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How Video Game Graphics Developed Through the Years

The graphics of video games have been advancing at an astonishing pace. Check out how they changed through the years to reach the level we see today.

The Evolution Of Video Game Graphics: From Arcade Games to What We See Today

The earliest video games date back to the sixth decade of the last century when physicist William Higinbotham developed the roots of a simple, 2D arcade game that would later become Pong. It was a very basic tennis game using 8-bit technology that looks nothing like today’s 3D games, but gamers were astonished by the wild animations and the multitude of colors that appeared on the screen. 

While video games have advanced so much in terms of gameplay, connectivity, and complexity (even starting from GTA or a well-known Book of Ra slot machine), one of the areas that have seen the biggest improvements in the last 30 years is graphics. Some of today’s games can easily be mistaken for the real world, with ultra-realistic graphics that make you question: How is this even possible? Let’s rewind and see how the graphics of video games evolved through time.

The First Arcade Games That Brought Video Gaming to the Masses

If you take a quick glance at some early 2D arcade games dating from the 1970s and early 1980s, you’ll notice that developers were on a crossroad. While some games used very simplistic 2D graphics that look silly from today’s viewpoint and focused more on the gameplay, others chose revolution over evolution and tried to create the first 3D games – or at least something that looked like 3D. That was the case with the first Star Wars game, which paved the way for the graphic innovations and advancements that we enjoy today.

The First Consoles That Started it All

The first mass-production home game console was the Atari 2600 – and what a revolution it was! First manufactured in 1977, it hit the homes of video game enthusiasts in the late 70s and early 80s, and it had enough computing power to handle much more demanding graphics.

Game developers took full advantage of the enormous computing power they now had to work that – for the time – and developed some truly visually impressive games.

Some of the most popular Atari 2600 games and their variations are hits even today, such as the likes of Space Invaders and Asteroids.

Nintendo followed the footsteps of Atari and released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which had some truly marvelous games such as Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Punch-Out!!

Everything changed when Nintendo released the mega-popular Super Nintendo. It was a powerhouse in both computing and graphic power. It used 16-bit technology, which opened the way for 32-bit and 64-bit technology later on. Many avid gamers still consider the Super Nintendo to be the best console ever made – and the first real advancement towards 3D games.

32-Bit and 64-Bit Eras Brought The First ‘Real 3D’ Games

While technologies such as 16-bit revolutionized video gaming in terms of graphical improvements towards creating something that looks like 3D, the 32-bit era and, later on, the 64-bit era changed the way people perceive video games. The first 32-bit game console was the original Sony PlayStation, and it used CDs as the medium for its games. It meant that they could store more data, which resulted in much better 3D graphics.

The 32-bit was soon replaced with 64-bit technology, which saw the first ‘real’ 3D games such as Super Mario 64. Video gaming was no longer side-scrolling, jumping up and down, and shooting at your enemies, but you emerged in a 3D world where you could move and do tasks in all directions.

While Sony, Nintendo, Atari, and SEGA focused on console gaming, another front was opening up: PC gaming. As more and more people started purchasing personal computers in the early 1990s, game developers started developing video games for the PC. Although PC games couldn’t match console games in terms of graphics and gameplay, PC games had an ace up their sleeve: the Internet.

Online Gaming, MMORPG, and a Step Closer to Modern-Day Graphics

Online gaming made its first steps in the 1980s but really took off in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The first worldwide-popular MMORPG games, such as Lineage and World of Warcraft, were released in the late 1990s and were an instant hit. Not only were they 3D, but they allowed you to create a character and roam free through this epic 3D world on your screen and take control of your character’s actions. 

Consoles adapted to this new trend quickly, and the PlayStation 2, as well as every console released in the new millennia, had online capabilities. The 2000s saw a boom in video gaming, and many games that were released in that era are still popular today – including GTA: San Andreas, Sims 2, Conquer Online, and more.

Looking to the Future

Statistics show that more than 3 billion people play video games today, and it’s expected that number to grow to 4 billion in the next few years – which is half of the world’s population. As you can see from our brief video game graphics history lesson, the graphics in video games have been advancing at an astonishing pace. Although it’s unrealistic to expect exponential growth in the visual department of modern video games, as we’ve seen in the past two decades, we can already see that video game developers are trying extremely hard to push through the plateau and develop new technologies.

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