Retro Game Consoles – Third Generation Game Console
Third Generation Game Console
SNK (Shin Nihon Kikaku, translated as “New Japanese Project”), a small third party software developer for the Nintendo NES, decided to try their hand in the arcade market in 1989. It seemed like a bad business decision since gamers no longer flocked to arcades. Nonetheless SNK released the MVS (Multi-Video System). The MVS allowed the arcade operator to house many different video games in a single cabinet.
The MVS’s strengths lay in the design of its hardware. Its brain was composed of a 16-bit microprocessor (68000) and an 8-bit microprocessor (Z80). They were plentiful, cheap, and quite powerful for the time. Using them kept production costs down and made coding much easier. Both the 68000 and the Z80 were in common use at the time (Sega’s Genesis had the same CPU combination, for example).
The real magic of the MVS lay in its custom graphics chipset, and its ability to hold up to four games at once while switching between them at will. While this multi-game concept had been tried before (one example being Nintendo’s Playchoice system), SNK’s hardware was far superior to any of the multi-game systems currently available, and its vast ROM storage capacity allowed for detailed graphics.
In 1990, SNK made a gamble in releasing the Neo Geo at a price around US$650. Moreover, most of the games cost close to US$200.00 each. Granted, the graphics and sound were incredible and literally brought arcade quality gaming to the home.
However, SNK based this home system off the Arcade system. While each looked different in size, the insides were the same. Both systems had a Motorola 68000 and Z80 processors. Porting games from one system to the other was simple. But SNk did not promote the Neo Geo much, feeling that they had enough of a presence in the arcade.
In fact, the popularity of Street Fighter, Fatal Fury and the Art of Fighting did boost sales of the units. Still, the arcade was losing its influence as the place for top new games.
While in production for 14-years, it never sold more than one million units. SNK stopped producing games for the unit in 2004.
At first SNK marketed the Neo Geo falsely by calling it a “24-Bit System” (due to its combination of a 16-bit and 8-bit processor). After the initial advertising campaign, SNK decided not to advertise their home system anymore, since games could be seen in nearly every arcade (and kind of advertised themselves).
SNK’s gamble of entering the arcade / home game markets eventually paid off. In 1992, an game called Street Fighter 2 brought gamers back to the arcades. SNK took advantage of this by releasing similar arcade games such as Fatal Fury, and Art of Fighting. The games were quite successful, and many more were spawned. Third Party developers such as Data East began also producing titles for the Neo Geo AES / MVS.
SNK also created an innovative accessory that would become quite popular later. The Neo Geo ‘memory card’ could hold 19-27 save game positions, and worked on both the home and arcade systems. So a gamer could save their place in the arcade and take it home, and vice versa.
The Neo Geo was a phenomenal machine, but the high price tag catered to the hardcore arcade lovers only. Nonetheless it was an amazing machine that stood the test of time. The MVS alone managed to last over eight years in the demanding arcade environment, and its hardware has out-lived every other arcade hardware. Walk into any arcade, and you’re bound to see a Neo Geo MVS.
During the era, the Famicom became very popular in Japan. The Famicom’s American counterpart, the Nintendo Entertainment System, highly dominated the gaming market in North America, thanks in part to its restrictive licensing agreements with developers. Though the NES dominated the market, the Sega Master System was popular in Brazil and Europe, and the Atari 7800, were also major players during this era. The Sharp X68000 began its niche run in Japan with its first iteration in 1987.
Above: Famicom game console
The latter part of the third generation introduced the Game Boy, which single-handedly gelled and proceeded to dominate the previously scattered handheld market for 15 years. While the Game Boy product line has been 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.
The post-crash 8-bit era saw the first console role-playing video games, and was the birth of the side-scroller. Editing and censorship of video games was often used in localizing Japanese games to North America. It is the era when many famous video game series, and the characters starring in them, originated. Some notable examples include Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Quest, Metroid, Mega Man, Metal Gear, Castlevania, Final Fantasy, Phantasy Star, and Bomberman.
In the later 8-bit era, the NES came out on top in North America and Japan, partially due to its earlier release, but mostly because of Nintendo’s strict licensing rules that forbade developers from releasing their games on other systems if their games were released on the NES. This put a damper on third party support for the Master System and the rest of Nintendo’s competition. However, the Master System was far more popular in Europe and Brazil, which were markets first covered by Sega. Many more games were released in Europe and Brazil than in North America, and the Master System had a very long shelf-life in Brazil, finally being discontinued in the late 1990s.