If you're a fan of the gaming industry or culture, you like knowing random geeky facts or are a bit of a technological wizard, you'd know by now that the state of gaming has changed a lot in the last 30 years. And I mean a lot, hence the italics. Once upon a time we had to head to arcades in order to achieve our sprite-based fixes, but then along came the #VideoGames console and literally everything changed.
11 Of The Greatest Innovations In Console Gaming
But besides the release of the very first home games console—which we should all know was the Magnavox Odyssey—what are the greatest achievements this young art form has managed to accomplish over the years? What is it that really made gaming pop?
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1. Video Games With Story
Though early fans of video games were happily content with Ponging it about all over town and losing an almost endless supply of quarters in Space Invaders cabinets, in the late '70s a new kind of game was being forged on a humble DEC PDP-10 mainframe computer. Zork was one of the first video games—well, interactive fictions—to be steeped in rich narrative. And, thanks to this and the advent of being able to make more sophisticated commands, it became a cultural phenomenon.
The text-based fantasy title had you, a nameless wanderer in search of adventure and fortune, journeying into "the ruins of an ancient empire lying far underground" in order to find goods to aid your quest in the next section. But naturally there would be bloodthirsty enemies waiting to be encountered. Grues, trolls, the Cyclops—amidst other such beasts—and inventory management are your true enemies in Zork.
Inspired by the classic Colossal Cave Adventure, Zork paved the way for our Zeldas, Golden Suns, Final Fantasys, and other fantasy-based RPGs where adventuring and beast-slaying is the name of the game.
2. Nintendo Cleans Up The Gaming Industry
In the early '80s, the North American video game industry was in turmoil after it suffered a crash which led to its profits dramatically slipping from $3 billion to just $100 million in roughly two years. Catalysts like flood of consoles from various different companies, poorly designed games and a drop in customer satisfaction almost drove the industry to a grinding halt.
But then along came #Nintendo with its NES, the console that pretty much singlehandedly saved gaming in North America. Some would say the main reason for this is Nintendo's 'Seal of Quality'. Many consoles in the second generation had any old game and many clones of popular titles releasing on their formats. Poorly developed games like Atari's infamous E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial were released in droves, but failed to sell due to, quite simply, being totally broken clusterfucks.
Nintendo's NES was a smash hit in North America due to its treasure trove of awesome characters like Donkey Kong, Super Mario, Samus Aran and of course Link & Princess Zelda. But the most important factor in Nintendo's success was its games were never broken. The Big N stringently checked first- and third-party titles to make sure if they stood up to its lofty standards. So if your game got released on a Nintendo console, you bloody well knew you did a good job!
3. Nintendo Creates Game Saves
Continuing the good guy Nintendo of the '80s trope, once upon a time there was an age where games didn't have save functions. Yes, it was a dark time. You'd run to your nearest arcade and just pump the machines full of quarters, in order to attempt to get past that salty bastard of a boss for the 16th time in a row (whilst a queue steadily built up behind you).
And considering most early console games were just ports of arcade hits, you could take the frustration home with you! Which must have caused a lot of smashed NES controllers. But in 1986, when The Legend of Zelda was first released to unanimous arm-wavey praise—like the inflatable wavey dudes outside car dealerships—Nintendo decided to ship the Zelda cartridges with batteries and a ram chip in order to save your progress.
This allowed storytelling in games to become deeper and more thoroughly realized as you, the gamer, would actually be able to finish the game in an easier, less pressured setting and fully envelope yourself in the never-ending adventure and lore of the Hero of Time.
4. Age Rating Groups Are Established
Though you may think "what? Age rating groups? They're the same bastards that stopped me from getting GTA III for my 12th birthday!" And you'd be right. But also, if it wasn't for groups such as the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (thankfully ESRB for short) and Europe's Pan European Game Information board (PEGI), we wouldn't have GTA or the influx of R-Rated titles we do today.
In the early '90s, games were quite squarely aimed at kids, what with the plethora of cutesy platformers and kart racing titles that were everywhere. But once the ratings boards were born, they opened up a space in the market for an influx of mature games to fill. And the rest, as it were, is history.
5. Gaming Goes 3D
Anyone here remember the jump from 2D sprites to 3D environments? I do, and it was a marvel. From the moment Nintendo slipped a Super FX chip into Star Fox and sent us careering headfirst toward danger, I kinda knew that it would be hard going back to 2D. 3D gaming brought a whole new level of immersion to video game worlds, and the sheer art had the most humble of upbringings.
The first majorly successful 3D game came in 1980 with the sharp vectors of Atari's Battlezone, which had you attempting to destroy and evade oncoming attacks from enemy tanks. The gameplay is rudimentary compared to modern games, but back then, man, it was so revolutionary the US Military used it to train their own tank gunners!
6. Online Gaming
Okay so yes, PC gamers had been casually dishing out grief to other gamers in distant lands for years before online console gaming became a thing, but Lord, when it became a thing nothing could stand in its way. Apart from a few hacks here and there, right PSN?
Throughout the '90s, many companies, like Sega and Catapult Entertainment, tried throwing their hats into the online gaming race, but ultimately failed due to a multitude of reasons, including the high prices of the tech and subscriptions and consumer ignorance.
Then along came the Dreamcast, which wasn't the first fully internet-capable console—that'll be you, '96's Apple Pippin—but it was the first one to find popularity. I mean even Nintendo failed with its oft-delayed 64DD peripheral.
7. Digital Distribution
Remember way back in the day when if you wanted something bought, you used to have to get up off your butt and head to the shop? They were dark days again, my friend. Heading out into packed streets and malls as other reluctant shoppers ambled from store to store like capitalist drones. Dark days indeed. Well thanks to the internet we no longer have to leave our homes to do the shopping, we can do it from the bath, the toilet, the garden—basically wherever you get reception.
The same goes for buying games. Yes the sensation of walking into a dimly lit and musty second hand game store and being wowed by all the retro titles on display in frayed boxes used to send chills up my spine too, but now instead of attempting to hunt down that cool and rare game I loved when I was eight, I can simply buy it from PSN, Xbox Games Marketplace or Nintendo eShop. Without closing Netflix.
Digital distribution has changed the face of the industry, because now literally any kind of gamer can get involved. You phone is now a gaming device, with a rich variety of titles to suit every flavor. Your tablet is a high-end handheld console. Your laptop—even if under-spec'd—can run one of the many 8- or 16-bit games that are currently the indie market's darling. And all of this can happen in a mere matter of moments thanks to 4G, WiFi and digital distribution.
8. Motion Controlled Gaming
At first we were all a little like "why would I want to buy something that sounds like a damp bathroom activity?" But after playing Nintendo Wii for the first time round at your grandmother's house that Christmas, you were sprung right? Jonesing for a bit of that sweet bowling action in Wii Sports. You could never have guessed the Wii would be such a cultural and economical force, but Nintendo once again managed to change the face of the gaming industry.
Once a gimmick made momentarily popular in the '80s with Datasoft's crazy motion control peripheral, Le Stick, motion control flew back in to our lives once Nintendo learned that people of all ages love to waggle sticks at TVs. Once that happened, and the Wii singlehandedly outsold both the Xbox 360 and PS3, Sony and Microsoft leaped onto the bandwagon with Kinect and PlayStation Move respectively. Both of which weren't particularly great.
If pulled off successfully, with its promise of unique gameplay, motion gaming has the ability to really broaden the limits of insanely intelligent and inventive design. Seriously, you may tell me to "get outta here" in a vague New York accent, but Wii Sports bowling is one of the best games I've ever played. Though that truth nugget may be a little hard to flush.
9. Consoles Become Multimedia Set-top Boxes
Early consoles were gateways into video game entertainment where tapes, cartridges and discs acted as our portals to awesome adventures where we remained active through the narrative. Now, as technology advances and society is bombarded with more streaming services and ways to watch entertainment than we actually need, console makers are always looking at new ways to make their products invaluable.
From the PS2 and Xbox up to PS4 Pro and Xbox One S, consoles have become multimedia powerhouses that play all sorts of disc-based movie formats, stream video from YouTube, Netflix, Amazon and more in glorious 4K, stream music from Spotify and Groove Music and even allow you to Skype chat with your buds. Today's consoles are absolute beasts with more moving parts under their hull than within both of your hands (probably not true).
10. Video Game Streaming
Though customers may not be wholly impressed with video game streaming services such as PlayStation Now and GeForce... NOW, due to high pricing, underperforming streams with terrible lag and a lack of killer games, but... you have to admit that living in an age where you can stream games to not only your console, but to TVs and Windows PCs, is a pretty great time to be alive.
Besides all of the political intrigue and general horrors that are happening on our pale blue dot at the moment...
11. Home Consoles Become Portable
And finally we're heading back to Nintendo again with their potentially game changing #Switch hybrid console. A console that doesn't want to believe it's a mere console. It wants to get out and see the world it viewed only in dreams. It wants to be your bathroom confidant and the orchestrator of joy on long journeys. Seriously, this thing sounds nuts, and that's in the best of ways.
But despite the hype, the constant rumors we were bombarded with and a Nintendo that seemingly want to kill the console before its even released, this console stands as testament to a company that never flinches in the face of innovation. And despite the market getting itself all lathered up over this 60fps/4K/HDR malarkey, Nintendo just want you to have a good time with console games wherever you go. And that's dope. Really dope!