The History of Classic Video Games - The CD-ROM Revolution

Higher Quality Graphics, Richer Content and More

After the rebirth of console gaming, the industry grew even larger than before, but it started a race for new innovations and more advanced technology to beat the competition. Soon video game makers adopted the computer’s most powerful software storage device, the CD-ROM. Not only far less expensive to manufacturer than cartridges, CD-ROMs held more information and pulled the programming off the disc as needed. This allowed for higher quality graphics, more elaborate gameplay and richer content.

1992 - Prelude to the CD-ROM Age

Image © SEGA Corporation
  • Historic Arcade Game Releases
    - Mortal Kombat
  • SEGA releases their first CD-ROM based home console with the Sega CD, an add-on to the Genesis. Unfortunately the high price tag on top of having to already own or buy a Genesis prevents the system from catching on in popularity. Separately SEGA licenses both the Genesis and Sega CD to ​JVC who sells them as a high priced, high end, ​all-in-one unit called the Wondermega.
  • Id Software releases Wolfenstein 3D, the game responsible for bringing the popularity of a First Person Shooter to the mass market.

1993 - The Fifth Generation

Packshot © Id Software
  • Panasonic ships the first self-contained CD-ROM console, the 3DO. Named Product of the Year by Time Magazine, the system is the highest quality console on the market, giving birth to many popular franchises such as Alone in the Dark and Need for Speed. Despite all this, the steep price tag and an oversaturation of the market cause the system to fail.
  • Atari makes a final attempt at reclaiming the market with the Jaguar. Although a CD-ROM system, the Jaguar also has a slot to play cartridge games. Because of its bug ridden processor, memory failures and complex controller the system bombs, and Atari exits the console market and sticks to publishing games.
  • Doom releases and quickly overtakes Wolfenstein 3D as the most popular FPS game.

1994 - Sony Enters the Game

Image courtesy of the Computer History Museum
  • Historic Arcade Game Releases:
    - Tekken
  • The SEGA Saturn and Sony PlayStation release in Japan just months apart. Both are CD-based systems, delivering 32-bit graphics, but the Saturn targets hardcore gamers, while PlayStation aims at casual gamers.
  • Sega and Time Warner Cable launch The Sega Channel, the first video game download service that works with an adapter that connects to the Sega Genesis. Gamers can log onto the channel and play numerous games, with more added every month. Unfortunately, the politics surrounding cable companies and end of the Genesis' lifespan soon kill the channel.
  • Cyan releases Myst and it quickly becomes the best selling computer game of the time, redefining the market.

1994 - Game Age Ratings Are Born

  • In response to the growing concern over violent and sexual content of video games, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is formed. The first age rating system for video games which becomes a standard 10 years later. Unlike the MPAA movie ratings board, the ESRB bases their rating not only on the content but on the interactive experience as well.

1995 - Console and Computer Gaming

  • The SEGA Saturn and Sony PlayStation release in the United States several months apart. Saturn beats PlayStation to market, but SEGA’s rush to release suffers many consequences with few launch titles and pricey hardware. This allows Sony the time to prepare a richer stock of games for the PlayStation’s release. In addition, Sony drops the price of the PlayStation to $299, selling the hardware at a loss and making the costs up with more game sales.
  • Microsoft releases Window 95, an instant hit that makes Windows the primary operating system for PC computers.

1995 - The Virtual Boy

  • To try and leverage the Virtual Reality craze Nintendo launches the Virtual Boy. Developed by Game Boy creator Gunpei Yokoi, the Virtual Boy is intended to be the first gaming system to deliver true 3D graphics. From its launch, the Virtual Boy is plagued with problems. Marketed as a portable virtual reality experience, it is far from either and causes many players to get headaches. Gunpei Yokoi feels that Nintendo rush released the product before it was ready and mismarketed it. With the failure of the Virtual Boy, Gunpei and Nintendo part ways, ending a 30-year relationship.

1996 - Console and Computer Gaming

  • Nintendo sticks to cartridge based games with their 64-Bit console, the Nintendo 64 (N64) . The N64 delivers twice the capabilities as the other consoles with none of the loading time required by CD-ROM based games. The only drawback is that the manufacturing costs far exceed that of the other systems. For the next several years N64 and PlayStation dominate the market.
  • Tomb Raider is launched for the PlayStation, Saturn and PC, giving birth to Lara Croft, the most popular female character in gamedom.
  • Id Software releases the first in their series of popular first-person shooters, Quake, featuring rich 3D graphics and online multiplayer capabilities.
  • Meridian 59, the first MMOG release with fully 3D rendered graphics goes online.

1996 - Handheld and Novelty Gaming

  • Tiger Electronics attempts to give Game Boy some competition with their release of, a handheld gaming system that is also an address book, calculator and can go online to access e-mail. With all of these capabilities, Tiger doesn't focus enough attention on the games which are lackluster at best.
  • Rumble features are introduced to joysticks and controllers allowing the player to feel vibration feedbacks as a direct result of the gameplay.
  • Tamagotchi, the first virtual pet, becomes an instant hit in both Japan and the United States.

1998 - The Sixth Generation of Consoles Harnessing the Power of Computers

  • Sega launches the Dreamcast in Japan, which is still considered to be the best system of the time and the innovator of online console gaming. The CD based system utilizes 128-bit graphics, a processing power matched only by an advance desktop computers and a built built-in for online gaming.

1998 - The Second Generation of Handhelds

  • Nintendo brings color to their handhelds with the Game Boy Color (GBC). A groundbreaking handheld system, the GBC's innovations start many future gaming trends, including wireless connectivity, backward compatibility, and games with built-in rumble packs and motion sensors that can detect how you move the system.
  • After the failure of their home console, SNK release a handheld version called the Neo-Geo Pocket. Although more affordable than the console, it originally releases with a black and white screen and is hit hard by lack of support from game developers. Although they quickly fixed the lack of a color screen with the release of the Neo-Geo Pocket Color, the system drops off after just two years.

1999 - Dreamcast Fails and EverQuest Launches

  • Sega releases the Dreamcast in the United States. Although it gets off to a strong start, sales immediately drop when Sony releases the PlayStation 2 in 2001. This causes Sega to cease production of the Dreamcast and pull out of the console market completely. Like Atari, ​they stick with publishing video games for other systems.
  • Sony launches the most successful MMOG of the time, EverQuest, finally giving the genre credibility in the marketplace.

2001 - The Third Generation of Handhelds

  • Nintendo releases the Game Boy Advance (GBA) , the final gaming system to produce all 2D games in a classic style. The GBA is also the system with the most ports of classic video games including the Nintendo Game & Watch and popular NES, SNES and N64 titles.

2005 - The Next-Gen Consoles Begin

Image courtesy of the Computer History Museum
  • Xbox launches the Xbox Live Arcade, a fee-based downloading service for the Xbox and Xbox 360 systems. This concept breathes new life into popular classic arcade and console games such as Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, Prince of Persia Classic, and many more.

2006 - Next Gen Consoles Continue

  • The Wii Virtual Console’s Wii Shop Channel offers a fee-based download system to the Wii console, bringing a new audience to many forgotten games featuring full versions titles from the NES, SNES, N64, Sega Genesis, and TurboGrafx-16 systems. To play these games you need to have a GameCube Controller or the wireless Wii Classic Controller.
  • The PlayStation Network launches their own Next-Gen fee-based download system for the PlayStation 3, offering not only classic PlayStation 1 releases such as Crash Bandicoot and Tekken 2 but also Arcade classics like Joust and Gauntlet II.

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