The History of Gaming – 3rd Generation

The folks at Square Go Magazine have summed up the history of gaming in a few concise articles.
Read my contribution over here.

The History of Gaming – 3rd Generation

Posted on April 27, 2009 by Graeme Strachan
The History of Gaming – 3rd Generation

Loyalty is important. When it comes to a gaming system it’s a real no-brainer, you might get on really well with someone, only to find out they play a different unit to you. Suddenly you start to realise that underneath it all, they smell a bit funny, why? Because the box wired to their tv-set is sleek, shiny and black and yours is bulky and a slightly off-cream colour.  Sound familiar? It should, it’s been happening since 1982. Only the boxes weren’t games consoles, they were home computers.

Let me back up… The industry had started to fall apart, the majority of games weren’t cutting it, the old consoles were struggling terribly and there was competition on the market from an unexpected source. As the reeling industry struggled to cope with the crash of 1983, the prevalence of home computers began to rise, and with them, games.  Suddenly the nerd and boffin toys that were home computers began to become wanted home items for the common man.  Cries of “it’ll help with the homework” echoed over the western world and homes began to be filled up by the two big-boys in the playground.

The First was Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum, a small black model up from the ground breaking ZX81 model. Adding in colour graphics and giving the UK a champion to rally behind. Meanwhile, across the pond Commodore were pushing their successor to the Vic-20.  The result was simple. Competition breeds progress, and competition requires loyalty. The competing home computer market began to churn out games with movie tie-ins, ports and conversions of arcade classics meant that the earlier console releases such as Frogger and Asteroids we’re joined by original titles like The Hobbit in local shops and markets.

What’s more the relative simplicity it took to programme in Basic code for both Sinclair and Commodore opened up the market to enthusiasts and bedroom programmers.  Leading to the surge of 3rd party games developers, small companies that could create titles for a variety of platforms instead of one affiliated console.  This led to a bizarre divergence from the traditional market as each games company would now struggle to churn out compatible versions of each major release for all home computer systems.  This ever-growing plethora of titles and competitive 1-upmanship managed to help revitalise the broken industry.  However that’s really only half of the story.

It was round 1983 when Japan decided to weigh in on gaming with a true force, forsaking the western computer model and instead refining the Games Console into what is possibly it’s purest form.  The Nintendo Entertainment System, commonly known as The NES.  Naturally competition was hot on it’s heels and within two years this came in the form of rival company SEGA’s Master System.  Both of which were similarly based around cartridge games, and simple multi-button controllers.

Although being around Japan since the mid-80s it took until 1987 for either of the consoles to reach the shores of ol’ blighty. When they finally did, they went down a storm.  The Games-Crash was well and truly over, and the popularisation of gaming in the eyes of teenagers across the UK meant that they became a must have item for any home.   Of course having the consoles wasn’t enough, there needed to be great games behind them which is where the 3rd Generation began to soar.

Nintendo had burst onto the scene with some revolutionary launch titles, such as Duckhunt (with gun accessory!) Excitebike and Super Mario Bros, a curious little platformer about a pair of Italian Plumbers.  Only to be followed by one of the most famous games ever made, The Legend of Zelda. SEGA tried to follow suit, but despite having games like Alex Kidd built into the console as standard it could never quite keep down the Ninty crowd, even in Europe where the consoles fared more evenly than elsewhere, Nintendo maintained the lead.

Having cornered the market with a stellar system and must have software, it looked like everything was in the bag for Nintendo. But winning the battle doesn’t always mean winning the war, and things started to get very heated at the end of the 80′s when SEGA decided that 8-bit consoles weren’t quite powerful enough and decided that a new system was the answer, headed up by a speedy little blue hedgehog called Sonic.

Naturally this led to a decline in the sales of the 8-bit games machines, and by the time 1990 rolled around now there were also whispers on the wind of a new Nintendo system. The nerdish home computers were evolving as Sinclair folded; Atari and Commodore began their own private little battle over desks of the UK’s sitting rooms. The landscape was changed forever, gaming was back, and this time to stay.


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