Handheld Game Console - History - Origins


The origins of handheld game consoles are found in handheld and tabletop electronic game devices of the 1970s and early 1980s. These electronic devices are capable of playing only a single game, they fit in the palm of the hand or on a tabletop, and they may make use of a variety of video displays such as LED, VFD, or LCD. In 1978, handheld electronic games were described by Popular Electronics magazine as "nonvideo electronic games" and "non-TV games" as distinct from devices that required use of a television screen. Handheld electronic games, in turn, find their origins in the synthesis of previous handheld and tabletop electro-mechanical devices such as Waco's Electronic Tic-Tac-Toe (1972) Cragstan's Periscope-Firing Range (1960s), and the emerging optoelectronic-display-driven calculator market of the early 1970s. This synthesis happened in 1976, when "Mattel began work on a line of calculator-sized sports games that became the world's first handheld electronic games. The project began when Michael Katz, Mattel's new product category marketing director, told the engineers in the electronics group to design a game the size of a calculator, using LED (light-emitting diode) technology."

our big success was something that I conceptualized—the first handheld game. I asked the design group to see if they could come up with a game that was electronic that was the same size as a calculator.
—Michael Katz, former marketing director, Mattel Toys.

The result was the 1976 release of Auto Race. Followed by Football later the same year, the two games were so successful that according to Katz, "these simple electronic handheld games turned into a '$400 million category.'" Mattel would later win the honor of being recognized by the industry for innovation in handheld game device displays. Soon, other manufacturers including Coleco, Parker Brothers, Milton Bradley, Entex, and Bandai began following up with their own tabletop and handheld electronic games.

In 1979 the LCD-based Microvision, designed by Smith Engineering and distributed by Milton-Bradley, became the first handheld game console and the first to use interchangeable game cartridges. The Microvision game Cosmic Hunter (1981) also introduced the concept of a directional pad on handheld gaming devices, and is operated by using the thumb to manipulate the on-screen character in any of four directions.

In 1979, Gunpei Yokoi, traveling on a bullet train, saw a bored businessman playing with an LCD calculator by pressing the buttons. Yokoi then thought of an idea for a watch that doubled as a miniature game machine for killing time. Starting in 1980, Nintendo began to release a series of electronic games designed by Yokoi called the Game & Watch games. Taking advantage of the technology used in the credit-card-sized calculators that had appeared on the market, Yokoi designed the series of LCD-based games to include a digital time display in the corner of the screen. For later, more complicated Game & Watch games, Yokoi invented a cross shaped directional pad or "D-pad" for control of on-screen characters. Yokoi also included his directional pad on the NES controllers, and the cross-shaped thumb controller soon became standard on game console controllers and ubiquitous across the video game industry as a replacement for the joystick. When Yokoi began designing Nintendo's first handheld game console, he came up with a device that married the elements of his Game & Watch devices and the Famicom console, including both items' D-pad controller. The result was the Nintendo Game Boy.

In 1982, the Bandai LCD Solarpower was the first solar-powered gaming device. Some of its games, such as the horror-themed game Terror House, featured two LCD panels, one stacked on the other, for an early 3D effect. In 1983, Takara Tomy's Tomytronic 3D simulated 3D by having two LED panels that were lit by external light through a window on top of the device, making it the first dedicated home video 3D hardware.

Read more about this topic:  Handheld Game Console, History

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