The second generation of video games is often referred to as the 8 bit era and this generation began in the year 1976. The earliest console releases of this era in video games included the Fairchild Channel F and the little known Radofin Electronics release of 1292 Advanced Programmable Video System. The consoles which saw the most success during this period in the industry included the cherished Atari 2600, The Odyssey 2, ColecoVision, and Intellivision although there were quite a few other systems competing to gain a share of the growing market.
History of 2nd Generation Console Evolution:
The Magnavox Odyssey was the earliest system and used removable cartridges which activated games which were wired directly into the consoles themselves rather than the cartridges containing the games like a memory card. This method was quickly replaced by the Pong systems which were capable of containing the logic for multiple games that were coded into microchips with discrete logic. The downside to the method employed in the Pong systems was that no additional games could be released for the systems. Once the mid 1970’s came about however consoles began to make the jump to a CPU base allowing the cartridge to make a return in the industry. At this point games were now being written using micro-processor code that could be placed on ROM discs and inserted into cartridges that could be attached to consoles where the console would then read the attached cartridge and then play whatever program was stored inside. This solved the previous problem of the Pong consoles and allowed players to amass collections of cartridges which each held a different game.
The first system to be released using this type of technology was the Fairchild VES and was released by Fairchild Semiconductor in August of 1976. Quickly following suite Atari released the VCS which was later renamed to the 2600. After the release of the Atari VCS (Video Computer System) Fairchild decided to rename their VES to the Fairchild Channel F. The third CPU based console of this generation to be released was created by Bally and was called the Astrocade though under its initial release it was called the Bally Home Library Computer. The Astrocade was released in 1977 and was only available to consumers by mail order. The Astrocade also suffered major delays in production which meant that none of the systems were actually shipped out until 1978, and by that time it was once again renamed the Bally Professional Arcade. This system had very little exposure to the general public leading to most of the units sales coming through computer retailers. After little early success Bally began to lose interest in the arcade market leading to the sale of its Consumer Products Division which included production and development of the console in 1979. In 1980 Bally decided to re-release the unit and included the BASIC cartridge for free with the system under the name Bally Computer System which eventually became the Astrocade once again during 1982. The Astrocade continued to be sold under this name until the great video game crash during 1983. After the crash however the system would disappear in 1984.
During 1978 Magnavox released its CPU processor follow up to the original Odyssey under the name Odyssey 2 in Canada and the United States. The same console was released in Europe by Philips Electronics under the console name Philips G7000. The Odyssey 2 managed to move several million units between 1978 and 1983 however it was not able to compete with the Atari 2600. Slightly before this Philips also developed a more powerful system under the name Interton VC 4000 also known as the 1292 Programmable Video System. In 1979 an unhappy group of programmers from Atari began the company Activision which was the first third party video game developer and paved the way for many other developers in the future.
Mattel was the next company to join the market with their release of the Intellivision which was released in 1980. The Intellivision was unique because it contained a processor which allowed for 10 bit wide instructions for increased variety and speed as well as 16 bit wide registers. It also boasted a sound chip that used three separate sound channels of output. This console proved to be very successful out of the games and managed to sell out of its production run shortly following the system release. This system was the first of the generation to pose a serious threat to Atari and was supported by television advertisements featuring George Pimpton and using side by side comparisons of graphics and sound capabilities of the Atari and Intellivision to display superiority. The major reasons for Atari’s success over Intellivision were due to the fact that Atari held the licenses for the most popular games and that it came out ahead in price comparisons leading future console wars to aim for similar pricing.
During 1982 the market was flooded with the release of four new systems including the Emerson Arcadia 2001, the Vectrex, Colecovision, and Atari 5200. The Vectrex stood out from the other consoles due to their use of vector graphics and the systems self contained display, and the Colecovision and Arcadia were simply more powerful devices. One of the major factors in these early consoles successes was due to ports of previous arcade games such as Atari’s release of Space Invaders and Colecovision‘s release of Nintendo’s Donkey Kong.
At this time the specifications of the console cartridge capabilities was also growing from the initial 2Kb of ROMs for the Atari 2600 and 4Kb of the Intellivison to 16Kb for Atari 5200 and Intellivision, and 32Kb for Colecovision. The next addition to this technology was referred to as bank switching which allowed two separate parts of a program to access the same memory address to allow larger cartridges to work. Using this technique Atari 2600 cartridges were capable of running 32Kb ROMs during its final releases, however the Arcadia was capable of running 31Kb without the use of bank switching. By the time 1982 rolled around the mass of available consoles, overly anticipated games, and disappointing games released from the new branch of third party developers led to an overflow in the market. This surplus helped to fuel the video game crash of 1983 and led to the release of no new games being made available during 1984.
- The Top 7… Innovative game consoles that didn’t deserve to fail (gamesradar.com)
- APF M1000 Video Game System Review (neovideohunter.wordpress.com)
- 15 Minutes of ColecoVision Games (mentalfloss.com)
- Atari 2600 portable ( Multari ) (imagamegeek.co.uk)
- The origins of Home Game Console wars, by John Hancock (losthammer.wordpress.com)
- A Timeless Classic Returns to my Collection (gamesliveforever.com)
- The Evolution of Gaming Consoles [infographic] (debugdesign.com)
- Atari and Nintendo: Atari’s Missed Opportunity (30plusgamer.com)
- Bump n’ Jump review for the Intellivision (imagamegeek.co.uk)