While not the first programmable home game system, the Atari Video Computer System (VCS), later renamed the 2600 after its model number, was definitely the console that put home video games into the public consciousness. Released in 1977 and bundled with the cartridge Combat , it had a rocky beginning, with production problems and lacklustre sales haunting its launch. Things got so bad that Atari co-founder and CEO Nolan Bushnell dramatically stood up during an Atari/Warner stockholder’s meeting and suggested that the 2600 have its price slashed and be discontinued by the company. It remained in Atari’s catalog, but Bushnell was pushed out of Atari in 1978.
First VCS prototype, assembled in 1975
With the home licensing of Taito/Midway’s arcade smash Space Invaders in 1980, the 2600 went on to become one of the most successful home video game consoles of all time. So wide was its installed base with users that two companies sprang up to become major third-party suppliers of games for the system. Both Activision and Imagic produced some great games, but only the former was able to survive the big video game crash of 1983 – 1984 by pivoting to the home computer market, eventually becoming one of the largest video game manufacturers and remaining so to this day.
The 2600 itself fought off all comers, including game machines from Magnavox and Mattel, until the 1982 release of the ColecoVision usurped the throne with powerful arcade-like graphics. Still, the 2600 held on in budget form as the $50 2600 Jr., until eventually discontinued by Atari in 1991. The system is truly one for the history books.
These days, mountainous-haired carrot-top Conan O’Brien seems to be taking a lead from Jimmy Fallon, who replaced O’Brien on NBC’s Late Night back in 2009. Conan went on to host the vaunted late night talk show The Tonight Show, a run that only lasted months. Fallon himself has since been tasked to take over The Tonight Show when current host Jay Leno steps down, perhaps even permanently this time.
Anyway, this post isn’t meant to dwell on the revolving-door morass that is late night television in America. It is meant to point out that O’Brien himself has started to mine video games for comedic value, much like Fallon has pretty much from day one. Fallon played Wii games on his show when Nintendo’s revolutionary console came out, and has featured other popular games in front of the camera.
This focus on video game playing by late night hosts seems on the whole to be tapping the popularity of “Let’s Play” videos of game play that litter YouTube and twitch.tv these days. Germain to this site, O’Brien featured a “Throwback Edition” of his Clueless Gamer segment last week, playing games from the Atari 2600 library. Among the savaged product was the big kahuna of awful classic games, the impenetrable E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, a game so dense and confusing, and with such high-hopes pinned upon it at release in 1982, that its abject failure was one of the reasons the entire video game industry cratered in 1983-84.
Gaze upon the spectacle of Conan O’Brien sampling the best (and worst) games from one of the most popular video game systems of all time:
Atari might have created the video game industry, but it was Nintendo who brought things back from the dead after the disastrous video game crash in the U.S. in 1983-84. They did so via the Nintendo Entertainment System, but it was only through the development and subsequent success of the earlier Japanese version of the game console, called the Family Computer or Famicom, that Nintendo had the confidence, technical know-how and financial means to take on America.
Who knows how many years it would have taken for video games to come back without the Famicom? Five? Ten? It’s hard to deal in hypotheticals, but what we can do is take a look back at one of the most important consoles in video gaming history. 30 years ago, on July 15th, 1983, Nintendo released the Famicom in Japan. Here’s how it happened:
Here is the last of the TDE articles detailing various aspects of the Famicom, as well as the NES, the North American version of the console released in 1985. These posts celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Famicom, and lead up to the full history of the Famicom, to be posted tomorrow. The post today also falls on the 30th anniversary of Mario Bros., so two koopa’s with one fireball, so to speak. While Famicom project lead Masayuki Uemura and his team at R&D2 labs at Nintendo do great work putting together the hardware of the famed video game console, it’s the games for the system that give it longevity. And there’s few games that boost Famicom and NES sales as much as Super Mario Bros..
Old Spice, a company that is rapidly defining how to do incredibly effective viral marketing, has created a new, online retro-style game starring retired NBA basketball star Dikembe Mutombo. TitledDikembe Mutombo’s 4 1/2 Weeks to Save the World, the former baller is on a quest to carve new dates into the Mayan calendar, and thus save the world from extinction at the end of the year.
The game is very funny and highly surreal, as only a classic 8-bit game can be. It’s also pretty fun to play. The game is rolling out in instalments, with the first stage now live at oldspicesavestheworld.com. Be sure to say Hi to Science, the Bear for us.