Friday, 28 November 2008

The history of computer games (part 5)

Ελληνικά | Deutsch | Français | Italiano | Español | 日本語

Part 5:

The Great Crash 1982-1984
(Click here for part 1)

Coleco Releases the Colecovision
Coleco releases the Colecovision, a cartridge-based game console buoyed not only by superior graphics and sound, but also by support from a growing game company: Nintendo. Nintendo licenses Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior to Coleco, which releases excellent translations for the Colecovision and ports reasonable versions to the Atari VCS and Intellivision. Coleco also releases an adapter that lets VCS cartridges be played on the Colecovision. Realizing that Atari has firm support from Namco, creator of Pac-Man, Coleco involves itself heavily with Sega, Konami, and Universal (Mr. Do!).

Magnavox Does It Better
Magnavox releases a game called K.C. Munchkin for the Odyssey2. Atari deems K.C. Munchkin to be very similar to Pac-Man and sues. Atari wins the lawsuit, and Magnavox must remove K.C. Munchkin from the market.

Pac-Man Clone?
Atari releases its highly anticipated 2600 version of Pac-Man, which unfortunately doesn't resemble the arcade game at all. The public quickly becomes disenchanted with the company.

E.T. Goes Home
Atari releases E.T. for the VCS, a game Howard Scott Warshaw programmed in six weeks. Expecting a sellout, Atari reportedly manufacturers more E.T. cartridges than there are 2600 consoles in use. As was the case with Pac-Man, the public is disappointed by the game. Massive numbers of both Pac-Man and E.T. games end up in a huge landfill in New Mexico, along with millions of other unsold and unwanted game cartridges. Original games such as Activision's Pitfall(by David Crane) sell well.

Atari Super System
Atari releases the 5200 game console to compete with the Colecovision, although it had originally been designed to compete with the Intellivision. Based on the graphics and audio chips found in Atari home computers, 5200 games are essentially aesthetically improved rereleases of VCS games (the VCS was renamed 2600). The machine is incompatible with 2600 game cartridges until Atari belatedly introduces an adapter so 2600 games can be used on the 5200. A major strike against the system is its controller, which features a noncentering joystick.

Vectors Come Home
General Consumer Electronics (GCE) releases the Vectrex, the first and only home console based on vector graphics technology. The Vectrex includes a built-in game (Minesweeper, an impressive Asteroids clone) and one four-button analog joystick controller.

Pac-Man Fever
Midway creates Ms Pac-Man in-house. It becomes the biggest arcade game in American history, with more than 115,000 units sold in the United States, but Namco, which is not involved with Ms. Pac-Man, develops the improved, but radically different, Super Pac-Man for Japanese consumers. A number of Pac-Man "enhancement chips" arrive on the market to speed up the original Pac-Man and change its characters and mazes. The most popular enhancement, Pac-Man Plus, replaces the generic fruits and other bonus items in Pac-Man with popular American items such as Coke cans.

Stock Drop
On December 7 (3:04pm Eastern Standard Time), Atari announces that VCS sales did not meet predictions. Warner Communications stock drops 32 percent in a single day.

1983 New Bushnell Company
Nolan Bushnell becomes eligible to enter the video game industry again. He joins Videa and renames the company Sente Games, another Go reference (this time to "checkmate"). Sente forms a partnership with Midway games and releases arcade titles such as the simple but addicting hockey game Hat Trick. Unfortunately, the partnership never finds a niche in the market.

Atari Top Secret
In March, Atari announces a new top-secret project code-named the Falcon Project. The Falcon Project turns out to be a new Atari division called Ataritel, which is Atari's attempt to enter the telecommunications market.

Gaming Computers
The primary gaming computers of the 1980s emerged in 1982: the Commodore 64, Apple II (although the Apple II started in 1977) and ZX Spectrum. The ZX Spectrum was mostly used and known mainly in the UK, whilst the USA had the Apple II, Commodore 64, and Atari 800. Over the run of 15 years, the Apple II had a total of almost 20,000 programs, making it the 8-bit computer with the most software overall.

1984 Enter the Adventure game
The true modern adventure game would be born with the Sierra King's Quest series in 1984. It featured color graphics and a third person perspective. An on-screen player-controlled character could be moved behind and in front of objects on a 2D background drawn in perspective, creating the illusion of pseudo-3D space. Commands were still entered via text. Lucasarts would do away with this last vestige feature of text adventures when its 1987 adventure Maniac Mansion built with its SCUMM system allowed a point-and-click interface. Sierra and other game companies quickly followed with their own mouse-driven games.

The IBM PC compatible computer became a technically competitive gaming platform with IBM’s PC/AT in 1984. The new 16-color EGA display standard allowed its graphics to approach the quality seen in popular home computers like the Commodore 64. The primitive 4-color CGA graphics of previous models had limited the PC’s appeal to the business segment, since its graphics failed to compete with the C64 or Apple II. The sound capabilities of the AT, however, were still limited to the PC speaker, which was substandard compared to the built-in sound chips used in many home computers. Also, the relatively high cost of the PC compatible systems severely limited their popularity in gaming.

Early online gaming
Dialup bulletin board systems were popular in the 1980s, and sometimes used for online game playing. The earliest such systems, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, had a crude plain-text interface, but later systems made use of terminal-control codes (the so-called ANSI art, which included the use of IBM-PC-specific characters not actually part of an ANSI standard) to get a pseudo-graphical interface. Some BBSes offered access to various games which were playable through such an interface, ranging from text adventures to gambling games like blackjack (generally played for "points" rather than real money). On multiuser BBSs (where more than one person could be online at once), there were sometimes games allowing the different users to interact with one another; some such games of the fantasy role-playing variety were known as MUDs, for "multi-user dungeons". These games eventually evolved into what are known today as MMORPG.

Commercial online services also arose during this decade, starting with a plain-text interface similar to BBSs (but operated on large mainframe computers permitting larger numbers of users to be online at once), and moving by the end of the decade to fully-graphical environments using software specific to each personal computer platform. Popular text-based services included CompuServe, The Source, and GEnie, while platform-specific graphical services included Quantum Link for the Commodore 64, AppleLink for the Apple II and Macintosh, and PC Link for the IBM PC, all of which were run by the company which eventually became America Online; and a competing service, Prodigy. Interactive games were a feature of these services, though until 1987 they used text-based displays, not graphics.

(End of part 5)