History of Classic Video Games - Crash and Rebirth

By 1983 gaming consumers were drowning in a flooded console market with mostly sub-par game offerings. Suddenly one of the fastest growing and most profitable industries crashes. Most of the industry players move out of the gaming market or close their doors completely. Two years later the industry is reborn into a third age, with an all new set of players…and of course, Atari.

1983 - Arcade Games

  • Released just months apart, Dragon's Lair and Cliff Hanger are the first coin-op arcade games to use laserdisc technology. The laserdisc allows these to be the first games to feature full motion video and cell animation. While Dragon’s Lair is released first, (featuring all original animation by the master Don Bluth) Cliff Hanger is rush released to piggyback on the hype and uses recycled animation from the Japanese anime series Lupin III. Laserdisc games are the predecessors to modern DVD games.

1983 - The Crash of the Video Game Industry

  • An oversaturated market, a decline in quality, and the competition of Commodore, PC and Apple computers causes the US video game market to crash. Atari puts an end to the Atari 2600, after which Coleco and Mattel exit the video game business, and numerous game related companies go bankrupt. Much like the burst of the dot-com bubble, the crash lasts only two years.
  • The Japanese home console market is mostly separate than the US and doesn't feel the effects of the crash. Nintendo releases the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System), the most advanced home console of the time, in Japan. The system is an overnight sensation. Nintendo offers Atari the rights to US distribution, but the deal falls through due to the US crash.


1985 - Arcade and Computer Gaming

  • Historic Arcade Games Release:
    - Gauntlet
    - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • Microsoft develops the PC software operating system Windows as an add-on to DOS.
  • QuantumLink (aka Q-Link), one of the first publicly available online services launches for Commodore computers.

1985 - The Rebirth and Third Generation

  • Nintendo release the Famicom in the US as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), ending the industry crash and launching the third generation of console gaming. Avoiding the term "console" the NES is called an Entertainment System and looks like a video component. Sales go through the roof and make Nintendo the dominant force in the gaming industry.
  • Nintendo also launches Super Mario Bros. an incredible multi-level platform adventure. The game is so popular that it actually drives sales of the NES system and starts to get packaged with the NES. Mario will become the most popular video game character of all time.
  • At the Soviet Academy of Sciences, programmer Alex Pajitnov creates the puzzle game Tetris.

1986 - Atari's Return and SEGA's Launch

  • SEGA releases the SEGA Master System in direct competition with the NES. Although technologically superior to the NES, Nintendo already has a hold on the market with far more aggressive marketing tactics. The Master System never reaches the levels of the NES in the United States, but does extremely well in Europe.
  • To try and regain their pre-crash popularity, Atari releases the Atari 7800, fixing all the shortcomings of the Atari 5200. They also make it the first backwards compatible system, allowing gamers to play titles from both the Atari 2600 and 5200. Between the competition of the NES and the SEGA Master System, the 7800 quickly fizzles.

1989 - The Fourth Generation

  • For the past three years, with a steady movement of games but no new console innovations, SEGA and The NEC Corporation decide to up the stakes and upgrade the tech with The Sega Genesis (aka MegaDrive) and The Turbografx-16.
  • The Sega Genesis is the first 16-bit console since Mattel's Intellivision. With far superior graphics than the 8-bit NES, the Genesis becomes Sega's most popular system and gives the NES a run for its money.
  • Although enthusiasts consider the Turbografx-16 the most advanced system of the time, it is limited by a higher price tag and only having a single controller port. For multiplayer gaming, you must buy an adapter and a second controller. Although a hit in Japan, the Turbografx-16 ranks third in the US console wars.

1989 - The Handheld Revolution

  • Nintendo releases the most popular handheld gaming system of all time, the Game Boy, a cartridge based handheld unit created by Game & Watch innovator Gunpei Yokoi. The Game Boy launches with a large array of high quality games and a big marketing push. Its success is solidified when Nintendo packages it with the popular and addictive puzzle game Tetris.
  • To compete with Nintendo’s Game Boy, Atari releases their own handheld system, Atari Lynx, the first handheld to feature a backlit color LCD screen. Although the graphics quality is superior, the Game Boy is easier to program and holds a larger share of the market. Although sales of the Lynx are decent, it eventually succumbs to the success of the Game Boy.

1990 - Console and Computer Gaming

  • Super Mario Bros. 3 releases for the NES and becomes the bestselling video game of the time.
  • SNK releases the Neo-Geo, the most advance gaming system thus far. However, the system quickly perishes due to an extraordinarily high price tag of $649.99, and games that cost upwards of $200. The games themselves, Metal Slug, Fatal Fury and Samurai Showdown, have long outlived the system with new life on the current and next gen consoles of today.
  • The Amiga CDTV releases the first home computer to use a CD-Rom Drive as a standard.

1990 - The Handheld Revolution Continues

  • Turbo Express, the portable version of the Turbografx-16 releases as the most advance handheld to date. Not only can it play all of the Turbografx-16 console game cartridges (which were about the size of a credit card) but with the Turbo Vision TV tuner peripheral you can turn it into a portable TV. The Turbo Express was plagued with problems due to cheap components and a faulty screen.
  • Sega releases their own handheld system, the Game Gear, the only handheld to come close to competing with Nintendo’s Game Boy. The Game Gear features a color screen but a lower price tag than the Turbo Express or Atari Lynx.

1991 - Arcade and Console Gaming

  • Historic Arcade Game Releases
    - Street Fighter II – The game that popularizes the beat-em-up genre.
  • Nintendo releases the Super Nintendo (SNES), their first 16-bit console system, and packages it with Super Mario World. The SNES is a success and competes neck and neck with the Sega Genesis.
  • Sega ships the first Sonic the Hedgehog game. The title is so popular that it increases sales of the Sega Genesis and Sonic is quickly made into Sega icon. Without Sonic it is doubtful the Sega Genesis could compete with the Super Nintendo.
  • The Game Genie, a cartridge add-on that allows players to unlock cheats on NES, SNES and Genesis games, hits the market.

1991 - Online Gaming

  • Discworld MUD game opens, based upon the Terry Pratchett novels. It becomes the most elaborate online multi-player game of the time.
  • America Online launches the first graphics based online multiplayer game, Neverwinter Nights. Developed by Stormfront Studios, Neverwinter Nights is one of the first MMOGs made available to the public.
  • The ImagiNation Network (aka Sierra Network) goes live with the first online multiplayer network. For a fee casual gamers can now go online and play with other members of the community in games ranging from chess and poker to sports and RPGs.