there’s a lot of news swirling around today on miscellaneous tech: facebook security, naturally apple stuff, windows phone 7 launch and blaaaaahhhh blah bloopity blaaaaah. none of that news in the technical sphere should outdo something that is far more important, which has had more of a lasting effect on society than all of the above combined: the original nintendo entertainment system (NES) turns 25 today, october 18, 2010. back then nintendo president hiroshi yamauchi and nintendo of america’s minoru arakawa forced their way into the american market after success of the japanese version, the famicom, back home. but they had to fight a seriously uphill battle. video games were dying in the USA, where the best we had was atari (who i also believe is celebrating an october anniversary for the 2600). the industry was stagnant, stores didn’t want to sell it, and it definitely didn’t go with the mantra of “buy american.” but somehow they did it. nintendo was a company that used to only manufacture and sell playing cards, so this was a major jump for both the company and the game industry. and boy are we glad they made it.
and how they made it shouldn’t surprise you. first look what they did with the wii – they introduced a family friendly console with a control style that moved away from traditional console controllers. and the people rejoiced, buying up so many units that for a while you’d be hard pressed to find one on the shelves of your local stores. 25 years ago their game plan wasn’t so different. if you look at console controllers of the time, they were fairly primitive. even the NES controller was similar – a directional control and two buttons. but what they did introduce in addition to this was really something new – the zapper light gun. it allowed a completely different kind of play, and bundled with the super mario brothers / duck hunt combo cartridge, it changed the way we game. and let’s not forget to mention the power pad and the R.O.B. (robot operating buddy) as alternate controllers too. after a bit of a climb, nintendo gained national popularity, with mario mania breathing life back into the video game industry, and i think you know how it went from there. the NES gave rise to the game boy SNES, sega came back with the genesis and game gear, then sony entered the game, and guess what? competition in the west and 3rd party software devs! a race to provide the best which still goes on today in console and mobile gaming. all sparked by the NES.
|ahh the zapper… fond memories|
like i said before, this little unit shaped my generation’s life in a pretty major way. over the atari this thing was like magic, with at the time incredible graphics, and vivid and colorful stories that provided us with adventure and excitement (though as we all know a jedi craves not these things) in more or less a home version of the arcade, entrenching itself in popular culture. i was only allowed to play for a limited time during the school year growing up, but i remember playing super mario brothers and duck hunt with my dad (who would never let me cheat by going right up to the tv). figuring out secret patterns and acting as a cartographer while trying to work my way through the goonies II. boss fight strategy from final fantasy. timing from mike tyson’s punch out. and most importantly, learning that sometimes victory is only earned through sheer attrition from ninja gaiden. i’d like to think that all of this made me smarter, engaged my brain a little bit, and was even partially responsible for my lifetime interest in tech, computing, and gadgetry. my interest in math benefited too – winning in some of the NES games offered involved a lot of mental math and numerical decision making. i still have my old NES stored away with my SNES, and still break it out every so often to play it.
they had more monster titles that inspired the next generation of games, and the next, and the next, etc. in addition to what’s been mentioned, there was kung fu, excitebike, mega man, castlevania, and the legend of zelda. and this list goes on for a mile. as a result look at video games now – they’ve come out of the basement to be a tremendous part of today’s mainstream media. it’s no longer solely associated with geekdom worldwide, but draws a lot of different types of people to the variety of games that exist. and my generation, who were kids during the NES era, are what’s driving that. you can tell by where the target market for the gaming industry lies. it’s not kids anymore, but the 18-35 demographic that most of the industry’s marketing dollars go to.
that’s right kids, the nintendo generation is getting ready to run things around here. rejoice. and with that, my hats off to nintendo for 25 years of technology, innovation, memories, and most of all, fun.
the folks over at 1up actually has a great retrospective of 25 years of the NES, which you can get to here. wired magazine’s “this day in tech” is also a good short read on the topic here.