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Video games in a nutshell

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Being a child of the 80’s I grew up on the cusp of the video game revolution. What I mean by cusp is, I can still remember pre-Atari days where the only electronic games available were electronic football & baseball and memory games (handhelds with colored lights that moved). There were no console systems back then. To entertain yourself, you had to get by with board games, the rubick’s cube and the old fashioned killer lawn darts that could impale you. Arcades were the place to be and be seen in social circles and anytime I was dragged away on summer vacation with my parents to some god-forsaken cottage hick town, the first place I looked for was always an arcade. The arcades were always chock full of girls watching guys plunking a mass of quarters into pinball machines and early video game hits such as Pac-Man, Space Invaders and Asteroids. There was always the guy (or machine) that made change and kept everyone from smashing the machines in frustration. The machines even had built in ashtrays, you only had to leave’em to go to the bathroom-which of course you held off till the last minute, lest u lose your precious high score position and not be able to enter your initials FUK.

One of these arcade owners was a friend of the family and I scored myself an old game he wasn’t using for my basement. The table top version of Space Invaders in black & white! Table tops were those games where the screen was built into a glass table at which you sat at instead of the large standup games. When you opened it to look inside the heavy machine it was a twisted mess of wires, diodes & transformers. I was scared to put my hand in there to click the coin credit trip because one time I got a huge shock. If you wanted to play in color you had to insert colored cellophane over the screen and under the glass…look, BLUE! Wow! None the less, I was still the only kid in the neighborhood with his own video game, so my basement was a great place to chill.

Atari, Colecovision and other first generation console systems soon surfaced and began the dawn of a new era. I had the Atari, and I was always jealous over my friend who had the Coleco, it had way better graphics & games. I was totally addicted to those great games of the 80’s like Pressure Cooker, Frostbite, Moon Patrol, & Frogger, just to name a few. I also must have gone through 20 Atari Joystick controllers, the flimsiest of devices always busting on their own or from being thrown across the room.
Atari was great for awhile, but then came…..Nintendo! Holy fuck, will you look at the graphics on that! Duck Hunt, in glorious 8-bit 16 colors-OMG! This was the golden days of wasting time & skipping school. Nintendo launched a revolution that virtually spelled the end of the arcades. Soon video stores everywhere were renting games along with their Beta & VHS movies. Super Mario Brothers, Castlevania, Rampage, Zelda, Contra, and others gave me whole new ways of smashing controllers. And what’s this? Games that actually have endings? Now that’s epic. Before all you did was play and play for the high score with the levels repeating & getting faster. Now you actually had something to look forward to. Yes, Nintendo kicked ass. For awhile they had a monopoly of the market (Sega master system, don’t make me laugh). But then along came the Genesis.

The Sega Genesis came out with the Super Nintendo around the late 80’s, early 90’s. Up until that point Nintendo had a stranglehold on the market. I bought a SNES solely for one game that I saw at a friend’s house: NHL 92. It was awesome, real cities, real players with real names. Nothing like that had come before it. Another huge game of that time came to the systems from the dying arcade business, Mortal Kombat. A very original fighting game infamous for it’s gory & gruesome “finishing moves”. The only problem was, after a bit of controversy Nintendo decided not to include the blood in the SNES’s version of the game. “How dare they censor the game!” I thought to myself. I sold my SNES, bought the Genesis and happily began decapitating people. From that moment on, I never bought another Nintendo product ever again. I was not alone in my protest, it is widely noted Mortal Kombat helped launch the Genesis & Sega from an upstart company to a serious threat to Nintendo’s dominance of the console market, even surpassing them in sales. The Genesis kicked ass with such titles as Sonic the hedgehog, Jungle Strike, Virtua Fighter and others. Today’s giant EA Sports franchises like Madden & NHL translated exceptionally well on Sega’s system early on and helped build them to what they are today, great games to kick your buddy’s ass at while bust’n balls.

The Genesis was the only great system Sega ever fielded. Aside from that, Sega made the mistake of introducing too many systems in too few years, always trying to get new technology out before anyone else. While the Sega CD, 32 X, Sega Saturn & finally the Dreamcast may have all had good points on there own, customers were fed up with having to “move up” to the next level and fork out cash for a system that would be abandoned a year later. Nintendo had some luck regaining market share with the N64 system which had strong titles like Goldeneye, defiantly one of the best games ever made.

With Sega fading fast out of the picture, Sony announced they would be entering the video game business and launched the Playstation. Another revitalization soon occurred in the gaming industry with awesome games for the PS.
Entertainment fields were beginning to merge featuring games with big name musical artists on their soundtracks and deeper plots than ever before. My favorite game for the Playstation was a snow mobile racing game called Sled Storm. Still today, the best game to play while on psychedelic mushrooms.

This brings us to the present. Microsoft’s Xbox has established itself in the industry with a giant following & virtually popularizing of on-line play. Playstation 2 became bigger than its predecessor with games like Grand Theft Auto, pushing the limits of graphics and morality. Both A & B list actors doing work on video games are now the norm. Music companies can LAUNCH artist careers due to their involvement with a game. The convergence of movies music and video games continue. Playstation 3 is just around the corner. Children of the 80’s have grown up, and the games have grown up with them. Look at the games rated for adults now, like Playboy: The Mansion, where you can live the life of Hugh Hefner! Did you imagine that when you were smoking and ogling Ms Pac Man all those years ago in an arcade?

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About Mike G

  • http://www.breakingwindows.com Matt Paprocki

    Nice nostalgia filled write-up, but because I’m one of those gaming historian types, the history is a bit off.

    Game consoles theoretically started with the Odyssey back in 1972. If you really want to get picky, the Channel F hit a few years later and offered interchangeable carts, the first system to do so and many people credit that with starting the home gaming industry, even if it failed miserably. So, there were consoles out there.

    The 2600 hit in 1977, the Coleco in 1983. Coleco tries to challenge the new Atari system, the 5200, not the 2600.

    The SNES and Genesis did not debut together. The Genesis hit in 1989. Nintendo kept their hold for a while with the NES until they realized their market share was leaving and then released the SNES in 1991. They still kept the NES going for a few more years afterwards, way too long actually.

    NHL ’92 never came out on the SNES, NHL ’93 did and it didn’t have a year in the title. It was simple called NHLPA Hockey. The series started on the Genesis the year previous. Actually, all the EA franchises started on the Genesis and migrated to the slower SNES, uusally with nasty results, at least early on.