This write-up will primarily be concerned with video game consoles for the sake of focus and clarity. Arcade and handheld games will only be mentioned when they have something to do with the development of the consoles.
The video game wars actually began further back than most folks realize. When you ask most people "What was the first home video game console?" you'll probably get a variety of answers, depending on the respondent’s age. The little and culturally dim fourteen-year-olds out there might say "Isn't it, like, the Playstation, dude?" Some slightly wiser and older gamers might answer the NES or Sega Genesis. Others might say the Atari 2600, and even wiser and older gamers than the first three would tell you it was Pong. But the answer actually brings you a lot farther back than the mid-1970's, back further than even Pong.
Technically you can't say that 1958 was the year the video game wars really began. Just like technically the beginning of World War II was not World War I. But let's examine the historical origins of video games for some important perspective. 1958 was the year that Willy Higinbotham is credited with inventing the first video game - if you want to call it that - at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York. It was a tennis-like game played on an oscilloscope, an electronic device that used electronic signals to produce visual displays on a screen. He called it "Tennis for Two." It was basically moving a dot on the screen of a cathode-ray tube. This tennis game was very crude, even by Pong standards, and it was truly a humble beginning for the booming multibillion dollar video game industry of today.
Here is where things start to get going. In 1961 Steve Russell, a student at MIT, created Spacewar. It ran on the PDP-1 minicomputer, a very big and very pricey mainframe available only to select business owners. Spacewar was eventually circulated to other computer laboratories across the country, but only a select few with access to mainframes could play it. (A Java version is available here.) The graphics on Spacewar were made up of ASCII text characters. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? This might give a hard on to the hard-core ASCII-art fans out there, but for the rest of us, not so much. However this was an extremely important development in video game history. Granted, we're talking about a computer game here, but you have to start somewhere. After all, even though they're connected to televisions, all video game consoles are in essence computers, even before they had hard drives like most do today.
It was 1966 when the idea was first proposed to use televisions to play interactive games. Ralph Baer, an engineer at Sanders Associates, received support from his company (a military electronics consulting firm in New Hampshire) to fund an exploration into the possibility of such a thing. In '67 they were successful in creating two of those games, a chess game and - again - a tennis game. Interestingly enough, they also manipulate a toy gun so it detects a spot of light on a TV screen. Future "duck hunters" have Baer to thank for that, among many other things.
Ah, finally we get to the decade that most people consider to be the "genesis" of video games. In 1970, while the first World Trade Center is completed, Monday Night Football begins, and the floppy disc is invented, Magnavox licenses Baer's TV game from Sanders Associates. Meanwhile, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney (the future founders of Atari) began their attempt to create an arcade version of Spacewar. They gave it the exciting name of Computer Space. The following year it becaome the first video arcade game to be released, 1500 units are distributed, but frustrated consumers lambaste it for being too difficult to play.
Also in 1970 Japanese roboticist and scientist Masahiro Mori published a book called "Bukimi No Tani" - the translation to English is The Uncanny Valley. He hypothesizes that, basically, as robots look more human, their imperfections will make them look all the more eerie. In essence, the closer to looking human they are, the more we zero in on their flaws and become repulsed by them. This is an important theory to the video game industry because the same could be applied to characters in the game. But, yes, in 1970 such graphics were light years away.
On April 25th of 1972, Ralph Baer is issued a patent for his "television gaming apparatus and method." On May 24th, Magnavox's Odyssey, the first home video game system, was showcased at a convention in Burlingame, California. Later that year it is released to the public. Also in 1972, Bushnell and Dabney do indeed found Atari. The term "Atari" is equivalent to "check" in the game of "Go." (They originally wanted to name the company Syzygy, but the name had already been taken.)
Now the war is on.
Computer Space was a failure, but Bushnell wouldn't give up and remained convinced that home video games could be marketable. And, here's what you've been waiting for. We finally come to Pong. Al Alcorn is hired by Atari in 1972 to be a game programmer and his first creation is indeed Pong, the exciting ping-pong like game where two white bars on either side of the screen hit a white box around. The Atari guys had wanted to start with a driving game originally, but given Alcorn's inexperience they started him off simple. Pong got its name for two reasons. One, it was the sound the "ball" made when being hit. Two, the name "Ping Pong" was already copyrighted.
Bushnell fibbed to Alcorn when he told him that he had already secured a signed contract with General Electric to sell Pong as a video game. He hadn't even had one drawn up or had even contacted GE. Bushnell just wanted Alcorn to use Pong to learn on. But Bushnell liked Alcorn's prototype enough to decide to market it anyway. The first Pong arcade machine was placed in a local bar (Andy Capp's in Sunnyvale, California) as a test. A couple of guys began playing it, not sure of what to do at first. When they got into it a crowd began gathering around them. The next day at 10AM people were lined up waiting for the bar to open, waiting to play the game. It became a huge arcade hit so the next move was obviously to bring the game home. They hit a snag when Magnavox began suing Pong imitators left and right. Atari avoided expensive legal fees by simply paying Magnavox licensing fees. The first bloody battle in the video game wars ends quietly and peacefully.
In 1975 Pong is the hottest-selling Christmas present, released by Sears Roebuck with the Sears Tele-Games logo. In 1976 Coleco enters the war with their first home video game console called Telstar, not to be confused with the first communications satellite that was able to transmit and receive television, telephone and data signals across the Atlantic Ocean, of the same name. Telstar only played three games with three difficulty levels and used GI's AY-3-8500 chip. It was a big hit and sold over a million units. But the AY-3-8500 chip played six games with more difficulty levels, and the games could also be played in color. Coleco, (a contraction of COnneticut LEather COmpany) was founded in 1932 and went from manufacturing leather craft kits to plastics to kiddie pools to table top hockey games and finally video games when they were about to go under in '78. They released fifteen different games in two years for the Telstar. An interesting note here: this was the only gaming system released where players put the knobs on the game and decals themselves (this was done to actually save production costs).
Meanwhile, in '76, Fairfield Camera & Instrument debuted its Video Entertainment System (later known as Channel F). It was the first programmable (cartridge-based) home game console. The cartridges resembled 8-track audio tapes.
One of the most significant advances in the video game wars occurred in 1977. This was the year that Atari introduced its first cartridge-based home video gaming system called the Video Computer System, or VCS. This later became known as the Atari 2600. Its retail price in '77 was about $249.95. That was a monstrous chunk of change back then! With games like Pitfall, Asteroids, and Yar's Revenge, the 2600 featured the most advanced graphics to date and smoked the competition at first. It did much better than Atari's foray into home computing (their 400 and 800 computers utterly failed against Apple and were taken off the market).
All is not well with Atari internally, though. By 1979 Nolan Bushnell leaves the company to purchase Pizza Time Theater, which later became known as Chuck E. Cheese. Atari keeps trucking, though, releasing the first arcade game with a trackball (Football), and 12 more titles for their ever-expanding library of 2600 games. They actually created a handheld console called Cosmos that displayed holograms, perhaps Star Wars-inspired. The product, however, is never released. The world would have to wait a little longer for a hand-held video game. As one of the final video game developments of the 70's, the arcade game Asteroids is the first one to allow high scorers to enter three-character initials and store them in the machine.
The Early 1980's
The first real competitor to Atari's 2600 is released in 1980. Mattel's Intellivision had better graphics than the 2600, but could not gain a huge market share on Atari because of the high price ($299). Meanwhile, Activision became the first third-party game producer. They were actually a company formed by four Atari programmers who wanted more personal recognition for their works. They also left because of what they felt were unfair working conditions. Their first four releases were Dragster, Fishing Derby, Checkers and Boxing. The games were popular but Atari was embarrassed that they were producing better games for Atari than they were themselves. An attempt to try to stop them from selling games failed and Activision grossed $70 million that year. Another bloody battle in the video game wars is over. The real story of 1980, though, according to most people was - you guessed it - Pac-Man.
This game about a head moving around a maze "pac"ing in dots and ghosts boomed onto the video game market. Nameco released 300,000 arcade units. Tohru Iwatani, a Nameco designer, came up with the idea after going out for pizza with friends one night and observed the shape of the pie after one slice was missing. Pac-Man became one of Atari 2600's titles, a cruder version of the arcade game. Fortunately for Atari, they released Space Invaders, the home version of a Japanese import and it became a mega-hit. It became so popular people bought the 2600 just so they could play the game. After that, Atari released Adventure, the first video game with an easter egg (placing an object in a certain area produced the programmer's name - Warren Robinett).
The video game wars heated up in 1981. It became a full-scale and heated race between Atari and Intellivision. Despite its superior technology, because of the ubiquitousness of Atari games Intellivision still couldn't gain a majority of the market share. Soon, though, this battle would become irrelevant. Just when everybody had almost forgotten them, Coleco comes back in a big way.
In August, 1982 Colecovision hits the market, a $175 dollar system with superior graphics and sound to both the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision. What catapulted this system to success was its pack-in game; they had landed the mighty Donkey Kong. Even with the beast, and other great titles including Donkey Kong, Jr. and Venture, and a driving game with an actual steering wheel, Colecovision never really caught on as much as the 2600 had (my grandparents were the only people I knew that had bought one). Yet, after doing some legal untangling with Universal Studios who claimed Donkey Kong was an infringement on King Kong, Coleco sold out of its first one million systems almost immediately. By 1983 it was beating out both the 2600 and Intellivision in sales. The superior graphics and the fact that they ported many major arcade games (along with the aforementioned Kong) contributed to this success. This spelled doom for the Intellivision and it became the first major casualty in the video game wars.
Atari had to do something, and fast, or end up in a body bag, too, so they released the Atari 5200 in 1982. Remember the Atari 400 computer that flopped? Well, the 5200 was basically that without a keyboard and made it, in some ways, the most technically advanced available console (but my parents were the only people I knew that had bought one). It went head-to-head with Colecovision in the early 80's. Who sold more units, ultimately, didn't matter. In 1983, and moreso in 1984, the video game market crashed. More people got turned onto home computers - that was partly to blame for the sudden bankruptcy of several video game manufacturers. Also partly to blame was the lack of quality in the games caused by companies wanting to sell their products through creating cheesy games: a good example would be the Kool Aid Man game. Even with the Commodore 64, the most powerful and cheapest video game console to date, almost overnight people stopped buying video game consoles and games in droves. Despite cult followings, the Atari 2600, 5200, and Colecovision fell out of mainstream sales.
With console sales slumping in 1983, hardly any games were set to be released for anything in 1984 which made it the darkest year in the video game wars. But a new player would rescue the industry in 1985 and smoke the competition, and they would get a little help from Donkey Kong - no, not the big monkey this time, but his little nemesis Mario.
The Nintendo Era
The only significant development in 1985 was that Tetris was developed by Russian programmer Alex Pajitnov and it was originally a PC game. It was a humble beginning to the Tetris craze that would later sweep North America. It would become a popular game for the next Big Thing.
And this Big Thing came just a year later, in February 1986. The Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES) was released in the United States after being test marketed in New York a year earlier. Nintendo actually started out by selling playing cards in 1889 and made it all the way from there to video games in the early '80s. Donkey Kong and Mario Brothers had been their biggest achievements to date. Nintendo's Famicom system did well in Japan so they decided to negotiate with Atari to sell the system in the US. That fell through so Nintendo shrugged and said "Fine, we'll do it ourselves!" and thus went the biggest mistake in Atari's history.
The NES didn't exactly rocket out of the gate. People were hesitant to invest in another video game system after the crash. Renaming it from the Famicom to the Nintendo Entertainment System helped, a marketing move that made it seem more like a computer or VCR - more like, well, a home entertainment system. They also made it look like any other home entertainment appliance. Their biggest risk was actually offering the retail stores to buy back their own merchandise if sales didn't go so well. There were two different bundles: a $249 one with the Robotic Operating Buddy (R.O.B.), Gyromite (a game for the R.O.B.), a light gun, controllers, and Duck Hunt. The other was $199 and only had the controllers and Super Mario Brothers. (Some believe that SMG came with the $249 package, but this is inaccurate Thanks, RPGeek. Also inaccurate is the notion that it came with the SMG/Duck Hunt combo cartridge; this didn't come about until later.) It wasn't long before the Famicom/NES was a smash hit in the US.
Sega, another relatively new player in the video game console wars, decided to jump on that bandwagon and released their own 8-bit video game system, the Sega Master System. It had been called the SG-1000 and Mark III in Japan but they redesigned it and renamed it for their US release. It had slightly better graphics than the NES, but the market was so lambasted by, and smitten with Nintendo that they barely had a chance, even with innovative features like 3D glasses and the "Sega Card" (a credit card-like game that fit into a little slot on the front). (My parents were the only people I knew who bought this system - I'm starting to see a pattern here). The problem with the Sega MS is that they made a huge mistake in letting Tonka do their marketing for them and choosing which titles were accepted. Most of the titles most gamers had never heard of and many of those were laughable. Some were down-right awful. The crowning achievement of the system was the acclaimed Fantasy Star, an adventure game much more engrossing than Nintendo's Legend of Zelda. In the end, Sega could only muster a tiny fraction of the market share but somehow floundered for years, barely staying in the game until the end of the decade.
Indeed, Nintendo, partially because of unfair business practices (that were investigated and stymied but way too late) in which they demanded that third party game vendors produced their games for Nintendo and only Nintendo, they had a stranglehold on 90% of the market through the end of the decade. The vendors had no choice but to comply because Nintendo had such a huge lead in the market, but that was because of their demand on the vendors, and, well, this sentence could go on and on. The remaining 10% were split between the Sega Master System and and INTV, Intellivision (which was somehow still in there), and the Atari 7800.
Yes, Atari was still in the war during the Nintendo era - but barely. They bravely fought the overwhelming Super Mario army and the notable Sega regiment with a new system of their own. The 7800, as you'd expect, was an upgrade to the disappointing 5200. It could have come out a year ahead of Nintendo, and the video game wars at that point could have turned out drastically different, but the manufacturer that Atari had tried to seduce to produce the consoles ended up rejecting them. See the 7800 node for more info on that. The system was basically 8-bit like Sega MS and NES, but supposedly had slightly better graphics than the two. Again, like with Sega, their problem was NES's stranglehold on the market and their own ineptitude at marketing and landing hit titles. (This time, nobody I knew had this system.) The once Great Atari Lion was now just a little kitten, dethroned forever from its video game kingdom.
Meanwhile, while Sega somehow trudged on and Atari gasped some of its last breaths, Nintendo continued to dominate until 1989. Virtually ever kid in America who had parents who bought them video games had the NES. Also, Nintendo's black and white handheld Gameboy was gaining wild popularity, the device that every little girl and boy had to have for those family road trips. But Nintendo had to contend with Federal Trade Commission investigations into their aforementioned business practices and spunky vendors and the pirate market working around their stifling policies. The marketing moves, like the design of the system and the "zero insertion force" slot for games which proved to be dirty and easily breakable, which were at first a good idea, proved ultimately to be its downfall. Make no mistake, it ended up being the best-selling game system ever up to that time, but major competition was ahead as the 80's came to a close.
The 'Genesis' of a New Era
Sega tried to compete with Gameboy by releasing Game Gear and even though it was color and had vastly superior graphics it faltered, just like the Master System did vs. the NES. The company had to do something to continue to be a player. After two years of development, Sega introduced the Genesis with a price tag of $249.95 (it was known as the Mega Drive in Europe, but ran into copyright conflicts in the US with that name). It was not the first system to have the vastly superior 16-bit graphics (TurboGrafx-16 had beaten Sega to the punch by almost four months), but it ultimately was the most popular (I was not the only kid around this time who had one!). Sega's library of great sports games, awesome arcade ports (like their pack-in game Altered Beast) allowed it to quickly regain lost ground on the TurboGrafx, reducing that system to a mere footnote in the Grand War. The fact that Sega had the full support of Trip Hawkins and Electronic Arts (EA) also was a huge boost. But Sega also began to take huge bites out of The Great Nintendo's market share.
Oh, by the way, also in 1989, Atari, in another desperate attempt to regain relevance, releases their handheld Lynx, but it hadn't a prayer of getting any 12-year-old kids to put down their Tetris-laden Gameboys.
Still, even with the Genesis, the ubiquitous and pesky NES wouldn't go away; somehow the devoted masses still couldn't give up on their NES despite the fact that Genesis totally kicked its ass in all areas including graphics and gameplay. In 1991, Sega all but put an end to that nonsense with the release of their mega-hitting, Super Mario crushing...Sonic the Hedgehog.
This zooming little blue erinaceinaed captured America's hearts with his game's fast-paced and fun zigging and zagging and ring-gathering. What Sega had needed was a viable, lovable mascot, and Alex Kidd just wasn't cuttin' it. After the public had something solid to help them identify with Sega, Genesis sales soared. Even with the follow-the-leader move of Nintendo to come out with its own 16-bit system that year, oh-so-creatively titled Super Nintendo Entertainment System (with the same $249.95 price tag), Genesis continued its newfound dominance of the market.
Yes, Mario got an upgrade on August 13, 1991, but not as many people cared as Nintendo had hoped. It had been released as the Super Famicom in 1990 in Japan first. Super Mario World was its pack-in game. Make no mistake, though, it was a success. They indeed declared all-out war on Genesis with the SNES. It became clear in the early 90's that the two major combatants in the video game wars were Sega and Nintendo. And the war was bloody. In 1992 Sega followed-up Sonic with Sonic 2 which featured another lovable orange, flying, foxy sidekick: Tails. Many other Sonic titles were forthcoming. Sonic continued to be a gigantic, painful thorn in Mario's side.
SNES, with Sega's aggressive marketing not helping, had problems, though. For one, the notion of shoddy Japanese construction that had signaled doom for the NES continued to plague Nintendo. The SNES was incompatible with some American televisions and units had to be fixed after-market. Nintendo became the new "n"-word for some gamers.
Meanwhile, in 1993, Atari, in one final desperate plea for attention, comes out with the Jaguar in an attempt to be the first 64-bit game on the market (actually running two 32-bit processors). They blew their wad, went for one final Hail Mary, "The JAGUAR! Behold! 64-bit! Take THAT Nintendo and Sega!" they yell. "Whatever!" the public sighs in response. Atari hangs its head in shame and trudges off into the sunset, barely to be heard from again. It becomes the third major casualty in the video game wars.
Then came 1994. Sega cooled off so it could focus on its next move to a 32-bit system. Finally SNES gained some breathing room. They gained market share on Sega, finally, and SNES pulls ahead of Genesis. Nintendo begins winning the war again.
Sega Saturn debuts in Japan later that year, and ultimately gets released in the United States. It is met with ho-hum response. 32-bit just did not create as big of a craze as the 16-bit revolution. It becomes a mere transition into 64-bit. Nintendo didn't even bother with a 32-bit system. Even though it was the first console to have internet capabilities (via its NetLink adapter) Saturn, which actually had done well in Japan, couldn't compete in the US, with the SNES or even its own Genesis, which was still selling games at the time. Even the 32x, a 32-bit Genesis add-on, failed. One of the reasons cited was bad marketing (remember what happened to the Master System); another was how forgetful they were of their lovable hedgehog mascot while developing games for the console.
The 3DO Interactive Multiplayer was also 32-bit and the first one to come out in the US, which did spur the release of the Saturn. 3D0 is but another footnote in the video game wars. They did much better with PC games.
The 16-bit (and very short 32-bit) era was indeed coming to a close anyway. In 1994, with a release in Japan first, Sony was preparing to unleash the Playstation on America, coming out of left field to be a new major player, to blow out the competition.
The Late 90's Era of Playstation
As the long-lived 16-bit era came to a close (the last Genesis system was manufactured in 1997) and the short-lived 32-bit "revolution" was put out of its misery, another new age in video gaming was dawning. In 1995 Sony Playstation hit the US markets, the popular version we all know and love. Apparently there was an earlier version of the Playstation in the early 90's that played Super Nintendo cartridges but only a few hundred models were manufactured. According to Dark Watcher's Console History, thanks, Jangie, Sony originally had been working together with Nintendo to develop its next generation console, but when Sony wanted to license CD-based games for a Super Nintendo CD add-on, Nintendo told Sony to take a hike. The Playstation came about from Sony not wanting all that hard development work to go to waste. Like the Sega CD, a CD-rom attachment for the Genesis that never caught on, and the Nintendo CD add-on that almost was, Playstation used CDs for games. Cartridges would soon be a thing of the past. This was one of the reasons that the 64-bit revolution was such a landmark in video game history. (glindsey contends that Playstation actually had a 32-bit ARM chip and that the data path may have been 64 bits wide; it may be true but generally Playstation is still widely considered a 64-bit system.)
The 64-bit graphics were quite remarkable compared to any of its predecessors, probably because the whole 32-bit phase was glossed over by the general public. For most gamers, for the first time they could game in a world that wasn't just moving characters from right to left, or forward. The playing field was a full 360 degrees. The cities and landscapes for racing games looked real. The cars did, too. Sports games had current rosters for teams, realistic gameplay, and the computer players actually resembled the real guys. Another PS innovation was their memory cards. Players could store games on it and take it to their friends' houses and play them there, too. Playstation was at the forefront of this revolution; suddenly everybody were tossing aside their NES, SNES, and Genesis consoles to get their hands on a Playstation.
For the first time, the video game console was not only for video games. It could also play music CDs. Nintendo's marketing pipe dream of the 80's that the console could be an entire entertainment center was actually now being realized with Sony. CDs proved to be less clunky and less prone to malfunction than cartridges, only prone to the same problems any CDs were - scratches, smudges, and fragility.
Nintendo followed Playstation's lead with their own 64-bit system (Nintendo 64) in 1996. Sega remained quiet whilst working on their next big thing. N64's advantage over Playstation was the four-gamer playing potential; it had been quite some time since a video game console had allowed for more than two paddles. (I remember the Atari 5200 having six or more plugins for paddles). The Super Mario 64 and Super Smash Brothers were the N64's initial hit, allowing it to steal a great portion of the market share from Sony. Die-hard Nintendo and Mario fanatics quickly abandoned their Playstations or notions of buying one in favor of the N64.
But make no mistake, in the late 90's, Playstation was The Thing, the go-to video game console, the one that got the most lip service. Sega tried to challenge that, though.
On September 9, 1999 (no doubt that the whole thing about the 9/9/99 date wasn't a coincidence), on the cusp of a new millennium and decade, Sega released the Dreamcast in the United States. Skipping 64-bit, Sega went straight to 128 ahead of both Sony and Nintendo. A fabulous library of game titles and the fact that it ran on Windows CE made the console quite popular in late 1999 in the US and Europe. Meanwhile Sega had bold plans about SegaNet, the world's first gaming ISP. Also in 1999, Billy Mitchell scored 3,333,360 playing Pac-Man. This was the highest possible score a player can get.
Despite the Dreamcast, Sega could not overcome losses dating back to the failure of the Sega Saturn. It was a great effort that had a lot of momentum at first, Dreamcast had good marketing and this time Sega didn't make the mistake of forgetting about Sonic, but that effort was crushed by the impending releases of the Playstation 2, Nintendo Gamecube... and Microsoft XBox.
Into the 21st Century
The video game wars were about to get uglier.
In April of 1999 Sony had announced its impending release of Playstation 2, the well-anticipated next console offering from the company. On October 26, 2000 it was released in the United States. Even with Dreamcast's impressive array of games and online capabilities, the PS2 got a lot of attention because of its DVD-playing capabilities because it was a lot cheaper than most DVD players at the time. PS2 support from EA was one of the final nails in Sega's coffin. (Jangie points out that Dreamcast may have also been felled by the relative ease in which one could pirate its games). In January 2001 Sega announced it would be discontinuing production of the Dreamcast. By the time this decision would be made, a respectable 10 million consoles had been sold. Particularly in Japan, games were still released for the Dreamcast; Sega still found themselves manufacturing consoles after they'd announced it was dead by sheer demand of hard-core Dreamcast loyalists and collectors. On February 24, 2004, the final Dreamcast game was released, Puyo Puyo Fever. After the Dreamcast was dead, Sega quit the console market for good. It is the fourth major casualty in the video game wars.
From the previous mega-success of the PS1, the PS2 didn't have a problem picking up the momentum right where they left off. This gave the company the edge over Nintendo and the newcomer to the console wars, Microsoft. It had a hefty price tag of around $300 and demand was so high that stores couldn't keep them on the shelves, leaving some gamers to buying them off of Ebay for as much as twice the original price. It was prone to errors and its lack of availability frustrated gamers, but the console would persevere because of its great graphics and backwards compatibility (ability to play PS1 games). No other console on the market at that time had that ability.
Competition to the PS2 was soon to follow. On March 10, 2000 at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, Bill Gates unveiled the Microsoft Xbox to the world. MS claimed it was a high-performance, easy-to-use platform that would enable developers to create better games, faster. It had 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. It was unveiled in full at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January 2001 and released for purchase on November 15th 2001 in New York and spread to the rest of the country, just in time for the holiday season. It was only launched with 18 games but its biggest draw was a little game called Halo.
Some saw the Xbox's hard drive and ability to store games on it instead of a disk an advantage over the PS1 and 2. Others still argued that it was more convenient to be able to bring their games to their friends' houses. Still, XBox took a big chunk out of the market share with the help of the mega-hit Halo, despite criticisms that not enough titles were available (or, not as many as PS offered). Die-hard XBoxers saw it as clearly superior to any Playstation in the quality of the titles it did offer in terms of gameplay and graphics. And the online support in XBox Live didn't hurt, either.
Not long after XBox hit the market, Nintendo reminded everybody that were still there with a double whammy. On November 15, 2001 GameCube debuted in the US (they had originally scheduled Nov. 5, but delayed to get more consoles and games made). Also, they finally released a follow-up to GameBoy, GameBoy Advance. The most intriguing thing about the GameBoy Advance is that one could port characters they'd trained on the GameBoy to their GameCube, and take them off the GameCube again if they wanted to travel.
Initially the Cube was available in indigo purple, but GameCube was eventually released in a variety of colors. Even though Nintendo was to use technology developed by Matshushita (better known for Panasonic), a proprietary 8cm optical disc game format capable of holding 1.5GB of data, their new console would not take advantage of the huge DVD playback and storage capabilities that their rivals had. They claimed all they were interested in focusing on was a good gaming system and that was it. This allowed them to sell the Cube cheaper than XBox and Playstation2 ($199.95).
Of course Mario was back (like in Mario Sunshine), but so was Sega. Yes, Sega was done with consoles, but they continued to make games that could even be played on the consoles of their former arch nemesis. Nintendo continued Phantasy Star Online that Dreamcast had started, sporting GameCube's online capabilities.
Even with all of these advances, and the release of Nintendo DS in 2004 (another impressive handheld game with touch screen capabilities and free online play - yes I said free as long as you were in a wireless hotspot), Nintendo still could not regain the dominance they once had on the video game console market.
After 2001 the video game war was being fought solidly on three fronts: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Playstation was edging XBox in sales, despite XBox's wildly popular Halo series (Halo 2 debuted in 2004; peopled lined up around the block to get one) and Gamecube was in third. Par for the course in these wars, though, in four years one player would turn things up a notch, release the next generation. Which one would it be? What would be the first 256-bit game? Playstation 3? XBox 2? Gamecube 2, or whatever that one was going to be called? The answer to that question is Microsoft.
In May of 2005 MS unveiled its next Big Thing, the XBox 360 at an E2 video game trade show. It was to have an advanced IBM Power-PC processor and next-generation ATI graphics chip. The storage of its hard drive would be more than double its predecessor (20GB - the original had 8). It would support wired and wireless controllers and wireless internet-ready as well as the standard ethernet connectivity. On November 20, 2005, the XBox 360 was officially launched for sale in the U.S. during a three day kickoff party that lasted until 12:01 AM that Tuesday in Los Angeles. Microsoft, even though they won't admit it, purposely limited supplies of the console to increase hype and demand, stores selling out quickly of their 20-console rations to lines of gamers that had waited outside before they opened. 360 sold for $299 (basic with wired controller) or $399 (premium version with wireless controller, external hard drive, and other extras).
The advance in graphics in the 360 are mind-boggling if you compare them to the 16-bit era, or even 64. To some, they are eerie. Remember that book in 1970 that I mentioned earlier, The Uncanny Valley? Well, the players in the sports games, for example, look more real than ever, almost too real(the players in the NBA game actually sweat!). It is to the point where everything is life-like but the eyes, which look zombie-like. Apparently, Masahiro Mori's hypothesis is proving true - at least with video games, with many game reviewers being creeped out by how real the characters look, and how real they don't. Some say that we have finally reached that valley that Mori had predicted.
Playstation 3, which supports CR-ROM, CD-RW, DVD, DVD-ROM, DVD-R, DVD+R formats, has USB ports for peripherals, is backwards-compatible all the way to the original Playstation, and runs at 3.2 Ghz, giving the whole system 2.18 teraflops of overall performance, began selling in Japan on November 11, 2007 and six days later in North America, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. It was released in Europe in March of 2007. Its release had been delayed due to problems with the AACS copy protection not working properly on the Blu-ray discs. The PS3 will was then shipped minus the hard drive but with a Blu-ray DVD to address that. This problem was apparently only the latest in Blu-ray and HD-DVD format dispute. Once the PS3 was released, though, predictably there were long lines, some people waiting 36 hours. Only a small fraction of them wanted to actually play the game; most were buying the system to sell it four thousands on Ebay hours later, or they wanted a cheap Blu-ray DVD player (the system cost $599 but a regular Blu-ray was going for upwards of a thousand).
The Nintendo Wii was released on November 19, 2006 with long lines and fan mania as well. Despite the odd name, it was indeed a Revolution (the original rumored name of the system) in home video game play. Probably because of long-lasting criticism that video gaming was producing a generation of overweight, lazy kids, the Wii urged players to get up off of their duffs and move. The paddle and its interaction with the game system actually responded to player movement. For example, for Wii's bowling game, you actually moved as if you were really rolling a bowling ball.
As the world poised to enter yet another decade, the 2010s, the video game wars still featured the same three major players as it had almost a decade earlier - Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo - which indicated a stabalized, yet still extremely bloody war.
glindsey says: "...the PlayStation had a 32-bit RISC processor in it. It may have had a 64-bit wide bus, but I'm not sure. Of course, in the end, 'xx-bit' was just marketing hype anyway, even with 8/16-bit systems."
some_guy's Atari 7800 w/u