By Jon Waldman
Lights flicker on the screen in front of you; computerized music shoots out of your speakers; various ZAP! POW! And KABOOM! Noises can be heard from the next room as your parents tell you to turn off your game and get back to your homework. This is how many experienced the beginnings of the video game revolution in the 1980s.
Growing up in Winnipeg, Man., winters were all too often too cold and summers were all too often too hot to play outside, so me and my friends would often gather together to play Atari, Commodore 64, Nintendo or arcade games. At one point I ad amassed more than 100 games for my Atari 2600 system, along with some 10 or so controllers that were rendered unusable from the wear and tear of constant play. I would play my favourite games such as Pitfall, Missile Command and others into the wee hours of the night, at times falling asleep in my basement with the screen still flickering in front of me.
The 1980s was the decade when many dutiful parents brought their first game system for their children. Whether it was Atari, Colecovision, Nintendo or Sega, children took an immediate liking to the games. David Elliott, a first-year film student at Ryerson, says that the games brought people together. “I think it was something all of your friends could do.”
The 1970s had seen the birth of the home video game systems such as the Atari 2600 (1977) and Intellivision (1979), but the industry took off in the 1980s. Several systems, including Colecovision (1982) and Atari 5200 (1982), were released with competition growing between video game makers.
Games like Asteroid, Pac-Man, and Space Invaders became instant classics as children and adults alike developed an infatuation with the games. Although the two and four-bit systems of the eighties did not have as impressive graphics and sound as the 128-bit systems of today, they were considered highly advanced for their time. Brendan Richardson, a first-year journalism graduate student, remembers playing Atari and Intellivision as a child, but was soon blown away by the impressiveness of Colecovision. “When Colecovision came along a couple of years later, we were humbled,” he said. “The graphics, the gameplay of Colecovision at that time were considered mind-bogglingly good.”
In 1988, game systems began to see improvements, as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released. The NES, originally released in Japan in 1983, was an eight-bit system that dominated the video game market. It carried some of the most successful titles of all time, including Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy. The games were more detailed, with much smoother animation and better sound. The fragmented beeps of the old systems were quickly becoming a thing of the past, as Nintendo began to make memorable musical background for their games. According to nintendoland.com, a website devoted to the older Nintendo systems, “NES has sold an incredible 62 million copies and about 500,000 games have been manufactured for the system.”
In 1989, Sega introduced its own system to rival the popular Nintendo. The system introduced new games, including Sonic the Hedgehog. The eight-bit system was equally as high tech (for the time) as the NES, though it never caught on with gamers as strongly as Nintendo did. According to Jon Strauss, publisher of the Computer Post magazine, Sega had its biggest success in the 1980s, “but it’s been downhill since the mid-nineties.”
Since the release of NES and Sega, many systems have been developed with better graphics, sound, and capabilities. These improvements, however, have not necessarily translated into better games. “I think we’re seeing a lot more of the same type of game over and over again,” Strauss said, noting there are more games with less creativity, and many of the games released are sequels.
Dan Nicks, a first-year computer science student at Ryerson, sees the nostalgia of repeated game plots as a major selling point. “The plots of yesteryear are borrowed in, take Final Fantasy and Zelda for example. Plot still sells a lot of games,” he said.
Many gamers, in fact, have gone back to playing their original games, which have been adapted for the newer systems. Some of the classic titles are being reproduced in formats playable on Playstation, Game Boy and Sega Dreamcast. Richardson admits that playing the old games on Playstation has caused them to lose their lustre, but says if he could play the games on the old systems, he definitely would.