History of Home Video Games

(based on Videotopia article)

The home video game systems are presented in choronological order. I have selected the most commercially successful systems or systems which had some technical innovations. Hand-held video games and home computers are not discussed, although they are an interesting subject.

Magnavox Odyssey

picture of Magnavox Odyssey

Magnavox Odyssey was designed by Ralph Baer, Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch of Sanders Associates, a military electronics firm in 1966-67. It was introduced in 1972 at a price of $100. Because micro chips were so expensive at that time, the Odyssey was designed using only 40 transistors and 40 diodes. Odyssey was able to generate only very simple on-screen effects and the players had to keep score by themselves, because the machine was incapable of doing so. Odyssey was packaged with screen overlays (to be placed on the TV screen to simulate complex graphics), two controllers, six game cards, play money, playing cards, a roulette and football playfield, a fold-out scoreboard, poker chips and a pair of dice. It wasn't a successful game.

[Ralph H. Baer - the history of Odyssey with great pictures by the author himself]

Atari PONG

picture of Pong home game

Pong was the home version of the successful arcade game. It was designed by Al Alcorn, Bob Brown, and Harold Lee and introduced in 1975. It became a big hit and spawned many clone machines.

[What's Wrong With Pong?]

Atari 2600

picture of Atari 2600

Atari 2600, also known as Atari Video Computer System (VCS), was designed by Joe Decure, Harold Lee, and Steve Meyer. It was released in 1977 at introductory price of $199.95. It was the most popular videogame console of its day and it was available until 1990, being on the market longer than any other system in history. Several hundred games were developed for it. It featured an 8-bit CPU, MOS 6507 @ 1.19 MHz, 16 color graphics, 2 channel audio (noise and sound). It only had 128 bytes of RAM memory and no video memory (CPU had control the video chip with screen refresh). The games were supplied in ROM cartridge, with the maximum size of 4 kilobytes. Later-on the limit of 4 kB was exceeded with paging ROM pages.

[Atari 2600/5200/7800 FAQ] [Atari 2600 fun facts and information]

Coleco Colecovision

picture of Colecovision

Coleco released the Colecovision in 1982 at $199.95. It had 48 Kbytes of RAM and 3.58 MHz, 8-bit, Z80A CPU making it the most highpowered home system of its time.

[ColecoVision Homepage]

Atari 5200 SuperSystem

picture of Atari 5200

Atari released the 5200 SuperSystem in 1982. It was basically an Atari 400 home computer without a keyboard. It had 1.78, 8-bit, 6502C CPU and 16 Kbytes of RAM. It was capable of 320x192 resolution with 16 colors from 256 color palette and it 4-channel sound. It was the first system to come equipped with 4 controller ports for multi-player games. Despite that it had much better hardware than the Atari 2600, it never became the success Atari expected. Cheap home computers started to gain market from video games in the beginning of the 80's and it took too much time before quality game titles were developed to Atari 5200.

[Atari 5200 FAQ]

Milton Bradley/GCE Vectrex

picture of Vectrex

Vectrex was designed by John Ross, Gerry Karr, John Hall and ex-Atari employees Paul Newell and Mark Indictor from an idea by Jay Smith. It was released in 1982 at a price of $199. It incorporated a 9 inch Vector graphic monitor and used a Motorola 68A09, 8-bit microprocessor. It wasn't a success, but it had loyal fans.

[Saturn's Vectrex World]

Nintendo Entertainment System (Famicom)

picture of NES

Nintendo Entertainment System, briefly NES, was designed Masayuki Uemura. It released in 1985. It had an 8-bit CPU (6502 @ 1.79 MHz) and 2 kilobytes of RAM. The Graphics were capable of maximum of 256*224 pixel (NTSC) resolution and 16 simultaneous colors from a palette of 52 colors. It had 2 kilobytes graphics work RAM and 64 simultaneous sprites. Its sound system had 2 square wave channels, 1 triangle wave channel, 1 noise channel and 1 PCM channel.

[8 bits of power!]

NEC Turbografx-16

picture of NEC TG-16

NEC Turbografx was released in Japan in 1988 as the PC Engine, the system was renamed the Turbografx-16 when it reached North America in 1989. Although it was advertised as a 16-bit game machine, it actually had an 8-bit CPU, 65802 @ 16 MHz. It did contain a separate 16-bit graphics chip however. The Turbografx-16 became the first system to have a CD-player attachment.

[Turbografx Information]

Sega Genesis

picture of Sega Genesis

Sega noticed that great games sold systems, so it took elements from its 16-bit arcade machines and produced the Mega-Drive in 1989. In America the machine was called Genesis, and it retailed for $199. It had 16-bit CPU (Motorola 68000 @ 7.6 MHz) and 72 kbytes RAM in addition to 64 Kbytes video RAM. The graphics were capable of 320*224 to 320x448 (NTSC) resolution and 61 simultaneous colors from a palette of 512 colors and 80 sprites. It had 10 sound channels and Z80 was used as an audio processor.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super Famicom)

picture of SNES (new version)

Super Nintendo, or briefly, SNES, system was introduced in 1990. SNES had 16-bit CPU (65816 @ 3.6 MHz) and 128 kbytes RAM and 64 Kbytes of video RAM. Its graphics were capable of 256*224 to 512x448 (NTSC) resolution, 256 simultaneous colors from a palette of 32768 colors and 128 sprites. It had 8 separate 8-bit PCM sound channels.

[The Forbidden Super Nintendo Information Repositor] [SNES HQ]

Sega Saturn

picture of Saturn console

Sega Saturn uses two 28.8 MHz, 32-bit, Hitachi SH2 CPUs along with several custom processors. It has hardware accelerated texturemapped 3D support, 320x224 resolution with 24-bit truecolor. It has a total of 4 megabytes RAM and a double speed CDROM drive. Saturn has 32 sound channels and Motorola 68EC000 is serving as an audio processor. Saturn was the first home video game to have an (optional) Internet connection module.

[Sega Zone]

Sony Playstation

picture of Sony Playstation

The Sony playstation uses a 33 MHz, 32-bit, MIPS R3900i CPU and it has hardware acceleration for texturemapped 3D polygon graphics at max. 640x480 resolution with 24-bit truecolor, 24 channel sound and a double speed CDROM drive.

[Absolute Playstation] [Playstation Nation] [PSX Power]

Nintendo Ultra 64

picture of Nintendo Ultra 64

Nintendo Ultra 64 was developed by Silicon Graphics and it was released in 1996 at an introductory price of $150. It has 64-bit CPU (customized MIPS R4300i series @ 93.75 MHz) and 4.5 Megabytes of RAM. It graphics are able to resolutions of 256 x 224 to 640 x 480 pixels with 32-bit RGBA pixel color frame buffer support, 3D graphics hardware acceleration (Z buffer, antialiasing, tri-linear filtered, mip-map and perspective corrected texture mapping etc.). Unlike the other new video games systems, Ultra 64 games are supplied on ROM cartridges. Its the most high-powered home system so far:

"Nintendo64 can perform 3.5 times as many adds per second as the original Cray-1, which cost $8,000,000 in 1976. The Cray-1 also consumed 60,000 wats of power, compared to the Nintendo64 machine's 5 watts. "

[N64.com] [N64 Gazetta]

Future

The introduction price of the popular video game has remained about the same for about twenty years. People don't want to pay a lot of money for a home video game machine. The profits are made by selling the games. The price of a single home video game has usually been much higher than the price of single computer game, despite the manufacturing costs for about the same, practically neglible.

The processing speed and the amount of RAM will increase. CDROM will probably be replaced with multispeed DVD. ROM has still its advantages; faster transfer rate and much faster random access time and most important better durability and ease of use.

In future almost all home video game system will have Internet connection either as on option or standard equipment. The cheap network consoles and Internet TV boxes will have also have games, shadowing the line between network consoles and video games.

Back to Video Game History index page.


Petri Kuittinen <eye@niksula.hut.fi>