VIDEO GAMES MATTER

A short history of the 'golden age' of video games

Every decade has its followers, says Laurentian University professor Aaron Langille, but the 1980s was the generation that ended up being a “difference maker” in the video game industry.

'Crash' of industry in 1983 gave rise to iconic games, hardware

In 1983, Mario Brothers became Nintendo's 'marquee' title, says Laurentian professor Aaron Langille. (arcadespot.com)

Every decade has its followers, says Laurentian University professor Aaron Langille, but the 1980s was the generation that ended up being a "difference maker" in the video game industry.

Langille, CBC Morning North's video game columnist, said the crash and near implosion of the industry in 1983 gave rise to the "golden age" of gaming.

"We were starting to build an already billion-dollar industry, and people were trying to get in on the action, and so a lot of terrible games were made."

"What you had was a market that was victim of its own success," Langille said.

Langille gives the example of the Atari game E.T., the Extra Terrestrial, which hit the market in 1982.

"E.T. was trying to capitalize on the movie, but was rushed into production," Langille said. "[It] ended up being a terrible game all around."

A retail nightmare

With the proliferation of games hitting store shelves, and with multiple consoles to choose from— Atari, Coleco, Activision were the major players—  retailers weren't set up to sell all games for every console.

"Picture a K-Mart or Zellers at the time who had to stock all these cartridges," Langille said. "When these bad games came out and they weren't selling, the retailer returned them, and there were game developers who simply couldn't accept that their games weren't selling."

Aaron Langille is a professor of computer science and game design at Laurentian University in Sudbury. (Aaron Langille/Supplied)

Enter: Mario

Then from the ashes of the crash came Nintendo Entertainment Systems, or NES, with its marquee title, Mario Brothers.

"I think once that game got into homes, and people could play arcade style games on their TV set, that changed everything," Langille said.

The graphics, as well as a more advanced hardware system, set NES apart from its aging competitors.

"You had a company that was fully invested in making sure this thing worked, and a couple years of success in Japan already," he said.

"They had good games, excellent developers, designers, and basically all cylinders were firing for them."

The console, and games, proved so popular, that a cursory search for the top video games of the 80s reads like "a Nintendo greatest hits," Langille said.

CBC Radio is celebrating 40 years on the air here in Northern Ontario. We're also looking back at the last 40 years of video games. In this edition of Video Games Matter, our video game columnist Aaron Langille takes us back to the 1980s and what was hot in gaming for that decade. 7:51