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Keatah

Computers and the videogame crash of the 80's.

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We all like to discuss and cheer for our favorite platforms. And brag about what made them so special, so successful, so memorable.. What were some of the deciding factors in determining if a system was successful? And what might have caused them to fail?  I believe presence/absence of documentation and quality build materials were both big issues in what enabled (or not) a system to survive the crash.

 

You'll note that the successful platforms of yesteryear had great official factory documentation. It was rather complete including stuff like Monitor ROM listings, DOS code, in-depth reference manuals.. all from the manufacturer. Rather complete I say, because, there were naturally gaps in coverage and that made for a whole 3rd party industry of books that filled those gaps and expanded upon the mfg docs. These gaps bought fresh and varied talent into an ecosystem.

 

I believe too many of the low-cost consumer & department store computers projected the aura they were just "me-too" experiments. Not a whole heckuvalot went into supporting them. Or documenting them. Or, heaven forbid, creating an infrastructure around which they could grow. If the manufacturer isn't excited about their wares - how can we expect the general consumer to do the same? It's not hard to spot a product that has honor and pride behind it.

 

Looking at IBM PC, Apple II, MAC, and to a lesser extent the Amiga, they all had comprehensive reference materials. And so did the Atari 400/800, Vic-20, and C64 - if you're counting lower cost computers. Yes you can have a cheap computer and have it succeed.

 

And not only that, but there were efforts to make industry standards. Some being invented on "the" platform, othertimes outside standards would be bought in via a software or hardware upgrade. It's like right now, the PC platform is on the cusp of accepting yet another upgrade to PCIe. Behaviors and actions like that are sure to keep a platform at the forefront of performance and innovation.

 

While 8-bit machines mostly don't exchange file formats with each other directly(aside from text), most all have some sort of Flash-based storage device and comprehensive PC-side utilities and emulators that do enable sharing of data. The most common being text & graphic files - like converting them back and forth between the platform's native standard and gif/jpeg.

 

 

 

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Success I think is having a large and varied software library.

 

Failure is the lack thereof, and the ultimate sign of failure is when the manufacturer discontinued the line after only a couple years.

 

But a different question is "how successful"?   The Atari 8-bit line was produced for at least a dozen years, and has a decent-sized software library, but especially in its later life, it was always playing second fiddle to Apple II/C64 when it came to third-party support.  So it was clearly less successful than others

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Interesting...

Looking at how the present perceives the past, I agree with you...

 

IBM, Apple II, Mac are huge, and I would include the C64 in there...

Those are computers that people remember and felt were important.

 

Now, I love my Amigas, but I agree it is on the edge.  When people remember them (and a lot do), it always seems to be that "Yeah, that was a great machine that never reached it's potential."  Does that keep it from being historically successful?  Possibly.

They did apparently sell over 5 million units, which sounds good to me...  I think on par with the Apple II series.  (Of course, the market was larger by the time the Amiga was around, so it didn't get the same market penetration...)  

Compare that with the ST line, which I think sold a bit over 2 million.  While still a great machine, probably a tier below on the remembered as historically successful level.

 

From a business perspective, I think the C64 and Apple II did what they were supposed to do and then some.  So they were very successful.

I'm not sure I can say that about the Amiga.  So, while I don't consider it a failure by any means, I don't think I can put it on that same top tier...

(For which I blame Commodore!!  Grrr.. : )

 

And as zzip mentioned, what does that mean for the Atari 8 bit line?

I'd list it in a similar area to the Amiga.  Considering the run and the number of units sold, that is a success... 

But you are right, people mention Apple and Commodore when talking 8 bits...  Not as much Atari...

 

That said, when thinking about the video game crash, I think that is part of what helped these computers sell.

When the crash hit, I think people bought computers instead of consoles.  So the "crash" seemed like a good time to get into computers to me...  ;-)

 

 

 

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A successful computer makes a lasting impact on the computer industry. So in my opinion, the IBM PC was the most successful of them all. it wasn't a great computer, and it was ridiculously overpriced. However there were hundreds of thousands of peripherals, clone computers, etc. and even our modern day computers' operating systems work more or less the same as the original IBM PC's PC-DOS. It made a lasting impact on the entire computer industry, with the few only unaffected surviving company being Apple and various little companies that were just barely selling well. 

Therefore "IBM Compatible" computers are still being produced, as modern computers still use the same file format and while they can't run them they can still handle them.

You might call this "cheating" but in my opinion it's just showing how ridiculously successful the PC was.

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The (significantly less expensive, often simply better machines overall) clones made it happen.  IBM made a computer out of COTS parts, it had a big name behind it to placate businesses (since most home computers were considered "not serious for business" for completely absurd reasons), and the 3rd party clone market took that combination and cashed in on it big time.

 

IBM lost most of the market control, but Intel rose to prominence as the big league chip maker.

 

Basically every PC since the 90s has been heavily engineered by Intel. (PCI bus? Yup. USB? Yup--- etc.)

 

The early clones were often more aesthetically appealing, had more features, and were cheaper than IBM's offers-- After Phoenix managed to reverse engineer the PC BIOS with a fully clean-room reimplementation, the cow left the barn, so to speak.  That cloned bios found its way everywhere, and was adapted many times over.

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"Successful" can be a rather subjective and unfair quantifier, especially when only considering units sold. "PC clone" is more of a philosophy than brand so not sure if it counts. By the sales, C64 is of course the king of the home computers of that era, but that does not mean others were unsuccesful. More like, it's about influence, and also many smaller niches some of them occupied.

 

So for example ZX Spectrum might be virtually unknown in US, but in Europe it sold over 5mil (for comparison Apple 2 - 6mil overall) and was hugely influential on gaming, coding and generally promotion of this new hobby. Amiga was groundbreaking on many levels and ushered in a new era of fx fidelity. MSX was the first attempt to set unified standard across many different manufacturers. Atari ST was a big hit it because of the price and music capabilities. And so on and on, each of them has some claim to fame, however small, and I love the lot of 'em.

 

Though, still not sure what all it has to do with "videogame crash of the 80s", as per the OP :)

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3 hours ago, desiv said:

But you are right, people mention Apple and Commodore when talking 8 bits...  Not as much Atari...

The "Atari" name conjures up videogames and not computers.

 

3 hours ago, desiv said:

That said, when thinking about the video game crash, I think that is part of what helped these computers sell.

When the crash hit, I think people bought computers instead of consoles.  So the "crash" seemed like a good time to get into computers to me...  ;-)

It was. And while I was already into computers long before, it was a good inflection point to double-down and become more familiar with individual systems and more familiar with the industry as a whole.

 

3 hours ago, bluejay said:

[..]

Therefore "IBM Compatible" computers are still being produced, as modern computers still use the same file format and while they can't run them they can still handle them.

You might call this "cheating" but in my opinion it's just showing how ridiculously successful the PC was.

That's where virtualization comes in. It's a serious tool for some businesses and niche environments where old software is needed or hasn't been updated in years. Virtualization is well developed and adds oomph to the ecosphere.

 

There's freeware utilities that enable the PC to read over 400+ graphics formats. From early formats like Apple II "HGR" or even "GR" through to the latest MRI & CATscan outputs.

 

A more "consumerish" application might be Apple's HEIC. Just this last year or so Windows "learned" how to support the file format and is on the cusp working transparently with it.

 

2 hours ago, wierd_w said:

IBM lost most of the market control, but Intel rose to prominence as the big league chip maker.

And with good reason. From reading Intel's early history (4004 through 8086/8088), the #1 factor here was support of their products. Anyone could get any kind of information. They had great developer reference manuals and datasheets. AND for the microprocessors they had plenty of support & peripheral & interfacing chips. Including memories built on several technologies. And loads of docs for those, too. And this trend continues to today.

 

2 hours ago, wierd_w said:

After Phoenix managed to reverse engineer the PC BIOS with a fully clean-room reimplementation, the cow left the barn, so to speak.  That cloned bios found its way everywhere, and was adapted many times over.

My first 486, a clone Gateway 2000, left the farm with a Phoenix BIOS installed. I was just learning what a BIOS was and why the firmware in the likes of the Apple II or C64 or 400/800 wasn't a "BIOS".

 

Having a "BIOS" screen to enter into and change setup parameters indicated, to me, that I was firmly in the professional world of computers. The notions of real-life TRON and hacking were dissipating. Growing up. Leaving the 8-bit toy computers for "real" stuff! You know.

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Posted (edited)
2 hours ago, youxia said:

"PC clone" is more of a philosophy than brand so not sure if it counts.

Well, it doesn't. But they were inspired by the original IBM PC, and that led to what computers are today. Were there hundreds of thousands of c64 clones? No. Are modern computers heavily influenced by the c64? No.

So yeah, I'd say the PC made a more lasting impact on the computer industry than any other computer.

Edited by bluejay
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Computers had a very big impact on the Video Game Crash of 1983.  The reason being is that so many computers (such as the TI-99/4a, Vic-20, C64, Atari 800 and 600XL, and CoCo 2) had all come down to the price in and around video game console prices.  Also, games on computers such as the C64 or Atari 800XL were as good if not better than the console equivalents.  It caused a lot of overlap gaming wise between the two causing even more of glut of video games that were already being experienced on just video game consoles alone.  Long term wise, the computer platforms that have had the biggest impact computing wise are the PC and Mac.  No doubt about it.  Also, within the last decade, Chromebooks have also become a force (of sorts) in the U.S. as they have really put a dent on tablets since you can have a basic computer with a keyboard and years of updates over a tablet that may cost about the same with and/or without accessories.  Just my thoughts as there have been some really good discussions.  I look forward to seeing more 😀

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8 minutes ago, Hwlngmad said:

Chromebooks have also become a force (of sorts) in the U.S. as they have really put a dent on tablets

The numbers may reflect this, but in my experience the Chromebooks get purchased then tossed.  They tend to not be as functional as people who buy them think they should be, and they are intended to replace what is already in existence.  Then, in terms of tablet or full-size laptop purchase, the customer will just go back to what they had previously.  +1 new purchase Chromebook, 0 new purchase tablet or laptop.

 

I should have kept count of this happening over the years.  I cannot say I have one customer or know of one person who has purchased a Chromebook and actually uses it.

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52 minutes ago, OLD CS1 said:

The numbers may reflect this, but in my experience the Chromebooks get purchased then tossed.  They tend to not be as functional as people who buy them think they should be, and they are intended to replace what is already in existence.  Then, in terms of tablet or full-size laptop purchase, the customer will just go back to what they had previously.  +1 new purchase Chromebook, 0 new purchase tablet or laptop.

 

I should have kept count of this happening over the years.  I cannot say I have one customer or know of one person who has purchased a Chromebook and actually uses it.

True, I think adults tend to get a Chromebook, fully realize what it is and is not, and go back to something else.  However, our Chromebook is for our son, which is good for him thus far as he is still in Elementary school.

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1 hour ago, Hwlngmad said:

Computers had a very big impact on the Video Game Crash of 1983.  The reason being is that so many computers (such as the TI-99/4a, Vic-20, C64, Atari 800 and 600XL, and CoCo 2) had all come down to the price in and around video game console prices.  Also, games on computers such as the C64 or Atari 800XL were as good if not better than the console equivalents. 😀

This is true,  I always say there was a "lost" console generation that consisted of the Colecovision, 5200, and COMMODORE 64 / Atari 8bit.  Gaming historians tend to write-off this generation because the CV/5200 failed, and they don't consider home computers to count as "consoles" no matter how many people used them as one.

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11 minutes ago, zzip said:

This is true,  I always say there was a "lost" console generation that consisted of the Colecovision, 5200, and COMMODORE 64 / Atari 8bit.  Gaming historians tend to write-off this generation because the CV/5200 failed, and they don't consider home computers to count as "consoles" no matter how many people used them as one.

100% agreed.  As cliche as this is going to sound, I am writing a book and one of things I am mentioning in the book is how popular home computers like the C64, Vic-20, Apple II, CoCo 2, and Atari 8-bits became due to how cheap they were and how they (pretty much) trumped what any dedicated gaming console could do (to some but not all degrees).

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4 minutes ago, Hwlngmad said:

100% agreed.  As cliche as this is going to sound, I am writing a book and one of things I am mentioning in the book is how popular home computers like the C64, Vic-20, Apple II, CoCo 2, and Atari 8-bits became due to how cheap they were and how they (pretty much) trumped what any dedicated gaming console could do (to some but not all degrees).

Yeah, Floppy disks alone gave us capabilities that cartridge-based systems couldn't do at the time (not economically anyway).  A game could span multiple disks, you could save data, etc.    The later consoles had much bigger cartridge capabilties and the ability to save games and scores.

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1 minute ago, zzip said:

Yeah, Floppy disks alone gave us capabilities that cartridge-based systems couldn't do at the time (not economically anyway).  A game could span multiple disks, you could save data, etc.    The later consoles had much bigger cartridge capabilties and the ability to save games and scores.

Very true.  Also, computer prices jumped way up with the introduction of 16- and/or 32-bit machines compared to what 8-bit machines could be had for.  That really helped video game consoles like the NES, Genesis, etc. come back in a big way imo.

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52 minutes ago, zzip said:

This is true,  I always say there was a "lost" console generation that consisted of the Colecovision, 5200, and COMMODORE 64 / Atari 8bit.  Gaming historians tend to write-off this generation because the CV/5200 failed, and they don't consider home computers to count as "consoles" no matter how many people used them as one.

I'm not sure I see this as a generation. I see the separation or different levels in capabilities of the devices. "Generation" can be a sliding window that's variable in size dependent upon the mood of the author doing the writing. It's also highly opinionated and always defined as needed to fit the conversation.

 

Changed and modded, twisted and argued about, so much  it's a useless term.

 

Edited by Keatah

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4 minutes ago, Keatah said:

I'm not sure I see this as a generation. I see the separation or different levels in capabilities of the devices. "Generation" can be such sliding window that's variable in size dependent upon the mood of the author doing the writing.

5200/CV frequently get lumped in with the 2600/Channel F generation.    I think there is clearly a leap in capabilities between the 5200/CV and 2600/Channel F,  so it doesn't make sense they are lumped into the same generation

 

Maybe one could argue they belong to the same generation as NES.  That makes a little more sense.   When they released, the industry considered these systems to be 3rd Generation (or 3rd Wave as they called it then),  but nowadays they get lumped in as 2nd gen.  

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3 minutes ago, zzip said:

5200/CV frequently get lumped in with the 2600/Channel F generation.    I think there is clearly a leap in capabilities between the 5200/CV and 2600/Channel F,  so it doesn't make sense they are lumped into the same generation

 

Maybe one could argue they belong to the same generation as NES.  That makes a little more sense.   When they released, the industry considered these systems to be 3rd Generation (or 3rd Wave as they called it then),  but nowadays they get lumped in as 2nd gen.  

Correct.  From the Channel F to the CV, they are all pretty much lumped into the 2nd generation of video game consoles for the most part.  If that is true, I would (personally) say the Fairchild Channel F to Arcadia 2001 would be 2a, whereas consoles like the CV and 5200 would be 2b.  Just my opinion though.  Additionally, I think the SG-1000 is really a 2nd generation console as it pretty much is a supercharged CV, but it seems it is mostly labeled as a Gen 3 console.

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I always thought big cartridges were wrong, somehow. Once an arbitrary & undefined "big size" was reached I thought disk medium or some form of computery storage tech should be used.

 

Having said that I made cartridges for MSFS2020, X-Plane, Orbiter, Doom, Astronomy stuff, Emulators, and more. Not a gaudy sprawling room full, but more like a medicine cabinet sized tabernacle with mood lighting..

 

 

Edited by Keatah

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23 minutes ago, Hwlngmad said:

Very true.  Also, computer prices jumped way up with the introduction of 16- and/or 32-bit machines compared to what 8-bit machines could be had for.  That really helped video game consoles like the NES, Genesis, etc. come back in a big way imo.

The price of 16-bit computers was a hurdle,  but if you think about it, the 8-bit home computers were sold piecemeal.   The C64 itself might not be so expensive, but go back and spend another couple hundred on a floppy or a monitor.     The 16-bits forced you to buy a floppy and monitor in a bundle package, at least at first.     But I remember when Atari released the STfm with built-in RF modulator for connecting to a TV, I was finally able to get a 520STfm for $400.   If the value of the built-in floppy was $150, then the Computer itself was $250-- which I think was around what C64s were selling for when they started flying off the shelves?     But yeah the bundle prices on the 16-bits made them feel out of reach for a lot of people

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I tend to see computers with cartridge slots as a video game console as well as a computer, but those with no cartridge slots just a computer. Yes, it can play video games, but that doesn't mean it's a game console. I mean, you wouldn't call an oscilloscope a game console because it can play Tennis For Two, would you?

Also, I think I've always classified the CV, C64, and Atari 8 bits as the early 3rd gen systems. They have graphics and sound(well, not the CV on this one) that still was competitive in the mid-late 80s, and the games could easily be as good as systems that really count as "3rd gen" such as the SMS or NES. All three of them had horrible controllers compared to the pad style controllers the other 3rd gen systems had, they were competitive in the 3rd gen era in every other way. Also, having a keyboard is always helpful when playing video games.

The 5200 however, I'm not sure where to put. It's obviously better than other 2nd gen consoles, but I don't find anything as good as 3rd gen consoles. The graphics as certainly better than the 2600, but much worse than the 7800, NES, etc. The sound is still very 1970s, and the controllers are more 2nd gen. So I classify the 5200 as the latest/most advanced 2nd gen console.

Edited by bluejay
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1 hour ago, zzip said:

The price of 16-bit computers was a hurdle,  but if you think about it, the 8-bit home computers were sold piecemeal.   The C64 itself might not be so expensive, but go back and spend another couple hundred on a floppy or a monitor.     The 16-bits forced you to buy a floppy and monitor in a bundle package, at least at first.     But I remember when Atari released the STfm with built-in RF modulator for connecting to a TV, I was finally able to get a 520STfm for $400.   If the value of the built-in floppy was $150, then the Computer itself was $250-- which I think was around what C64s were selling for when they started flying off the shelves?     But yeah the bundle prices on the 16-bits made them feel out of reach for a lot of people

Most definitely 8-bit computers pricing could really go up when considering things such as floppy drive(s), monitor(s), etc.  However, most people generally look at the entry price of something and more often than not do not (for a big degree) consider the additional costs associated with something.  That is why when C64s, TI-99/4as and the rest were $200 or less they were flying off of the shelves as they were crazy, stupid cheap compared to what they had been just two to six years prior, which also hurt video game consoles as people saw that you could invest $200 in a computer that could do a lot more than just play games.  It, in turn, produced a very difficult situation for video game consoles as the only investment a person could do with the machine was really games and not much more else unlike computers for in and around the same money.

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23 minutes ago, bluejay said:

Also, I think I've always classified the CV, C64, and Atari 8 bits as the early 3rd gen systems.

 

23 minutes ago, bluejay said:

The 5200 however, I'm not sure where to put. It's obviously better than other 2nd gen consoles, but I don't find anything as good as 3rd gen consoles.

Why would you classify it differently than the Atari 8-bit?

 

24 minutes ago, bluejay said:

The graphics as certainly better than the 2600, but much worse than the 7800, NES, etc. The sound is still very 1970s

The 7800 is a funny beast..   If your argument is that the 5200 has 70s sound, then the 7800 has very 70s sound.  Also while on paper the 7800 has much better graphics,  somehow there's a number of games that look better on 5200/8-bit than on 7800.

 

The way I see it, both the 5200 and 7800 are 3rd generation systems.   The 5200 was explicitly designed to be the 2600's replacement (with the tech first showing up in 400/800).   The 7800 was also designed to be a replacement for the 2600, featuring backwards compatibility.   This is one of the few times Atari was too forward-looking..   They underestimated the 2600's shelf life, and arguably designed the replacement too early.  The other 3rd gen systems were designed a few years later and benefited from that.

 

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29 minutes ago, zzip said:

Why would you classify it differently than the Atari 8-bit?

The games look different to me... Or am I going crazy? I know they're the same, but I dunno, the A8 games look better than 5200 counterparts. 

Yes, the 7800 has 70s sound but at least the graphics look much better. I haven't seen a case where the 7800 looked worse than the 5200...

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1 minute ago, bluejay said:

The games look different to me... Or am I going crazy?

There's a few games that Atari reprogrammed for the 5200...   Dig Dug,  Centipede come to mind, so they look different

 

2 minutes ago, bluejay said:

Yes, the 7800 has 70s sound but at least the graphics look much better. I haven't seen a case where the 7800 looked worse than the 5200...

Donkey Kong.   It's not technically on the 5200, but the 8-bit version is much better.   Karateka too IMO looks better on the 8-bit than the 7800 version despite using fewer colors.  Maybe it isn't fair to compare to the 8-bit, especially for a disk game like Karateka.  What disappoints me most about 7800 graphics is that 320 mode was hard to use and most games use 160 mode which pales next to 256w modes on the NES.

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