Believe it or not, there was a time when so-called experts didn’t think home video game consoles could work long term. They were a fad, strictly product of the time, and would never replace the arcade games and pinball machines as the real moneymakers. But along the way a few games pushed the boundaries for gamers while making money for investors, paving the way for the colossus of an industry we all enjoy today.
There was a time not so long, long ago, called the ’70s, when people were blown away by the two lines moving on their TV. And in wasn’t just because of the two lines of blow they’d done off their TV either, it was because they were controlling those lines themselves. Pong was a bell weather moment in home entertainment. Though arcades survived another 15-20 years after Pong hit the market, its arrival ushered in the home-console era of video games something we can all be thankful for today. Its simplicity also reminds us to be thankful for decades of improvement in graphics and game play.
The name itself is synonymous with video games, the image an icon of the ’80s. Pac-Man had everything you could want in a game, no confusing storyline, no complicated buttons, it appealed to both genders, was easy enough to jump right in, but was hard enough to be challenging—as anyone who ever punched a Pac-Man machine can tell you. It was a cash cow, an arcade owner’s wet dream, raking in 2.5 billion in quarters in its first ten years, turning many of those owners into fleeting millionaires. It was so successful in fact that a crappy, rushed version of it, with reduced maze dimensions and flashing ghosts, saved the Atari (and by extension the whole home console market) from the horror that was E.T. the video game.
Super Mario Bros.
Side-scrolling at it’s best! Where would video games and game consoles be without the Nintendo and Super Mario Bros.? This was a game that seemingly everybody had at one time, and that everybody has played at least one time. The theme music is one of the most recognizable songs on the planet, so too the underground music, the underwater music, the scary castle music, it’s ubiquitous this Mario music. For all its fun and found memories, Super Mario Bros. was a tough, unforgiving sonovabitch of game. Three lives, that’s it, sure you could get more but you’d have to earn them. And if you touch anything, you die. Extremely fine margins in Super Mario Bros.
A first person shooter with a split-screen multiplayer deathmatch mode was one of the most brilliant ideas ever integrated into a video game, and what made GoldenEye a classic. Everybody always wanted to corner their buddies and unload a high-power machine gun into them, and now they could. Or you could throw grenades at them, plant mines for them to trip, or best of all, line them up in the scoop of a sniper rifle and blow their head off. And then when you’re done you get a nice title like “Most Deadly.” Sure the graphics are squarish and clunky and kind of look terrible, but the four-player deathmatch in GoldenEye was a great glimpse what would come once they got that Internet disconnected from the phone lines.
Grand Theft Auto III
Yeah, I know it was the third installment in the series but it’s the one that made the series into a franchise. GTA III is not the first open-world game, but it was the first to use GPS and the on-screen mini-map so that navigating the enormous square of a sandbox wasn’t so damn frustrating. Before GTA III you would just plodding along blindly in a massive world, and getting lost is surprisingly easy when you’re recklessly speeding around in flashy sports cars running women and drugs.
A player’s got to play, but he also needs to know where he’ s at, and pausing every 30 seconds or so to check the map and figure out where the hell you were sucked, and we can all thank GTA III we don’t have to do it anymore.