The console generations do have their themes and innovations. Some of the time we can only realize them when looking back. I am summing them up in one phrase which is quite a challenge. This is to reveal how the Console Generations are really a March of Time itself instead of a parade of consoles. Take a look:
Generation One- Interactive Television
The TV in your home is now something you interact. You do not just watch it.
Generation Two- Multi-Games, Multi-Controllers
Generation Two saw the innovation of cartridges which could change your games, add in new games, and being able to change the controllers. The Atari 2600, and the console industry itself, was saved by the release of a game called ‘Space Invaders’ which was a killer app and rocketed the Atari 2600 sales.
Generation Three- Japanese Console and Game and Controller Design
The breath of fresh air comes in from Japanese style gaming. You had to have been there. Super Mario Brothers, alone, normalized background music, scrolling, and even backgrounds with its ‘blue sky’. There were Japanese games on prior consoles, but they were arcade ports. The way how the Japanese designed games rocked the Game Industry at the time and spurred a revival of the console space. The Japanese innovations have been fiercely studied and incorporated into Western game companies since (example: Blizzard).
The Japanese did away with the joystick and gave us the D-pad, the controller you hold with two hands. Revolutionary. Also, most of the legal underpinnings of the console business were established during this time. Sega couldn’t make hardware that played Nintendo games (but last generation, Coleco made a console that could play Atari’s games).
Generation Four- Output Innovations
The best way I’d categorize the Generation Four was that it was about output innovations. You could say that about every generation so far, but remember that in Generation 3, retailers still refused to stock the NES despite its output innovations over the Atari 2600. No one bought a NES because ‘its graphics were better than Atari 2600’. They bought it because of Mario. I remember. I was there.
Generation Four was when game consoles became ‘Red Ocean’ and fiercely competitive in the avenue of output innovations. Sound and graphics especially was where the competition was at. Every game had to sound better and look more beautiful. The sprites had to be better, have more animations, and sometimes even created on another machine entirely (Donkey Kong Country).
Interestingly, there was little controller innovation. Aside from a few more buttons, the controllers stayed the same. With CD attachments, gaming got CD quality audio which is essentially the peak hardware-wise that our ears can handle.
Generation Five- 3D
It is pretty clear that all the consoles of this time were chasing 3d… to some games’ benefits and to some games’ curse.
“But this generation is also the switch to CDs! Include that, Malstrom!”
But that didn’t alter gaming like the addition of cartridges did. CDs do the same job as cartridges… although CDs are cheaper and hold more data. A data innovation is not what this generation is differentiated about. Data innovations are in every generation.
Generation Six- Better 3d Output
What were all the consoles chasing? What was the market responding to? Better 3d output. Games ceased being blocky messes.
In many ways, this is a continuation of Generation Five in dealing with the 3d. Gamecube was aptly named as if it was all going to be 3d hence the ‘cube’.
Generation Seven- Input Innovation, Online Play, Procedural Generation
Without a doubt, the input innovations of Generation Seven created the best selling Wii and DS from the Wii-mote to Balance Board. Sony and Microsoft later copied with their own take on input innovations. While HD output was lionized, the best selling game for Xbox 360 was a blocky clunky game by the name of Minecraft. Online Play had far more impact in gaming and keeping gamers to a console due to their friend lists.
Procedural Generation was *the* key reason why Minecraft took off. Procedural generation wasn’t ‘new’, but it is now become to the point where it can consistently be entertaining.
Generation Eight- Digital transmitting
I would engulf Generation 8 with the envelope of Digital Transmitting. This goes from the Wii U talking to the Wii U gamepad, to DLC, to Cloud based gaming, and so on. Granted, this is a rather lame innovation which may be why the console market is shrinking so fast after the massively innovative Generation 7.
Generation Nine- ?????
What will it be? Who knows. My guess for the Nintendo NX is Nintendo doing its Internet thing not AROUND the games like the other consoles are doing but WITHIN the game. As for Microsoft and Sony, I expect them to go more connectivity with their other products. We just do not know.
No, it will NOT be the Virtual Reality generation.