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2021 - Hardware Devices
Chapter 5
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2021 - Hardware Devices

14

Welcome to the Hardware Devices wing of the Shacknews Hall of Fame class. This category celebrates platforms, computers, and other devices that have directly or indirectly influenced the course of video game development and consumption.

When you're finished, use the Table of Contents links below to visit other areas of the Shacknews Hall of Fame.


3dfx Voodoo graphics cards.
3dfx Voodoo graphics cards.

In the later parts of 1996, 3dfx aggressively entered the PC hardware market with affordable graphics cards designed to run Doom and Quake. Prices of EDO DRAM had dropped in 1996, allowing 3dfx to ship the Voodoo Graphics PCI card with a whopping 4 megabyte of RAM. Both the RAM and processor ran at 50 MHz. The card still depended on computers having video controllers as it was designed to handle 3D acceleration.

The 3dfx Voodoo Graphics PCI card kicked off a wild period of innovation on the software and hardware side of video game development that continues to this day. While the 3dfx brand may now live on as NVIDIA following acquisitions of the company's assets, their tremendous Voodoo Graphics PCI card will live on for eternity at the Shacknews Hall of Fam in Canton, Ohio.


Apple II family of computers.
Apple II family of computers.

In the late '70s, before Windows was a blip on Bill Gates' radar and before Steve Jobs revolutionized music and mobile phones, Apple introduced its home computer to the world. The Apple II wasn't a powerful machine by any means and its components made it too expensive for the average consumer. You weren't going to walk into somebody's home and find an Apple II computer sitting on their desk.

However, the Apple II proved to be a valuable educational tool. With young children learning basic typing and how to use basic applications, the Apple II was the machine that trained an entire generation for an online future.


Atari Video Computer System (VCS), aka Atari 2600.
Atari Video Computer System (VCS), aka Atari 2600.

The home console did not begin with Nintendo. No, the people at Atari were the first to bring gaming into people's living rooms. For older generations, the Atari 2600 was a phenomenon, bringing games like Space Invaders, Pitfall, Pac-Man, and many other classics from the golden age of arcades to people who didn't want to leave the house. While the Atari 2600's days were not fated to last, home gaming never gets off the ground without it.


Atari Lynx.
Atari Lynx.

While the Atari Lynx may not be the most well-known hand-held console to make our Hall of Fame, there’s a number of good reasons it deserves to be here. For one thing, it has an amazing catalog of Arcade ports like Rampage, Toki, APB, Xenophobe, Rygar, and Ninja Gaiden. It also is probably the only hand-held console to have a left-handed mode built in. That’s right, at the push of a button you could make the game screen flip its orientation, then all you have to do was flip the console itself and you could play with buttons on the left and the d-pad on the right.

The Lynx was also rocking 16-Bit graphics and color in 1989, the same year the Game Boy released with 8-Bit graphics and a gray-scale screen. In a lot of ways, the Lynx was ahead of its time and it deserves recognition for that.


Commodore 64.
Commodore 64.

Commodore took a Nintendo-like approach to its "C64" computer before "Nintendo-like approach" was understood as a concept. The computer's specs were low-end, but that made it an affordable alternative to pricier PCs like the Apple II and Macintosh. That affordability paired with Commodore 64's availability: Before, PCs like the Apple II were sold in electronics and hobbyist stores unknown to most consumers. The C64 was sold through major retailers, giving it mainstream appeal.

Budding developers got their hands on it and turned out over 10,000 published titles, many of which were games that influenced future generations of designers to try their hand at making games.


Nintendo Game & Watch.
Nintendo Game & Watch.

Long before Nintendo would innovate the hand-held gaming world with consoles like the Game Boy and Switch, and even before they ventured into the home console market with the NES, Nintendo released a number of portable LCD titles under their Game & Watch line. Each one had its own unique game, though their concepts were usually very simple. Players would have to do things like keep juggling balls in the air, or whack some pests with a hammer. Some featured a clam-shell with a dual-screen that would go on to inspire the design of the Nintendo DS.

In the last couple of years Nintendo has even released a couple very special Game & Watches to help celebrate 35th anniversaries of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, thus ensuring a whole new generation of gamers will always know what time it is and have a solid selection of portable classics for their modern on-the-go lifestyles. 


Nintendo Game Boy.
Nintendo Game Boy.

Nintendo has a long history of taking older tech and reworking it to offer affordable and versatile platforms. Until 2017's Switch console/handheld hybrid, perhaps no Nintendo platform typified that practice to greater effect than the Game Boy. Released in 1989, the bulky yet oddly comfortable handheld had black and white (more aptly black and green) graphics, but the diversity of gameplay exhibited in its vast software library made that irrelevant. Tetris, Mario, Zelda, Street Fighter, any number of puzzlers and platformers—all these and more were well-represented on Game Boy and able to be played anywhere, anytime.

Game Boy is a cultural icon, and endured in part thanks to the release of the first Pokémon games in the 1990s, which gave the black-and-green machine a last gasp that extended its lifecycle into the early 2000s, a staggering span of time for such primitive but adaptable hardware.


Game Genie.
Game Genie.

Much like today, video games through the 1980s and 2000s either had cheat codes, or they didn't. Enter Game Genie, a device that allowed you to enter arcane combinations of letters and numbers to trigger unintended effects such as unlimited lives, one-hit kills, and level skips. Game Genie codes didn't work like traditional cheats. The character strings you entered—usually found in thick booklets that came with each device—told your game of choice to look for areas in memory that changed based on in-game actions (such as losing life or dealing damage to enemies) and manipulate them to your benefit.

The 8- and 16-bit eras produced games that were notoriously difficult, but thanks to Game Genie, many of us rolled credits on titles we probably never would have finished otherwise.


Keyboard and mouse.
Keyboard and mouse.

It may seem absurd to lionize the keyboard-and-mouse combo with which all PC players are familiar, but that familiarity is the reason behind this induction.

Through decades of joysticks, gamepads, and support for high-quality peripherals like Sony's DualShock 4 and Microsoft's own Xbox controllers, no input devices are more precise, more versatile, and more readily available on the PC than its default devices. Not everyone who plays games on PC may have a controller, but everyone who has a PC has a keyboard and mouse.

The precision of the mouse puts analog sticks to shame, and the ability to customize 128 keys (and then some) to the weapon, grouping of units, or any other function offers a level of input no set of conventional buttons can touch.


Nintendo 64.
Nintendo 64.

The Nintendo 64 marked a turning point for Nintendo. After the success of the 16-bit era, the time had finally come to go 3D. This led to the Nintendo 64, an era that can be seen as Nintendo doing more with less.

While the Nintendo 64 couldn't compete with the pure power of the Sony PlayStation, largely because of its stubborn reliance on cartridges, Nintendo's console is lovingly remembered for its wonderful games. Many of its first party franchises like Mario, Zelda, and Star Fox made the successful transition to 3D. New installments of other series like Mario Kart 64 and F-Zero X would set the standard for the future. And, of course, all-new first party titles like Mario Party and Super Smash Bros. would propel Nintendo into the 21st century.

The Nintendo 64 wasn't the most powerful machine, but it proved that it didn't take much power to make something fun.


Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is more than a touchstone for budding gamers who grew up in the 1980s and '90s. It brought the North American video game market back from the dead, and while Nintendo's development policies were Draconian, their insistence on quality helped ensure the glut of poor software during the early '80s wouldn't bring the industry to its knees again. The NES was an experimental console—billed as an "Entertainment System" to convince retailers still squeamish over stocking video games to give it a chance—that played host to a variety of genres, and a who's-who of franchises that remain popular over 30 years later.

Today, countless indie games pay homage to the NES era through charming pixel art, "chiptunes" soundtracks, and simple controls coupled with engrossing gameplay.


Sony PlayStation.
Sony PlayStation.

In the mid '90s, several companies had tried to dive into the home console market and most of them failed. Panasonic flopped with the 3DO, NEC couldn't last with the TurboGrafx-16, Philips couldn't make a dent with the CD-i, and Atari couldn't get back into the market with the Jaguar. Sony, however, was up for the challenge and made waves with the original PlayStation in 1995.

With the power of CD-ROMs, the PlayStation explored the realm of 3D gaming and put together some of the most intriguing games on the market at the time. While Sony wasn't ready to make games themselves, third party developers were ready and willing to take on this new hardware. Namco brought Tekken, Konami introduced Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and newcomers like Naughty Dog came calling with a 3D platformer called Crash Bandicoot.

There was stiff competition from the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn, but the PlayStation was able to hang on, paving the way for the PlayStation 2, one of the greatest consoles ever made.


Pong.
Pong.

What is there to say about Pong? It's one of the world's first video games and the first one to be a commercial success. It debuted before the home console was ever a blip on the radar and helped launch the golden age of arcades. Its simplicity makes it every bit as engaging today as it was in the 70s, with its table tennis premise making it as easy to pick up as a game of air hockey.

Video games were born because of Pong. Its cultural impact is undeniable.


Sega Genesis (Mega Drive).
Sega Genesis (Mega Drive).

At the start of the '90s, Nintendo was on top of the world. It seemed unthinkable that anybody would want to compete with this juggernaut. However, Sega was not only willing to do so, but they had a plan.

The Sega Genesis debuted in 1991, ready to go toe-to-toe with the all-new Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Sega brandished its own graphical capabilities, along with a new mascot in Sonic the Hedgehog, sports games like Madden, and an aggressive marketing push. The console wars had begun and video games would be changed forever.


Sega's Time Traveler.
Sega's Time Traveler.

While Time Traveler is a mixed bag of an arcade title from a gameplay perspective, it was definitely a product that was ahead of its time in a lot of ways. It claimed to be the first holographic video game ever. It accomplished its holographic effect using curved mirrors and a CRT monitor, which is pretty impressive for 1991 technology. The game itself was made by  Rick Dyer, the same person who helped bring the Dragon’s Lair series to life, only this time he used live-action FMV instead of Don Bluth’s superb animation for his impossible to time properly quick-time-events.

The game itself is nothing to write home about, but you’ve really got to give Sega credit for pushing the boundaries of arcade game technology at the time.


SoundBlaster 16.
SoundBlaster 16.

Before sound cards, audio in PC games comprised grating beeps and bloops that made Atari's 2600 console sound as melodious as an antique music box. Creative Technology's series of SoundBlaster cards, specifically the Sound Blaster Pro and Sound Blaster 16, opened the ears of PC gamers to a soundscape they had never thought possible in video games.

From the cries of guards and the wall-shaking bass of the chaingun in Wolfenstein 3D to the MIDI music of point-and-click adventures like LucasArts' Full Throttle and Sierra's Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers, the SoundBlaster 16 ushered in a level of immersion not possible with earlier, more primitive hardware.


Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super NES, SNES).
Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super NES, SNES).

For as much reverence as the NES attracts (and deserves), Nintendo's breakthrough console was a warmup act. Genres and franchises that debuted on the NES evolved into near-perfect forms on the Super NES. Super Mario World and Zelda: A Link to the Past, for instance, built on the foundations of Super Mario Bros. 3 and The Legend of Zelda, respectively, to offer more refined mechanics and more robust worlds.

The Super NES was also on the front lines of the 16-bit "console war" with Sega's Genesis. While all genres were prolific on both platforms, each became known for certain genres such as droves of sports titles on Genesis and RPGs on SNES.


TurboGrafx-16.
TurboGrafx-16.

The TurboGrafx-16 never really got its fair shake in the US thanks to Nintendo and Sega dominating the console wars of the 80s and 90s and that’s a real shame because it’s a truly noteworthy system. Made by NEC and backed by Hudson the TurboGrafx-16 was showing off it’s 8-bit/16-bit combo processor well before its competitors with a line-up of titles that included Bomberman and their own caveman mascot in the Bonk’s Adventure series of games. Other noteworthy titles include JJ & Jeff, PAC-LAND, and, what is widely considered to be one of the best arcade ports ever, Splatterhouse.

What’s even more impressive is that the home console’s HuCards, were the same ones used on the portable TurboExpress, which as far as I know is the only case of a hand-held having as much processing power as its home counterpart. Hack, the console even had a CD-Rom add-on well before the Sega CD was even a thing. And while it never really got its footing here, it was huge in Japan, selling over 5 million units there.

Perhaps in the end TurboGrafx-16 was just too ahead of its time or maybe it just didn’t have the marketing money of a Nintendo or a Sega. Either way, this is an excellent that has never really gotten all the recognition it deserves.


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