Dawn of Console Gaming

 By Shamus Feb 20, 2008 33 comments

I had always thought that home console gaming began with Pong, went mainstream with the Atari 2600, and exploded with the NES. This turns out to be a very simplified picture of what really happened, and leaves out dozens of noteworthy devices that are barely remembered today. The first console came out in 1972, the year after I was born. I find this interesting because I never heard of them until I was about 7, and didn’t get my hands on one until I was 10.

This history of console gaming covers the evolution of the hobby from 1972 to present day, with pictures of all the machines, most of which I’ve never even seen. I think the author is a bit soft on the Atari Jaguar, and the consoles of the 90′s all could use a little more context, but it’s still a tremendous article. It was informative to the point of being educational, and the pictures of the 70′s era console machines reveal a series of long-forgotten devices which were hilarious in their crude awfulness and cringe-worthy design aesthetic.

Warning: The site is orange. I don’t know why it’s orange. I am sorry that it is so. I would not send you there if I didn’t think information was worth the optical assult.

201333 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.


  1. Alexis says:

    You can make it not-orange with the Firebug firefox addon quite simply. Open firebug, click inspect, click the background of the page. In the firebug window, the body tag should be highlighted, with a code like #ffbec0 (*). Click the code. Change it to an attractive fuchsia like #ff80ff. Or, y’know, white.

    Et voila!

    * I didn’t look – I wanted the orange off my screen ASAP

    (at the risk of starting a political discussion, I wonder if a sufficiently lurid orange could be considered copyright protection?)

  2. Dirty Dan says:

    I like how some of the early ones have the wood-grain look. Just makes them look that much more primitive to modern eyes.

  3. Ed says:

    Isn’t woodgrain a $300.00 case mod option from Alienware?

  4. Deoxy says:

    bummer, blocked at work. :-(

  5. Mike says:

    Wow… I didn’t realize just how many game systems were built with PONG or a derivative as their main title.

  6. Lebkin says:

    It is amazing how much more complex video game history is than most people know. The early variety is also amazing. Looking back, we tend to only see the biggest players, forgetting all the other systems.

    It is also interesting that I own quite a few “losers” of the various generations of systems. I’ve got a TurboGrafx-16 (beat by Genesis and SNES), a Nintendo 64 (beat by the PS1), and a Dreamcast (beat by the PS2). Not that I mean anything bad by this; I loved all of those systems. The Dreamcast is even still hooked up and playable (the N64 and TG16 are in storage).

    It is also amazing that as I’ve gotten older I have actually bought more systems and games. I owned nothing from the first three “generations” (per Wikipedia’s “History of video games”). I got a single system from both the 4th (TG16) and 5th generations (N64). I bought two from the 6th (Dreamcast and PS2). I have two of the current generation (Xbox 360 and Wii) and plan on buying the third (PS3). Obviously, this is partially due to having more money. But I think I’ve actually grown into more of a gamer, rather than less with age. Though this is greatly helped by the fact that the industry has aged with me. It has been fun to have one of my hobbies grow along side me like this.

  7. Allerun says:

    Uhg, design style in the 70′s must have been from retinal damage from drugs in the 60′s.

  8. James says:

    Blocked here at school too… I’ll check it out when I get home. Alexis, where can I get that Firefox extension? It sounds like a useful one to have on hand.

    EDIT: Shamus, that was odd. I can see the site, but when I tried to post I got a 403 error. I came back to this page, and my comment was posted. Any ideas as to why that happened?

  9. Oleyo says:

    Wow, I know tastes come and go, but was EVERYTHING ugly back then? I mean was there some kind of universal “ideal” that everything designed in the era had to achieve. Like matching no known sub-conscious aesthetic based on the structure of the universe? I mean, being old is no excuse, there are beautiful things from every era of human history from ancient times onward…except the 1970′s.

    I bet we were visited by extraterrestrials in the 70′s and they said “ugh, this place sucks, I’m not using the bathroom here”

  10. Davesnot says:

    Dude!! There were a ton of companies getting into the pong-at-home business.. and hockey.. and raquet ball.. all almost like pong.. some with wired paddles.. some connected to the console..

    When breakout came along.. it was a totally new and addictive concept!..

    As for ugly.. those really cool letters and numbers were supposed to be what the future was gonna use… and the future was to be all plastic and weird shapes… and the 70s were determined to be the future!!

  11. Katy says:

    That’s by no means an exhaustive list, either — the first console at our house was one from Sears, with a couple of varieties of Pinball, Breakout, and possibly Pong. And we moved up to an Atari 800, which isn’t there either (but isn’t, I suppose, a console.)

  12. Ingvar says:

    Katy, I suspect the Atari 800 is about as much console as the Atari 400. I noted that the Oddyssey2 wasn[‘t listed as “Sold by Philips in Europe” (it was re-branded as a Philips game console, can’t recall the exact model designation).

  13. Josh says:

    That’s an awesome and fascinating site. Thanks for linking to it.

  14. Rubes says:

    Awesome site, thanks for posting it. Brought back some great memories.

    I was a little disappointed that the one Pong-Breakout unit my dad had back in the mid-70s wasn’t there. I don’t remember the brand, but I remember what it looked like. I agree with Katy that it’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s pretty darn good.

  15. J Greely says:

    Katy, the Sears console was a rebranded Atari 2600. I had one, too. I might still have it out in the garage somewhere.

    -j

  16. Sandrinnad says:

    cool site! thanks for posting it!

    man I loved that Colecovision…. :D

  17. Katy says:

    I doubt it was a rebranded Atari 2600 — it didn’t take cartridges, and just had a half dozen or so games built in. The controllers were integrated to the unit; it had side buttons for the pinball game.

  18. These things were design atrocities probably because they were designed by engineers, engineers, and nobody but engineers. Moreover, designed by engineers in a world where a lot of the materials we take for granted would have been a lot more expensive than they are now.

    Awesome design requires a collaboration between designers and engineers; designers would not be in video games for many more years.

  19. wildweasel says:

    If you want to read the site and don’t want to be assaulted by the orange, try this: create a new bookmark, and in the address field, type in this:

    javascript:(function(){var newSS, styles=’* { background: black ! important; color: grey !important } :link, :link * { color: #0000EE !important } :visited, :visited * { color: #551A8B !important }’; if(document.createStyleSheet) { document.createStyleSheet(%22javascript:’%22+styles+%22′%22); } else { newSS=document.createElement(‘link’); newSS.rel=’stylesheet’; newSS.href=’data:text/css,’+escape(styles); document.getElementsByTagName(%22head%22)[0].appendChild(newSS); } })();

    That’ll turn the color scheme into something a little more manageable (light grey on black).

  20. HiddenBek says:

    Firefox users can also de-orange the site by selecting No Style from the Page Style branch of the View menu.

  21. I’ll point out that I rarely forget the little guys and my largest regret is not that my mom gave away or sold my enormous comic book collection for less than it is worth, but that she gave two or three of my Atari 2600 Video Computer Systems to Good Will, along with my Atari Stunt Cycle system, and my Coleco Vision system, as well as the majority of controllers, spare and otherwise.

    The thing is, after NES I made an effort to categorize the systems by generations, although despite the word “generation” I see things like kitten litters.

  22. J Greely says:

    Ah, must have been an earlier rebranding effort. Sears used to do that with pretty much everything they sold in their stores.

    -j

  23. Cadamar says:

    Amazing. The exponential increase in computing power is really evident with these systems laid out like that. I suppose it has been 35 years (!!!) since the ‘birth’ of game consoles but when you compare the discriptions of Wii tech to say the Atari 2600… It really does seem like comparing super comic book tech to sliderules. Things are moving so fast now that it wouldn’t surprise me if the next gen are self-aware.

  24. The site is incomplete.

    It lacks the Genesis Nomad, which I don’t give a crap about.
    What bugs me is that there is at least three different Playstation 2 models with the original case design and at least two of the second smaller design including the silver model yet instead of five models of Playstation 2 the article mentions two. I only complain because they distinctify them by serial number… and there are a lot different serial numbers.

  25. Leftie says:

    I agree with Chris Arndt, the site is incomplete. Personally, I was surprised to find that they don’t have any info on the Amiga CD32, which, IIRC, was the first 32-bit console that was released. Granted, it wasn’t a huge success, but given that there are loads of consoles mentioned there that I have never even heard of, you’d think they would have included it.

    That said, it was a lot of fun reading through the website :) Thanks a lot for the tip, Shamus.

  26. Telarian says:

    Not even a nod to the console from the company that made all the chips either. I loved my TI-99/4A. It was a lot more than just a game console, but it was also a great game console.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TI-99

    Remember this?

    If, like me, you get all nostalgic over the thing, check this out.

    Really cool to see that Channel F system again though. I had completely forgotten about that thing. Crazy controllers. Thanks for the link Shamus.

  27. Roy says:

    It lacks the Genesis Nomad, which I don’t give a crap about.

    Technically: The Nomad wasn’t a console. While it played cartridges that were originally designed for a console system, the Nomad itself was a handheld, not a console.

    Not even a nod to the console from the company that made all the chips either. I loved my TI-99/4A. It was a lot more than just a game console, but it was also a great game console.

    But even that link you included refers to it as an early PC- not a console.

    What bugs me is that there is at least three different Playstation 2 models with the original case design and at least two of the second smaller design including the silver model yet instead of five models of Playstation 2 the article mentions two.

    My impression wasn’t that it was an exhaustive list of every version of every console, but that, covering the evolution, it marked significant changes. The reason that the PS1 and the PSX are both mentioned isn’t because those were the only versions, but because there was a significant change between the two. Likewise- mentioning every update made to the PS2 hardware isn’t necessary, since most of the changes were minor and wouldn’t have been noticed by the user anyway. But, a completely new case design is a pretty noticable change, and came at a completely new price-point, making it at least worth noting in a visual guide to the evolution of console gaming.

    That’s just my take, though.

  28. Telarian says:

    Well it played games off of cartridges, so although it was more than a game console, it was very much a game console.

  29. maehara says:

    But… but… what about the Commodore GS? Or the Amstrad GX4000? Both of which I toyed with in my younger days, but that (unlike the computers they were based on – the C64 and Amstrad CPC series respectively) never took off.

    I refer you to the OldComputers.com console museum, which lists 137 different game consoles in its depths…

  30. Marty says:

    Man, I hadn’t even heard of many of these…

    But last weekend I did hook up my old ColecoVision and it worked like a charm. w00t!

  31. Alex says:

    I am orange! Need I do something to change this? Damned internet!

  32. TalrogSmash says:

    where’d the enter d12 field go?
    hiaku humor, always good in paprika sized doses!

  33. [...] Twenty Sided Blog Archive Dawn of Console Gaming Posted by root 1 hour 45 minutes ago (http://www.shamusyoung.com) Previous in links tv tropes hema and limbo next in links fav or it i like how some of the early ones have the wood grain look just makes them look that much more primitive to modern eyes i came back to this page and my comment was posted twenty sided is p Discuss  |  Bury |  News | Twenty Sided Blog Archive Dawn of Console Gaming [...]

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  1. [...] Twenty Sided Blog Archive Dawn of Console Gaming Posted by root 1 hour 45 minutes ago (http://www.shamusyoung.com) Previous in links tv tropes hema and limbo next in links fav or it i like how some of the early ones have the wood grain look just makes them look that much more primitive to modern eyes i came back to this page and my comment was posted twenty sided is p Discuss  |  Bury |  News | Twenty Sided Blog Archive Dawn of Console Gaming [...]

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