Video games consoles have come a long way. They’ve developed so much that it’s hard to see what more they can do. We’ve got virtual reality headsets, graphics so strong they’re incredibly lifelike and even the ability to play high-caliber games no matter where you are (thanks Nintendo). The industry is booming right now. It took a lot to get here, though, and anyone growing up with the PS4 Pro or Xbox One X might not be familiar with some of the consoles that paved the way some decades ago.
Video game consoles come in generations, with the first starting back in 1972. That was the year that the Magnavox Odyssey was released. It was the first ever home console that connected to a TV and had a series of built-in games that were incredibly basic (they provided the inspiration for Arcade classic Pong). The console came packaged with board game accessories to add more depth to what was playable. The processing power of the Magnavox Odyssey was, after all, only a fraction of what consoles can manage now.
Introducing handheld mode
While Microsoft may be one of the dominant forces in the video game industry nowadays, they didn’t enter the market until the 21st century. By the time the Xbox was released, it had powerful efforts from Nintendo and Sony to compete against, with the former having worked on video games for two decades. The company’s efforts in developing handheld consoles make them a major player in the history of gaming.
Their handheld work began with Game & Watch, a series of products that each featured one game only. Between 1980 and 1991, 59 games were developed for sale, paving the way for Nintendo to release the Gameboy. These single screen devices were basic in design – a D-pad and two buttons were used for gameplay – but they made it possible to play different games on a handheld console. While they may not compare to the 3DS line that is still popular today, they did bring us Pokemon. That franchise is never going to die.
There are many gaming companies that are forgotten nowadays because their products haven’t stood the test of time. Take Sega, for instance. They’re best known for creating Sonic the Hedgehog and still produce software for other companies, but back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, they had their own line of gaming consoles too.
The most popular of these was the Sega Genesis which produced 16-bit graphics played on ROM-based cartridges. While the console wasn’t a hit in Japan, it still managed to shift a cool 30 million copies thanks to effective youth marketing in the States. The Sega Genesis saw the first appearance of Sonic in the platform game of the same name. It’s a franchise that has long outlived Sega’s gaming consoles, having sold over 350 million units across the many games that have followed since it launched.
The early days of VR
Nintendo is reluctant to follow the VR trend (not that they need to with the rate that the Switch is selling), but there’s a reason for that. The company once released a whole consoled based around VR – the Virtual Boy – and it was not a success. In fact, it’s the second worst selling console in Nintendo history. Was it a little before it’s time?
In 1995, virtual reality was not the immersive experience we know it to be in modern-day gaming. The selling point of the Virtual Boy was that it displayed stereoscopic 3D graphics in a headset similar to the ones that are popular now. Unfortunately, it sounded more impressive than it actually was, and once people started complaining about eye strain and headaches, the console was discontinued. It was only on the market for a year.
All this is barely scratching the surface of video game history, but there’s hopefully a lot in here that you weren’t already aware of. While we’re extremely fortunate to have the high-tech consoles that we do now, we can’t fully appreciate them until we know what came before.