21 points by zdw
a month ago
I had a 7800 as a kid - it was weird playing 5 year old arcade releases but they were pretty decent. Much better than the previous generation of consoles.
It was a weird point in video games - my parents of course go into the video game/arcade fad, and now the same games were on the home consoles. So we liked the same games and we could actually compete a little bit.
The NES gave us things like Super Mario Brothers which was a totally new thing. Nobody wanted to play arcade ports anymore, but Atari kept pushing. I'm sure it was internal politics at play. My parents didn't like the NES controller and they were getting older so they never played anything on the NES except Tetris and the like.
Eventually the arcade ports made their way to the NES, and they were really, really good. Ms Pac-man was a little weird because of the level size and sprite size, but Galaga and Donkey Kong were perfect. But by this point we had Zelda and Tecmo Bowl and everything else, we didn't have to live in the past anymore.
You might already know this but the main reason the 7800 had so many old at the time arcade games is because it was originally scheduled for a 1984 release. Most of the lineup was developed and ready with the 1984 release in mind. Then the US video game crash happened and Atari shelved the whole thing games included.
The Famicom had a similarly arcade port heavy library in it's early days but over time games got more sophisticated especially as new mapper chips became available allowing for new features like vertical and horizontal scrolling. With the NES being released several years later we got to skip a lot of the more basic titles while still getting some of the older good ones like Donkey Kong.
And that's how Nintendo pulled their coup in the US games market.
They still had all those mediocre (as in long in the tooth) arcade games but also original games (full RPG and complex strategy) more like computer ports.
The dark horse contenders were the actual "general purpose" computers. That worked out well but took quite a bit longer to play out than the consoles in gaming popularity. Less accessible I suppose.
It's always been interesting to me that the 7800 and NES were designed at roughly the same time, because the 7800 seems so much more primitive. (Using the TIA for sound didn't help!) On paper the graphics hardware is superior, but I feel like no 7800 games of the era really new how to take advantage of it.
What really killed the 7800 I think is that it was cancelled and only later released after the NES revived the market. And it was released at a budget price point with a bunch of mediocre arcade ports. And this was after Super Mario Bros. had rocked the world! And the NES had better ports of most of the 7800 launch lineup!
I wonder what would have happened if the 7800 had not been cancelled originally. I think the NES would have still beaten it in sales, but maybe the NES would have looked primitive in '85 if 7800 devs had a year of learning how to get more out of the hardware.
The 7800's technical advantages are subtle in that relative to the rest of its generation, it can do lots of sprites smoothly and with varied color, but the output quality is relatively low res. It doesn't screenshot as well in a tiny magazine thumbnail, which is going to bias expectations towards "worse graphics".
I do think that had it not had a terrible launch, used better controllers, and invested more in software dev and on-cart tech(there were scrapped plans for better audio chips) it could have gotten a serious market share.
But the whole story of Atari is that it succeeded marvelously as a startup and then subsequently floundered as a large enterprise, and this is just one more example.
It depends on what you mean by "general purpose computers", 8-bit computers like the Apple ][, Commodore 64 (and in Britain/Europe things like the ZX Spectrum) were actually quite popular before the NES. In fact many NES games were actually ports of earlier computer games.