Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Posts Tagged ‘tiger

Day 4

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On the fourth day of Christmas my memories gave to me…

Four AA Batteries!

I know they don’t look like much, but these little capsules of power are responsible for oh so many smiles and tears to gaming children.  In the early 90s, everyone wanted a portable gaming system of some kind – Gameboy, Tiger handheld, maybe even an Atari Lynx – and they all had one thing in common: they needed batteries.  Stories of whether or not any of these devices came with batteries are often passed around anecdotes of suburban myth, but regardless of that fact no child could survive Christmas weekend on one set of batteries alone.  I know for a fact that the Gameboy did come with batteries, but any of the others is anyone’s guess.  Either way, it was the beginning of a time where frantic holiday shopping parents coming to terms with $100 price tags were greeted with reminders to purchase bundles of batteries and most passed.  Then on Christmas morning these parents realized how poor a choice that was.

Nothing ruins a parents day like getting children a new toy, an electronic toy no less, that cannot run.  In many cases the portable console would be the only thing they received for Christmas, and if not then various games may be the only other gift(s).  As expected, there was almost nothing open on Christmas day – in 1990 in the suburb of Chicago I grew up in there weren’t even 24 hour Walgreens or gas stations nearby that opened on Christmas.  If you didn’t have batteries and needed them, you were essentially screwed.  Thankfully most remote controls used AA back then rather than the AAA they use now so it was a scavenger hunt for anything with a remote.  If you were lucky enough to snag all 4 AAs, however, the batteries in those remotes were probably on the verge of death because the same type of parent that didn’t buy batteries at Christmas were also the kind that didn’t replace them until the remote was near death for at least a month.  If you were lucky you got an hour out of the device before it died again.  In the end it was a lesson that parents quickly learned, but the child gamer paid the price.

 Thankfully by 1995 most stores and parents knew the best option was a rechargeable battery pack, AC adaptor, DC adaptor, or even a kit with everything for a low price.  In fact, by 2000 many of the available versions in stores were bundles that included said kit as a way for the store to generate a profit on the console sale (if you’re unaware, most retailers make no profit on the sale of a console itself).  Thankfully my parents also learned this lesson, but I still remember getting handhelds I couldn’t play right out of the box.

<- Go back to the third day                                            Go on to the fifth day ->

Written by Fred Rojas

December 17, 2011 at 12:12 pm

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. – 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 is no exception.

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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