Part 4

Finishing up my entirely too long series of posts on the history of gaming we arrive at the last generation. This generation, as have previous ones, had a significant impact during their time and will continue to have lasting effects for the future of console gaming. The true effects of these innovations may not be seen for years to come, but expect to see new and impressive ideas continue to arrive in this and the future generations.

This brings us to the current and seventh generation (2004-). This generation is marked by interesting changes to every console. As console manufacturing and competition became more intense, the field dropped down to 3 combatants. First out the gate was Microsoft with the Xbox 360. While adding more advanced hardware to it's console, the true reason for The 360's success has to lie with one of it's previous innovations. Live has proven to be king of online console gaming and has become the de facto standard for the industry. A standard that Sony, and to a much lesser extent, Nintendo have scrambled to emulate.

Both the Wii and the PlayStation 3 were released about a year after the 360 to widely different degrees of success. The PlayStation 3 was next out the gate, with a couple of features hidden up it's sleeve. The first was the inclusion of Blu-ray support for gaming and movies. Another was the inclusion of a consumer swappable harddrive, to compete with the 360's more expensive proprietary model. Sales of the PS3 were initially promising, but due to the consoles high price, soon began to slip. The next generation Nintendo console, the Wii, was released two days later. When announced, this console wasn't given much of a chance to succeed. They had an unusual and untested control scheme and a plan to target the casual market. The Wii immediately became a hit. With the novel controls and a low price (released at half the cost of the PS3 and $50 less then the 360 Core, $150 less then the 360 Premium). In the short term, Nintendo's gamble has paid off. In the long term, it remains to be seen if the Wii can continue to fend of the 360 and the PS3.

The handhelds also continued to change. The first release was the Nintendo DS in late 2004. The DS was similar in look to the previous SP model with one large exception. The clamshell design was similar, but the inclusion of a touch screen for input on the lower half was a major innovation. This touchscreen was activated by using a stylus, not unlike one found with PDAs. The DS would see a revision in mid 2006 known as the DS Lite. While the Lite has the same overall internal hardware as the original DS it did include brighter screen, extended battery life, and as the name suggests, smaller size and lighter weight. A few months after the original DS was released, Nintendo saw it's first serious handheld competitor in over 15 years.

Sony in early 2005 released a handheld console of their own, called the PlayStation portable. This is the first handheld system that has truly given Nintendo a run for their money. To compete with the DS, Sony included Wi-Fi connectivity to allow connections to other PSPs (something the DS can do) and internet browsing (something the DS can't do), an optical disc format, more powerful hardware (to provide near PS2 quality graphics), and the ability for firmware updates. Initial sales of Sony's new console were very strong, but due to a much higher price than the DS ($100 more) and the lack of a games library hurt PSP sales after the shortly after the launch. Recently the PSP underwent a DS style update by releasing a Slim and Lite model late last year. This redesign was not a significant change, but helped to reduce size, weight, improved loading times, and added the ability to output to a TV. Also, significant firmware updates improved the hardware's functionality and it's PS3 interactivity. Sales of the PSP are far behind sales of the DS, but recent numbers have shown a slowly shrinking gap in this regard.

As you can see, innovation has happened, to varying degrees of success, in every console in every generation. Sometimes that innovation hasn't been a hit or helped to see a console succeed. Sometimes it helps a console become a market leader. It's hard to tell what the future will bring, but based on what we've seen of the past, expect something innovative.


Part 3

This generation of gaming brought many exciting changes to us that are just now being fully realized. Many of the innovations introduced here will be with us for many continuing generations.

The next, sixth, generation (1998-2006) brought a new kind of innovation to the forefront. The Sega Dreamcast was released in late 1999. What made this console innovative was the inclusion in the box of a modem for online operations. Online capabilities had been included with previous generations of consoles before, but previous generations did not have this capability immediately able for use like the Dreamcast did (minus the time actually setting up the service). The Dreamcast started out strong with a good line-up of games and a lack of next generation competition, but what started as a very promising future for Sega ended up being a bitter disappointment and the end of their involvement in consoles.

The sixth generation of gaming was dominated by the PlayStation 2 which was released about one year after the Dreamcast. The launch of the PlayStation 2, and in fact, the announcement of its impending release was one factor that had an influence in Sega leaving the console market. Also with the scheduled launches of both the Nintendo Gamecube and the Microsoft Xbox, Sega decided to leave the console business and focus on software. Now, Sega may have been the first to have included internet capability, but the release of the Xbox in late 2001 brought it to the gaming forefront. Live was launched in 2002 to immediate success and with it a new era for console gaming commenced.

This generation also brought many handheld systems to the market. While these new handhelds (most notably the Neo Geo Pocket Color, N-Gage, and the redesigned N-Gage QD) were unsuccessful against the entrenched competition, Nintendo did release three new variants of its popular Game Boy hardware during the 2001-2005 time frame. The successor to the Game Boy Color was released in 2001 and was called the Game Boy Advance, Nintendo never was one to get too risky with the naming of its consoles. Moniker aside, the Game Boy Advance ended up being very profitable for Nintendo. This version of the venerable system had a horizontal orientation, surprisingly similar to its competitor's consoles more so than any earlier version of Game Boy. But issues of comfort and a dark screen while playing games led to an updated version of the hardware, the Game Boy Advance SP.

The SP was released 2 years later in 2003 and added significant upgrades to the original. A front lit screen (and later backlit), rechargeable battery, and a new clamshell design to reduce the overall size (when closed) and protect the screen. Orientation also went from horizontal to the classic Game Boy vertical. The next iteration was not an improvement but a style change for the SP. The Game Boy Micro was released in 2005. This version of the Game Boy was compatible with all SP games, but was not backwards compatible with other previous generations. With a smaller screen and interchangeable faceplates, sales of the Micro started out strong but eventually only ended up selling about 2.4 million consoles worldwide, Nintendo's most significant failure. In the scheme of things though, the Micro had a very small part in Nintendo's strategy, and Nintendo could definitely afford to take a loss on it.


Part 2

Continuing with my series on the history of innovation in gaming, we reach the silver age of gaming. Gaming since 1983 had been in a very bad place. Atari had lost some of it strength and other consoles, such as the Intellivison, ColecoVision, and the Odyssey systems, just ceased to be. The videogame industry's fortunes were about to change.

The Nintendo Entertainment System (third generation 1983-1992) was released in 1985 and quickly began to turn things around. The graphics were improved, the games were fun and (dare I say it?) innovative. Other manufactures soon took notice and released systems of their own. Sega began it's console history with the Master System in 1986 as did the continuing Atari series of consoles with the 7800. This generation was to be the last successful one for Atari.

The fourth generation (1987-1996) brought innovation in the form of a new type of game media. An add-on was available for most of this generation's consoles included a drive to play games on Compact Discs. The TurboGrafx-16, Sega Genesis, and the Neo Geo all sold a CD drive add-on for their consoles. At this stage though, the add-ons supporting the new format weren't very successful, but it did show us a bit of the future. Out of the numerous game systems released, one significant system didn't add a CD drive in the U.S. The Super Nintendo stuck stubbornly with the cartridge format. A decision they would regret later.

Another innovation of the fourth generation was the introduction of the first color screened handheld game consoles. This was not the first generation to have a handheld system, it was just the first to have a really successful one. This generation introduced the world to the Nintendo Game Boy, Sega's Game Gear, and the Atari Lynx. While both the Game Gear and the Lynx had color screens, it was the little system with the monochrome screen that stole the show. The Nintendo Game Boy (with the Game Boy Color) ended up selling over 118 million units worldwide. It's competition had to compete with Nintendo's sales muscle and marketing clout. Unfortunately, an expensive Lynx and battery hungry Game Gear just couldn't compete.

The fifth generation (1993-2002) saw the mass adoption of the CD format for most of the gaming systems. With this generation, the power of the machines gave way to another innovation. 3-d graphics began its dominance over the 2-d side scrollers and top-down shooters of the previous generation. 2-d games have still retained popularity today, especially within the fighting and top-down shooter genres, but was never to be the dominate style again. Two notable exceptions to adoption of the CD format were the Atari Jaguar and the Nintendo 64.

It is well documented history as to why the Nintendo did not include a CD on this generation of console. Originally the plan was to have Sony build a CD component for Nintendo's new system, but when Nintendo struck a deal with another manufacturer, Sony decided to go ahead and used it's new knowledge to create a gaming console of it's own. The Sony PlayStation did not have the best graphics, nor did it have a name known in gaming circles to promote it. What the PlayStation did do is appeal to a generation of gamer that started with the NES and wanted something a little more mature. While the Nintendo was looked at as a kiddy system and the Genesis suffered by having a lack of third party support, the PlayStation was the choice system for innovative developers and the maturing gamer demographic.

Handhelds also evolved during this period, albeit, mostly just the Nintendo console. The Game Boy underwent a significant change, one that would make it even more competitive in the market place. This generation saw the introduction of a color version of the Game Boy, named appropriately enough, Game Boy Color. In of itself, this was not a drastic innovation for Nintendo. What was unique was the first ever inclusion of backwards compatibility on a handheld system. Backwards compatibility was important to the Game Boy Color for one important reason. Instant game library for a new system. Every game from the original Game Boy would work on the color version. A very good more for launching a new version of a familiar console.


Part 1

Innovation. That's a word that all the console makers have thrown around on occasion, be it justified or not. Microsoft says that Live is innovative. Sony says that the PS3 and Home are innovative, not to mention the PSP also. Nintendo says their Wii is innovative (that just sounds wrong) and that their DS is innovative as well. Well here's the real scoop. Videogaming as a whole is full of innovation. Each successive generation has been different from the previous one, and the next will also carry that trend forward. What will gaming be like in 10 years? I have no idea, and I don't think the console makers have a clue yet either. It has been said that if you look back you can sometimes see the way forward. Well then, let's take a look.

In the first generation of home consoles (1972-1977), the games were hardwired into the system itself. What this meant is that if you bought the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972, you had a limited selection of games pre-installed on the system. In order to change the game you had to insert a circuit card that would make the proper connections so you can play a game. Better hope that you like Pong or one of its many variations, because with these systems, that's all you got.

Then came the second generation (1976-1984), starting with the Fairchild VCS (later called the Fairchild Channel F) in 1976. This is the generation that really gave the gamer choice. The Channel F introduced gamings first true innovation, the introduction of cartridge based gaming. Now, developers could make and sell new games for the system. You could play many other games, not just a hand-full of pre-installed ones. The Odyssey 2, the Atari 2600, Intellivision, and ColecoVision systems all continued this trend of gaming variety.

The early 80's was a confusing time to be a gamer. At the time there were many different consoles were on the market, some rushed to take advantage of the early gaming popularity. The result of all this was a flooding of the market with no real innovation or attempt at quality. The console makers had no control over what games were released by third party developers. Games were rushed to market to make a quick buck, which ended up hurting the industry as a whole.

After the video game crash in 1983 things were looking pretty bleak for gamers. None of the retailers wanted to take a chance on trying to sell a console after the E.T. and Pac-Man (among many others) fiasco of the previous generation. A landfill in New Mexico could prove that point. But, one little console (and one that was original packaged and marketed as a toy at that) would change the video game industry forever.