Throughout the course of recent centuries, Nintendo has become a household name in both Japan and the US. How has this once humble playing card company transformed into the leading power in the video game industry it is today?
It all started in Kyoto Japan in 1889 by Fusajiro Uamauchi, the great grandfather of Hiroshi Yamauchi. It all began with the Hanafuda card, small Western playing cards that featured intricate pictures on the faces. In 1907, the name of the company was changed to Nintendo Koppai, which loosely meant ‘left to heavens hands’. “Playing cards?”, you ask yourself? Well keep in mind that video games weren’t exactly ‘in’ just yet.
After quickly dominating the Japanese playing card industry, Nintendo decided to move on to larger things. What kinds of things? Why toys, of course. Nintendo’s first foray into the toy industry was an artificial claw dubbed, the “Ultra Hand”. Developed by Gunpei Yokoi, the claw could extend and grasp objects at the press of a button. Nintendo’s next project was the Beam Gun, a light gun that used opto-electric technology that could knock over targets when shot at. Pretty high tech stuff at the time. Nintendo made some profit with these toys, but didn’t feel that was exactly their calling. And as we know today, it wasn’t.
It was around 1970 when Nintendo received the rights to produce the Magnavox Odyssey, one of the first consoles developed a fore fathers of gaming, Ralph Baer. Nintendo fed off income from this and a few other projects as they prepared for bigger things. Much bigger.
Everyone knows about the Gameboy. This miniature titan, developed also by Gunpei Yokoi, stands as the best selling console to date. What fewer know, is that the Gameboy wasn’t Nintendo’s first foray into the hand held market. Hailed as the grandfather of hand held gaming, the Game & Watch (released in the early 80s) used pre drawn objects to make its games.
Always thinking ahead, Nintendo president, Mr. Yamauchi, has plans for the company’s own entrance into console gaming. However he can’t do it alone.
Enter Miyamoto. Among Nintendo fanboys, this man is hailed as a GOD. From this man’s mind, spawned several of the monsters of gaming we know and love today, including Mario, Link, and Samus from Metroid fame. Anyways, Miyamoto is hired around this time. Upon his shoulders rides Nintendo’s (more so, Mr. Yamauchi’s) hopes and dreams. Under a mountain of stress, Miyamoto comes up with the idea for Jumpman. You know him as Mario. (Fun Fact: Mario was named after Mario Segali, landlord of Nintendo’s New York office) Donkey Kong was released in 1981. This arcade classic was the first side scrolling game of it’s kind. Players initially weren’t sure how to approach that strange game, but after playing for a few minutes they and the game hit it off like magic. Enormous demand for the arcade title ensued.
1983 rolls around, and Nintendo’s dream for a home console is finally realized. The release of the Famicon soon follows in Japan. The Family Computer, Famicom for short, was an 8-bit 6502 CPU system and the most advanced piece of gaming hardware at the time. Nintendo had no third party developers at launch, but regardless sold well over a million units. At 1985, Nintendo gained some Japanese third party support including such companies as Capcom, Item, Taito, and Hudsen. Sega also releases an 8 bit console at this time, but Nintendo maintains firm grasp on 90% of the Japanese market.
Nintendo is confident that a home console of theirs would prosper in the US, however due to the ultimate failure of the Atari, most Americans believe the home console era is over. Well, thanks to Nintendo, this would not be so. Well, half a year, tons of sweat and a few drinks later, Miyamoto comes up with a solid idea for a US launch title. Jumpman takes the stage! Wait, I mean Mario. Hailed today as one of the greatest games of all time, Super Mario World is ready for release. But there’s a setback. US stores just don’t want video game consoles on their shelves. Many were dissuaded after a test release in New York of the NES, and the console hit store shelves soon after. The next few years are known as Nintendo’s ‘Golden Years’. Nintendo is unquestionably dominating the console business in both the US and Japan. However, they still aren’t happy. Ever looking for innovation, perhaps this is why Nintendo has grown to be the well respected video game power they are today.
In 1898, Gunpei Yokoi has the final plans for an 8-bit, handheld console with a non-lit LCD screen, capable of displaying FOUR shades of gray. The Gameboy is immediately accepted, and despite the 16-bit craze of the Sega Genesis, sells phenomenally. Supported by many of the great developers and to date the console line is the best selling in video game history.
Not one to ride on success, a 16-bit Nintendo console well in the works to compete with the Sega Genesis.