Transitions: The Launch Games/End Games Blog

Posted on Sep 2nd 2010 at 02:32:07 PM by (dsheinem)
Posted under gaming history, launch game, end game, longbox games, FMV, 3D, 2D

I mentioned in the premiere post for this blog that I will be focusing on the games released at the beginning and end of a system's life.  And while I have a lot of interest in the games on either end of that spectrum, part of my motivation for the "Transitions" title of the blog stems from an interest I have in major shifts in gaming history.

Even though home consoles have only been around for 30+ years, there have already been several important and defining moments in gaming history where significant sea changes occurred, altering how consumers view games.  For example, the video game crash in the early 1980s taught developers the importance of releasing a quality product and signaled that consumers were becoming more discerning when making their purchase decisions.  A recent major transition for the industry would be the development of downloadable games on home consoles.  That change has so far resulted in a renaissance in indie development, bigger rewards and less risk for the introduction of innovative gameplay, and a number of other ongoing shifts in how we choose games.

There is one transitory period in gaming history which, for me, has always been the most interesting: the period between (approximately) 1993-1996

Several interesting things happened at this time:

1) Developers began to market games for adults instead of for children.
Research concludes that todays average gamer is in their early-mid 30s, which is where I personally fit on the demographic scale.  15 years ago, many of us were making the transition from childhood to adulthood, and as we were going through those awkward late teenage years, gaming was going through its own growing pains.  Recognizing that 14-18 year olds might be outgrowing cute mascots and cartoony sprites, developers started shooting for more realism in games, introduced mature themes, emphasized cinematic presentation, and included more sex, violence, and other "adult" elements.

2) A revolution in graphics and gameplay took place.
In this period, many companies moved from making 2D games to making early 3D games and/or Full Motion Video titles.  Cheaper and more powerful hardware meant that game designers could introduce players to gameworlds that were simply not possible in 2D.  Many of these early 3D titles were clunky, had infuriating cameras, imprecise controls, and were easily surpassed by superior games in the late 90s.  That didn't stop consumers from buying them anyway, and well done 3D titles such as Virtua Fighter and Wipeout spawned franchises that continue to this day.  For all its faults, Full Motion Video served a purpose in making designers consider cinematography, storytelling, and basic things like lighting and sound in ways that they hadn't previously.  The legacy of these innovations is clearly seen in contemporary gaming.

3) Between October 1992 and September 1996 at least twenty consoles or add-ons were released.
The Sega CD, The Atari Jaguar, The Sega 32X, the 3DO, the Playstation, the Saturn, the Virtual Boy, the PC-FX, The Amiga CD32, the FM Towns Marty, the Apple Bandai Pippin, the Atari Jaguar CD, the Casio Loopy, the R-Zone, the Pioneer Laser Active, the Playdia, the Neo Geo CD and CDZ, the Supervision, the Mega Duck, the Nintendo Stellaview and still others were all published in roughly four years.  This is a staggering amount of new technology flooding the game market, and it is remarkable that only Sony really managed to steal a major piece of Nintendo and Sega's dominance from earlier in the decade.  (Also of note: during this period the NES saw its final release in Wario's Woods.) While many of these systems have deservedly stayed obscure, the sheer number of consoles and handhelds put to market suggests there was a belief that the games industry was a place where companies could make a lot of money.  While there had been previous periods in gaming history with a variety of competing consoles, this period's only close competitor for the sheer number of choices available would be the very early proliferation of standalone Pong machines. 

4.) 16-bit platforms saw some of their strongest releases.
The transition period wasn't just about the introduction of new consoles and technologies, but was also about many of the best games from the dedicated 2D consoles from the early 90s.  About 2/3 of's best Genesis/SNES titles were published in this period when 2D level design, gameplay, chip music, and sprite work really reached a state of the art.  While many gamers were looking towards the possibilities offered by upcoming hardware, developers were perfecting their craft on older machines.

There were, of course, other important developments during this period: the growth of used game sales/retail stores, the revival of and then retreat from the arcades, the development of a comprehensive rating system (the ESRB was established in 1994), the shift from cartridge to disc format, and other changes that help make this perhaps the most interesting period in gaming history.

Because of the rich history offered in this transitory period , I have made it a point to collect many of the games from this era.  Towards that end, a few years ago I completed a Sega 32X library and recently finished off a PS1 longbox set.  I have more Jaguar games than I need, and have played my share titles for systems like the 3DO and the Neo Geo CD. 

I occasionally get asked about why I would collect games that are often rudimentary, painful to play, lacking in production value, and generally inferior to the great 2D games that came before or the better 3D games that came later.  My answer is always that understanding something about those transitory periods, the awkward moments in gaming history, undeniably gives you a better appreciation for the best games and the history of the industry as a whole.  Coupled with my own recollections about how I grew up as gaming was growing up, these titles are an interesting reminder of my own transitions in life.

What do you consider to be the most interesting period in gaming history?

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