Video games have come a long way since Atari

Updated 23 November 2013

Video games have come a long way since Atari

From the first Atari Space Invaders consoles to the Nintendo Wii, game consoles have been the “it” toys of their generations. That’s a trend that Sony and Microsoft are hoping to repeat with their plays for the holiday season: The PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One.
But even as consumers prepare to plop down hundreds of dollars for the latest systems, industry watchers are asking: Is gaming evolving beyond the console? After all, it has been nearly a decade since these two titans of the industry released new consoles. Put another way: When the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 hit the market, there was no such thing as an iPhone.
In that time, the average American’s expectations for technology have changed considerably. We’ve dropped our one-use devices — digital cameras, camcorders, music players — in favor of tiny pocket computers that do everything. And that includes playing games.
Consequently, the face of gaming is going through a major shift. Fifty-eight percent of Americans report they play games of some stripe, according to the Entertainment Software Association. That trend is heavily driven by growth in mobile games, as one could see with a quick survey of smartphone screens on any bus or subway; you’ll see a lot of Candy Crush out there.
The average gamer is still the enthusiast, however. This guy is 30 and has been playing games for more than a decade, according to the ESA report. These are hard-core gamers, who grew up blowing dust off of Nintendo cartridges and munching on pizza during campus Halo tournaments. But gaming is now reaching a wider and more diversified audience, and there’s a push for gamemakers to think outside of the console.
Game consoles didn’t start as all-in-one entertainment machines. In fact, they were first designed to play just a few games — or even one — at a time. Atari’s original home console for Pong, for example, played only Pong. Later systems from Atari came with a handful of games such as hockey, handball and table tennis, or with one blockbuster game, such as Space Invaders.
That all changed in the 1980s, when gaming saw a shift to a cartridge-based system. That set off a golden age of gaming; it was much cheaper to swap in a new cartridge with a cool new game rather than buy another system. But it also led to a glut of games and low-quality consoles that inspired upstarts to dive in. The influx was bad for the industry in a number of ways. For one, plenty of companies that knew nothing about games jumped on the bandwagon, meaning that bad games came from food companies, toothpaste makers and movie studios. And console makers didn’t make money off games from other firms, losing profits as the market flood crowded out their own titles. Overwhelmed customers started to lose their drive to play and also turned to playing games on computers rather than consoles. By December 1982, Atari in particular was suffering and released one of the greatest bombs of all time: E.T., the video game.
The industry fell into what’s known as the Game Crash of 1983, which saw several companies jump out of the game market and ultimately pushed industry-leading Atari into insolvency.
“In 1983, the supply of games was incredible. There was a growing demand for games but not nearly as fast as the supply,” said Keith Robinson, a game designer for Mattel’s Intellivision console at the time.
It was a blow to the growing industry. But it also allowed two names to emerge as the dominant forces of gaming: Sega and Nintendo.
For many years, gaming was mainly the domain of Japanese companies. Sega and Nintendo competed fiercely for market share and the devotion of gamers who debated the merits of Sony’s Sonic the Hedgehog and Nintendo’s beloved plumber, Mario. Sega became known for aggressive marketing tactics, noting that its consoles had an edge and capabilities that “Nintendon’t.” But both firms were shaken when Sony joined the race in 1994 with its PlayStation. Nintendo held strong with Nintendo 64. Sega, meanwhile, released a string of inventive but unpopular consoles. It made a last-ditch effort in 1999 with the Dreamcast, as games switched over to discs, then turned to game publishing.
As the new millennium dawned, so did a new era in console history as Microsoft emerged in 2001 with a backroom project that had nearly no support at the company: The Xbox.
The Xbox and its successor, the Xbox 360, represented an enormous shift in the gaming world, bringing the Internet into the console space as no one had before. With a new and very American approach to gaming — competitive and social — Microsoft gained slow but steady growth to challenge the dominant PS2 and the less-popular Nintendo Game Cube. Then it had a major hit with Halo, solidifying both this way of gaming and a need for a connected console so that people could play Halo together. Games of the new era, after all, required far more time than the arcade-style titles of the past, and people wanted to share those experiences with friends.
“That element of connecting people together, that feeling of hanging out together has been absolutely central” to this generation of consoles said Ben Howard, vice president of content for the gaming-news site Gamespot. That’s bound to be even more essential with the next wave. “The driving force in who wins — if there is going to be a winner in this console war — will be who succeeds on the social side,” he said.
Microsoft also blazed a trail by locking up an all-important partnership with Netflix in 2008, making the game console a multi-function device. That one partnership, analysts say, transformed how consumers looked at game consoles.
Suddenly instead of spending one hour playing the Xbox, they were spending two. Or three. And as Microsoft pursued more partnerships with content providers such as Hulu and ESPN, users suddenly spent more time watching videos than playing games.
In that respect, analysts said, Sony and Nintendo were slow to catch on. Even after seeing Microsoft’s success, Sony has kept the PlayStation 4 a console that’s more for gaming than anything else.
Nintendo, meanwhile, has stepped back in the console races after its blockbuster success with the motion-gaming Wii, which created a more family-focused console. With hits such as Wii Fit and Wii Sports, Nintendo continues to innovate, but has largely lost the hard-core gaming market.
Another shift: In the distribution of games, which now show up on hard drives rather than in plastic cases. Some analysts say that, while this year’s consoles will be wildly successful, they might be the last to ever carry disc trays and could be the last “game consoles” as we know them. New models for gaming are showing up all the time. Valve, a game developer with its own digital distribution platform, is making what are essentially gaming computers for the TV.


All eyes on historic UAE space mission

After completing his role as a second flight engineer, Al-Mansoori will return to Earth on board a second Soyuz-MS spacecraft. Al-Mansoori said he applied for the astronaut’s program because it was his dream as a child and “our leaders encourage us to achieve our dreams.” (AFP)
Updated 16 September 2019

All eyes on historic UAE space mission

  • Emirati astronaut Hazza Al-Mansoori to blast off into space on Sept. 25 from Kazakhstan
  • Saudi Arabia's Prince Sultan bin Salman blazed a trail 34 years ago for others to follow

ABU DHABI: Come Sept. 25, Hazza Al-Mansoori of the UAE will become the third Arab to travel into space. On that day, at exactly 6.56pm, Al-Mansoori will blast off to the International Space Station (ISS) on board a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft. With Al-Mansoori making the historic journey with two other astronauts, an American and a Russian, the hope is that he will be inaugurating a new era of Arab participation in space exploration.
The honor of being the first Arab in space goes to Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, who was one of the astronauts on board the space shuttle Discovery as part of a NASA mission 34 years ago.
Two years later, Muhammed Faris, a Syrian military aviator, became the second Arab to journey into space.
Al-Mansoori is currently in quarantine alongside the other two crew members — Russian commander Oleg Skripochka and Nasa astronaut Jessica Meir — at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
In a statement, Yousuf Hamad Al-Shaibani, director general of the UAE’s Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Center (MBRSC), acknowledged the support of NASA, the European Space Agency and Roscosmos.
“The UAE’s first mission to the ISS is the result of extensive efforts by dedicated individuals and organizations in the UAE,” he said, “and also the result of important strategic partnerships with major global space agencies … who spared no effort in preparing our astronauts and providing them with all the support and training they need.”
A father of four with a bachelor’s degree in aviation sciences from Khalifa bin Zayed Aviation College, Al-Mansoori previously said he applied for the astronaut program because it was his dream as a child “and our leaders encourage us to achieve our dreams.”
Al-Mansoori and his comrade Sultan Al-Neyadi — the UAE’s chosen backup astronaut — were selected from 4,022 applicants to the UAE Astronaut Program after a series of advanced medical and psychological tests as well as personal interviews conducted to the highest international standards, according to UAE state news agency Wam.
On being handpicked, Al-Mansoori said: “When I was told I was selected for the program, it was difficult to express how proud and honored I felt. I was euphoric.”
Before applying for the program, Al-Mansoori — who has amassed more than 14 years of experience in military aviation — was a pilot and flew the UAE air force’s F-16 Block 60, one of the world’s most advanced jet fighters.

IN NUMBERS

38th - UAE’s place in list of nations to have sent a citizen to space.

3rd - Arab astronaut honor will go to Hazza Al-Mansoori.

34 - Gap in years between first and third Arab in space.

562nd - Person to be sent into space will be Al-Mansoori.

18 - Total number of countries whose citizens have been to ISS.

He was also one of the first Arab and Emirati pilots to take part in the Dubai Air Show’s celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the UAE armed forces.
“A lot of things are happening in my mind from now till the launch,” Al-Mansoori was recently quoted as saying. “I’ve prepared for this mission but not only from here,” he said. “It started from my childhood, from how my parents raised me, the confidence I gained from my life; thanks to our leadership for giving me this opportunity today to represent my country.
“I will try to remember each second of the launch because it will be really important for me to share with my country, with the world and the Arab region that experience.”
A similar sense of wonder and excitement gripped the Middle East when Prince Sultan became, at the age of 28, the first Arab astronaut. Currently the chairman of the Saudi Space Agency, Prince Sultan, son of Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, was the first Arab, Muslim and royal to travel into space on June 17, 1985.

Also read: Our interactive story about Saudi Prince Sultan, the first Arab in space in 1985

Discovery lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a seven-day mission during which Prince Sultan helped to deploy a satellite for the Arab Satellite Communications Organization (Arabsat).
During a special one-on-one interview with Arab News in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, Prince Sultan, recalling his remarkable journey, said: “Brave people are people who feel fear but still go forward.”
On July 22, 1987, Faris, the Syrian military aviator, joined the elite club of Arabs in space when he blasted off on board a Soyuz craft of the USSR. Faris, who now lives in Turkey as a refugee, carried with him a vial of soil from Damascus and conducted scientific experiments alongside Russian cosmonauts.
To date, 563 people in history have gone to space, starting with Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, who orbited the Earth on April 12, 1961. American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969. While Al-Mansoori will be the first Emirati to travel to space, he will not be the last. Backup astronaut Al-Neyadi has been promised the next spot on a UAE mission to space.
The UAE also has plans to launch an exploration probe to Mars to mark the 50th anniversary of the country’s foundation in 2020. The Emirates Mars Mission will launch its Al-Amal, or Hope, spacecraft from the Tanegashima Space Center in Japan.
Al-Amal is designed to orbit Mars, which has an area of contrasting brightness and darkness that was named Arabia Terra in 1979 for its resemblance to the Arabian Peninsula.
Elsewhere in the region, Morocco last year launched its second Earth observation satellite, Mohammed VI-B, while space programs have been established in Algeria and Egypt. In Saudi Arabia, institutions such as the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) are playing their part in educating Arab space scientists of the future.

When a Saudi went to space
Prince Sultan bin Salman speaks exclusively to Arab News about his 1985 NASA mission and how he became the first Arab, Muslim and royal in space
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The Saudi Space Agency was set up by royal decree on Dec. 27, 2018. In comments to Arab News in July, Salem Humaid Al-Marri, the MBRSC assistant director general for science and technology, said: “The UAE is working with the Saudi space program, as well as with others such as Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait and Bahrain, to boost Arab presence in the space industry. Space is bringing Arab nations together.”
For now, final preparations are underway for the UAE’s Sept. 25 voyage, after the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in Star City, Russia officially gave the green light for the mission on Sept. 5.
Once Al-Mansoori reaches the ISS, he will present a tour of the station in Arabic and will conduct Earth observation and imaging experiences, interact with ground stations, share information, as well as documenting the daily lives of astronauts at the station.
Al-Mansoori will study the effect of microgravity compared with gravity on Earth. The effects of space travel on the human body will also be studied before and after he completes his mission. It is the first time such research will be carried out on an astronaut from the Arab region.
He will not be missing traditional Emirati food as three dishes have been prepared for his journey — the madrooba, a salt-cured fish seasoned with spices; saloona, a traditional Emirati stew; and balaleet, a sweet Emirati breakfast dish of egg and vermicelli.
After completing his role as a second flight engineer, Al-Mansoori will return to Earth aboard a Soyuz-MS 12 spacecraft.
With just days remaining before he makes history, Al-Mansoori is taking the words of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al-Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai, with him: “A historic space flight, the ambition of the UAE and a new challenge. Keep your morale high and embrace the challenge. May Allah bless this landmark mission.”