console of their own called the Sega Master System, or SMS. Sega was a well-respected member of the arcade gaming community and it was thought that they could succeed just as Nintendo was succeeding... unfortunately, while Sega made some great games for their own system, many third-party publishers were stuck on the NES and never gave the SMS a second glance. NEC, a respected computer company, also gave the console market a try with their own console, called the TurboGrafx-16, or TG16. The TG16 was special because it was the "first 16-bit console" (which was later proved to be somewhat misleading, as the system was primarily 8-bit like the NES and SMS, with a specialized 16-bit graphics processor). While the TG16 experienced some moderate third-party support, it still could not make a dent in the NES market share and went largely unnoticed. Through it all, the NES reigned supreme for five years, and it would stick around for another three years before finally being retired in 1993.
While NEC would claim that they started the 16-Bit Era with the TG16, many historians (including myself) credit Sega with ushering in that period via their 16-bit Sega Genesis console, which was introduced in 1989, but didn't gain a lot of support until 1990. The Genesis was capable of some arcade-like graphics and sound that weren't thought possible some five years previous. Slowly but surely, the large NES following began to erode as many gamers were enticed by the graphical power that the Genesis possessed. Nintendo released their own 16-bit console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES, in late 1991-- almost two full years after the Genesis came out in the US. With the release of the SNES, the well-known "16-Bit Wars" began, and they would rage for three great years. Sega and Nintendo consistently tried to show up the other, whether it was in advertising (Sega Does What Nintendon't) or within the games themselves (Mario vs. Sonic). The fierce competition between the gaming giants meant great products for gamers. The games were better-looking, better-sounding, and, in many cases, even better-playing than they had ever been. As the 16-Bit Era waned, Sega began to introduce add-ons for the Genesis, such as a CD-ROM drive and even a 32-bit adapter. Games that utilized these add-ons were generally few and far between, and the games that did come out impressed very few. Nintendo also thought about going the CD route, agreeing with Japanese electronics giant Sony to produce a CD-ROM and SNES hybrid called the PlayStation. Nintendo would back out of the Sony deal at the last minute, and that decision (as many of you know) would later come back to haunt them. Nintendo would keep plugging away with SNES as time went on and Nintendo would eventually pull even or just slightly ahead of Sega for 16-bit market share as the 16-Bit Era came to a close.
Aside from the SNES vs. Genesis showdown that culminated the 16-bit era, there were other consoles of note that were largely overlooked. Electronic Arts teamed with Panasonic to make the first 32-bit console, called the 3D0. While the system showed flashes of brilliance, the high $700 price tag put the console out of reach for many. A high price tag also doomed SNK's Neo-Geo arcade console, which literally played arcade games. Cartridges were retailing for $100 per unit, and that price, even with the quality of the games, could not be justified.
Some gamers would even argue that Sega's doomed 32-bit Saturn console could be classified as a classic console, especially now that they're no longer available. The Saturn began the era known as the Big Three Era (1995-1998), but with two (PlayStation and Nintendo 64) consoles still actively on the market, the story of the Saturn is a story for another time.
I hope that you enjoyed this brief history of console video gaming, and I thank you for reading. Please, if you you have any questions or comments, post them freely.
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