History of video game consoles (third generation)
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In the history of computer and video games, the third generation (sometimes referred to as the 8-bit era) began on July 15, 1983, with the Japanese release of both the Family Computer (referred to in Japan in the abbreviated form "Famicon", and later known as the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, in the rest of the world) and SG-1000. This generation marked the end of the North American video game crash of 1983, a shift in the dominance of home video games from the United States to Japan, and the transition from block-based graphics to tile and sprite based graphics, which was a pivotal leap in game design.
The best-selling console of this generation was the NES/Famicon, followed by the Master System (which dominated the European and South American markets) and then the Atari 7800. Although the previous generation of consoles had also used 8-bit processors, it was at the end of this generation that home consoles were first labeled by their "bits". This also came into fashion as 16-bit systems like the Mega Drive/Genesis were marketed to differentiate between the generations of consoles. In the United States, this generation in gaming was primarily dominated by the NES. The end of the 3rd generation of video games comes as 8-bit consoles become obsolete in graphics and processing power compared to 16-bit consoles.
Some features that distinguished third generation consoles from second generation consoles include:
- D-pad game controllers.
- Hardware scrolling, enabling large multi-directionally scrolling tile-based game playfields.
- Detailed sprites, and a resolution of up to 256 × 240.
- Enhanced color graphics (generally between eight-colour (3-bit) and thirty-two-color (5-bit) ).
- Up to five channel primarily square wave mono audio.
The Family Computer (commonly abbreviated the Famicom) became very popular in Japan during this era, crowding out the other consoles in this generation. The Famicom's Western counterpart, the Nintendo Entertainment System, dominated the gaming market in North America, thanks in part to its restrictive licensing agreements with developers. This marked a shift in the dominance of home video games from the United States to Japan, to the point that Computer Gaming World described the "Nintendo craze" as a "non-event" for American video game designers as "virtually all the work to date has been done in Japan." The company had an estimated 65% of 1987 hardware sales in the console market; Atari Corporation had 24%, Sega had 8%, and other companies had 3%.
The popularity of the Japanese consoles grew so quickly that in 1988 Epyx stated that, coming from a video game hardware industry in 1984 that they had described as "dead", by 1988 the market for Nintendo cartridges was larger than for all home-computer software. Nintendo sold seven million NES in 1988, almost as many as the number of Commodore 64s sold in its first five years. Compute! reported that Nintendo's popularity caused most computer-game companies to have poor sales during Christmas that year, resulting in serious financial problems for some, and after more than a decade making computer games, in 1989 Epyx converted completely to console cartridges. By 1990 30% of American households owned the NES, compared to 23% for all personal computers.
Nintendo's market domination, while overwhelming in sheer number of units sold, was not global. Although the NES dominated the market in Japan and North America, Sega's Master System made large inroads in Europe, Oceania and Brazil, where the NES was never able to break its grip. The Atari 7800 also had a fairly successful life in the United States.
Sega was Nintendo's main competitor during the era in terms of market share for console units sold. Unlike the NES, Sega's SG-1000 (which preceded Sega's more commercially successful Master System) initially had very little to differentiate itself from earlier consoles such as the ColecoVision and contemporary computers such as the MSX, although, despite the lack of hardware scrolling, the SG-1000 was able to pull off advanced scrolling effects, including parallax scrolling in Orguss and sprite-scaling in Zoom 909. In 1985, Sega's Master System incorporated hardware scrolling, alongside an increased colour palette, greater memory, pseudo-3D effects, and stereoscopic 3-D, gaining a clear hardware advantage over the NES. However, the NES would still continue to dominate the important North American and Japanese markets, while the Master System would gain more dominance in the emerging European and South American markets.
In the later part of the third generation, Nintendo also introduced the Game Boy, which almost single-handedly solidified and then proceeded to dominate the previously scattered handheld market for 15 years. While the Game Boy product line was incrementally updated every few years, until the Game Boy Micro and Nintendo DS, and partially the Game Boy Color, all Game Boy products were backwards compatible with the original released in 1989. Since the Game Boy's release, Nintendo had dominated the handheld market. Additionally two popular 8-bit computers, the Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC, were repackaged as the Commodore 64 Games System and Amstrad GX4000 respectively, for entry into the console market.
This era contributed many influential aspects to the history of the development of video games. The third generation saw the release of many of the first console role-playing video games (RPGs). Editing and censorship of video games was often used in localizing Japanese games to North America. During this era, many of the most famous video game franchises of all time were founded that outlived the third generation and continued through releases on later consoles. Some examples are Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest, Metroid, Mega Man, Metal Gear, Castlevania, Phantasy Star, Megami Tensei, Ninja Gaiden, and Bomberman.
The third generation also saw the dawn of the children's educational console market. Although consoles such as the VideoSmarts and ComputerSmarts systems were stripped down to very primitive input systems designed for children, their use of ROM cartridges would establish this as the standard for later such consoles. Due to their reduced capacities, these systems typically were not labeled by their "bits" and were not marketed in competition with traditional video game consoles.
Nintendo versus Sega
The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)/Family Computer (Famicom) sold by far the most units of any third generation console in North America and Asia. This was due to its earlier release, its strong lineup of first-party titles (such as Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid), and Nintendo's strict licensing rules that required NES titles to be exclusive to the console for two years after release. This put a damper on third party support for the other, less popular consoles. However, Sega's Master System was more popular than the NES in Europe, South America, and Oceania, with the latter two markets being first reached by Sega. Many more games for the Master System were released in Europe and Brazil than in North America, and the console had a very long shelf-life in Brazil and New Zealand. In Europe, competition was tough for the NES, which was not as successful as the Master System in those other regions despite the hegemony that it had in the North American and Japanese markets. The industry also started to grow in places west of the Soviet Union, such as Lithuania, via new programmers trained in that area. The Master System was finally discontinued in the late 1990s but has continued to sell in Brazil through to the present day, while Nintendo of Japan continued to repair Famicom systems until October 31, 2007.
|Name||SG-1000||Nintendo Entertainment System||Sega Mark III/Master System||Atari 7800|
Cassette (with keyboard attachment) Data card (Card Catcher required)
3" floppy disk (Japan only)
Data card (Only for first model)
|Top-selling games||N/A||Super Mario Bros. (pack-in), 40.24 million (as of 1999)
Super Mario Bros. 3, 18 million (as of May 21, 2003)
|Hang-On and Safari Hunt (Pack-In)||Pole Position II (pack-in)|
|Backward compatibility||None||None||Sega SG-1000 (Japanese systems only)||Atari 2600|
|CPU||NEC 780C (Zilog Z80 clone)
3.58 MHz for NTSC, 3.55 MHz for PAL
|Ricoh 2A03 (based on
MOS Technology 6502
|NEC 780C (Zilog Z80 clone)
3.57 MHz (3.54 MHz PAL)
|Custom, 6502C (based on
MOS Technology 6502)
|Memory||2 kB Main RAM
16 kB video RAM
|2 KB main RAM
2 KB video RAM
256 bytes sprite RAM
28 bytes palette RAM
|8 KB main RAM
16 KB video RAM
|4 KB main RAM|
32 sprites, maximum of 4 sprites per scanline
|64 sprites (8 per scanline)
25 simultaneous colors
53 color palette
64 sprites (8×8 or 8×16)
32 simultaneous colors
64 color palette
25 simultaneous colors
256 color palette
|Audio||Mono audio with:
||Mono audio with:
||Mono audio with:
||Mono audio with:
|Console||Units sold worldwide||Japan||Americas||Elsewhere|
|Nintendo Entertainment System||61.91 million (as of December 2009)||19.35 million (December 2009)||34 million (December 2009)||8.56 million (December 2009)|
|Sega Master System||11.8 million||1 million (1986)||United States: 2 million (1992)
Brazil: 5 million (2012)
|Western Europe: 6.8 million (1993)|
|Atari 7800||3.77 million (December 1990)||Unknown||United States: 2 million (June 1988)||Unknown|
- Dragon Quest (NES) by Chunsoft and Enix introduced the Dragon Quest series in 1986, and has created a phenomenon in Japanese culture ever since.
- Final Fantasy (NES) by Square started the Final Fantasy series in 1987. The title stems from the fact that its producer Square was struggling and Hironobu Sakaguchi thought it to be their final title.
- Super Mario Bros. (NES) by Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development (Nintendo EAD) and Nintendo was bundled with the NES and became the best-selling video game of all time, a title it would hold until 2009. Countless imitations of the game would appear for the course of the console generation.
- Mega Man 2 (NES) by Capcom was the breakthrough title in Capcom's Mega Man series. The series would have a number of additional hits on the NES, and would later spawn several successful spin-off series.
- Metal Gear (NES) by Konami initiated the Metal Gear series in 1987 and was the first commercially successful stealth game. It was released for the MSX2 computer and ported to the NES shortly after.
- Metroid (NES) by Nintendo Research & Development 1 and Nintendo initiated the Metroid series in 1986.
- Phantasy Star (MS) by Sega Consumer Development Division 2 and Sega is considered one of the benchmark role-playing video games.
- The Legend of Zelda (NES) by Nintendo EAD and Nintendo initiated the Legend of Zelda series in 1986.
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