Flashback – 80s Gaming

1980's gaming
Back to the Future

Here we go!

Buckle your seat belts, we’ve got the 1.21 gigawats and are reaching 88 MPH! Back in time we go, to gaming in the 1980’s!

It’s the early 80’s and an arcade explosion is in progress. Arcades were popping up all over the place and the market was steadily growing. In 1981 the US alone had a $5 billion dollar gaming industry and the number of arcades doubled from 1980 to 1982. What were the hot games in high demand at the arcades at this time you might ask? Well Centipede, Frogger, Defender, Joust, Dig Dug, Donkey Kong and of course Pac-Man are quite a few of the big ones. But many more worked their way into arcades over the 80’s including Double Dragon and Street Fighter towards the later end of the decade.

Let’s flip it over to consoles for a moment. Atari’s were already in many households around the world, bringing the arcade to the living room. Game sales were booming and everything was golden, until around 1983 and the infamous game crash. Revenue from the gaming industry went from approximately $3.2 billion in 1983 to a whopping $100 million by 1985, around a 97 percent drop. Japan had the Famicom(Family Computer) in 1983 and began to build the console market after the video game crash of 1983. Upon seeing the popularity of the Famicom, Nintendo followed it in the United States market with the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985 and then to the U.K. in 1986. This system alone kicked off many of our addictions with some games you may know. Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Metroid, a small time plumber named Mario and many more. Side note, Final Fantasy almost did not happen and was indeed Hironobu Sakaguchi’s last attempt at breaking into the video game market. Guess it worked?


Nintendo Entertainment System

In my opinion Nintendo indeed turned around the console crash of the early 80’s after Atari and others claimed bankruptcy and lost their momentum. Atari alone reported a loss of $536 million in 1983, think about inflation and how much that actually was 30 years ago! Nintendo on the other hand stormed into the market in Japan in 1983 and spread to the US in 1985 and hit impressive numbers, and keep in mind these numbers are after a large crash that almost ruined the gaming market.
Super Mario Bro’s – 40.24 million units sold.
Super Mario 3 – 17.28 million units sold.
Legend of Zelda – 6.51 million units sold.
Excitebike – 4.61 million units sold.

After the market began to recover competition crept back in(minus the PC which was competing long before other consoles). The Sega Genesis hit the market in the US in 1988 and touted its “16” bit graphics and how much more impressive it was than 8-bit. It went on to sell somewhere between 37 and 41 million units. While the NES, the original Nintendo Entertainment System and not the Super one, has sold 61.91 million units. Do you see now why Nintendo maintains such a loyal following? It was the beginning of gaming for many and dominated the console world 30 years ago and has kept a strong foothold on the market ever since. The console wars raged on long after the 80’s but we’ll save that for a different article.

Sierra Games

…my childhood.

Now lets get to my bread and butter, the thing that kept my mundane life full of adventure, the PC. Now don’t get me wrong, I had a NES and Genesis and every other system that came along and loved them all. But I grew up with PC’s before consoles and had much more exposure to them at a younger age.
Growing up in the middle of nowhere I had nothing to do, but if I pop in a floppy(yea a floppy, I’m old get over it) I can load a whole new world. Sierra games being one of my favorite. Space Quest, Kings Quest, Hero’s Quest(Quest for Glory) and Police Quest among others. I could be an adventuring space janitor, a police officer, a sword wielding goblin killing adventurer or King Graham out for a stroll. Although I loved the console games, these PC games took my mind to another world and let the imagination roam. I could fight the Nazi’s in Wolfenstein, explore the quirky Maniac Mansion, or look for love(Haha) in Leisure Suit Larry.
I explored the galaxy in Starflight and Starflight 2, games that I still remember vividly and miss playing more than any recent games.

Game on

Game on!

Gaming has changed drastically since those days, but I find it interesting that today it seems some games are going back in time. Many of today’s hits return to 8-bit style graphics and simple systems and mechanics. Point and click games are making a big return and indie developers are receiving mass amounts of love to put out new ideas with old style graphics. Are people finally tired of the ever churning repeat games, IE: Call of Duty. But no matter what style of game you play or love, we are all in it together. This passion that we have will never fade away and never leave us! This is more than just our hobby, this is part of who we are, we are gamers! So…keep calm and game on!

PS: Many of the 80s games are now abandonware and easily found online. Might I suggest you check them out if you haven’t! Starflight, Doom, any of the Quest series by Sierra and many many more! DOSBOX may be required for most. If you have issues running that let us know!

-Matthew, 80s gaming fanatic

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