Mat Langford’s Gaming World – A Brief History of Main-Stream Gaming Consoles

To tie in with May’s Origin theme, I’ve decided to write up a little something on the history of the main-stream video game console.

Even though I wasn’t around for some of the earlier iterations, I have played all of them, and all of them – while they ranged from terrible to incredible – have left a distinct mark on the culture of gaming.

Magnavox Odyssey
Magnavox Odyssey

Many people think of Atari’s Pong as the starting block for video gaming when in fact, there was a little known system that predated it. In 1972, Magnavox released a console called the Magnavox Odyssey, marketed as the first true commercial home video game console. It had a peripheral light gun for a shooting gallery game, very similar to that of the Nintendo Entertainment System (Duck Hunt anyone?).

While the console itself may not be remembered very well, the patents and people around it caused quite an uproar in the gaming community in the early years of console development. Many of the games that followed the Odyssey on newer consoles had lawsuits placed against their creators by Magnavox for patent infringement. Even the illustrious Pong. According to a New York Times in 1982, “Magnavox settled a court case against Atari Inc. for patent infringement Atari’s design of Pong, as it resembled the tennis game for the Odyssey. Over the next decade, Magnavox sued other big companies such as Coleco, Mattel, Seeburg, Activision and either won or settled every suit.”

Atari 2600
Atari 2600

Atari is perhaps most well known as the creator of Pong, one of the first truly popular games in the 1970’s. Their Atari VCS (later known as the 2600) was released in 1977, and quickly became synonymous for video games. Its easy hook up and simple control schemes made it extremely popular with both new and experienced gamers alike. It looked like your mom’s station wagon, was released with two joystick controllers, a pair of paddle controllers, and a copy of the game Combat!, which shipped with every console. Contributing to its success? Two games you may have heard of: Pac-Man and Space Invaders, the latter being the first game ever to record high-scores, essentially launching the competitive video game era. Atari would also eventually create and overhype the game E.T., which would turn out to be one of the most colossal flops in gaming history. Oh well, can’t win ’em all I guess.

NES

Then, in glorious 1985, North America received what would become one of the best selling systems of all time: The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The system used state of the art graphics, which – when compared to those of the Atari – utilized higher resolutions, more colors, better sprites and tiled backgrounds. The leap from so-so calibre games to those on the NES was happily recieved by the gaming public. The best part about the NES? When it was initially shipped in North America, it was bundled with a game you may have heard of…Super Mario Brothers. Riding on the success of that portly plumber – one of the best selling franchises ever, even to this day – the NES would become a staple in many households. When you add in the fact that it was also shipped with the original ‘Zapper’ light gun, it would solidify its place in gaming lore and keep it one of the most all-time sought after system by gamers.

Sega Genesis
Sega Genesis

Following the success of the NES, many copycat systems were introduced to compete with it, but we never truly got any real innovation until the Sega Master System (Genesis) came out in ’89. This system had ‘blazing’ 32-bit graphics, and a whole whack of awesome games including  Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage, Shinobi, and my complete uncontested favourite, NHL ’94. The controller added a third action button and anchored the d-pad on a raised base, giving it more of a loose control feel. The cartridges were top loading, and cool-looking. Sega also introduced the Sega CD – with games like Sewer Shark – to adapt to developers wanting to up the graphical ante, and create longer more in-depth games. It was short lived, but the idea of creating video games on CD was just the beginning…

PSX
PSX

Fast forward to 1995. Gaming was redefined when a Sony released its long-awaited Playstation (PSX), to critical acclaim. It was truly a complete overhaul of graphics and sound, giving gamers an experience like they hadn’t had before. This ushered in a new generation of gaming, that saw systems such as the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn come onto the market. Sony rode on the combined successes of their exclusive series’ such as Crash Bandicoot, Spyro and Parappa the Rappa. The Nintendo 64 already had it’s hook in the Mario franchise, and released Mario 64, one of the greatest games of all time in my opinion. It was the reason I bought a 64, and remains one of the most critically acclaimed games in the N64 lineup. The Sega Saturn, however, had limited success, and was quickly eclipsed by the other 2 giants. This so called “5th Generation” of gaming would incite the race to dominance that would define the next few generations of gaming.

Xbox
Xbox

The Playstation 2 and Microsoft Xbox were introduced  in the early 2000’s, and would immediately become the go-to systems for developers, pushing then-competing systems such as the Sega Dreamcast and Nintendo Gamecube out of the market. The consoles boasted great looking 3-D graphics, and analogue control sticks. Their capacities were much greater than the systems before them, and they could therefore create huge, good-looking games and incredible soundtracks that would soon become the norm in gaming. Both had other great features as well, such as the ability to play DVD movies. Xbox, however, had two giant advantages: firstly, the internal storage drive that eliminated the need for pesky memory cards – which the PS still used – and secondly, online play. Games like Halo: CE created a community centered around competitive and team-based play. This made the system a popular choice. The Playstation 2 shipped without this ability initially, though it added a bulky – and not very good – remedy in the Network Adapter, a peripheral that allowed an online connection. The result was a poor online experience. Xbox started what would become a dominant online presence, one which Sony would never really best.

Playstation 3 and Xbox 360
Playstation 3 and Xbox 360

When the Xbox 360 and PS3 were released in the later 2000’s, gaming was revolutionized. Hi-def graphics, smooth gameplay and controls, great online connectivity through both Xbox Live and the Playstation Network (PSN), and the ability to connect with gamers all around the world. This was truly what gaming was meant to be. Coupled with a nice big-screen TV, games such as Call of Duty and Halo 3 were a pleasure to behold and tore through the market, revolutionizing the online gaming generation. Both were classed as Next-Gen consoles, and have stood the test of time to this day. Rumors of the PS4 and Xbox 720 are spinning, but the argument still stands that if these consoles are capable of so much, why should they bother trying to sell a brand new, expensive console to consumers when we’re only seeing now – many years after their inception – what these original consoles are capable of. These are still the standard against which console gaming is compared, and though I’m sure every Expo will have hints and demos of the next best thing in gaming, I wouldn’t expect to see any new consoles for at least a few more years.

And that, my friends, was a not so brief history of main-stream gaming consoles! Hope you enjoyed it!

3 Replies to “Mat Langford’s Gaming World – A Brief History of Main-Stream Gaming Consoles”

  1. Missed out quite a few consoles which might of been interesting to read about, but you got the main ones in there. Really interesting read, especially the Magnavox Odyssey which until today I hadn’t even heard of!

    1. Yeah, there are tons of other consoles out there…but to keep it “brief” (which was hard in itself), I tried to squeeze the main, more well-known ones. Maybe I can do an “Other Great Consoles” follow up in the future. Thanks for your comment!

      1. I had a Sega Master System. Chose that over a NES. The only plus looking back was that it had Phantasy Star and Double Dragon, which allowed for two players unlike the NES version.

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