Tuesday, November 10, 2009

THE NEW ERA: 2000-2001

VM Labs Delivers
After touting its strengths for three years, VM Labs shows the first NUON-equipped DVD players at CES. Toshiba and Samsung will both sell NUON-equipped DVD players in 2000.

New Console Makes Debut
A start-up company called Indrema promises to release a new gaming console in 2001. Using a Linux operating system, the Indrema L600 will play games, DVDs, and CDs, and it will even record TV shows on its hard drive.

PlayStation 2 Released in Japan
Sony launches the PlayStation 2 in Japan on March 4. In two days, the company sells 1 million consoles--a new record. As is the case with all Japanese launches, gamers begin lining up outside stores two days in advance. Unfortunately, demand exceeds supply and not everybody gets a console, including those who preordered. Robberies of PlayStation 2s are reported.

Xbox Officially Announced
The world's worst-kept secret becomes public knowledge after the opening of the Game Developers' Conference in March. Bill Gates delivers the keynote address and officially announces the Xbox to the world. Gates stresses that the Xbox will not be a PC in a console's clothing. Equipped with an Intel 733MHz Pentium III CPU, an Nvidia NV2a 250MHz graphics processor, 64MB of unified RAM, an 8GB hard drive, and out-of-the-box broadband Internet support, the Xbox sends a strong signal to Sony that it intends to be a major player in the console race. The bad news is that the system won't be available until late 2001.
PlayStation 2 Defect (Bad)
Many of the 8MB memory cards that are packaged with the Japanese PlayStation 2 are defective. Since the DVD drivers are housed in the memory card, DVDs cannot be viewed until the memory card is replaced.
A Second PlayStation 2 Defect (Good)
It is soon discovered that PlayStation 2s that are only supposed to play Region 2 DVDs (Japanese and some European) can also play Region 1 DVDs (North American). Sony quickly issues replacement memory cards.


Fusajiro Yamauchi establishes the Marufuku Company to manufacture and distribute Hanafuda, Japanese playing cards. In 1907, Marufuku begins manufacturing Western playing cards. The company changes its name to The Nintendo Playing Card Company in 1951. "Nintendo" means "leave luck to heaven."

Gerard Philips establishes a company in the Netherlands to manufacture incandescent lamps and other electrical products.

Konosuke Matsushita establishes the Matsushita Electric Housewares Manufacturing Works. During the next 70 years, the company will establish a multitude of companies, including Panasonic.

The Connecticut Leather Company is established by a Russian immigrant named Maurice Greenberg to distribute leather products to shoemakers. In the early '50s, Maurice's son Leonard creates a leather-cutting machine, and the company, which soon trades under the acronym COLECO (short for Connecticut Leather Company), begins selling leather craft kits. By the end of the decade, Leonard will have built a plastic-forming machine and the company will have jumped into the plastic-wading-pool industry.

From their garage workshop, Harold Matson and Elliot Handler produce picture frames. They come up with the name "Mattel" by combining letters from their names. Elliot uses the scraps from the picture frames to begin a side business making dollhouse furniture.

Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka set up the Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Company. After seeing an American-made tape recorder, Morita decides his company should begin making them. In 1952, Ibuka and Morita barely raise the $25,000 fee to become one of the first foreign companies to license the transistor patent from Bell Labs. They then use the transistor to create the world's first pocket-sized battery-powered radio. The transistor radio is a success in Japan, and Ibuka and Morita begin looking at marketing their products in the United States and Europe. Realizing the English translation of their company name is too cumbersome for English-speaking people to remember, they modify the Latin word sonus (sound) and come up with Sony, a word that has no meaning, for their new corporate name.

Ralph Baer, an engineer with Loral, a company that develops and manufactures complex military airborne electronics, is instructed to "build the best TV set in the world." Baer suggests they add some kind of interactive game to the TV set to distinguish it from other companies' TVs, but management ignores the idea.

Former US Korean War veteran David Rosen sees the popularity of mechanical coin-operated games on US military bases in Japan, so he starts Service Games to export these games to Japan. In the 1960s, Rosen decides to make his own coin-operated games, so he purchases a Tokyo jukebox and slot-machine company. The name SEGA, short for "SErvice GAmes," is stamped on the games that Rosen produces, and eventually Rosen adopts it as his company name.

THE GOLDEN AGE 1978-1981


Bushnell leaves Atari and signs a lucrative five-year agreement not to compete with the company he started. He buys the rights to Pizza Time Theatre from Atari and begins franchising it. Ray Kassar becomes the CEO of Atari.

In March, Nintendo of Japan releases Computer Othello, a decidedly simplistic arcade cocktail-table game based on the board game Othello.

Atari releases the arcade game Football. The game features a revolutionary new controller called the trackball.

Midway imports Space Invaders from Taito. Space Invaders gives you a goal by displaying the current high score for you to beat.

Both Football and Space Invaders break all known sales records with almost equal earnings. However, Football's popularity fades with the end of the pro football season. Space Invaders' popularity continues, causing coin shortages in Japan and school truancy in America.

Atari begins selling its line of 400 and 800 computers to compete against Apple. The public, however, associates Atari with games, and the computers are never taken seriously.

Magnavox releases the Odyssey2, a programmable console that has a built-in membrane keyboard.
Cinematronics releases Space Wars, a game similar to Bushnell's Computer Space. The game features vector (line-drawn) graphics. Vector graphics are the earliest form of polygon graphics to appear in video game applications, and they lack the flat shading or textures of later graphics.

Atari develops the Cosmos, a handheld programmable machine that features holograms within the graphics. Because the holograms are only for aesthetics and don't add to the gameplay, the Cosmos is never released.

Atari releases Lunar Lander, its first vector graphics game. Lunar Lander Begets Asteroids
Despite Lunar Lander's popularity, Atari halts production of the game and begins releasing Asteroids in the Lunar Lander cabinets. Asteroids is a game that was originally designed by Lyle Rains and Ed Logg for the Cosmos system. It goes on to become Atari's all-time best-seller. Asteroids introduces a new feature to arcades: High scorers can enter their three-character initials at the end of the game. Nearly 80,000 units are sold in the United States, but the game is less popular in other countries. Sega releases Monaco GP, a driving game with a top-down perspective, which is followed by the similar Pro Monaco GP in 1980 and the realistic 3D racer Super Monaco GP in 1989.

Milton Bradley Electronics releases the Microvision, a handheld programmable unit that includes its own built-in LED screen.

Atari releases its exclusive home version of Space Invaders for the VCS. Sales of the VCS skyrocket.

Mattel Electronics introduces the Intellivision game console. The first serious competition for the VCS, the Intellivision has better graphics and a steeper price--$299. Mattel promises to release an optional peripheral that will upgrade the Intellivision console into a personal computer.


In an effort to keep visitors to the Brookhaven National Laboratories in New York from being bored, physicist Willy Higinbotham invents an interactive table-tennis-like game that is displayed on an oscilloscope. He improves on his invention a year later by displaying it on a 15-inch monitor. Believing that he hasn't invented anything, Higinbotham doesn't patent the device.


MIT student Steve Russell creates Spacewar, the first interactive computer game, on a Digital PDP-1 (Programmed Data Processor-1) minicomputer. Limited by the computer technology of the time, Spacewar used new teletype terminals with CRT screens to display the graphics.

Nolan Bushnell enrolls in engineering school at the University of Utah, where he is first exposed to Russell's Spacewar.

Nolan Bushnell gets a summer job at a Salt Lake City carnival, where he is in charge of the arcade. Bushnell envisions an arcade filled with computer games but realizes it's only a dream, since computers are much too expensive to make the idea feasible.

Ralph Baer rekindles his idea for a secondary use for television sets. He begins researching interactive television games. The defense contractor he works for, Sanders Associates, is interested and gives him the latitude needed to develop it.

Baer and his team succeed in creating an interactive game that can be played on a television screen. They develop a chase game and follow it up with a video tennis game. They also modify a toy gun so it can distinguish spots of light on the screen.

Baer's interactive TV game is patented.

Magnavox licenses Baer's TV game from Sanders Associates.
With the help of Ted Dabney, Bushnell turns his daughter Britta's bedroom into a workshop so they can build an arcade version of Spacewar. They succeed in putting together a hardwired dedicated machine that can hook up to a television set to play a video version of Spacewar. Bushnell calls his game Computer Space.
Arcade-game manufacturer Nutting Associates purchases Computer Space and hires Bushnell to oversee the building of it.


The first arcade video game is released, but the public finds it too difficult to play. Nutting manufactures 1,500 Computer Space machines. The components are packaged with a 13-inch black-and-white TV set in a futuristic-looking cabinet.

Magnavox begins manufacturing Baer's TV game system, which it calls the Odyssey. Sanders and Magnavox begin showing it to distributors around the country.
The Odyssey was unveiled at a convention in Burlingame, California, on May 24. Nutting, believing it's the only company dealing with video games, sends Bushnell to see the machine. Bushnell spends a few hours playing video tennis and other games and later reports back to Nutting that he found the Odyssey uninteresting and in no way any competition for Computer Space.
Computer Space does not sell well, and Bushnell comes to the conclusion that it is too difficult to play. He realizes that if he can design a simple game, it might be a major draw. He informs Nutting, who tells him to go ahead and design a new machine. Bushnell decides that since he is the brains behind video games he should get a larger share of the profits. When he demands a third of Nutting Associates and doesn't get it, he leaves the company.
Bushnell and Dabney decide to start their own company to design video games for other companies to distribute. They originally call their company Syzygy (the straight-line configuration of three celestial bodies), but that name is already being used by a roofing company. They then settle on the name Atari, a term from the Japanese game Go, whose meaning is equivalent to "check" in chess.


Bushnell hires Al Alcorn to program games. Since Alcorn is inexperienced, Bushnell has him program a simple video tennis game as an exercise. They call the game Pong, for two reasons: first, "pong" is the sound the game makes when the ball hits a paddle or the side of the screen, and second, the name Ping-Pong is already copyrighted.

Bushnell tries selling Pong to established arcade manufacturers. After finding Bally disinterested, Bushnell decides to market the game himself. Pong is test-marketed in Andy Capps, a local bar. Within two weeks the test unit breaks down because the coin drop is flooded with quarters. Pong is a success.

Magnavox sells the Odyssey exclusively through its own stores. People are led to believe the console will only work with Magnavox televisions. Still, Magnavox manages to sell 100,000 units. Many people buy it because it is the closest thing they can get to a home version of Pong.


In 1949, a young engineer named Ralph Baer was assigned to build a television set. He wasn't leverage to build just any television set, but one that would be the absolute best of all televisions. This was not a problem for him, but instead  he wanted to go beyond his original assignment and incorporate some kind of game into the set. He didn't know exactly what kind of game he had in mind, but it didn't really matter because his managers nixed the idea. It would take another 18 years for his idea to become a reality, and by that time there would be other people to share in the glory. People like Willy Higinbotham, who designed an interactive tennis game played on an oscilloscope, and also Steve Russell, who programmed a rudimentary space game on a DEC PDP-1 mainframe computer. And then there was also Nolan Bushnell, who played that space game and dreamed of a time and season when fairground midways would be filled with games powered by computers.
Today, with more interest in classic games gaining steam once again, players of video games are reminded of the rich history of the industry. Crave's Asteroids 64 is a modern version of a game that came out in 1979. And the original Asteroids was merely an updated version of Nolan Bushnell's Computer Space, which was really a jazzed-up copy of Steve Russell's Spacewar. Space Invaders, Centipede, Frogger, and Pong are once again on store shelves, and Pong is but a polished variant of the game Willie Higinbotham displayed on his oscilloscope.
The history of video games can not only be emphasized on people alone but also about its companies and ironies. Atari was an American company with a Japanese name, and the Japanese company Sega was started by an American. Magnavox, the company that started it all, is owned by Phillips, a company that is over a century old, and Nintendo, the company that made video games popular again, is just as old. No one ever thought Sony, the company that invented all types of electronics, from transistor radios to video recorders, would release a video game console that would become its top-selling product of all time?
In today's world, video games are often linked as a source for teenage violence, it's interesting to see that the first home console also had a light rifle as an optional peripheral.
By reading about the past, perhaps you'll also get a view of the future as the world of video games continues to evolve.