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Here we take an in-depth journey through the eight generations ofvideo game consoles from 1967 to 2018, looking at their history, the standout games, their impact on the subsequent console generations, and their impact on culture in general. For gaming enthusiasts it's a nostalgic and interesting read. "A generation of millennials has grown up on gaming. For them, having a gaming console was as ordinary as having a TV. They can probably still recall blowing into game cartridges and wondering if it made a difference." '”Gautam Ramdurai,Think Gaming Content is Niche? Think Again Somehow, we're already in the era where Oculus Rift is a real, wearable experience of the kinds of virtual reality that books like Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan only promised. Not only that, it's set off a handful of industry comps vying for market share, with theVive by HTC and the PSVR (you didn't think they were going to sit this one out, did you?), to name a few.
Therelease of the Magnavox Odyssey by Baer lacked a few basic features'”colour, for instance, and sound. Like the black & white "silent movies" phase in cinematic history, gaming had to crawl before it could fly. All it could really do was display three dots and a vertical line. Depending on the game, the dots and line would do different things. In fact, it was so lacking in complexity, the company had to release an accessory for the screen, which was essentially a "cling wrap" overlay intended to be stuck onto the screen, like a substitute that didactically signalled the intent of real, graphical environments. The system used diode-transistor logic and programming 'game cards' that were basically printed circuit jumper boards which plugged into the console. The controllers had a reset button and featured three knobs, one of which was responsible for moving the vertical line. In a game of tennis or handball, for example, that vertical line might divide the "court" while two of the dots were players and the third, the "tennis ball". The early "cartridges" sometimes served multiple games. Along with the static cling overlays, these formed the first, primitive optical "cues". Obviously, it exacted a toll from its players: Come with massive amounts of imagination.
Street Fighter, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy VI, Earthbound and Dragon Quest V. There were cutscenes, action-sequences, simulations and more, all focused on driving the narrative forward.
The RPG took off and the system's rich, 16-bit colour palette and musical synthesis supported these experiences.
While Nintendo and SEGA have been chugging along and duking it out, it's the somewhat surreptitious development of the Sony PlayStation that captures this era and blows everyone out of the water.
There is so much precedent being set here by the PlayStation, which is innovative, daring and bold, not to mention incredibly experimental. Sony had the electronic and technical chops, of course, so the more important competitive edge came from whether it could read the tea leaves, so to speak, on the evolution of gaming.
As it turns out, it could.
And it did.
Here comes the story of the Sony PlayStation, a remarkable catalyst to a legacy that is still going strong today and, arguably, one that was responsible for some of the greatest and most iconic game development studios including EA, Ubisoft, Naughty Dog, Bioware and more.
The first generation Sony PlayStation was a fifth generation console that marked the electronic giant's third attempt at entering the gaming market.
From its initial drop in Japan during Christmas of 1994 and only one year later, in 1995, over a million units had been sold. In that same year, in the U.S. 100,000 units had been released and sold in two days. Its best-sellers included games like Crash Bandicoot and Final Fantasy.
The sheer success of that number would be nothing compared to the next version of the Sony PlayStation. But this first console was remarkable in many of the standards it set:
-The PlayStation moved away from clunky Nintendo cartridges and, like the sleek, smooth and sexy design of its grey console, positioned games on CDs instead
-A veritable coup for its development and popularity, the Final Fantasy franchise from Squaresoft (Square-Enix) moved over from Nintendo to the PlayStation
-Besides the revolutionary dual thumbsticks, the PlayStation made "force feedback" a staple, using its "DualShock" controllers.
-Because of the "read-only" disposition of its CDs, the memory card was introduced. Its obvious perk was that you could save your game, take it around to your friend's place and continue where you left off.
-A slimmer and sleeker design, coupled with the use of CD ROMs meant that no one was surprised when the PS2 came out and doubled up as a DVD player, effectively making Sony your "all-in-one" entertainment centre.
So popular was the PS1 that the creators released a ‘PlayStation Classic’ reboot in 2018 with 20 of the most loved games pre-loaded.
Known simply to gamers as the "N64", the console ushered in the age of 3D game development and gameplay. As a fifth-gen console, it significantly juiced up its graphics and capabilities, introducing excellent, workstation-level graphics to the regular consumer.
It was the first console to feature a four-way split-screen, with four-controller ports (Mario Kart 64, anyone?) and had a very contemporary controller design that used an analog stick, rather than a joypad.
The split-screen was especially fantastic because it didn't produce a significant lag. That was thanks to its more advanced motherboard and a memory interface operating at 500MHz, 10 times faster than any other DRAM.
Of course, the legacy of Mario and Zelda continued, with the very popular Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64 and the surprise first-person shooter success, GoldenEye 007.
The stage is set with all new players now and they're a far cry from the brands we started out with. We can barely remember Atari and Intellivision. In the sixth generation of gaming, it's all about Sony v.s. Microsoft, with Nintendo still trading on its legacy. It introduced its wholly forgettable "GameCube" but kept up its presence through the handheld GameBoy and GameBoy Advance.
There is an incredible amount of fast-paced development going on at this point, but Nintendo is late to the game because the PS2 and the Xbox are focused on a goal rather than on functionality or game production.
The goal is simple: convergence. Which system can become a consumer's solution for an "all-in-one" entertainment experience? This "trend" was set to define a new reality and would be the major catalyst for development in the next decade.
Dark black, beautifully thin and incredibly compact, the PS2, as it would come to be known, sold over 70 million consoles by the year 2000. And that was to say nothing of the sales it was about to rake in through its "gaming network".
Not surprisingly, it became the best and fastest selling console in the history of gaming at that point in 2000. It sold a collective 150 million units and this success all came down to a well-strategized combination of beautifully-designed and powerful gaming hardware, at an affordable price point, with stellar games.
Besides the crafty and titillating Tomb Raider (which was also released on the Xbox), the PS2s other "greatest hit" was Shadow of the Colossus. While it played like a puzzle game, the environments were minimalist and there was deep attention paid to things like audio score and quality, emotional and immersive game design and storytelling.
Meanwhile, Microsoft's release of the Xbox was shaking things up for the Sony PS2. It didn't waste a lot of time, money and attention on marketing. It released rather quietly but very quickly became a "must-have" console. What was interesting was that, by the time the Xbox 360 released, hardcore gamers found that they enjoyed owning both brands and that one was not necessarily more important than the other.
The system ran on Windows 2000 and felt very familiar to gamers, especially those who were traditionally PC gamers. Halo, for example, was one of Xbox's most popular and long-sustaining games (so beloved, in fact, that it spawned a major indie web-series produced by Rooster Teeth called, "Red v.s. Blue").
As a third-person shooter, Halo made the best use of the Xbox's vastly improved console specs and gave players the potential for both online play and internal storage of downloaded content.
It was time for the evolution of an online gaming network, since MMORPGs were already in play. While the PS2 shattered all console records, Halo shattered all game records: it sold more than 1 million copies in the first few months of release.
Between 2005 and 2006, Microsoft, PlayStation and Nintendo were all poised to face off, trying to capture (or, in the case of the Nintendo Wii, trying to recapture) the majority of the market share.
The Kingdom Hearts franchise, borrowing from SEGA's strategy of using Disney-licensed characters, made a huge impact for PS2 and 3 and there came a new age of first-person shooter games (thanks to smaller predecessors like Counter Strike).
Portal and Elder Scrolls: Oblivion would set the stage for extensibility that focused not just on additional hardware but, rather, new DLC or "downloadable content", in-game Easter eggs and battle royale-style multi-player gaming. And it was all happening on an online gaming network.
These machines were fast becoming an all-in-one entertainment centre.
The Microsoft Xbox 360 opened up development through "developer kits" to indie gamers and game developers at large — a trend that Playstation developers wouldn't catch on to until the PS4. It was the second successor to the original Microsoft Xbox and quickly became its main seller.
Coupled with the movable add-on "Kinect" and its online gaming network access, the Xbox 360 created interactive experiences for its gamers, putting tech specs front and centre. Suddenly, gaming was not only immersive and story-driven, but also about the power of the actual console machine.
Since gaming was moving online, the question became whether or not the graphics card, memory, GPU performance, CPU core and processor featured in these machines could withstand real-time play, profile service, social leaderboards ,and downloadable content. Once again the Xbox seemed to lead the way in first-person shooters with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
By now, Sony's PlayStation console had a mass following so the reception for the PS3 was unparalleled. Since Blu-Ray was now the new standard, the PS3 offered this functionality and eventually came out with a "slim" and "super slim" model, one at 250GB of hard drive and the second at 500GB.
The evergreen franchise Uncharted, came out with its third installation known as Drake's Deception (thanks Naughty Dog!) and the always reliable and complex Assassin's Creed III was another fan favourite that was bundled in with the 500GB unit release.
Around this time, things had been pretty quiet at Nintendo — until, of course, the release of its Wii console. The Wii was Nintendo's attempt at reviving both its sales and its image. It became clear that it was desperately trying to find its voice in this new era of digitally-supported gaming.
It returned to the drawing board and came up with an entirely new unit, styled with a new brand and offered plenty of add-ons and peripherals including the Wii nunchucks, besides its new vertical, oblong controllers and the Wii balance board, known as the "Wii Fit".
The idea here was to "socialize" the consumer's living room, encouraging people to get up and be engaged their gameplay.
The controllers, known as the "Wii Remote", allowed users to control the game with physical gestures as well as button-presses, thanks to motion sensors, infrared detection, and LEDs, when pointed at the sensor bar.
At this point, it starts to become about the games themselves and the experience of playing. Developers realized that they could capitalize on the cult followings of the games themselves, rather than trying to duke out market share through the platforms or consoles.
Call of Duty 4, for example, was released by ActiVision on both the PS3 and the Xbox so there was no real sense of exclusivity. Minecraft, another wildly popular game that sparked millions of YouTube videos, fanboys and subreddits, was also available across platforms.
Gaming today is far from having "arrived". If you can believe it, the true innovations have only just begun. It has taken us up until the 2020s to learn how to walk upright, if you will. From here on in, come the real evolutionary moves.
In 2013, for example, Square-Enix began work on a subdivision of gaming known as "Shinra", a company dedicated to gaming using "super computers" or cloud gaming.
While the project eventually failed, officially shutting down and laying off its employees in 2016, its ambitious goals showcase the future of gaming: environments that build themselves in real time so there is absolutely no lag, superior, powerful graphics, and players connecting with each other from all over the world, pushing the boundaries of what gaming in the "cloud" could really be.
That's certainly what pivotal games like The Witcher 3, Red Dead Redemption 2, Skyrim, and Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain did with these newly-formulated systems.
These games pushed the hardware of the PS4 and Xbox One to the max, fully harnessing the power of superior processing power and graphics cards to set up crystal clear and seemingly instantaneously populated environments that come into being as you progressed further into the game.
It was true magic that went beyond the cinematic storylines and sweeping camera angles, to include details like complex plot and character development that progresses based on the choices the user made. And all these in-game innovations were even more richly experienced thanks to the fact that TVs were becoming "smart" TVs and the novelty of 1080p turned into the demand for 4K resolution.
The Sony PS4 changed things for both consumers, game studios/designers and the developers working on the PS4 console release itself.
While the PS3 was powerful, it was expensive. It was also difficult for developers and designers to create games for the console. With the PS4, the development team opened up the console (much in the way Microsoft had years before) to 16 game studios owned by Sony as well as 16 independent and external studios.
This gave the gaming giant the chance to present more titles without significant investment into the gaming studios, encouraging indie game developers with their own cult followings to port their dedicated fans over to the PS4.
While the PlayStation network, much like the Xbox Live gaming network, was running like clockwork all these years, the open-source and more democratic approach to indie development was a necessity of the times: gaming consoles now have to compete with powerful smartphones and tablets as viable platforms for gaming.
While the PS3 had sported a "cell microprocessor", a complicated arrangement in which a central core chip delegated processing tasks to one of either other processing "elements", the PS4 kept things simple.
It used a classic x86 chip, a processor that works much like those of personal computers. This more streamlined architecture made things easier for developers but its high-end quality gave an added kick of speed. The PS4's central processor brought together a CPU with a GPU and handled the two of them in tandem far more efficiently than the preceding cell microprocessor.
PS4 developers also created a memory sub-system that anticipated 3D gaming years down the road.
Intended to rival the PS4, the Microsoft Xbox One released to generally good reviews and positive sales. It had a more refined controller design, voice navigation, and a sleeker, smoother design. Like the PS4, the Xbox One relied on an x86 architecture and the console placed an increased emphasis on cloud computing.
It's also cognisant of the social networking context that users are operating within, giving players the ability to record and share video clips or screenshots from gameplay, or live-stream directly to streaming services such as Mixer and Twitch. In this way, the console is designed to be an "all-in-one" entertainment system.
By all accounts, the Nintendo Switch was a runaway success. Why? It was a combination of responding to the market (at last) and exceptional marketing strategy.
As usual, the Nintendo Switch, like preceding Nintendo systems, brought back and kept alive the legacy of their most popular games, advancing stories through Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda. But it went further.
There's a reason why it was the fastest selling console in the history of the United States and Japanese markets, selling more units in a year than it was ever able to in the lifetime of the Wii U.
The secret sauce is that the aptly named "Switch" is neither a home console nor a handheld one — it's both.
This means you can play your game at home, then use the morning commute to re-engage and make progress with your 100-hour epic legacy of a game instead of playing Angry Birds. Taking a page from "The Gospel According to Apple", the Nintendo Switch uses the power of continuity and convergence, responding to what consumers, as users and gamers, want most: A seamless and non-stop experience.
It's neither more powerful nor sleeker than the PS4. It's simply more innovative, accessible and, well, fun.
Gaming consoles have rapidly evolved in the last five decades, and they're poised to accelerate their evolution like never before. That's simply the nature of technological growth.
What makes things interesting, however, is that there is a real convergence going on between consoles and platforms, games, apps, social media and mobile devices. There's more of a focus on the consumer or customer than ever before and designers as well as developers of both games and consoles are trying to see where consumer expectations are going to head next.
Gaming platforms like Steam and Valve, as well as versions of games made available for smartphones and tablets, are showing us that gaming is not only more prevalent and mainstream than ever before, but that a formerly "niche" industry is actually moulding the path of the evolution of technology — perhaps, at last, to an even greater extent than technology is informing the limits of gaming.