Launch Telemetry

Launch Telemetry
The Lost Generation

Russ Pitts | 27 Mar 2007 12:01
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Games, it appeared, were finished. It would take a savior from overseas to correct that notion, introduce a whole new generation to the wonder of home game consoles and remind those of us who'd been there from the beginning of what was most important: the games, stupid.

This is the Dead Land
In the meantime, those of us with a game-playing bent had migrated to home computers, following a wave of programmers and publishers who'd done the exact same thing. Apple, Atari, Commodore, Tandy and a slew of other companies had been making relatively low-cost home computers for years, and following the crash of the console market, these machines were poised to take advantage of the sudden influx of game-starved youths.

Marketing their machines as "great for school" (a refrain that would prove catchy among computer manufacturers for decades), Commodore and Apple in particular established wide beachheads in the homes of America, opening the door for a game invasion, the rise of the adventure game genre and (eventually) providing a fertile ground for the development of distributed networks (aka the internet).

My friend Doug, ever the trend-setter, had a Commodore 64. My family, suddenly cost-conscious, had purchased the lesser-powered Vic-20. I maintained my friendship with Doug, therefore, mainly to play Gunship and Impossible Mission at his house instead of missile command knockoffs (or, God forbid, doing homework) at mine. Thankfully, for my own sanity (and the state of the industry), this situation was not destined to last. Utilizing a clever bait-and-switch ploy, Nintendo infiltrated the game-shy American market with their insidious 8-bit NES machine, alleviating the home console drought, kick-starting the third generation of home game consoles and establishing themselves as a videogame powerhouse.

I'd moved to a new town, and my mother, perhaps as a consolation, bought me a NES, otherwise known as 'The No-Friend-O." I also made new friends, one of whom, Adam, owned a Sega Master System. His machine's specs, he would claim, made the Master System the clear winner in this particular war. "No Adam," I would say. "It's the games, stupid."

And the NES had them in spades. Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Hogan's Alley, Kung Fu, Super Mario Bros. ... the launch list alone held gems still fondly remembered (and playable, via GameBoy advance cartridges and the Wii's Virtual Console) today. But the list kept getting better. By the time I got my hands on an NES, the catalogue had expanded to include Bionic Commando, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out, games that saw me through some of the most tumultuous years of my adolescence and convinced me that if there was one thing I'd be doing for the rest of my life, it would be playing games.

Sega sold over 13 million units of Adam's Master System in that war, but Nintendo conquered all, unleashing 60 million of their NES machines onto the market, many of which still reside under countless televisions, carefully maintained, loved and crowed over. Mine is not among them. Or if it is, I wouldn't know it. I sold it in 1994 (for beer money) while watching my college roommate play Cybermorph on his Atari Jaguar, the venerable company's erstwhile entry into the 64-bit console war. It was a fine machine, but would ultimately be a distant last-place finisher in that, the fifth console war. The winner was the 100 million-selling Sony PlayStation, obliterating all comers with a low-cost machine sporting a seemingly never-ending supply of third-party game titles. Like the Atari 2600 and the NES, it was a bullet train of commerce winning the war on the strength of the games, stupid.

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