Category Archives: nintendo

A screenshot from Donkey Kong, a video arcade game by Nintendo, 1981.

Donkey Kong’s 35th Anniversary

It was 35 years ago today that Nintendo of America first let loose the angry ape Donkey Kong on the American public, but the company history goes back far earlier than that. Founded in 1889 in the historic Japanese city of Kyoto, Nintendo Koppai started off making hanafuda cards, then moved to American style cards at the turn of the century. In the 1960′s, third Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi and former maintenance man Gunpei Yokoi would steer the company into toys and electronics. Yamauchi eventually set up an American games division selling Nintendo arcade games, putting his son-in-law Minoru Arakawa in charge. 

Gameplay image of Radarscope, an arcade video game by Nintendo 1981

The flaccid Radarscope

 

Nintendo of America struggled to move arcade product such as Sheriff and Space Fever. Radarscope was a particular turkey, struggling to move out of the NoA warehouse as the Galaxian fad faded in U.S. arcades. In order to use up surplus Radarscope circuit boards, Yamauchi directed artist Shigeru Miyamoto and the veteran Yokoi to create a new game based on the hardware. What they came up with would help revolutionalize the game industry and put Nintendo on the road to riches.

Breakfast cereal based on Donkey Kong, an arcade video game by Nintendo 1981

Barrelling into breakfast with Donkey Kong Cereal


Donkey Kong
 became the biggest selling arcade game of 1981, giving even Namco’s powerhouse Pac-Man game a run for its money. The star of the game, a little rotund, mustachioed man later named Mario, would eventually become more recognizable than Mickey Mouse.

So happy birthday to Donkey Kong, Mario, and Pauline. Without you, the video game industry just wouldn’t be the same. 

For more information on Donkey Kong and related topics, consult your local Dot Eaters articles:

The history of Nintendo and the development of Donkey Kong

History of Super Mario Bros. 

Development of Nintendo’s Famicom game console

The Nintendo Entertainment System

The history of Nintendo Power magazine

The passing of Hiroshi Yamauchi

A review of the movie The Wizard

The NES, a home video game console by Nintendo

The 30th Anniversary of the NES

It’s a toss-up as to what I would consider the most important video game console ever made. I could say the Atari VCS (later renamed the 2600), for it helped popularize the market for programmable video games. It wasn’t the first, but it was certainly the most popular of the first-wave game machines. 

But as ground-breaking as the VCS was, I have to give the nod to the Nintendo Entertainment System, first hitting American shores on October 18, 1985. In the face of the collapse of the entire video game market in 1983-1984, the NES was test marketed in the NYC area over the Christmas season. A redesigned version of Nintendo’s popular Japanese market Famicom console, great pains were taken to inoculate the NES from video gaming’s diseased past, diseased at least according to retailers and distributers of video games. The NES was made to look like a sleek piece of A/V equipment, to the point where the action of inserting a game cartridge was made to be analogous to putting a videotape into a VCR. It was also accompanied by a robotic game mate called ROB, to capitalize on the then-current wave of toy robots like Teddy Ruxpin.

 

This all helped to move NES units, with 50,000 consoles sold during the NYC test. By the time the NES rolled out wide in the fall of 1986, 350,000 to 400,000 sets had been sold.  But nothing helped spur sales like the 1986 release of Super Mario Bros., a magnificent side-scrolling adventure by Shigeru Miyamoto that caused NES units to fly off shelves faster than a Koopa Paratroopa. By 1987, the NES was the most popular toy in America, and had made the video game industry the fastest-growing segment of the toy industry, again.  

The Atari VCS may have helped popularize the industry, but absent Atari, somebody would have come up with an improved, programmable video game system eventually.

Only Hiroshi Yamauchi and the NES could have saved video games.

For more information on the Nintendo Entertainment System, consult your local Dot Eaters Bitstory.

Box art for Super Mario Bros., a video game by Nintendo, 1985

A Look at How Super Mario Bros. Came to Be, on Its 30th Anniversary

This weekend, Super Mario Bros. turns 30 years old. The game has become so ingrained in popular culture that it’s easy to lose sight of just how important and influential Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi’s creation was when it hit Nintendo’s Japanese gaming console on Sept. 13, 1985. The Famicom had been enjoying success in Japan, but Super Mario Bros. became such a phenomena in that country that by 1989 there was one Famicom in every two households in Japan. In 1986, when SMB made its way to the North American version of the Famicom, the NES, it helped the system overcome the toxic environment left from the great video game crash of 1983 and became a huge hit here as well.

A couple of years ago TDE celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Famicom, and as part of that celebration we posted a look at the development of the game and the influences that helped shape SMB. After the jump, we present that post to you now, as we pay tribute to one of the greatest video games of all time:

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Out on a ledge with Olive and Mario

Connecting the Dots: How We Almost Got Popeye Instead of Mario

Posting this story on the 85th anniversary of Black Tuesday, when the New York Stock Exchange plummeted 30 points and heralded the start of the Great Depression, is rather apropos. For at the dawn of the 80′s, Nintendo’s fledgling American subsidiary was in its own tailspin, and its fate would hang on the licensing of a depression-era cartoon icon for a hit video game.

Formed in 1980 in order to distribute Nintendo arcade games in the U.S., sales of derivative product such as HeliFire and Space Firebird for Nintendo of America had flatlined. NOA boss Minoru Arakawa put all of his eggs in one basket with Radarscope, a Galaxian clone that did little to distinguish itself from the other similar shoot-em-ups that littered American arcades. Only able to sell half of the cabinets he had ordered, Arakawa contacted his father-in-law in Japan, Nintendo, Ltd. boss Hiroshi Yamauchi, with a desperate plea: send him a hit game, or give up your dream of conquering the U.S. video game market. To produce such a game, Yamauchi paired a junior employee unversed in game design, named Shigeru Miyamoto, with his most seasoned hardware engineer, Gunpei Yokoi. The pair’s original intent was to quickly adapt a 42-year-old iconic cartoon character to a video game.

The story continues in the TDE Bitstory archive, after the jump:

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Please allow me to introduce myself...

1984: Devil World

Where we celebrate the video games from 1984, a scant 30 years ago.

In 1984, perhaps driven by George Orwell’s warnings of a Big Brother controlling everything, telecommunications giant AT&T was broken up into eight different companies, the result of anti-trust court case United States vs. AT&T. Ads for fast food restaurant Wendy’s started asking other chains  “Where’s the beef?”. And, of course, the revolutionary Macintosh computer was unveiled by Apple. 

1984 was also the second year for Nintendo’s Family Computer (Famicom) video game console. It was such a solid success in Japan that Nintendo had to open a new R&D department dedicated to making games for the system in order to keep up with demand. Heading the new R&D4 was Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the smash hit arcade game Donkey Kong. His first game for the Famicom is our subject today: the bizarre Devil World.

Players control a young dragon named Tamagon, who has taken it upon himself to enter the Devil’s domain and take on the big guy. As Tamagon moves around the Pac-Man styled maze, he must be careful. At the top of the screen the devil directs his minions to occasionally turn cranks, moving the maze in the four main compass directions. This movement creates crushing hazards for the dragon at the edges of the screen. Tamagon must take hold of the crosses littering the maze, enabling him to fight the denizens of Hell: robed eyes that chase him relentlessly. If the dragon is able to roast the eyes with his fiery breath while holding a cross, they turn into tasty fried eggs that he can eat. The crosses also let Tamagon pick up dots lining the maze, and when he has taken them all the board ends. He can also get some relief from the sweltering climes of hades by gobbling bonus ice cream cones that occasionally appear. In the next screen, Tamagon must take four bibles to a seal in the centre of the screen, and the last wave of the game is a bonus round with the dragon picking up bonus boxes before a time limit runs out. The screens then repeat, with increasing difficulty.

While the gameplay is merely another take on the maze game genre, the content of the graphics is what makes Devil World stand out, not only among other Nintendo games, but video games in general. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought that there needs to be more religious imagery in games. Nintendo of America didn’t think quite the same way, however. While Devil World was released in Japan for the Famicom in 1984, and on the NES in Europe in 1987, it was never released in North America. This was because of NoA’s strict policy against religious iconography in their games.

Now, taking to the pulpit, is a video of Devil World in action. Perfect for all you video game zealots. For more information on Devil World and the Famicom, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

 

Excerpt from a family portrait of the NES and Famicom video game systems by Nintendo 1985/1983

NES and Famicom: A Family Portrait

Into the smouldering crater of the Big Videogame Crash of 1983 – 1984 came the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), a game console whose wild success upon release in 1985 single-handedly resurrected the industry in North America.

It was a daring move by Hiroshi Yamauchi and Nintendo, but not a completely blind gamble. The NES had already met with stunning success in the guise of the Family Computer (Famicom), a system released in Japan in 1983. The Famicom was so successful that by 1989, there was one console in every two households in Japan. For its U.S. release, the system was re-tooled as the NES, made to look more like a piece of A/V equipment than a video game in order to shake off the bad vibes that the collapse of the market had left with American toy buyers. To say the plan worked is an understatement.

Here we present a family portrait of the two systems, the NES and the Family Computer  They might not have been the lightning that started the industry, but they certainly delivered a desperately needed shock to the system that got the heart of video games beating again:

Image of the NES and Famicom, two video game consoles by Nintendo 1985/1983

The NES and the Famicom

For more information on the history of the Famicom, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

 

Hiroshi Yamauchi, 1927 - 2013 (photo circa early 80's)

Former Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi Passes Away

Hiroshi Yamauchi has died. Yamauchi came to power at Nintendo in 1949 at age 22, replacing his grandfather as head of the company after the elder suffered a stroke. Even so young, Yamauchi showed the iron will he would become infamous for, insisting that other family members in the company be fired, as well as quickly purging executives who refused to take him seriously.

Nintendo’s fortunes had come from the manufacture of playing cards ever since its inception in 1889. In the later part of the 60′s, Yamauchi took steps to expand the company into toys and games, creating an R&D department within Nintendo to develop such products. At the head of this group Yamauchi put a maintenance man with the name of Gunpei Yokoi, an enthusiastic tinkerer with an uncanny knack at creating new products out of older technology. With success after success, Nintendo would come to dominate the toy market in Japan. Later, as Yamauchi took notice of the new technology coming out of the States in the mid-70′s, they would do the same with video games.

With an almost preternatural ability to pick both talented designers and the games and systems they produced, hardly anything made by Nintendo reached store shelves without Yamauchi’s approval. When the company’s U.S. subsidiary floundered in the early 80′s and begged for a new hit game to sell, it was Yamauchi who took the chance on a young artist unproved in game design to come up with a product. The game was named Donkey Kong, and its creator was Shigeru Miyamoto.

After issuing orders to create a cartridge-based home console called the Famicom (Family Computer) that met with great success in Japan, Yamauchi would set his sights on conquering the American market. Undaunted by the toxic landscape created by the total collapse of the U.S. video game market in 1983-84, Yamauchi insisted on selling the Famicom to American homes as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985. The system would single-handedly resurrect the video game industry from cindered ashes back to billions of dollars in sales, and make Nintendo a word synonymous with video games, as Atari had been before it.

After 55 years at the helm, Yamauchi was succeeded as Nintendo president in 2002 by Satoru Iwata. He remained the company’s largest individual shareholder until his death, at the age of 85.  While he may have ruled Nintendo with an iron fist, the company he drove from Japanese playing card manufacturer to globally dominating video game giant is now mourning his loss.

You can read the history of two great products with Yamauchi’s stamp on them here at The Dot Eaters:

The History of Donkey Kong

The History of the Famicom

The Famicom, a home video game system by Nintendo 1983

30th Anniversary of the Famicom

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:

Bitstory: The Famicom

Title screen for Super Mario Bros., a video game for the Famicom by Nintendo 1985

Celebrating Famicom’s 30th – Super Mario Bros.

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..

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The connection

Celebrating Famicom’s 30th – The Famicom Network

TDE continues a series of posts concerning various aspects of the Famicom and NES, leading up to the 30th anniversary of the ubiquitous Japanese video game system. This time, we look at Nintendo’s first cautious steps towards online connectivity with the Famicom.

Just the Fax

In America, video game companies have tested the waters of console-based online services, such as PlayCable for Mattel’s Intellivision in 1981, and 1983′s Gameline for the Atari 2600. Nintendo starts its own flirtation with online services for the Famicom in 1987, with the development of the Disk Fax System. Used in conjunction with the Family Computer Disk System, the scheme allows players to purchase special blue-coloured disk versions of games, onto which they can save their high-scores. They can then take these to Disk Fax kiosks in participating stores, where their high scores are read and sent to Nintendo via phone line to be entered in contests run by the company. Games used in the competitions include the two versions of Family Computer Golf: Japan Course and U.S. Course, as well as 3-D Hot Rally and Famicom Grand Prix F1 Race. Top scorers receive awards such as gold versions of disk cards, ensconced inside of elaborate packaging.

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