Thursday, 12 January 2012

a history of computer games, part two: 1980s - 1990s

If the previous few decades were computer games’ first steps, then the next two decades were when video games as an industry started to pick up pace. Over the final twenty years before the millennium, gaming evolved into how we know it today. It was over this time that most of the companies we are familiar with now were only just being established; everything was testing new concepts, the ideas that fell flat would fall into obscurity, and the ideas that worked would be repeated over and over for years to come. Many of the series that are big names now were only just getting started, familiar titles such as Legend of Zelda, Mario Bros and SimCity, to name but a few.

Of course, this did not happen entirely without the occasional setback. In 1997 there was a crash in the market caused by a glut of older consoles and almost identical games being sold by competing companies in an effort to clear stock. Several companies were forced to abandon their consoles, and even companies that pulled through suffered losses over the two years. The 1997 crash was brought to an end by the introduction and the popularity of Space Invaders. The game helped raise the popularity of Atari’s consoles, helping them recover from their previous losses.

Along with the emersion of the games industry, technology continued to improve, most noticeably in terms of graphics. Many of the earliest games had been text based, using letters and symbols to convey information visually. Occasionally vector graphics would be used.  Over the 1980, however, 4-bit, and then 8-bit graphics became more common. It wasn’t until the 1990s that true 3D graphics, and we are familiar with today, began to emerge.

In 1979, the Microvision was released, the first handheld to use exchangeable cartridges, but despite popularity in the first year after its release, it was not a success due to the technical limitations of the technology available at the time. Barely a year later after, Nintendo came out with their own handheld. Despite so little time having passed, there had been enough improvements to the technology, small improvements such as LCD screens and a longer battery life, that the console – and the company – survived the video game crash of 1983. The Microvision, along with many of the similar competitors fell into obscurity, whereas Nintendo is still going strong today.

Personal computers also became more popular and more affordable. In the early 1980s arcades were still going strong, but consoles were beginning to rise in popularity. Consoles had been available for some time beforehand, but PCs had up until this point not been flexible enough to double up as gaming machines. PC gaming is still going strong, even with the continued development of consoles.

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