The gaming industry is a fascinating beast to behold as technology advancements need to be just as creative as game design. Timing plays a large role as companies search for the sweet spot of consumer interest. Developers must be simultaneously ambitious and practical to meet their customers ever-changing needs. Let’s take a look at some of the most important innovations ever brought about by gaming consoles.
NES – Controller
The NES controller may look primitive now, but was vastly superior to every controller before it, and set the foundation for the modern control schemes we use today.
Pre-NES controllers varied wildly and were riddled with issues. The Atari 2600’s joystick and single button worked well but was limited in the experiences it could provide.
Atari’s 5200 added a keypad and two more buttons on the side, but the placement was uncomfortable and difficult to use in the heat of battle.
Other manufacturers experimented with various sizes and configurations but the NES blew them all away.
Nintendo standardized a D-pad on the left, face buttons on the right, and the emphasis on thumb control. Placing the A and B buttons in a close horizontal line meant players could easily hold one button while pressing the other with just one thumb. This meant Mario could sprint and jump with ease.
The start and select buttons allowed developers to implement menus, inventory, and special abilities/items.
In the words of Han Solo: “She may not look like much, but she’s got it where it counts”.
Genesis – Marketing
The Genesis was far and away Sega’s most successful console, selling 30 million units. Most of that success can be attributed to Tom Kalinske, Sega of America’s CEO.
Kalinske had a four-point plan that involved: reducing the price, instituting an American team to create games for the American market, expand advertising, and include Sonic the Hedgehog as the new pack-in game. Sega of Japan thought it was crazy to give their highest-rated game away with each console, but it quickly became a system-seller.
The advertising campaign was aimed at an older audience, attempting to portray the Genesis as the ‘cooler’ option. Slogans like “Genesis does what Nindon’t” and “blast processing” were at the heart of the marketing blitz. Adding to the mature theme, Mortal Kombat was left uncensored on the Genesis, while the SNES port replaced red blood with grey sweat and modified the fatalities.
SNES – Controller
The SNES was the pinnacle of 16-bit gaming and had a robust library of classic games, but the controller was by far the best contribution it made to gaming.
Upgrading to four face buttons would have been enough, but two shoulder buttons were a game changer and are even more relevant today as R2 / right trigger has become the primary button for most games that require your thumbs constantly on the analog sticks.
In the battle of SNES/Genesis, Nintendo’s extra buttons meant Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat I/II could be controlled as they were in the arcade.