Way back in 1961, a talented team of programmers led by Steve “Slug” Russell developed the world’s first video game: Spacewar. A lot has changed since then, but the fundamentals of what makes a good video game are still the same now as they were back in the 1960s.
Of course, as it ran on a DEC PDP-1 computer, not many people got to play Spacewar. For most people, myself included, their first introduction to the world of video games was Space Invaders, which was introduced in 1978.
Space invaders was designed and developed by Toshihiro Nishikado, while he was working for the Japanese company Taito Corporation. Although Space Invaders was a simple game with simple graphics, it was a massive success. The reason for this was ‘game play’, which is probably the single most important aspect of any computer game. Without it, a game is unlikely to be successful. Even today (2012), the incredible video sophistication available to games developers is no substitute for good old-fashioned game play.
An interesting point to note about Space Invaders is that Nishikado had originally planned to use tanks or airplanes as the attacking force, but the computers of the time were too slow to let the tanks turn and move smoothly, so the familiar aliens were used instead. Nishikado could have used humans instead of aliens, but he felt that this would have been morally wrong.
During the 1980s, arcade games became very popular in establishments such as pubs, bars, hotels, and so on. These games were not, on the whole, free to play and I can remember spending more money playing the games than on beer! Companies such as Atari had been dominant in the games market since the late 1970s, and initially the 1980s were a boom period for companies involved in the industry. During the course of the decade though, the market became flooded, quite often with poor quality games, and by the end of the decade the industry had largely crashed.
There was, however, a new emergence on the scene – small hand held devices such as Nintendo’s GameBoy started to become popular, and would go on to play a major role in the games industry to this day.
During the 1990s the video games industry saw a gradual transition from two-dimensional (2D) graphics to more realistic and visually pleasing 3D graphics. The decade also saw the emergence of new genres of game such the first person shooter, real-time strategy, survival horror, and MMO (Massive Multiplayer Online).
Handheld gaming continued to gain popularity throughout the decade. Although arcade games were still fairly popular in the early 1990s, the use of home consoles gradually pushed them out of the market. And, of course, the 1990s saw the invention of the World Wide Web, which would revolutionise the gaming industry during the next decade.
In the home video market, the 2000s was a decade that was dominated by companies such as Sony, Nintendo, and – to a lesser extent – Microsoft. In the 1980s and 1990s, Sega had been Nintendo’s main rival, but the company left the console market in 2002 in favor of returning to the third-party company they once were. The gradual increase in computer processing power from the 1990s and through the 2000s enabled developers to create immersive and interactive gaming environments, creating a more realistic and enjoyable gaming environment.
Influence of the World Wide Web
In the early days of the web in the mid-1990s, the combination of a lack of computing power and slow transmission rates meant that online gaming did not exist. As computers became more powerful and transmission speeds increased during the 2000s, online gaming slowly became more popular. Technologies such as Flash enabled sophisticated games to be developed fairly easily. These games could then be integrated or embedded into web pages and run in a web browser.
As well as traditional games such as driving, adventure, action, puzzles or shooting games, the gambling industry has been a massive winner due to the Internet. Online gambling and gaming websites are extremely popular and provide an easy way for adults to participate in gambling activities. Strict laws in many countries ensure that the sites are properly regulated.
There are also plenty of sites providing free casino games that use virtual money so there is no financial risk at all in participating in the games, many of which enable you to play other people around the world.
Video games can offer a bit of light entertainment for a few minutes, or they can offer almost total immersion – and pretty much everything in between. The progression of video games since Steve Russell’s Spacewar has been dramatic. Who knows what the future holds?