Traditionally gamers attribute the advent of gaming to PC. Though it’s true to a certain extent, the reins dates back to early 50s. While the first game was a really simple version of Tic-Tac-Toe- Noughts and Crosses, gaming has evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry.
In these modern times, the gaming consoles have invaded our living rooms and has become an integral part of our life. Today, we’re going to take a look back at the evolution of of consoles over the years.
This is the second and final part of this 2 Part series. Part 1 can be found here.
Rise, Fall, and Rise of Nintendo
Now that Atari was virtually routed from the battlefield, the fight was getting intense between Nintendo and Sega. This time, Sega caught Nintendo sleeping and launched the first of the fourth…, no strike that, first of the successful next generation monsters powered by 16-bit chips. Amid much fanfare, the device was introduced in the Spring of ’88 in Japan, 4 months later in North America.
Sega Genesis, or better known as Sega Mega drive outside the US, was modeled closely on the Sega’s 16 bit Arcade architecture. The sales were slow initially, but successive releases of ported arcade super hit games like Altered Beast, Ghouls n’ Ghosts proved its power and there was a spur in sales. Sega later ported Sonic the Hedgedog to its collection to compete with Mario and won that battle as well.
Actually, it was Nintendo who launched the first 16-bit gaming console, even a year before the Mega Drive. They came up with TurboGrafx-16, in collaboration with Hudson Soft and was the first of the cavemen to use a CD-ROM. It did receive some initial attention, and even holds the record for the world’s smallest game console but it lacked the support from third party developers.
Plus the CD ROM was available as an add-on initially, and most of the popular games were available only in this new format. There was a huge shortage of this and a disaster was imminent. By the time Nintendo woke up, Sega swept them clean under their carpet, with some aggressive marketing.
“Genesis does what Nintendon’t”
Nintendo was struggling for its bare survival while the board was fighting whether to launch a new product. Finally they made up their mind and unveiled the Super NES in 1991. Having burnt their fingers in their previous attempt, Nintendo retained most of their revered developers. Initially only Super Mario World and F-Zero were released, but they were well received. This gave them enough of a boost to match up to Sega’s might.
As Moore’s law continued to be broken at a never seen before rate, Nintendo and Sony were gearing up for the next battle for supremacy with a new range of 32-bit and 64-bit consoles. But sadly this also meant, Sega and Atari being tossed out of the ring for good. Actually it was Atari who entered the race first with Jaguar, with hopes of taking Nintendo and Sega head on. Jaguar was a far more superior device in its day with far better graphical rendering ability. They could’ve very well won the battle, had it not been very difficult to program for. Eventually, they ran out of dough and were forced to merge with JTS Corp.
3DO Interactive was released, by The 3DO Company in collaboration with Panasonic, around late 1993. 3DO was one of the finest gaming systems but they were done away due to the high cost of consoles. Nintendo was charging a heavy royalty per game and developers were losing out on more money, and Sega was developing its own games and was losing third party support.
3DO understood this, and they reduced the royalty fee to win over the cheesed off developers. The logic was sound, reduce the cost of development, more will follow you. But there was one small dent, well, a large dent. See, the way most consoles worked was, to give away the hardware at a fraction of the price, and compensate for the mounting up costs with the loyalty fee from the part of developers. This way the price of the gaming machine doesn’t bust up our wallets and that’s exactly where 3DO blew up.
Sega launched its first independent CD based gaming system, the Saturn, around mid 1995. Their decision to build games in house backfired, and lost interest with Saturn. And with Nintendo and Sony catching up, Sega never really stood a chance.
Nintendo’s SNES was constantly threatened by Sony’s Playstation until N64. Unlike other 5th generation consoles, N64 went with cartridges. Official word was, they went with cartridges as they saw CD’s having a short shell life, and of course it was a disaster.
Interestingly, Nintendo was the first ones to see the future of CD-ROM’s and tied up with Sony to create a CD add on for SNES, but for some reason the deal fell apart and Nintendo went ahead with Philips. For the record, I feel this was a good thing: I’d have hated Mario to jump around the train instead of Drake.
After the deal between Nintendo and Sony broke up, Sony took what it had marketed so far and released it under their Playstation banner. It went on to sell 100 million devices, becoming the first gaming console ever to do so. Who said revenge is best served when cold?
PC Based Architecture
Consoles made little sense, as PC’s started growing, and became more affordable. As tech evolved, we can simply upgrade it instead of having to buy a new one. When the focus started shifting towards PC’s, consoles started moving towards DVDs, for longer gaming experience and aligning themselves towards a PC like architecture for enhanced performance. Console manufacturers started laying out stricter guidelines, to optimize the games for the console’s hardware, so we don’t have to keep changing the consoles every year.
Meanwhile piracy was shattering the roots of the industry and threatening the livelihood of several game developers. Consoles had to do something desperately to prevent this eroding their fair market share. Since optical disks made it easy to copy stuff, Sega bundled a special kind of optical drive- GD-ROM with their Dreamcast console. However, this move backfired, and this format was soon cracked as well.
Sony decided to rake up the competition with PS2 around 2000. Unable to withstand PS2′s popularity, Sega discontinued DreamCast giving Sony a free reign in the industry. It was the first console to use a DVD and was selling like hotcakes. While other competitors were finding it difficult to clear their stock, Sony was struggling to keep up with the market needs. The shelves were empty as soon as it became available, and people were ready to shell out a grand to lay their hands on this monster. Incidentally, it went on to sell 150 million units, making into the highest selling consoles, till date.
Microsoft understood gaming was a social thing, and entered the race with Xbox. It is the first of the consoles to come up with an Ethernet port and allow gamers to enjoy a seamless multiplayer experience with Xbox LIVE. And Xbox was the first to be shipped with a built-in hard drive to save games.
To counter Sony’s popularity, they acquired Bungie and used Halo: CE as their launch title, which evolved into a separate multi billion franchise of its own. At the time of its launch Xbox was equivalent to a low cost computer, with powerful graphical rendering ability. Though criticized for the poor controller design, Xbox was a huge success.
Launched 4 days after the Xbox unveiling, Nintendo GameCube became the first from Nintendo’s warehouse to be shipped with an Optical drive out of the box. However, they used a smaller version of the DVD discs(miniDVD), to the ire of customers, rather than the full blown version.
Despite Nintendo’s strong backing, Gamecube failed to revive its lost market share and remained at the third spot. They lacked support from the mainstream developers with popular titles like GTA and several famous FPS skipping them altogether. They had a small reprieve when Lego Star Wars, Legend of Zelda and Tomb Raider was launched, increasing the sales. They might’ve not been popular with hardcore gamers, but they were well received with the younger market. This skewed figures, pointed Nintendo in a new direction from their next generation devices.
Next ,Ahem, Current Gen
PC-like performance notwithstanding, companies were fighting it out to take the gaming experience to a whole new level, ranging from high resolution games to motion controls. We also saw a huge format war between HD and Bluray, until Bluray won a a decisive victory over HDD.
Xbox 360 was unveiled during the E3 Expo back in 2005. It completely sold off within hours of its launch. Powered by a three core IBM Xenon and ATI Xenos graphic processor, Xbox 360 was the best in line. Initially the consoles had a lot of problems with Red ring of death and reportedly Microsoft lost around a billion dollars, but that didn’t stop the Xbox from becoming legendary.
Back in 2009 the whole industry was mooting for a new range of controllers and MS answered with Kinect. Multiplayer gaming was also booming around this time, especially after the great Xbox Live revamp. It wouldn’t be an overstatement that no other platform enjoyed developer support like Microsoft. We saw several exclusive titles and franchises.
We cannot wrap this article without talking about this Sony’s beast. They gave us Bluray, and were the first to include a HDMI port. It went into a major redesign again in 2009 resulting in a much slimmer version. PS3 was a lot more powerful and in fact ARFL created a high end supercomputer by connecting a couple of thousand PS3′s together.
Sony almost received critical acclaim for their controller design, and Dual Shock 3 in particular was incredible. They too ventured into the motion controllers and released Playstation Move back in late 2010.
” PS3 Slim is a phenomenal piece of kit. It’s amazing that something so small can do so much”- TechRadar
Nintendo realized that they wouldn’t be able to compete with Sony and Microsoft in the conventional gaming market. They went back to the drawing board and decided to play it to their strengths. Instead of targeting the hardcore gamers, they went with casual gamers and had a huge success with Wii.
In fact, it was the only console which achieved smooth sales, even during the financial meltdown. Wii Remote was a perfect companion and it was a lot of fun playing games like Wii Sports, especially Tennis with it.
What’s in Stock?
The gaming fraternity and I were expecting more information on the next generation consoles in this year’s E3, but we were largely disappointed. We didn’t have any official word from either Sony and Microsoft.
Only Nintendo offered some solace to the disgruntled fan with Wii U. With Wii U, Nintendo attempts to bridge the gap between, well, them and hardcore gamers and revive its former glory. With secondary display support, full HD support, and better third party developer support, I think they’re going to give the other consoles a run for their money.
The list here is no way complete. I’ve focused on the most important inventions that changed the landmark of our gaming industry. I’m sure there are many other awesome devices, which were left out.
Which was the first console that you’ve ever played? We’d love to hear from you, and do share your thoughts by joining us in the discussion below. Thanks a lot for reading and stay tuned.