May 31, 1991
Sega releases the video game Zero Wing for the Sega Mega Drive system in Europe. The game was never released in North America, and was relatively unknown until years later when the poorly translated opening scene was popularized on the Internet. The most famous mistranslation is the phrase “All your base are belong to us,” which has become a very popular Internet meme.
May 22, 1980
Namco’s upcoming video game “Puck-Man” is location tested in a movie theater complex in Japan. After favorable initial testing, the game difficulty is slightly tweaked along with renaming the game to “Pac-Man”. Midway, Namco’s U.S. distributor, thought that vandals would alter the letter “P” to an “F”. While the game was not officially released in Japan until July of that year (October 10th in the US), the creators of the game consider May 22 to be Pac-Man’s birthday because it was the first time the game was shown to the general public.
One of the little known facts about Pac-Man is that it was specifically developed to be popular with women. Most video games of that time had a war or sports theme to them and women were generally not interested in those games. Pac-Mac would be the first game popular with both men and women and was the first video game to become a social phenomenon. Pac-Mac generated over $2.5 billion by the 1990’s, becoming one of the highest grossing video games of all time. I’m not sure how many of you remember “Pac-Mac Fever”, but Pac-Mac was the first video game to break into the mainstream, forever changing our culture and society.
May 5, 1992
id Software Inc. releases the game Wolfenstein 3D, the original first person shooter game for DOS computers. While it was technically not the first FPS in video game history, Wolfenstein 3D was the game that definitively popularized the genre. Using the shareware model to freely distribute the first of three episodes with the ability to purchase the next two episodes, the game became an instant success, selling 200,000 copies in the first year. The success of Wolfenstein 3D made id Software a household name in the gaming world. They followed up in the next year with the massively popular Doom, which cemented the first person shooter gaming genre and the rest is history.
In addition to being credited with launching the first person shooter genre, Wolfenstein 3D is also widely regarded as proving the viability of and popularizing the shareware distribution model. The game was ported to many different platforms over the years and is still available for purchase to play today.
As part of the filming of the documentary, Atari: Game Over, a team of archaeologists at a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico uncover the site of an estimated 700,000 Atari 2600 cartridges buried in 1983, including copies of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, one of the most famous commercial failures in video game history. Since 1983 when it was first reported that Atari had dumped excess copies of unsold cartridges, the event had become a type of urban legend, with the details of the games, other equipment, and quantities dumped varying according to who was telling the story. It also became a symbolic event of the video game crash of 1983, where home video game revenues fell by nearly 97% over two years. It was commonly believed that millions of copies of E.T. were buried, although it was claimed by a former Atari official during the excavation that the number was only 728,000 cartridges of various games.
It was reported that only about 1100 cartridges were uncovered as the majority were buried deeper than expected. Games found in the recovery included Yars’ Revenge, Star Raiders, Pac-Man, Space Invaders, Defender, Warlords, Centipede, and yes E.T.
As an 8 or 9 year old kid, I actually really liked the E.T. game! I remember the agony of not being able to win and having E.T. die or be captured, and the thrill of completing the game and sending E.T. home. In fact, I still have my original cartridge as well as my original Atari 2600.
March 18, 1974
Atari Introduces Gran Trak 10. It is the first arcade game to use solid state read-only memory (ROM) to store sprites for each car, the game timer, the race track, and the score. As such, it’s the the first game to have defined characters rather than mathematically manipulated dots. The game’s controls, which include a four-position gear shifter, a steering wheel, and two foot pedals, are also all firsts for arcade games.
Sony released the Playstation 2, the follow-up to their wildly successful original Playstation, in Japan to a waiting crowd of 10,000 people, many of whom had started waiting four days earlier. Sony promptly sold out of all 1 million Playstation 2 launch units in a single weekend. Interestingly, because there were only 11 launch title games available, the fact that the PS2 could play DVDs at a significantly lower price than most standalone DVD players of the time drove much of the early demand.
February 4, 2000
EA releases The Sims, the best-selling PC game in history. I guess people like pretending to be other people!
January 29, 1988
The computer game Tetris makes its first appearance in the United States as a PC game. The company that released the game was Spectrum Holobyte, which had dubious licensing rights to the game. When companies became interested in licensing Tetris for other platforms besides the PC, a series of events kicked off a long legal battle, in which the big winner was eventually Nintendo, who used the game Tetris to drive sales of its new Game Boy platform.