Encouraged by the success of Atari, other companies tried dipping their joysticks into the home video game market in 1976.
Coleco introduced Telstar Pong, while the Fairchild Camera and Instrument Company weighed in with the Fairchild Channel F; the first programmable home game console, it came with large cartridges that could be inserted in order to play different games.
Atari also opened the first Chuck E Cheese restaurant – a nightmarish “fun for the whole family” eatery featuring robotic animals and electronic games. Atari continued it’s domination of the home market with the 1978 release of Atari Football.
As the 80s dawned, the video game industry continued to thrive, with Atari still leading the pack. When the company released a home version of Space Invaders, Atari 2600 sales hit their highest level to date.
Atari’s first serious challenger was Mattel, who introduced a home video game system of its own called Intellivision, which included games such as baseball, poker and blackjack. It was more expensive than Atari but boasted better graphics.
While the Atari 2600 dominated the first half of the decade, it met its demise during the video games crash of 1983, a commercial disaster that Atari played a huge hand in.
Ultimately the combination of rushed, poorly designed titles, such as the colossal flop E.T – an almost unplayable adaptation of the film – and a market which had become flooded by consoles, lead to the industry effectively coming to a screeching halt.
It wasn’t until 1985 when Japanese company Nintendo released their breakthrough device, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), that the industry began to roar back to life. This next generation of consoles were remarkably different beasts to those that came earlier in the decade, making those forerunners look like relics in just a few short years.
Designed by Masayuki Uemura, the NES featured a much more futuristic look than the 2600, with the black and woodgrain superseded by grey, white and red, and the cumbersome, inflexible joystick replaced with a more logical flat control pad.
It was a little Italian plumber named Mario who helped Nintendo cement their place in video game history, and to continue as one of the world’s most successful console and game development studios to this day.
Following his modest but unforgettable first appearance in the original Donkey Kong arcade game, the character and his universe was expanded into the game Super Mario Brothers, the first of many breakthrough hits for Nintendo.
The graphic and sound design of this and other new titles blew away anything that came before. While still primitive by today’s standards, they featured sprites and animation that actually began to resemble real life objects and interactions. These developments combined with advances in plot and characterisation were ultimately more immersive and enjoyable for the gamer.
Numerous studios and developers soon jumped on this new wave, with even Atari introducing new consoles in an attempt to climb back to the top. Their 7800 model, the result of thousands of focus groups and market studies, featured much sleeker design, expansion ports, and the ability to play 2600 games.
Newcomers Sega would release no less than three major consoles before the end of the decade, the Master System, it’s successor the Mega Drive and finally the Genesis. While all three units were technically superior to the NES, boasting better graphics and sound quality, they simply didn’t have the blockbuster titles of Nintendo.
Sega also seemed to lack the design finesse and clear vision of Nintendo, and both systems looked considerably more dated than the NES.
Both Sega and Nintendo launched highly desirable accessory upgrades over the years, including steering wheels, 3-D glasses and laser guns. Most famous (or infamous) of these was the disastrous Power Glove, a cumbersome, imprecise and hard to use controller that was literally worn as a glove.
Despite the poor critical and commercial reception of the glove, the technology behind it paved the way for the revolutionary Nintendo Wii.