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9 Ways Video Games Have Evolved Since the 1990’s

If you asked a 1990’s video gamer what the video game industry would be like in 2016, many of them would probably have no idea how things would possibly get better than they were then. The 1990’s was a golden age for gaming, Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario, Zelda, Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot, Final Fantasy, and a plethora of other video game franchises were in their prime, and PC gaming (as we know it) was in its infancy.

How have video games changed since the 1990’s?  Here are 9 of our thoughts on the evolution of video games, feel free to contribute in the comment section below.

  1. The Rise of Downloadable Content

screenshot of playstation store

When the Sega Dreamcast released in 1999, it was the first video game console to offer any sort of downloadable content (albeit in a limited capacity with internet speeds and narrowband internet being slower than they are today, as well as the limited memory card capacity.) When the Xbox released in 2001, Microsoft carried on the practice by offering downloadable content via their Xbox Live service. The Xbox 360 system took this a step further offering downloadable content AND full downloadable video games with their Xbox Live Marketplace and Xbox Live Arcade functionality. The PlayStation 3 picked up this practice as well with the PlayStation store, and now Downloadable Content is just as commonplace on consoles as expansion packs are on PC.

  1. No more Memory Cards


32mb playstation memory card

When the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles released (alongside the Wii) they were the first consoles to feature built in hard drives that did not require external memory cards. The Wii had slots for memory cards (being backwards compatible with the Nintendo Gamecube) but for consoles, memory cards have become a thing of the past. For mobile devices, SD cards now take the place of memory cards, and portable storage like external hard drives and flash drives have become more available for PC’s.

  1. Mobile Games

angry birds on screen of phone

The first mobile game Snake, can be traced back to the Nokia 6610, and while the term Mobile game has been used since the small games on cell phones, the Apple App Store was the first marketplace for smartphone apps and mobile games. Now we see mobile games all over the place, with the Google Play Store, the Android App Store, the Amazon App Store, and other mobile marketplaces. Some mobile games even have movies coming out based on them, such as the Angry Birds movie. Now gamers can have any sort of video game in the palm of their hand, whether it is on a handheld system like the Nintendo 3DS, or their smartphone or tablet.

  1. Touch Screen Functionality

person using the touchscreen on ps vita

While Touch Screens have been around since the 1970’s (with the release of the Plato IV touchscreen computer) the Nintendo DS was the first handheld console (or gaming gadget of its kind) to prioritize touch screen functionality. When it released in 2004, it allowed gamers to interface with their Nintendo DS games using either their fingers, or a stylus that is stored in the machine itself. Since then most handheld games provide touch functionality, from the Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita, and even the Wii U Console. Smartphone mobile games also utilize touch screen functionality, allowing more people to touch their favorite video games than ever before.

  1. Wireless Peripherals (controllers, mice, keyboards)

a wired and wireless xbox 360 controller

Cutting the cord and going wireless isn’t necessarily new; the first console to feature wireless controllers was the Atari 2600 and their pro line of the Atari CX-42. The first mainstream console to provide wireless controllers by default was the Xbox 360 back in 2005. Since then every major console that has released, has had a wireless controller provided with it, allowing players to sit wherever they wanted, as far from their console as they wanted (within reason) to play their favorite video games.

On the PC gaming front, the first wireless mouse was created in 1991 (the Cordless Mouseman by Logitech) which used radio signals in order to track mouse movement. Now wireless mice are smaller than their original counterparts, fitting in the palm of your hand, and even being portable enough to be carried on the go. The wireless keyboard has been around since the 1980’s but now they are more optimized than ever before, for example there are wireless keyboards that connect to Bluetooth devices such as Smart TV’s and tablets. The wireless peripheral is more commonplace and more useful than ever before.

  1. The Rise of the MMO and MOBA

a lot of wow players at stormwind

The first widely popular MMO is commonly referenced as Ultima Online, which released in 1997. This started a trend, creating MMORPG titans like World of Warcraft, Everquest, and Guild Wars. This trend has caused single player adventures like the Elder Scrolls Series, Final Fantasy, and Knights of the Old Republic to create MMORPG games inspired by their single player counterparts. On the other hand, Blizzard’s Warcraft can be linked to the rise in popularity of the MOBA genre with popular MOBA games including DotA2, League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm.

With the Internet becoming more and more commonplace, easily accessible with faster speeds than ever before, people are flocking to MMO’s and MOBAs to meet other gamers, enjoy wild adventures, and experience unique online gameplay that is different compared to their single player siblings.

  1. The Fall of the 3D Platformer

screenshot of spyro the dragon in a level

Games like Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot were some of my favorite 3D platformers of yesteryear; games like Banjo Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Ratchet and Clank, and Psychonauts have captured childhood attention and given hours of fun and enjoyment to gamers. Sadly these types of video games have slowly slipped into the pages of gaming history, with very few 3D platformers releasing in recent years. On the bright side, indie developers have begun to change this trend, taking to Kickstarter to create games like the upcoming Yooka Laylee, or 2014’s The Last Tinker: City of Colors.

  1. The Decline of the Turn Based RPG

final fantasy 7 turn based combat with a monster

Popular old video games like Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, and the first 10 (not counting Final Fantasy X-2) Final Fantasy games had one thing in common. They all used turn-based battles that required (in my opinion) strategy and party management in order to succeed. After Final Fantasy X-2 in 2003, the turn-based RPG model slowly began to decline, with games transitioning to the action-rpg or real-time model instead. Luckily for turn-based fans, video games like I am Setsuna, Persona 5, Tokyo Mirage, Bravely Second, and a slew of indie RPGs will be releasing to hopefully change this trend. For a fan of Turn-Based games like me, this was a sad decline, however now the tide is hopefully changing in our favor.

  1. Virtual Reality

Applications of Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality has been around for ages, whether it was in sci-fi movies, or releasing with Nintendo’s Virtual Boy or Sega’s VR-Powered shades in the 1990’s. Now this Virtual Reality technology has become a new talking point, with the Oculus Rift, Microsoft Hololens, and Playstation VR, everyone is trying to get a piece of the Virtual Reality pie.

Some of these things are still evolving, or going back to their retro roots, or simply going in new directions entirely. The great thing about the gaming industry is that we never really know what to expect, new technology is being developed all the time, and now we get to reap the benefits of those changes.

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