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Console gaming has never been an industry to stay stagnant over the nearly 50 years that television gaming has been available. Console gaming, as it's commonly called, has been going through a process of trial, change and evolution, both in content and hardware. Now, if you got stuck at the first statement that console gaming on a television screen has been around for nearly 50 years, then I'm betting you're either are a new gamer, or you're probably under the age of 20 and haven't had much exposure to some of the truly historical consoles.
In the last half century, the video game industry has grown enormously, and I thought it'd be fun to take a retrospective look through the evolution of consoles and the games that they brought us. So let's start at the beginning (NOTE: Years are based on North American releases):
... And the 'Brown Box' is invented. It's the first of its kind.
Ralph Baer, a German-born television engineer, invented the first prototype that worked on a standard television. Baer and his colleagues at Sanders Associated built a vacuum-tube circuit that connected the box to a television and allowed players to control two squares chasing each other on the screen. Eventually, a light gun was developed and a total of 12 games were introduced.
... And the first commercial gaming system is born.
After the Brown Box prototype is presented to Magnavox, the Television company begins production on the Magnavox Odyssey (the first commercially available console). The Odyssey utilized 6 cartridges to play a dozen different games all featuring lines and dots on the screen. The Odyssey never really took off due to rumors of only being playable on certain televisions and the actual dealers failing to see its potential.
... And PONG comes home from the arcades.
Atari's PONG has swept like a wildfire through local arcades which spurned Atari founder, Nolan Bushnell, to market a version available for families across the country. Sold in Sears stores under the Sears Tele-Games label, Pong made Atari a household name and introduced at-gaming to the masses.
... And Atari finds incredible success with a new console.
Atari improves on its initial system distributed by Sears, realizing that a single-game system wouldn't hold the interest of gamers forever. The team began working on a project known as Stella, which would later be known as the Atari 2600. Atari was sold to Warner Communications prior to the console's release and had incredible success with games like Space Invaders, Missile Command and Breakout.
... And legitimate competition arises.
The first competition to Atari, Mattel's Intellivision is released. The Intellivision system improved upon the Atari 2600 with better graphics and sound, being the first system to introduce a synthesized voice. Up until this point, gaming has relied on a chip to induce a singular sound (The Pong "Boop" and "Beep").
... And we watch in horror as our consoles disappear.
This is when the North American video game market crashed, and I mean CRASHED straight into the dirt, with several systems releasing due to the popularity. But because of the over-abundance it led to an inevitable crash which bankrupted many gaming companies.
... And Nintendo revitalizes the market.
The crash in the years prior to '85 didn't stop Nintendo from stepping into the market by releasing the Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicon in Japan). The NES introduced home versions of popular titles like Super Mario, Metroid and The Legend of Zelda. Its popularity soon broke sales records and became the best selling console in history.
... And consoles start to evolve.
Another big year for Nintendo was when the Game Boy was released as the first major console that featured an 8-bit CPU and a black-and-white LCD screen and was completely handheld. The Game Boy was a HUGE success for Nintendo and helped it become the gaming company to beat.
This was also the release year for Sega's future, thanks to the 16-Bit system known as thee Sega Genesis. It was adapted from the same Sega arcade board, and it became a huge success, allowing the company to claim the mantle of #1 gaming system in North America.
... And we are introduced to the future of console gaming.
A new system challenges Sega and Nintendo, SNK debut the 24-Bit Neo-Geo and it introduces a system that is years ahead of the competition by introducing huge, detailed 2D graphics that were on par with games you'd find in an arcade. SNK's Neo-Geo never really found traction due to the console costing $650 and games around $200 a piece.
... And Nintendo joins the race for the future.
Although Sega beat Nintendo to the 16-Bit era, Nintendo took back the top-selling game system with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) thanks to its slight technological superiority and the strength of existing game franchises (Donkey Kong, Super Mario, Zelda and Metroid).
... And we say goodbye to the 2D gaming world.
We've now entered the generation of systems that stress three-dimensional gaming, thanks to the 32-Bit CPU. This is where Sony stepped into the gaming world by distributing the PlayStation and, thanks to CD-ROM technology, the price of PlayStation games drops dramatically compared to cartridge based systems.
This also marks Sega and Nintendo's attempt to enter the 3D world with their consoles: The Sega Saturn and The Nintendo 64. Neither console truly wowed gamers, but the Nintendo 64 had several hits thanks to it's strength of current franchises like Super Mario and Zelda.
... And gaming takes a huge leap thanks to Sony and Microsoft.
After Y2K proved to be nothing more than a myth, Sony blew gamers away when they introduced the PlayStation 2. The PS2 introduced the first 128-Bit system which gave games a newer and faster console that also allowed for backwards compatibility as well as enhancing the playability of games over high-speed Internet connections.
Nintendo also attempted to step into the 128-Bit gaming conversation with the GameCube. The GameCube was Nintendo's first attempt at a non-cartridge-based system, as it operated on Game Discs that held 1.5 GB of data and were considerably smaller in size than the competition's discs.
Following Sony's success with the PS2, Microsoft unveiled it's foray into console gaming with the release of the Xbox. Thanks to Microsoft's utilization of PC technology, the XBOX allowed for greater performance when compared to other 128-Bit systems like the PS2 and Nintendo's GameCube.
... And Mobile consoles are all the rave.
This is when handheld gaming truly took massive steps forward with both Nintendo and Sony introducing new handheld gaming consoles. Nintendo introduced the DS which featured touch-screen technology similar to a tablet PC or a PDA as well as dual screens and was backwards compatible with all the previous Game Boy & Game Boy Advanced game cartridges.
Sony introduced the PlayStation Portable as a direct challenge to the Nintendo DS. The PSP was an incredible achievement for portable gaming as it featured wireless connectivity, high-quality graphics and non gaming functions as well like digital audio/video storage and playback. It mimicked many features of several PC-based handheld devices.
... And we are introduced to the real future of entertainment and gaming.
Microsoft released the first next-gen console in 2005, the Xbox 360, which featured a PowerPC based CPU to allow for better gaming rendering as well as featured USB ports for connectivity with personal devices such as : MP3 players, digital camera and portable storage devices.
Nintendo attempted to change how gamers played by introducing the Nintendo Wii, an interactive console that got players more involved with their games as it relies on movement. Over 3 years, the Nintendo Wii had sold almost twice the number of consoles as the PlayStation 3.
Sony ups the ante when they released the Playstation 3 as it allowed players to play Blu-Rays as well as stream movies and music to their console. Systematically it's fairly similar to the Xbox 360, but did have enhanced graphics and opened up free online gameplay without a subscription.
... And we find ourselves with the BIG 2 fighting it out for superiority.
Sony and Microsoft both introduce the newest generation of gaming consoles with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One respectively. The PS4 emphasizes on social game-play with it's new 'share' button and second screen gaming with smart phone connection. The Xbox One markets as a full gaming and entertainment system as it focuses on combining all the entertainment aspects into one system to create a truly balanced system.
... And we find Sony with a comfortable lead with VR on the horizon and we wonder what's next.
Then there's the future, and we really don't know what's on the way for the next iteration of console gaming. VR is being introduced, and that may play a role in what's next as the newest console could be a truly virtual experience. We could also see the introduction of the PlayStation Infinite or the XBOX Alpha/Omega. Only time will tell.