William Higinbotham and Robert Dvorak, Sr. show off a tennis simulator game they called Tennis for Two. Developed on a Donner Model 30 analog computer using an oscilloscope, it is the first known electronic game to use a graphical display. Higinbotham and Dvorak developed the game to show off to visitors to the Brookhaven National Laboratory where they worked. The game was only shown off twice, during the laboratory’s annual visitor’s day. While hundreds of visitors lined up to play the game when it was made available, little was known about the game for decades. While somewhat similar in gameplay to the later hit Pong, there is no known direct relationship between the games.
Atari releases their Video Computer System (known as the VCS and later as the Atari 2600). It took two years for the VCS to gain traction, but by 1979 it was the best selling gift of the Christmas season. Once it was established, the Atari VCS took the market by storm, popularized home video gaming, and helped cement the video game movement into mainstream culture.
Midway releases the video game Pac-Man to arcades in North America. While the Japanese release under the name “Puck-Man” occurred in May of that year, the game’s popularity didn’t take off until being released in the United States. Pac-Man will become the first true mega-hit video game in history, sparking “Pac-Man Fever” and catapulting the video game industry into mainstream culture.
The video game Mortal Kombat is released into arcades. Now one of the most popular fighting game series in history, the original Mortal Kombat became well-known for its graphic display of blood and deadly finishing moves known as “fatalities”. As often happens in situations like these, the controversy surrounding the game only served to fuel its popularity.
I remember the game becoming popular on the heels of Street Fighter II. I never really liked the game because I felt it was all flash and no substance. And the martial arts techniques portrayed were often really bad. But it was occasionally fun to knock someone’s head off.
August 22, 1987
The Legend of Zelda is released for the NES in North America. Considered one of the most influential games of all time, it was the forerunner of the role-playing video game genre and spawned one of the most successful series in video games history.
August 13, 1993
Capcom releases Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting for the Super NES in the US. The Street Fighter II arcade game started the fighting game boom of the 1990’s, which spawned off other many other fighting game franchises such as Mortal Kombat and Virtua Fighter. The Super NES version brought Street Fighter II into the home and … um … college dorms where certain people spent many hours smacking down their dorm mates.
I still have this game so if anyone is feeling saucy, the smack downs can resume at any time.
July 17, 1970
Ralph Baer demonstrates the video game system he invented, simply called the “Brown Box”, to Magnavox engineering, production, and marketing management in Ft Wayne, IN. Previously Baer had demoed the Brown Box to many other TV manufacturers including RCA, GE, Zenith, Sylvania, and Magnavox themselves without any licensing agreements. A licensing agreement with RCA was written but cancelled in March of that year. It was this demo with Magnavox’s VP of Marketing present that would eventually lead to creation of the first home video game system, the Magnavox Odyssey, and the birth of the video game industry.
July 15, 1983
Nintendo releases their Famicom system, short for “Family Computer,” in Japan. The Famicom would be slightly modified with a copy protection system, a redesigned chassis, a front loading cartridge mechanism, and released in North America just over two years later as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The Famicom/NES system would become one of the most influential game systems ever produced, making Nintendo the premier company in the video game industry during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, picking up the mantle where Atari left off.
July 12, 1990
Nintendo releases the original Final Fantasy video game for its Nintendo Entertainment System in North America. One of the most successful role-playing games for the NES, Final Fantasy helped to popularize the genre and has gone on to spawn one of the most well-known RPG franchises in history. Ironically, the game’s creator, Hironobu Sakaguchi, thought the game would be his last one, hence the “final” in Final Fantasy. Had the game not sold well, he would have quit making games and gone back to college. So much for that.
July 9, 1981
The game that launched two of the most famous characters in video game history is released for sale. Donkey Kong was created by Nintendo, a Japanese playing card and toy company turned fledgling video game developer, who was trying to create a hit game for the North American market. Unable at the time to acquire a license to create a video game based on the Popeye character, Nintendo decides to create a game mirroring the characteristics and rivalry of Popeye and Bluto. Donkey Kong is named after the game’s villain, a pet gorilla gone rogue. The game’s hero is originally called Jumpman, but is retroactively renamed Mario once the game becomes popular and Nintendo decides to use the character in future games.
Due to the similarity between Donkey Kong and King Kong, Universal Studios sued Nintendo claiming Donkey Kong violated their trademark. Kong, however, is common Japanese slang for gorilla. The lawsuit was ruled in favor of Nintendo. The success of Donkey Kong helped Nintendo become one of the dominant companies in the video game market.