Gaming History 101

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Archive for the ‘Gaming To Go’ Category

Gaming To-Go Part 3: Self-Reliance

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Given the low price point for both games and hardware, massive amount of ports, and obvious room in the market for clones, portables were not hard to find.  It wasn’t until the late 90s that they actually found their voice, though, starting with weak license translations and resulting in full-blown solid titles developed solely for portable platforms.  At the same time, many developers would revert back to ports now that they could make long RPGs of yesteryear and games from last gen run in your hand.

Game.com – Released: 1997
Pronounced “game com” and not “game dot com”, this newest handheld from Tiger Electronics was a clear attempt to make a cartridge-based handheld version of the games they popularized in the late 80s.  Much like those old school handhelds, the games shared popular licenses of the time and similarities in gameplay, but for the most part were unique creations.  Think of a company that only does book adaptations to film – the concept remains the same and the characters are familiar, but it’s essentially something new.  This sounds like a good idea, but for some reason Tiger always seemed to miss the point of portable games and Game.com is no exception.

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Gaming To-Go Part 2: Gameboy and beyond

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For more than 10 years various portable games came and went, mostly focusing on a single title in custom hardware, then in 1989 it all hit at once.  With such a small gap between releases it was clear that multiple companies were developing cartridge-based portable consoles.  Most portable systems in history moving forward had one simple goal: to port home console games to handhelds as faithfully as possible.  While some gems of creativity did spawn from portables that were clearly not ports, the main goal of many developers was always about getting those console ports in the palm of your hand.

Gameboy – Launch Price: $89.99 – Released: 1989
In every way shape and form, the Nintendo Gameboy was designed to be a portable NES.  The brainchild of Gunpei Yokoi (Game & Watch series) and Nintendo Research & Development 1 (R&D1), known best for the creation of Metroid, the Gameboy was defined by one game: Tetris.  Not only was the portable 8-bit console looking as promising as the NES – complete with launch titles Super Mario Land and a handful of all-too-familiar titles that launched the NES like Baseball and Tennis – but Nintendo picked the ultimate pack-in.  With the Gameboy, Nintendo linked to a more casual market as well as the NES and gamer faithful, which was no more clear than the inclusion of Tetris, not Super Mario Land, in the box.  Tetris fever was rampant in the United States at the time, some six or more versions were floating around on various platforms by 1989, and the Gameboy was a convenient and relatively inexpensive (Tetris was around $40 in most software versions) way to get a versatile version of the game.  Starting in 1990, after many children and adults alike received a Gameboy for Christmas, it was not uncommon to see people in public grinding away the hours on a Gameboy.  What was unique is that they almost always were playing Tetris and nothing else.

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 9, 2011 at 11:49 am

Gaming To-Go Part 1: Single Game Devices

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Portable gaming is almost as old as console gaming, developers attempting to harness the technology of video games in any shape or form they could.  This tangential development is most likely the result of experimentation in the early days of figuring out just what and how video games would work.  With the first handheld video game premiering in 1977, the same year as the VCS (Atari 2600) and about 5 years following the premiere of the Pong consoles (and clones), gaming has always had a portable option.  The biggest difference between console gaming and portable gaming is that consoles require additional devices for video, audio, and often for controls, whereas a portable contains all three of those attached.  Early portables, much like early consoles, were mostly restricted to a single title on very basic displays.

Mattel’s Auto Race – Released: 1977
It’s difficult to pinpoint the actual release of Auto Race, especially considering it was far less popular than Mattel’s immediate second portable, Football.  According to Gamasutra, it was on store shelves in 1977 (others claim 1978) and although Football released the next year, it is often miscredited as the first handheld.  The design was simple: you were given 99 seconds to get your car from the bottom of the screen to the top in a 3-lane road.  Cars would get in your way and you had to dodge them while also shifting between the four gears.  If you collided with a car it would push you back towards the bottom until you got out of the way.  The shifter and on/off switch were located on the left side of the portable while the screen takes up the right and the lane changer switch occupies the bottom.  This game was a whopping 512 bytes (that’s 1/2 KB nowadays, which is roughly 500 characters in basic text format.  Since I have not found one of these myself, I don’t know what batteries it takes, but I’d imagine a AA or AAA will do the job on this basic portable.  I also couldn’t find a retail price but Michael Katz at Mattel claimed more than $400 million in sales of Auto Race and Football combined.  Just like Pong, many clones of both titles exist.

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 8, 2011 at 1:47 pm

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