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Generation Gap Pt. 4: 32-bit (with a dash of 64)

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By the time the SNES was dominating and the Sega Genesis was locked in an endless sea of add-ons to save the dying console, electronics manufacturers began to step up and create many of their own consoles.  As a result, the market was flooded with overpriced horrendous hardware.  They seemed to have everything a gamer wanted: new media format (the cheaply priced cd was preferred by developers to reduce production cost and retail price), impressive graphics and processors, and lets not forget the large numbers like “32” and “64” prominantly displayed on the startup screens.  Unfortunately they lacked one important thing: good games.  Still, that didn’t prevent many manufacturers from creating a loose version of the video game crash of 1983.  Thankfully one lone electronics company entered the foray with the next step in gaming – that company was Sony.

Electronics Companies Go Bananas (or Pre 32-bit Gaming)

JVC’s Xeye

I’m guessing somewhere around the Sega CD, boasting the ability to play your new audio CDs through your television as an added feature, electronic companies started to take notice of gaming systems.  As you guide through the progression of consoles the consumer electronics market grows stronger with gamers – let’s face it, they’re the perfect early adoptors.  Quickly companies scrambled to enter the gaming market including JVC, Phillips, Panasonic, Pioneer, Sony and even more.  Some of these companies licensed existing hardware, like JVC did with the X’Eye, a Sega Genesis/Sega CD hybrid that was re-branded with JVC’s logo.  On the other hand, Phillips, Panasonic and Pioneer – imagine keeping these companies straight as a consumer – released their own hardware with a (arguably) library of games.  In the end, they all sucked and had ridiculous price tags pushing back the concept of consumer electronics meeting gaming for at least another six years.  Below are the early disc-based consoles that failed so horribly.

CD-i by Phillips – Launch Price: $700.00 – Released: 1991
Although technically a 16-bit console that released around the same time as the SNES, the CD-i more directly competed with this generation given its high price tag, multiple uses and cd media.  I guess you could say it was ahead of its time, but it basically built a blueprint for what not to do.

I remember watching late night commercials for the CD-i, it seemed like the all-in-one system.  It played CDs, it had Zelda and Mario games thanks to a licensing agreement, it played movies (utilizing the “VCD” format, also known as MPEG-1, which never caught on in the US) and had mature games.  The reason Phillips had the rights to publish Nintendo properties is due to a cd add-on deal that fell through and resulted in rights remaining in the hand of Phillips.  Sadly they were barely playable – Link: Faces of Evil is a side scroller in the vein of Zelda II, Zelda: Wand of Gamelon is similar to Faces save that the player controls Princess Zelda, and Zelda’s Adventure was a live-action top down game much like the original Legend of Zelda.  Zelda’s Adventure is the most rare of the games and arguably the best (developed by a completely different company), but it’s still a guess-and-check game of horrid live action blur.  Hotel Mario is a puzzle game requiring the player to close doors in hotel floors, which starts off fun and eventually gets tedious and repetitive.  Still, a much better title than the Zelda games.  Aside from that, the CD-i was riddled with full motion video (FMV) games like Dragon’s Lair and educational titles, of these the only noteables being Burn: Cycle, a cyberpunk game, and Voyeur, a sexual murder mystery, which were both intelligently ported to PC in the mid 90s.

Click to see the list of CD-i games

Pioneer LaserActiveLaunch Price: $970 – Released: 1993
Pioneer’s LaserActive was only for the super rich and probably a failure from start to finish.  With the proud Pioneer company behind it, the laserdisc-based console was rightfully a top of the line beast with a nearly $1,000 price tag to back it up.  Technically this product isn’t even really a game console by itself, and thus is probably considered a 16-bit console at best (maybe 24-bit if you add the sound chip).  Basically it was designed as a laserDisc/CD player that also allowed you to play a limited run of video games, but everyone I know that had one either used it solely as a home laserdisc player or purchased it from someone who did.  Even the controller was a remote control, which explains why only a small number FMV titles made it to the system (like TimeGal or Road Prosecutor), which could be found on the Sega CD as well.  Then again, the quality of the video was much higher, being a laserdisc, but it would have been great if titles like the ever-ported Dragon’s Lair made it to the system or if Myst had managed to release instead of remaining a prototype title.

One smart move that Pioneer did, however, was offer a Sega add-on and NEC add-on that allowed the console to play any Genesis/Sega-CD or Turbografx-16/CD game respectively.  With the solid catalogs that both Sega and NEC had appropriately among their consoles/add-ons, it was a great boost – albeit at a hefty price.  $600.  Yep, $600 each for the Sega add-on and NEC add-on.  Combined with the initial cost, that’s $2,170 minimum for the super console above and this is before additional accessories and/or games.  Today the combo isn’t a whole lot cheaper, with eBay consoles starting at $250-$300 (topping at around $500) and the Sega add-on going for $200-$300 and Turbografx-16 add-on going more like $300-$400.  The only combo console I ever saw, which included both add-ons and a mint condition console, was a whopping $2800 (a profit even if you bought it back then) and it did sell.  These consoles were a failure and thus still extremely rare, increasing both price and value.  In truth, the LaserActive by Pioneer still remains mostly a novelty to gamers and collectors alike.

Click to see the list of LaserActive games

The Panasonic 3DO should be in this category as well, but unlike these other systems Panasonic focused much more on gaming and used 32-bit processing.  For these reasons it joins the console generation below.

32-bit Consoles

Jaguar by Atari – Launch Price: $249.99 – Released: 1993
If you were around when the console came out, you might be thinking, “What?  Wait, the Jaguar was a 64-bit console, wasn’t it?”  Nope, it really wasn’t.  Turns out the Jaguar slogan, “do the math,” was quite appropriate because if you didn’t know math then you probably couldn’t get there.  It used 32-bit control processor (a 68000 Motorola for those tech people out there) that passed graphics up to 64-bit through two co-processors (that’s 32 x 2) named “Tom” and “Jerry”.  Not that any of this really mattered to the mainstream, a lack of games, much more than the potential false advertising, attributed to the failure of the Jaguar.  Furthermore Atari had overcomplicated the concept of the simple controller system, instead going back to an overlay-dependent hulk of a controller that harkened back to its 5200 system.  This means that much like pre-NES consoles, without the controller overlay (at least until the Internet was widespread) you would have a hard time controlling even the easiest titles.

Developers tend to prefer a handful of buttons and a D-pad, Atari.

Jaguar’s biggest problem was that it had basically no games.  Launch title Aliens vs. Predator was the best seller, mostly because at the time the graphics were amazing and it was a Doom-clone (read: first person shooter or FPS) that featured the ultimate sci-fi battle.  Even today it holds up pretty well, allowing you to control all three races in varied level layouts.  Ports of Tempest (entitled Tempest 2000), Doom and Wolfenstein 3D were praised for building upon the PC greats or creating the closest PC-to-home conversion.  A $150 cd add-on was released for the Jaguar which added a few weak titles like Dragon’s Lair and Primal Rage but in hindsight is completely worthless.

Click to see a list of Jaguar/Jaguar CD games

3DO – Launch Price: $699.99 – Released: 1993
Ultimately the 3DO was an attempt to streamline a console that was available for homes while also using it as a hardware profile for arcades and other commercial interests.  It was also the first, and probably one of the only, consoles to act more like other media devices (ex: VHS, CD, DVD): fixed harware that allowed licensing to mutiple manufacturers with software compatible on all platforms.  This is why depending on your model, you may own a Panasonic 3DO, Goldstar 3DO or Sanyo 3DO – these are all the same console just licensed and manufactured by multiple companies.  Additionally the console was the processing unit for various arcades that played, you guessed it, 3DO titles.  With so many ways to get your hands on it, one might wonder how this console didn’t take off.  My personal opinion is the ridiculous asking price, a consistency among most early CD consoles, but others also cite the fact that it had almost no exclusive software and a ton of re-releases that were readily available elsewhere.  Life wasn’t good or especially long for the 3DO, in what started as Time magazine’s “Product of the Year” in 1994 and one of the worst launches in history, the 3DO died a prolonged death in 1996.

Way of the Warrior, a poor title by Naughty Dog of all companies, looked awesome in screen shots.

Despite its short life span, there were a lot of games released for the 3DO and in many cases they are the definitive versions of these games on home consoles.  If you’re an FMV fan you can enjoy the most crisp versions of Sega CD favs like Night Trap and Sewer Shark.  PC gamers were pleased to see Myst, D, Daedelus Encounter, Doom, and Alone in the Dark.  If you like arcade FMV titles you can enjoy Dragon’s Lair (what didn’t this come out on?), Mad Dog McCree, Crime Patrol, and more.  Arcade fighters also made some appearences with Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Primal Rage and Samurai Showdown.  This console even had some decent exclusives.  Despite their popularity Jurassic Park Interactive and Way of Warrior are two horrible examples, especially when you consider the original release of Need for Speed was on the 3DO.  In addition quirky more mature titles like Dennis Miller: That’s News to Me and Twisted: The Game Show were entertaining and Wicked 18 is still one of the only golf games I enjoy.  Even porn fans had a hefty dose of titles from the comparatively tame Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties to the hardcore Coven.  In truth there was a lot to appreciate on the 3DO, but at the time it was a saturated market that had many of its games on other consoles first.  Nowadays the harder draw is that there are very few copies of the software, but in comparison to competitors it’s still one of the more manageable consoles – about $150-$200 can net you a console with a decent collection.

Click for our list of 3DO reviews

Sega Saturn – Launch Price: $399.99 – Released: 1995
Depending on where you lived, the Saturn was either a strong competitor or a complete flop, but regardless it was dethroned by Sony.  Releasing before the Playstation in both Japan and the US, it was an extremely hard console to develop for.  Without getting too technical, it sported two Hitachi 32-bit processors, two graphics processors (one for 3D, one for backgrounds), a geometric processor, a Motorola 68000 sound chip/controller and a Yamaha sound processor.  That’s just a lot of pieces trying to come together, but from what I’ve heard from developers the biggest issue was the dual processors because they shared the same bus and thus couldn’t access their individual RAM.  As for 3D, Saturn used squares to create its polygonal effects, which Playstation and N64 both used triangles in contrast, so the visuals always had to be re-worked.  As a result, the best titles on the console were 2D visuals and sprites with titles like shoot-em-ups (shmups) and fighters.  Most of the fighters and shmups remained in Japan, which resulted in poor ports of Playstation titles in the US and a handful of mostly crappy exclusives.  This is why the Saturn still lives strong as an import console but with a hefty price tag for the collection.  If you want to remain in the US, the titles to get are Panzer Dragoon Saga, Guardian Heroes and Shining Force III, but unfortunately they all hold a near $100 price tag, as do most imports worth picking up.

A hybrid RPG/shooter, Panzer Dragoon Saga may look ugly, but it was awesome back in the day.

Aside from that, the Saturn was most hurt by the story of its launch.  In what is regarded by many as the stupidest move by a console manufacturer in history, Sega announced in its 1995 Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) press conference that the console was releasing the same day.  This was done without filling in most big box retailers and before the Internet was widespread.  Without going into details this screwed everyone.  Developers that were planning launch titles, like Tomb Raider, would now release 3 months into the console’s life and lose that launch stride.  Retailers didn’t have anything on order (a handful of exclusive retailers were selected and informed in advance), so they had no shelf space for nationwide distribution and no consoles on order in the first place.  Customers had no web sites, live streams, Twitter, or other way to find out and all newspapers and magazines at the show wouldn’t run the story for weeks.  Furthermore, it had previously been announced that Saturday, September 2, aka “Saturnday” would be the official launch date.  As a result, the Saturn launched to limited distribution and only 6 games, which was all that the console had until closer to the official release date.  To combat this horrible idea, Sony called checkmate by coming on stage at their press conference and muttering a few numbers, “Playstation…$299.99”.  With the $100 cheaper price tag and no mad 3rd parties on its back, the Playstation instantly won over the Saturn, more than 3 months prior to its release.

Click for our list of Saturn reviews

***Where is the 32X?  Sega’s final add-on to the Genesis that completed “frankenconsole” was technically a 32-bit console (even codenamed “Mars”), but it has separate coverage here.***

Sony Playstation – Launch Price: $299.99 – Released: 1995
It’s ironic that Playstation’s main significance has nothing to do with Nintendo or Sega, but that with it Sony toppled both.  The Playstation began life as a cd add-on for the SNES that even had a prototype showing at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 1991.  In an act that is all too common for Nintendo, they announced that year that they would be dropping Sony and going with Phillips for the SNES add-on.  After both deals fell through, we saw what a great job Phillips did with the Nintendo license, but Sony instead decided to develop a console of its own.  Ken Kutaragi, the “father of Playstation”, envisioned a console that used 3D graphics as the next step for games and an inexpensive cd medium.  Once that vision came to fruition Sony launched its console much to the amazement of the community.  Nintendo’s then named Ultra 64 console was in development hell and with one sentence the Playstation took a strong lead over Sega’s Saturn and gave Playstation just the “in” it needed.

Unlike almost every other console, Playstation used cd-like cases that fit easily on a shelf and conserved space. That’s why all PS1 collections look like this.

Not only did the Playstation make sound release decisions, the design of the console also had that spin of professionalism and elegence.  It didn’t try to be a new electronic component, although it was capable of cd playback on the TV, which had been around for a few years.  It had some interesting and experimental initial software like Parapa the Rapper, Wipeout, and even early platformer Crash Bandicoot.  Furthermore it featured more adult themed titles like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil, both strong 3rd party titles that assisted in building steam for the console.  With hardware that was easy to program for, sophisticated copyright protection (it was one of the only consoles at the time to have it) and plenty of 3rd party support the Playstation had everything it needed to secure success.

Playstation was all good and well from a tech perspective, but frankly every strong console in history is defined by its library.  There wasn’t a game released in the late 90s that the Playstation didn’t get its hands on.  You could play basically everything from Sony exclusives to old school arcade titles to strong RPGs and everything in between.  Square Enix was finally done with Nintendo by the end of the SNES era and the launch of Final Fantasy VII, weiging in over 1 GB and 3 discs in length, made the Playstation the new standard for RPGs.  Whether it was the re-released of Lunar, the sequel Chrono Cross, an entire collection of Final Fantasy games, Arc the Lad, and oh so many more that I am forgetting, there were literally hundreds of games for you.  Major franchises of today began life on the Playstation like Tomb Raider, Resident Evil, Rayman, Spyro, Crash BandicootNeed for SpeedMetal Gear Solid just to scrape the surface.  PC games like Diablo, Theme Park and Command & Conquer that had never been imagined on other consoles before released with ease on the Playstation.  Furthermore, even when the N64 did release a year later and had the gusto to intrigue the Nintendo crowd, everyone eventually found their way back (or over) to Playstation.

Click for our list of Playstation reviews

Nintendo 64 (N64) – Launch Price: $199.99 – Released: 1996
Nintendo had been bogged down with developmental delays for a couple of years when the N64 finally launched, but when it finally hit the market, it hit hard.  The first console I ever had to pre-order, those not in the know began to hunt in November for Nintendo’s console (which launched in late September) only to find empty shelves.  While the $200 initial price tag was low to the gamer, parents that were used to consoles being bundled with two controllers and a game for $100 were shocked to see the nearly $300 ticket required to get the console, Mario 64 (the first time a Mario game, or any game for that matter, wasn’t packed with a Nintendo home console), and a second controller.

Thanks to the comparatively low price and Mario 64, Nintendo managed to sell out the holidays and eventually move over 30 million units, but the N64’s success was short lived.  It was the first actual 64-bit console and utilized a 64-bit co-processor that allowed for 128-bit games and made it the most advanced of the generation.  All that power was wasted, however, by developers that had their hands tied.  Small ROM space provided by the proprietary carts (all other consoles were using larger capacity cds) and the fact that visuals for most N64 ports only required 32-bit 3D renders.  In addition the co-processor was required for audio channels, so everytime you wanted a sound channel you had to compromise computing resources – perhaps this was because Nintendo had burned bridges with a few audio companies and had no sound chip option.  In addition, there was a very small 4KB texture cache, only allowing for small simple textures that most developers stretched way too far and resulted in that hazy blur effect that all N64 games have.

This is the first thing that all Mario 64 players saw, and a great intro they would all see time and time again in 1996.

While some of the Nintendo first party titles like Mario 64, Zelda: Ocarina of TimeStar Fox 64 and several Rare-published exclusives like Killer Instinct Gold, Goldeneye, Donkey Kong Country 64, and the late titles Perfect Dark and Conker’s Bad Fur Day make up a solid list, it all paled in comparison to the Playstation.  Nintendo’s choice to stick with cartridges raised game prices to $50-$70 per title whereas the Saturn and Playstation usually only charged $40 for a cd title.  Thanks to some poor relations choices Square Enix was releasing RPGs (including Final Fantasy VII) on Playstation and carts didn’t have enough space for the epic titles the N64 wanted.  Even Nintendo’s Earthbound 64 (Mother 3 in Japan) was canceled (and later moved to Gameboy Advance in Japan only) costing the N64 any chance at a strong exclusive RPG.  Most ports were weaker on the N64 because lack of storage space resulted in items getting cut as we saw in titles like Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Resident Evil 2, and Megaman 64.  LucasArts had created some amazing titles with the Super Star Wars trilogy on SNES only to let down most gamers with Shadows of the Empire and a very mild improvement with Rogue Squadron.  Even later impressive games like Perfect Dark were held back by a required RAM expansion cart that wasn’t included in any titles other than Donkey Kong Country 64.  If you were unlucky enough to receive a game like this without the pack, it would simply display a blank screen with “RAM pack required” when you boot up the console.  Nintendo did make some great hardware and began to popularize the rumble feature along with Sony, but only first party titles took true advantage.  Thus began a long running trend that exists even today where Nintendo appears to be the only innovators on its consoles and third parties either create garbage or avoid the console altogether.

Click for our list of N64 reviews

It’s after this time that we finally see the inevitable next step – a computer software manufacturer, Microsoft, decides to enter the market.  In addition another veteran manufacturer drops out and Nintendo has one of its first major flops in the console market.  Our story concludes in Generation Gap Part 5!

Written by Fred Rojas

November 21, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Generation Gap Pt. 1

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It’s difficult to understand and discern the various console generations that have existed, so here’s a brief overview of each one and the consoles that spawned in North America during these generations.  Please note that these posts cover home consoles only (and goes into broad detail on specific larger market share, not every console that released) – while arcades and PCs were a signficant part of gaming in the respective 80s and 90s, they will be covered in different posts.

First Generation (1972 – 1983)

Magnavox Odyssey – Launch Price: $75-$100 (retail dependent) – Released: 1972
Designer Ralph Baer’s team started working on the console, codenamed “brown box”, in 1966 and completed a prototype in 1968.  I wasn’t even remotely alive when the Odyssey was on the market, so my experience with the console is limited to a few brief and clumsy plays of Ski at various Midwest Gaming Classic conventions.

The Odyssey had interchangeable cartridges that were purchased individually, much like more modern consoles, and also included an overlay for the television.  Since it was unable to generate graphics necessary for the games itself, it would instead use the TV overlay to create the playfield and dots or lines would be the only true visual created by the console.  Each cartridge would trigger jumpers in the console to generate the desired images or items on the screen.  Some games would also include dice and various other items, creating a virtual board game of sorts.  One of the most popular among the Odyssey titles was of course Pong, which was actually named Tennis on the console.  Unfamiliarity with a device of this sort and co-branding with Magnavox stores created a public perception that the Odyssey would only work with Magnavox televisions, which wasn’t true. 

Click to see a list of Odyssey games

Pong Clones – Launch Price: (Variable)
Although Atari and Magnavox were making “official” versions of Pong various clones began to flood the market made by a whole slew of manufacturers.  Eventually the demand for the simple paddle game dwindled and companies that had invested large sums of money were seeing a staggering drop in sales as the bubble burst.  Some refer to this as the “video game crash of 1977”, a clear foreshadow to the eventual crash of 1983.  After 1977 only Magnavox and Atari remained in the market, dug out by the arcade release of Taito’s Space Invaders.

Atari 2600 – Launch Price: $199 – Released: 1977
You may know this console also as its original name, the Video Computer System (or VCS) to compete directly with the Video Entertainment System (or VES), later being renamed to the Fairchild Channel F.  Both consoles were essentially Pong clones upon release until after the crash of 1977 forced developers to put the hardware to work on other potential projects.  Ironically enough, the title that the console launched with was Combat as well as two classic joysticks with a single red button. 

With the exclusive content and the bowing out of Fairchild for what they considered a dwindling market, Atari became the front-runner for video games by 1979, taking home markets by storm.  In January 1980, a licensed version of Space Invaders hit the console and by 1982 the console had also acquired another arcade pleaser, Pac-Man, which sold over 7 million copies itself.  1982 was also the year that the console officially was renamed to the Atari 2600 to make way for the Atari 5200, which also released the same year.  This new model was completely black, removing the signature 70s wood paneling and moved two of the dipswitches to the back of the console.  Several updated versions of the system would release, including a slim-lined version named the 2600 Jr., and even co-branded products like the Sears Video Arcade (which was the Sears brand of the VCS/2600).

List of 2600 games

Mattel Intellivision – Launch Price: $299 – Released: 1979-1980
This can technically be considered the first console intended for multiple title and cartridge distribution, although the 2600 had clearly planned for multiple cartridges upon its initial market release.  Mattel decided to go right for the throat with the Intellivision (standing for an “intelligent” and “television” hybrid), doing side-by-side screen comparisons with the VCS/2600 in its 1980 commercials for mass market release (although it started in test markets in 1979).  It launched with the title Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack, possibly suggesting an older target market (especially in combination with price).

Titles for the Intellivision would include overlays for the odd 12-button numeric keypad located at the top of the controller and a multi-directional pad on the bottom.  Intellivision’s list of games provides an impressive combination of licensed arcade ports and original games.  Its best-selling title, Astrosmash, also managed to top 1 million sales.  In an attempt to find its place in the market, the Intellivision announced a keyboard peripheral and teased add-ons to make it a full computer, but the peripheral was eventually recalled and plans for the computer add-on were canceled resulting in several customer complaints.  There were two revisions, the Entertainment Computer System (ECS), which was basically an Intellivision with limited programming capabilities, and the Intellivision II, released in 1983 and not actually new hardware, was manufactured to be cheaper and more sleek with disconnecting controllers. 

Click to see a list of Intellivision games

ColecoVision – Launch Price: $200 – Released: 1982
Launching in summer 1982, the ColecoVision had a short but sweet life.  With a design similar to the Intellivision, the only real difference was that the directional pad was replaced with an arcade-like analog nub and relocated to the top of the controller.  It’s marketing goal was simple: take any arcade ports that Atari hadn’t nabbed and gobble up the licenses.  Even more significant was the fact that it could create near-perfect arcade ports and in some cases even create ports that were superior to the arcade.  With an impressive pack-in at launch, Nintendo’s Donkey Kong, the console was able to move more than half a million consoles by Christmas of 1982. 

Arcade ports included Donkey Kong Jr., Zaxxon, and even held responsibility for popularising less known arcade titles like Mr. Do!  Of the titles considered superior to the arcade was the standout Space Panic alongside a handful of other titles that continued the trend.  Unfortunately the short life of the system can also be attributed to its lack of true original exclusive titles and a decent number of its titles (including those on the console box) that are considered “vaporware”, meaning no version of the game was actually seen by 3rd parties and its unclear whether the game(s) ever existed at all.

Click to see a list of ColecoVision games

Atari 5200 – Launch Price: $270 – Released: 1982
In the grand scheme of things, the Atari 5200 was a waste of consumers’ time and money, directly demonstrating the cause of the video game crash of 1983.  Released to compete with the Intellivision and boasting higher graphics than its predecessor and Intellivision, it unfortunately launched only a few months after the ColecoVision as direct competition.  With a hefty price tag and little innovation, it was a hard sell to the most enthusiastic of gamers.

The 5200’s controller was nearly identical to the ColecoVision (which mostly copied the Intellivision) save for the more pronounced joystick.  Anyone who owned a 5200 remembers the non-centering joystick that would cause all kinds of problems if not centered before turning on the console.  Main reasons for the console’s failure was that it did not offer backwards compatibility with the 2600, which was twice as bad when you consider that at this point Intellivision had a cartridge adaptor that allowed it to run 2600 titles.  It also featured few games, Atari pumping more time and effort into its ever-expanding 2600 library and doing little more than higher graphical ports of 2600 games with sloppy programming.  Finishing off the console’s future was the fact that compared to ColecoVision the pack-in game, Super-Breakout (an adaptation of Arkanoid), was far less intriguing than Donkey Kong.  Thanks to the improper handling of the console, it died a quick and painful death.

List of 5200 games

Video Game Crash of 1983

With the market skyrocketing with video games, the early 80s had no shortage of options, many of which had become overwhelming.  At the time of the crash one could enter a store and see a slew of consoles: Atari 2600,  5200, ColecoVision, Coleco Gemini (2600 clone), Intellivision (II), and even a new version of the Odyssey (second generation).  This doesn’t even include store specific items like the Sears Tele-game series and the Tandyvision (RadioShack).  Mind you, in 1982 $200-$300 was much more than it is today and with many titles ranging from $30-$40 in price, gaming was no cheap hobby.   Companies overestimated sales and manufacturing, flooding the market with games.  In order to produce games quickly, titles were severely rushed and not given proper treatment – most noteable the poor 2600 port of Pac-Man (which did celebrate commercial success at the price of unhappy consumers) and the pathetic 2600 title E.T. also rushed to meet the release of the movie and a rumored 2 million carts were buried in the New Mexican desert. 

With all of this going on, companies were going out of business at an incredible rate and retailers were unable to sell back unsold and returned games to these bankrupt publishers.  Everyone suffered from the console manufacturer to the publisher to the retailer.  Even the consumer suffered as low-priced software hit the market in droves, enticing gamers away from the high-priced $40 quality software to virtually unplayable $5 carts.  By summer of 1983 every store was overwhelmed with unsold clearance software only to hear from both Atari and Magnavox that the 7800 and Odyssey 3 respectively were dated to release the following year.  The entire market came crashing down and by 1984 retailers didn’t even want to think about video games again.  If it weren’t for Nintendo having the intelligence and foresight to hold back on bringing the Famicom (Japan’s version of the NES) to US until 1985 and selling it as a toy and not a video game, we may not have home consoles today.

Our coverage of video game generations continues in Generation Gap Pt. 2!

Written by Fred Rojas

October 20, 2011 at 10:52 am


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