In Modern Society, it is virtually impossible to encounter an individual who has not played a video game. Perhaps nothing has contributed greater to this fact than the innovative technological progress of the video games themselves. What follows is an examination of the gradual improvement of video games from unnatractive 8-bit squares to glorious entire 3-D worlds.

Tom Purves

In 1966, engineer Ralph Baer invented what is considered the first video game console, the “Brown Box.” In 1972, the manufacturer Magnavox jumped on the console’s design and released the world’s first commercial console, the Magnavox Odyssey. The console powered games via jumper cables and contained a basic analog (i.e. not digital) circuit board. Additionally, the console had local 2 player capabilities.

The Odyssey’s games were by even the 1980’s standards, incredibly primitive.  Though like later consoles, all games were 8-bit in nature, all lacked sound while many lacked variable difficulties and score keeping, which required players to keep score themselves. One of its games was simply titled Tennis, which consisted of two players as white squares bouncing a smaller square ball back and forth in order to score. Evidently. this was similar enough to Atari’s successful Pong that Atari and Magnavox reached an out of court settlement due to copyright infringement.

Though the 1980’s had its share of technological innovations, it is most notable for the dramatically increased quality of games produced in spite of the limited capabilities of 8-bit consoles such as the Nintendo Entertainment System. Notable best-selling and critically acclaimed games from this era include Mario, Metroid, Castlevania and The Legend of Zelda.

Next in 1989, The NEC Corporation released the TurboGrafx-16 Entertainment SuperSystem which was capable of producing 482 out of 512 colors simultaneously, thus ushering in the 16-bit era. Unfortunately, the TurboGrafx produced few quality games and was a commercial dissapointment. However a few years later, Sega introduced its Genesis while Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System into the 16-bit marketplace.

One revolutionary game from this era was Star Fox for the SNES. The game  included the Super FX chip, which is a coprocessor used to accelerate graphics display. In other words, this allowed Star Fox to become Nintendo’s first 3-D game using a graphics mode known as Mode 7. Mode 7 created a sense of 3-D by trading the scenery’s background layer into a slanted two-dimensional plane which in turn exchanging height for depth. Thus as the player travels around the screen while moving forward, a 3-D world is simulated. Obviously for the gamers of the early 90’s, this was a pretty big deal.

Meanwhile, the next generation of consoles brought forth the era of actual 3-D gaming. The Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation and Nintendo 64 were all released to the world. In addition to the creation of 3-D worlds, another interesting game development during this time was the increase in local multiplayer. The Nintendo 64 boasted 4 local controller ports while Playstation owners could purchase a multitap which allowed for 8 players on a single console. This transformed local multiplayer shooter games such as Golden Eye (1997) into popular successes. Now for the first time, players could traverse albeit someone crude 3-D worlds in life like fashion and then more importantly, kill each other!

Following the first 3-D console generation, was the sixth console generation.  The Gamecube, Xbox and Playstation 2 are examples of consoles which all vastly improved on the previously established concepts of gaming. Although the processing power of these machines was vastly increased further than any previous generation, perhaps no innovation was greater than the creation of online console multiplayer gaming. With XBOX Live and the Playstation Network, players could play with each other from thousands of miles away. Meanwhile, the furthered computer processing advancements allowed for dramatic story telling in increasingly beautiful worlds. Perhaps no game successfully meshed these two innovations greater than  Halo 2, which had seen more than 710 million player hours played by June 2006, while also drawing heavy plaudits for it’s engaging story, breathtaking aesthetics and cinematic soundtrack.

Presently, the current seventh generation of consoles has transformed video games even further. The Xbox 360, Wii and Playstation 3 allow for even more spectacular worlds, with jaw dropping high definition graphic displays. However, the greatest innovation is found in with increasingly accurate motion controls. Motion control add-ons such as the Kinect, Move and Wii Plus have granted further user integration into games. An exemplary stand out of this concept, is The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword. Skyward Sword integrates the new innovative controls with the spectacular graphics of the modern generation, while maintaining the top notch base gameplay which players love around the world.

But forget about the past and present, what does the future hold? Expect to see a continued positive trend in the base quality of games, while motion controlled games continue to work out some of their kinks. There will likely remain a divide between traditional controller gameplay forms versus interactive motion control. Additionally, I expect to see gaming consoles taking on the role more of a home entertainment system where individuals may not only play games, but stream television and browse the internet, perhaps even while playing games. However, regardless of what path gaming takes, I’m sure the future will be magnificent for all of us.