We humans have a tendency to try to sweep our failures under the rug, putting value and emphasis solely on our successes. However, this form of voluntary selective memory has done history no favors. If all we ever do is highlight massive strides instead of small milestones, it becomes easy to overlook the true innovators, those who have paved the way for huge successes to be… a success. That’s exactly what’s happened in the video game industry. Many of the new technological marvels that we’ve become so fascinated by were attempted and even functional over 20 plus years ago. However the original iterations have received little to no credit. Here are the consoles that did it first, and the ones that took the credit!
#10 Online Connectivity
Contrary to popular belief, the Xbox was not the first console to connect online. In fact, the credit for that goes to the Atari 2600. All the way back in the 1982, Atari had managed to connect their console online via a neat little cartridge that allowed access to what was called the GameLine. The GameLine wasn’t online in the modern sense of the word. Instead it used a dialup feature that granted access to a large catalogue of games. The device connected to your phone line and for a monthly $15 subscription fee, you could download games via dialup straight to your cartridge, plus receive access to the GameLiner magazine and a chance to compete in contests that awarded a variety of unique prizes. Wait… isn’t dialup the only form of internet we had back then…?
#9 Wireless Controllers
In today’s world it’s actually rather uncommon to see anyone using a wired controller to play their games, however once upon a time, long, long ago wired was the norm. Many of you probably remember the emergence of wireless controllers during the PS2/XBOX/Gamecube era, however the first wireless controller actually made its debut all the way back in the early 1980s with the Atari CX-42. The Atari CX-42 was an Atari 2600 controller – or more accurately, a joystick that sported a ridiculously bulky antenna which emitted radio waves to transmit a wireless signal to the console. Word on the street is they were real battery munchers, and as you’ll soon see, batter munching products never catch on!
#8 3D Graphics
Sony’s PlayStation tends to take a lot of credit for ushering us in to the 3 dimensional graphics era. But many consoles predating the PlayStation – such as the Vectrex – were capable of displaying 3D graphics. But the first console to actually be capable of dedicatedly using 3D graphics was the Sega Saturn which beat the PlayStation to the market by only a month! Sadly the Sega Saturn was short-lived due to numerous blunders on Sega’s part such as the poor handling of the Sega Genesis expansion peripherals which left consumers feeling cheated when Sega abandoned support for them in favor of developing for the Saturn. Additionally, Sega alienated developers and retailers by announcing that Sega Saturn would launch in the US in September of 1995, only to backtrack on that statement in May of 1995 at the first E3 press conference by announcing that the console had already been shipped and was available at select retailers for purchase. And to make matters even worse, even though the Sega Saturn was fully capable of displaying beautiful polygonal figures, Sega’s marketing strategy put greater emphasis on its high-res 2D sprites instead.
#7 Modern Controllers
When people first saw the Wii U controller many of them totally freaked the heck out! They thought that Nintendo was out of their minds. They proclaimed that it was basically just a Nintendo DS in console form. They criticized Nintendo’s attempt at ingenuity. But what many of those people didn’t realize is that Nintendo’s knack for innovation is the very reason for why we have the “classic controller” of today. Prior to Nintendo’s Famicom, controllers as we know them did not exist. Games were either played with a keyboard and mouse combo, paddles, or a joystick and button. Nintendo completely flipped the scrip when they introduced the Famicom game pad, which has led to every single controller design that we’ve seen since. Seriously, if it weren’t for Nintendo we’d probably still be using those little reject telephone controllers with the dial turner to play video games, and I like to see somebody win a competitive Gears of War tournament with that!
#6 TV Functionality
I’m sure that a lot of people are probably thinking, TV Functionality? Isn’t that new – as in PS3/360/Wii era? No, not quite. The Sega Game Gear was the first to allow TV streaming, er… I mean broadcasting on a video game console – or handheld. With the Sega TV Tuner all you had to do was plug the handy dandy accessory into your Sega Game Gear cartridge slot, and viola – you’ve got a fully functional, portable television! So, by now you’re probably wondering why you’ve never heard of this? The answer is simple really. The Sega Game Gear took a whopping 6 batteries as opposed to the Nintendo Gameboys 4. Add to this the fact that the Sega Game Gear had an average battery life of only 3-5 hours which drained significantly faster when the Sega TV Tuner was attached and it becomes rather easy to surmise why this space age technology of the future just never caught on. As I mentioned earlier, battery munchers NEVER catch on – unless you’re an iPhone, no one questions the subpar battery life of an iPhone.
#5 Motion Control
The Nintendo Wii has become pretty much synonymous with motion control. Many may even think that the Wii was the first console to introduce motion control capabilities however that credit actually goes to the NES. Sega had started using motion control in a few of their arcade machines as early as 1976, but it was Nintendo who first decided to introduce the motion control gimmick to home consoles with the development of the Nintendo Power Pad – basically a retro DDR mat, and the Power Glove, which allowed players to control their games by using a motion controlled glove. The Power Glove was inaccurate, clunky, and didn’t even come in left handed versions. Needless to say it never really caught on.
#4 Internal Memory
Prior to Microsoft’s first XBOX, it was common practice to use memory cards in order to save our game progress. XBOX changed that by including 8GB of internal memory in their consoles, virtually eliminating the need for memory cards. Despite this fact, XBOX wasn’t the first console to have an Internal Memory feature. The Amiga CD32 which released in 1993 throughout Australia, Brazil, Canada, and Europe, featured a 1KB internalflash memory for the purpose of storing game saves. Unfortunately for the Amiga CD32, their manufacturer Commodore found themselves in the midst of a sea of legal trouble which resulted in a court order that prohibited them from importing the console – or anything else – to the US, thus halting and eventually leading to the cancelation of the Amiga CD32’s 1994 US release. Shortly after Commodore filed bankruptcy and ceased development of the console.
#3 Compact Disc Based Games
For some reason, people have a tendency to think of the Sony PlayStation as the first console to utilize Compact Discs, more commonly known as CD’s. Not only is this claim false, but it’s also absurd and disrespectful to the many CD based consoles and console add-on’s that came before. The first console to only use CD’s is actually the Phillips CD-I which had an appearance similar to that of a VCR and brought us those awful Zelda games that everyone, including Nintendo, just wants to forget. So why did the Philips CD-I fail and fade into obscurity? Well besides those dreadful Zelda games, the console was uglier than an Xbox One, employed impractical controllers, had a $700 price tag – which after calculating inflation, translates to a little over $1100 in 2015, and had a video game library that left much to be desired. So as you can see, the PlayStation was not the first CD based console, however it was the final nail in the coffin that would do away with cartridge based consoles.
#2 Virtual Reality
With projects like Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR on the horizon it’s easy to forget that virtual reality has already been done before. Who did it first is somewhat debatable seeing as the credit usually goes to the Nintendo Virtual Boy. And in terms of producing a dedicated Virtual Reality console, you’d be right. The Nintendo Virtual Boy was the first, and so far the only dedicated virtual reality console. However, you could argue that Sega was the first to tackle virtual reality back in the 80s with the Sega Master System 3D Glasses. The 3D Glasses used a shutter system that created the illusion of 3D immersion by rapidly closing the left and right lenses. However the Sega Master System 3D Glasses had their limits. The glasses only worked with certain games, on certain TVs, and had a tendency to cause flickering due to an unstable frame rate.
#1 Console/Handheld Hybrid
Rumors have been circulating for a while now about the possibility of Nintendo releasing some kind of console/handheld hybrid, and with the development of the NX now confirmed the possibility seems even more likely. However the NX will not be the first console/handheld hybrid, that badge of honor goes to the Sega Nomad. The TurboGrafx 16/TurboExpress had taken a swing at the console/hybrid market before the Nomad. However it functioned more like an accessory than actual standalone piece. The Sega Nomad was essentially a portable Sega Genesis without the capability of supporting Sega Genesis peripherals such as the Sega CD and Sega 32X. The wonderful thing about the Sega Nomad was not only that you could play all of your Sega Genesis games on the fly – as long as they were North American region games – but you could also hook the portable console to your TV, eliminating the need for a home console. The Sega Nomad even had a controller port, allowing for multiplayer! Overall it was a nifty idea that arrived at the wrong time. The Sega Genesis was nearing the end of its lifespan and Sega’s focus was on preparing to launch the Sega Saturn, not on providing support for what was arguably their most innovative piece of hardware. Plus the Sega Nomad was also a battery muncher. And what have I told you guys about battery munchers? Exactly, the never catch on.
So what have we learned from this, besides the fact that Sega was way ahead of its time and an amazing innovative yet highly undervalued force within the game industry? Well I didn’t learn anything because I knew all of this already. But I digress…. Sometimes it’s not always the phenomenal achievements in life that matter, but the minuscule breakthroughs that create away for those phenomenal achievements, and they deserved to be acknowledged.