The Legend Of Zelda

WarriorNintendo releases The Legend Of Zelda for the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America, having already released a version early in 1986 in Japan. Rolled out with a major advertising campaign, Zelda revitalizes and redefines the video adventure game genre, as well as players’ expectation of electronically-moderated role-playing games, and spawns one of Nintendo’s most profitable major tentpole franchises.

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Game over for Coleco

ColecovisionHaving weathered the storm of the 1983 video game industry crash longer than most, Coleco Industries, maker of the early ’80s Colecovision video game system, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. At the time of the filing, Coleco is America’s sixth largest toy company, but the video game industry isn’t its downfall. Overproduction of the company’s Cabbage Patch Kids toys has proven to be fatal, with two straight years of annual losses exceeding $100,000,000. The remains of Coleco are eventually bought up by rival toymaker Hasbro.

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Nintendo Game Boy

Game BoyNintendo launches a portable video game system with interchangeably cartrdiges, the Game Boy, in North America. Though many industry insiders predict a short life for the handheld game thanks to its ability to quickly drain its batteries and its black & white LCD display, the game included with each Game Boy – the incredibly popular puzzle game Tetris – becomes a selling point in itself. With a price tag of around $100, the entire million-unit allotment of Game Boys shipped to American stores sells out in under two months.

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Ninja Golf

Ninja GolfOne of Atari’s most innovative games of the 1990s is released for the Atari 7800 home video game system. Ninja Golf is a game parodying both the glut of current sports simulations and martial arts fighting games – at the same time. Players take a swing at the ball, and then a swing at their throwing-star-hurling enemies. Despite its cheeky humor and innovative play, Ninja Golf doesn’t make much noise at retail – it’s stealthy, like a ninja.

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Nintendo, Sony part ways over peripheral

Mike vs PS1After three years of joint development on a CD-ROM peripheral for Nintendo’s new video game system, Sony and Nintendo part ways, leaving the public and the press confused over what will happen next. Hours after Nintendo unveils the specs and price point for its Super Nintendo Entertainment System to the press, Sony announces that it will release a new system called the Play Station in 1992, which will play both SNES cartridges and disc-based systems made by Sony. Of course, Sony’s development curve isn’t that simple, and the first Sony video game system won’t arrive until a few years – and a whole generation of computer game hardware – later.

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Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator

Stick of joyProgrammer Nicola Salmoria releases the earliest version of the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, or MAME, a freeware PC program which allows users to obtain dumps of the original 1970s and 1980s arcade game ROM chips which MAME interprets, emulating the original hardware architecture to allow play of those games with remarkable fidelity to the original graphics and sounds. This kick-starts a golden age of computer emulation of classic video games and game systems, with the average desktop computer now sporting enough memory to allow for accurate emulation. The release of MAME also ignites an ongoing controversy about the legality of downloading games whose original manufacturers are no longer exploting their intellectual property (or, in some cases, no longer exist as corporate entities).

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Arcade Fever

Running Press publishes John Sellers’ non-fictional recap of the video game industry’s early landmark titles, “Arcade Fever” (initially announced as “Arcade Planet”). Focusing almost entirely on coin-op games from the 1970s and 1980s, and illustrated with emulator screen shots and game cabinet artwork, the book is subtitled “The Fan’s Guide to the Golden Age of Video Games”. Its irreverent tone is less scholarly than some of the other books on the same topic published around this time.

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MIT Press publishes Van Burnham’s non-fictional history of the video game industry and its products, “Supercade“. Covering developments from Spacewar! and the Magnavox Odyssey through the Playstation era, “Supercade” is a coffee table book lavishly illustrated with emulator screen shots (and some surprisingly low-resolution digital photos and scans) and numerous essays by various authors on arcade and console games of note.

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White House honors Odyssey inventor

Ralph Baer with President BushRalph Baer, the inventor of home video games, receives the National Medal of Technology from President George W. Bush. While working for defense contractor Sanders & Associates in the 1960s, Baer pioneered the concept of interactive television programming, eventually gathering a hand-picked team to create a prototype called the Brown Box. Baer and his employer licensed the technology to Magnavox, which repackaged it and marketed it as the world’s first home video game console, the Odyssey. Baer also created other key video game innovations, such as the first light gun.

Project Yellow Sphere

The enigmatically titled internet short film Project Yellow Sphere debuts, revealed to be a semi-serious, six-minute live-action-plus-CGI proof-of-concept trailer for a potential Pac-Man movie. Shot and produced entirely at commercial production house Steelehouse Productions in Tulsa, Oklahoma, it’s the closest anyone has gotten to mounting a long-talked about Pac-Man film.

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Atari files for bankruptcy

AtariThe 21st century iteration of Atari, now owned by the French video game company formerly known as Infogrames, files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as it tries to disentangle itself from its parent company’s descent into insolvency. Revealed in the filing is that, despite numerous modern games distributed under the Atari “label”, licensing of the 1970s Atari logo accounts for almost one-fifth of Atari’s current revenue. The classic Atari game portfolio dating back to such games as Pong and Asteroids is put up for sale in an effort to raise funds for the troubled company.

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Hubble spots a Space Invader

Space InvaderTo allay public fears that the next level might not be reached, NASA offers an explanation for an enigmatic 2010 image from the Hubble Space Telescope, showing a galaxy cluster, Abell 68, approximately 2,000,000,000 light years away. In the middle of that cluster, however, is what appears to be an alien from the video game Space Invaders. NASA explains that it’s a visual artifact of gravitational lensing caused by the gravity influence of the foreground galaxies upon the light of galaxies further away in the image. Earth breathes easy once more.

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Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo president, dies

Nintendo FamicomThe president of Nintendo through the latter half of the 20th century, Hiroshi Yamauchi, dies at the age of 85. Having dropped out of college to assume control of Nintendo from his ailiing grandfather in 1949, Yamauchi transformed the company from a maker of playing cards into a power player in the electronic game market, even though Nintendo’s first video game product was a licensed version of the American-made Magnavox Odyssey. Twice, Yamauchi boldly decided to break into the American video game market with no guarantee of success: once with the arcade game Donkey Kong, and again with the launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System, even after a Stateside licensing deal with Atari fell through at the last minute, depriving the NES of Atari’s existing marketing and distribution channels.

Douglas E. Smith, Lode Runner creator, dies

Lode RunnerThe creator and programmer of Lode Runner, Douglas E. Smith, dies at the age of 53. A spare-time creation that became an all-consuming passion for Smith, Lode Runner sparked a nearly unprecedented bidding war among major computer game publishers in 1983. At the time of Smith’s death, Lode Runner has been ported to most major game and computer systems over the past 31 years.

Satoru Iwata, Nintendo CEO, dies

Satoru IwataNintendo of Japan CEO Satoru Iwata dies as a result of complications from gall bladder surgery. As the head of game developer HAL Laboratories, Iwata oversaw games in the Kirby, Super Smash Bros. and Pokemon series, until he replaced outgoing Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi in 2002. His tenure saw the introduction of the Nintendo DS handheld, the Wii console, and the wildly popular Amiibo figurines, as well as unprecedented interaction with fans and customers on the internet.

Masaya Nakamura, Namco founder, dies

Masaya NakamuraMasaya Nakamura, the founder of pioneering Japanese video game maker Namco, dies at the age of 91. Founded in 1955 as Nakamura Manufacturing Co., Namco was an early proponent of video game development in Japan, though it saw its earliest successes as the Japanese distributor of Atari arcade games imported from the U.S. After moderately successful early coin-ops such as Gee Bee, Namco quickly established itself as a global powerhouse with the release of such perennial classics as Pac-Man, Galaxian, Galaga, Dig Dug, Pole Position, and Xevious, among many others. Namco’s growth in the 1980s was so explosive that it absorbed Japanese film studio Nikkatsu in 1993 (several of whose titles Nakamura oversaw as executive producer), and later merged with Bandai in 2005.

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