Do you like to memorize passwords? Perhaps you prefer to start video games from their beginnings every time you play them. Before Nintendo released The Legend of Zelda for the NES in 1986, these were the only two choices gamers had. Imagine how impractical it would be to have to play through a forty-hour RPG or multiple seasons from a sports game in one sitting. The organized gamer could attempt to keep a list of passwords for their favorite games. These notebooks full of passwords could quickly become unorganized and many passwords could potentially become lost. Nintendo saw this problem and offered the world a solution.
The Legend of Zelda for the NES arrived in the U.S. in 1986, bringing with it some extra memory and a tiny battery. These items allowed players to save their current in-game progress directly to the Zelda cartridge. Once their progress was saved, players could turn off their games for any amount of time they wanted while still being able to pick up their game right where they left off. This was a groundbreaking feature when it was first released but it has since become the standard in the video game industry. Almost all games now include the ability to save the players progress. Since most games no longer come on cartridges, most game saves are now handled by a system’s hard drive or a memory card.
What could be better than playing your favorite game at home on your television? Perhaps playing your favorite game anywhere that you want? This was Nintendo’s train of thought as they tried to make this portable gaming option a reality. They began testing the portable gaming market in 1980 with their Game and Watch series. While these were just simple little games that ran on watch batteries, they led the way for Nintendo’s portable gaming revolution. In 1989, Nintendo released the world’s first portable video game system, the Game Boy.
Game Boys became the first portable video game system by allowing the player to change the game that they were playing. They achieved this by having interchangeable games on cartridges. Now, instead of carrying three or four Game and Watch systems, players could just carry a Game Boy and the cartridges that they wish to play. Perhaps the most popular game that the Game Boy could play was a quirky puzzle game named Tetris. Nintendo got the exclusive rights to make a portable version of Tetris and it quickly became a classic. Due in-part to its versatility, durability, ingenuity, cheap price tag, and exclusive rights to Tetris, the Game Boy has become the best selling portable system ever. Even when the green-screened system was faced with heavy competition such as the technologically superior Sega Game Gear and Atari Lynx, the Game Boy continued to dominate the handheld video game market.The Analog Stick
On or Off. These are the only two signals that the D-pad sends while playing a game. On-screen characters could either be running or not moving. All of this changed in 1996 when Nintendo released a new method of control upon the gaming world. The analog stick, which came standard on the Nintendo 64’s (N64’s) controller, allowed players to have greater control in their video games. The analog stick surpassed the D-pad by allowing a full range of motion severity. If a player pushed the analog stick slightly, then on-screen characters would walk slowly. The harder the player pushed the stick, the faster the character would move.
This method of controlling video games helped to facilitate the video game industries’ move from 2-D to three-dimensional (3-D) gameplay. Several 3-D games that used the D-pad tried to cash in on this shift but they were mostly unplayable (see: Bubsy 3-D for the PS1). The analog stick allowed players to have a more precise ability to control their characters. With their introduction of the analog stick and several games that utilized it, Nintendo helped steer the industry towards the future by opening the market to 3-D gaming.