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The Evolution of Video Games: The Last 45 Years (1972–2017)

March 15, 2018 • General Interest

Limber up, gamers. The second part of our two-part series on the evolution of video games will have you jumping for joysticks.

In our previous instalment, we took you on a warp speed trek through the early days of video games. It may be hard to imagine radar technology as anything but “square”, but, hey, daddy-o. Guess what. The mainframes, knobs and rotary dials of the 1940s and 1950s paved the way for the arcade games of the 1970s. (I know, far out, right?) Not only that, but yesteryear’s cult classics were built on the shoulders of cathode ray tubes and oscilloscopes.

Whoa! So, what’s next?

Building on the cult success of 1962’s Spacewar!, Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney designed Computer Space in 1971. Computer Space used no microprocessor, RAM or ROM, yet it still allowed for complex gameplay. It was one of the last games created in the early history of video games. That’s okay, though, because it marked the dawn of a new age in video games: it was the first arcade video game, as well as the first commercially available video game.

Another widely successful arcade game, Pong, debuted in 1972. Featuring simple two-dimensional graphics, Pong was based on an electronic ping pong game included in the Magnavox Odyssey.

Game on! Pong revolutionized the arcade industry and launched the modern video game era.

Allan Alcorn, who designed Pong, was assigned to do so Nolan Bushnell, co-founder of Atari. Pong was hugely successful—so successful, in fact, that Atari encouraged its staff to produce more innovative games. The company released a number of sequels that added new features. Then, four years later, in 1976, Atari released its first video computer system (VCS), the Atari 2600. The VCS used an 8-bit MOS 6507 microprocessor and was designed to be connected to TV set. It was the first widely successful video game system.

Other consoles followed, including the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1983 and the Sony PlayStation in 1995.

Then, in 1997, Rockstar Games released its landmark action-adventure game, Grand Theft Auto (GTA). GTA’s freeform structure allowed players to choose missions to progress an overall story. The game has spawned several sequels and, to date, four expansion packs. The third title, Grand Theft Auto III (2001), brought the series into a three-dimensional setting and offered players an even more immersive experience. It paved the way for many other open world action games, including the best-selling Assassin’s Creed (2007) and Skyrim (2011), and the critically-acclaimed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017).

We’ve traced the evolution of video game graphics from 1947 through 2017, watching them go from flat, lacklustre 2D to photorealistic, three-dimensional virtual worlds, seemingly at light speed.

If you’re among the TL:DR (too long; didn’t read) crowd, here’s a video recap.

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