Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Your 2012 History, on the 5s and 10s

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Well here we are, 2012, and yet another prediction for the end of the world (haven’t we been getting those yearly since 1999?).  But just like the world, history moves forward and everything gets another year older.  In celebration – yes, I celebrate age, but I would as a retro gamer – I’m going to pick up an old Retronauts tradition: we’re celebrating the incremental years on the 5s and 10s.  This means that we go all the way back in history as far as we can and reflect on the relevant years in 5 and 10 year intervals.  In this year’s case it would be the 2s and 7s, for example: 1952, 1957, 1962, etc.  I’m not sure if Parish and the crowd are doing an episode like this but I’m guessing they are not, however don’t hesitate to drop by the site and see if 1up is actually going to attempt a call in episode on this subject.  Without further ado, I present your history on the 5s and 10s (or should it be 2s and 7s?):

Behold the EDSAC

1952: Debate over what the first video game was is endless thanks to the ambiguity of a video game itself.  The technology is still so new that proper definition and documentation is mostly nothing more than a semantic debate amongst scholars rather than industry standard.  Some people consider MIT’s Spacewar! to be the first video game, but prior to its inception came a little game called OXO or naughts and crosses in 1952.  It was developed by Alexander S. Douglas at the University of Cambridge and is most notable for being the first game with a digital display.  Basically an Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator (EDSAC) had a stored program that allowed it to play tic-tac-toe, although I couldn’t find any confirmation I’m pretty sure it was you versus the calculator/computer.  It used a rotary phone for its controller.

1957: Fairchild Semiconductor was established when eight very intelligent engineers left Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory after only one year.  Shockley had assembled the best and brightest right out of engineering school to develop diodes that would work faster than traditional transistors.  The “traitorous eight” (Julius Blank, Victor Grinich, Jean Hoerni, Eugene Kleiner, Jay Last, Gordon Moore, Robert Noyce and Sheldon Roberts) established the company with funding from Sherman Fairchild to make silicon transistors and eventually ended up making microprocessors and even an early video game console.

1962: Even if it wasn’t the first video game, Spacewar! definitely was the first vector graphics game.  Developed by MIT students Martin Graetz, Steve Russell and Wayne Wiitanen, this was the game that started it all.  Basically two ships would employ basic physics aspects in an attempt to destroy one another, however this title opened the door to other programmers making games on computers.  Utilizing a PDP-1, one of the first microcomputers by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Spacewar! was the only program at the time that made use of every piece of hardware.  In fact, DEC technicians started using the program for early tests to ensure the hardware would not fail. Each player would use dip switches to control limited aspects of the ship controls.

1967: Ralph Baer, the “father of video games” responsible for home console gaming, developed the first game to be played on a television Chase.  In a vacuum tube circuit called the “brown box” the console eventually played 12 games.  Chase basically was two squares chasing after each other, a mild take on the concept of Spacewar! although the two have no direct documented connection.

1972: The first video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, releases to the public.  Developed by Ralph Baer, the aforementioned “father of video games”, the Odyssey was significant for many reasons.  If you follow the link for the Odyssey above you can read about the console in our history of gaming consoles.

1977: Atari visionary Nolan Bushnell, forseeing the failure of Pong clone consoles, releases the first true cartridge-based console – the Atari VCS (later renamed the 2600).  What made this console significant was that it played completely dynamic games on various carts, as opposed to the screen overlays of the Odyssey and other Pong clone consoles.  The VCS competed with the Fairchild Channel F, but due to a lack of unique or dynamic titles and archaic graphics, the VCS blew it away.  Just as before, feel free to hit the link to see our coverage on the VCS/2600.

Significant Games Released: Combat, Street Racer, Starship, Surround and Indy 500 (all on VCS).  Few other titles released due to the mini crash of Pong clones during this year.

1982: Just before the video game crash of 1983, Coleco would release the ColecoVision along with killer app Donkey Kong packed into the box.  Providing arcade-like graphics, the ColecoVision would have probably been able to compete with early NES had the crash not occurred.  In addition the arcade scene was getting impressive and a little company named Nintendo was making waves with its releases.

This also marked the year of Atari’s greatest failure, painting a horrid picture of things to come, with the huge license E.T. – the Extra Terrestrial.  With the success of the film, Atari wanted to create the license for the game and developer Howard Scott Warshaw (Yar’s Revenge) thought he could create an innovative game.  Negotiations began in July, a month after the films release, and concluded on July 27 with Atari paying $20-$25 million for the license and Warshaw being given only five weeks to develop (had to be completely September 1).  Not only that, Spielberg wanted the game to be a Pac-Man clone whereas Warshaw wanted something unique.  Altogether production costs were about $125 million and some rumored overall 4-5 million cartridges were eventually produced.  Unfortunately the game made no sense and the objectives were impossible to determine – the game wasn’t any fun.  Initial sales of 1.5 million got the title to best-selling standards, but eventually the holiday season fizzled and some 2-3.5 million carts were left unsold.  This led to the rumored burying of millions of carts in the Nevada desert somewhere and the first big flop by Atari.  That same year Warshaw would port Pac-Man to the 2600 and cut corners in the memory making for a horrid port that caused a flicker effect every time the ghosts changed direction.  Not only that, Atari assumed that of the 10 million 2600 owners, somehow 12 million carts would be sold.  While it did move 7 million copies, the remaining 5 million were returned and caused a massive loss of profits for unsold games.  This particular event is supposedly what forecasted the crash of ’83.

Some significant Game Releases: Tron (arcade), Donkey Kong Jr. (arcade), Dig Dug (arcade), BurgerTime (arcade), Millipede (arcade), Pole Position (arcade), Q*bert (arcade), Star Trek (arcade), Xevious (arcade), Zaxxon (arcade), Pitfall (2600/ColecoVision), Haunted House (2600), Defender (2600), Yar’s Revenge (2600), The Hobbit (PC/Amiga/C64), Thief (Apple II), Ultima II (Amiga/C64/Apple II), Wizardry II: the Knight of Diamonds (Apple II), Zork III (Amiga/C64/Apple II)

1987: There were two significant things going on in 1987: NES and PC gaming.  If you were a child between the ages of 5-18 there was probably an NES in your house, or at least you wanted there to be one.  On the other hand, practical and rich parents may have opted to get you a personal computer, or PC, instead.  At the time you could have an IBM or an Apple II, with a few other options.  Truthfully, 1987 was all about the games.

Probably my favorite memories are the significant NES titles of the time, namely Legend of Zelda, Castlevania and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, which were all titles where you would constantly talk about your accomplishments on the playground.  A few of us claimed to topple Mike Tyson but in truth we probably just copied the widely published code to get to Mike Tyson, got destroyed, and claimed to beat him.  See, achievements are significant for at least one reason.  This also marked the first time a friend and I stayed up super late so that we could sneak into his father’s office and boot up Leisure Suit Larry.  Sure we’re talking digitized dot matrix boobs and mild PG-13 humor, but at that time it may as well have been porn.  The game required you to answer questions that they felt only adults would know to boot the game, but in that same office was an encyclopedia that made short work of those questions.  We died so many times just trying to have sex with a hooker that the game became an afterthought, but for those first two days it was like a hidden gem of gaming.

Some Significant Games: Kid Icarus (NES), Legend of Zelda (NES), Castlevania (NES), Rad Racer (NES), Mega Man (NES), Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (NES), Metroid (NES), Stadium Events (NES), Spelunker (NES),  Wizards & Warriors (NES), The Ancient Art of War at Sea (PC), Police Quest: In Persuit of Death Angel (PC), Maniac Mansion (PC), Leisure Suit Larry: In the Land of the Lounge Lizards (PC), Beyond Zork (PC), Deja Vu: A Nightmare Comes True! (PC), Space Quest II: Vohauls Revenge (PC)

Where is ?  Listen I know there are more titles that are significant – I love Goonies II as much as the rest of you, but the truth is many of these are later cult classics or arcade ports.  In truth, the lasting effect lives on much more signficantly in the titles above.

1992: There were a ton of consoles on the market – NES was celebrating late years, Gameboy was coasting, Genesis was mid-life, SNES and Game Gear was getting started and Turbografx-16 was getting clearances.

In this entire ordeal Sega decided to release its CD add-on, appropriately named the Sega CD, to the US market.  A friend of mine was fortunate enough to get his hands on one and I rushed over to his house to see what it was all about.  We were amazed with the FMV games that first came out like Sherlock Holmes Vol. 1, Night Trap and Road Avenger.  I was even amazed at games like Streets of Rage and Golden Axe, which came with the packed in 5-in-1 classics disc.  In truth the games looked the exact same with better sound, and frankly back then I rarely noticed the sound.  Even worse, I owned both of those games on my Genesis and could play them anytime I wanted to but for some reason they were just cooler with load times.  As far as games go, there were much more important and amazing titles getting released, I just had the blinders on.

NES: Dragon Warrior III, Dragon Warrior IV, Gargoyle’s Quest II, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Pool of Radiance, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: DragonStrike, Crash ‘n the Boys: Street Challenge, Wizardry II, Yoshi
Gameboy: Bionic Commando, Gradius: Interstellar Assault, Mega Man II, Mega Man III, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
Genesis: Batman: Revenge of the Joker, Chakan: Forever Man, Crüe Ball, Greendog: Beached Surfer Dude, Predator 2, Road Rash II, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Splatterhouse 2, Streets of Rage II, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Hyperstone Heist, World of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse
GameGear: Aerial Assault, Chakan: Forever Man, Chuck Rock, Shinobi II: the Silent Fury, Shinobi II, Streets of Rage, Sonic the Hedgehog 2
SNES: Contra III, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Joe & Mac, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Mario Paint, Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare, Super Adventure Island, Super Mario Kart, Super Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
PC/Mac: Alone in the Dark, Kings Quest VI: Heir Today Gone Tomorrow, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Rise of the Dragon, Spear of Destiny, Wolfenstein 3D, Dune

While 20 years is a bit early to be concluding the 5s and 10s post, there were so many consoles, portables, PCs and games available by 1997 and continuing into 2002 that the next section alone would double the post.  Instead I encourage you to mention some of your favorite memories or games from 1997 and 2002 in the comments below.

Written by Fred Rojas

January 4, 2012 at 1:07 pm

Posted in Blog

One Response

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  1. It was an awesome read. I know pretty much the story, but one thing just bothers da shizznit out of me. WHERE da funk ar those ET cartridges buried at? Someone must got a hold of few skids… no investigation at all?

    Always wonder…


    July 30, 2012 at 2:58 pm

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