History of the Video Game Console : 1990s
                    Prologue by Tan and 98PaceCar
There are two things above all others that dominate the 1990s as a decade of gaming hardware.  One, it began with what was arguably the fiercest neck-in-neck rivalry in gaming history with the release of the Nintendo Super Famicom/SNES two years after the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis which came out in 1988.  Secondly, an unprecedented over saturation of gaming systems and add-ons occurred that overlapped, choked each other out and in many cases put hardware makers out of commission.

With an industry that was experiencing tremendous technological growth and the video game crash of the early 80s left far behind mostly due to the success of the Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom, a consumer base fully recovered from the recession in the 80s was ready to spend as new and exciting possibilities in gaming were being developed by a seemingly endless assortment of manufacturers.

While Sega and Nintendo carved up the market neatly between them early on, companies looking to expand their influence like NEC or break into this revitalized market like Neo Geo, Philips and 3DO, decided to ride the bleeding edge of new technology and multifunctional hardware in order to grab a slice of that pie for themselves.  Other companies, like Atari and Commodore, tried one last time to maintain a foothold in a changing industry that was leaning away from arcades and home computers.
1990 Video Game History and Timeline
With their noses in the wind, perhaps sensing the changes that were coming, everyone scrambled to adopt this new CD-ROM format that was making waves in the music industry.  While not a new format in itself, its widespread usage, acceptance into the home, lowered costs and its obvious audio and storage potential, all made this shift possible during the 1990s.  This sudden upheaval in technology fractured the market as many companies tried multiple attempts to capitalize and in turn, ended up confusing consumers when their own products overlapped and competed with each other for market share.

Catching everyone off guard as an underdog cutting its teeth on a new area of home electronics, consumer product giant Sony began its domination which led to Nintendo being dethroned and Sega shoved into a distant third in the latter part of the decade.

With these huge changes in hardware design, came new ideas about the games themselves.  Voice acting, red book/green book audio, 3D graphics and realistic physics were just a few of the new innovations that went from "dabbled in" to "used extensively".  So with the "bleep bloop" game play of the Atari 2600 and Intellivision games still on store shelves during the early 90s to the realistic driving simulators of the Gran Turismo series or realism and storytelling of Shenmue, the 1990s had the greatest range of technological diversity in any generation before or since.

Whether you believed that "now you're playing with power, SUPER POWER" or that "Genesis does what Nintendon't", you have to admit that fanboyism at that time was fun and innocent.  Couple that with clever marketing through television and magazine exposure and it's no wonder gaming became mainstream so fast and the industry so large.  With the greatest changes and variety in hardware as well as the largest overall library of released games from home consoles sold in any decade before or after, the 1990s offer something for everyone, whether you grew up with PONG or Halo.  The following takes a quick snapshot at each major hardware system or technology released during this decade.
1990 - Commodore 64 Games Systems (64GS) Europe
Commodore 64GS In 1990, Commodore set their attentions on the videogame console market.  They followed the same concept as other computer companies (Fujitsu with the FM Towns Marty, and before that the Amstrad GX4000 and the Amiga CD32).  Their new system was called the Commodore 64GS (GS = Game System).  This unit was basically just a repackaged Commodore 64 computer without a keyboard, port access (Disk drive, etc), or standard ROM chip. Cartridges were loaded through the top port, and the machine came packaged with a joystick and a couple of games.

1990 - SNK Neo Geo AES \ MVS JapanNorth AmericaCanada
SNK Neo Geo AES SNK took a gamble and created a home version of the MVS in 1990.  The NEO GEO AES was released at a high cost of $650, and came with either Baseball Stars Professional or NAM 1975.  Other game cartridges came at a cost as high as $200 a piece.  These cartridges played the exact same software as its MVS counterpart, but were quite expensive due to the game's high ROM capacity requirements and large PCM boards.

SNK Neo Geo AES Screenshot
1990 - Amstrad GX4000 Europe
Amstrad GX-4000 The GX4000, released in the UK in 1990 by Amstrad, is definitely one of the most unique looking video game consoles ever released.  Amstrad, a popular computer manufacturer, looked to cash in on the lucrative video game console market like many of its peers had attempted to do, some more successful than others.  Sporting a very sleek design that resembles the snow speeder in Star Wars, looking underneath the hood of this console reveals anything but space-age technology at the time of its release.

1990 - Nintendo Super Famicom \ SNES JapanNorth AmericaCanadaEurope
Nintendo Super Famicom \ SNES In 1988 Nintendo was still enjoying the success of its NES \ Famicom system and didn't see any need to jump on the 16-bit bandwagon.  However the NEC PC Engine / TurboGrafx in Japan and the Sega Genesis in the US were beginning to dominate the videogame market.  Nintendo's jump to 16-bit was no real surprise.  Oddly enough Nintendo wanted the original Famicom to be 16-bit, but resources at the time were too expensive to make it happen, but now was the opportunity to take Nintendo to the next level.

Nintendo Super Famicom \ SNES Screenshot
1991 - Philips CD-i EuropeNorth AmericaCanadaJapan
In the mid 1980s Philips and Sony partnered up to create a new CD standard containing interactive combinations of sound, images and computer instructions.  This CD standard also required specific types of players.  So in 1991 Philips created the Philips CD-i 210 as a "multimedia" system capable of playing interactive CD-i software discs, Audio CDs, CD+G (CD+Graphics), VCDs (Video CDs), and Karaoke CDs.  You could essentially enjoy different types of media on the same machine.

Philips CD-i Screenshot
1991 - Commodore CDTV EuropeNorth AmericaCanada
Commodore CDTV In 1991, Commodore once again attempted to enter the video game hardware arena by 'consolizing' yet another one of their existing line of PCs - the Amiga 500. This new multimedia entry was called the Commodore CDTV (Commodore Dynamic Total Vision).  This system was designed to essentially be the all-in-one unit for your home entertainment.  The housing itself is designed to fit in your standard AV cabinet (at the time).

Commodore CDTV Screenshot
1991 - Fujitsu FM Towns Marty Japan
The Fujitsu Company decided to make an attempt to penetrate the console games market by taking their popular FM TOWNS line of computers, and adding in some special components to create a stand alone video game console.  The plan was for the software designed for the FM TOWNS computers to be modified slightly so that the games would work on both the computer and the console.  The FM Towns Marty has the distinction of being the first 32-bit video game console.

1991 - NEC PC Engine Duo (TurboDuo) JapanNorth AmericaCanada
NEC PC Engine Duo \ TurboDuo The NEC PC Engine Duo kind of started the craze by licensed manufacturers to develop systems capable of backwards compatibility.  NEC had already in its arsenal 4 different types of media format in its stable - HuCards, CD-ROM2, Super CD and Arcade CD-ROM.  The release of this line allowed the gamer to experience basically the entire library that NEC consoles had to offer - but at a steep price (even to this very day).

NEC PC Engine Duo \ TurboDuo Screenshot
1991 - Sega CD \ Mega-CD JapanNorth AmericaCanadaEuropeAustralia
Sega CD \ Mega-CD In 1991 at the Tokyo Toy show in Japan, Sega unveiled its secret project to compete against NEC's PC Engine CD-ROM add on.  The Mega-CD like its rival was capable of utilizing the enormous storage capacity of CD media to produce quality games.  The Mega-CD however was designed with its own processor and memory that worked in conjunction with the Mega Drive's (Genesis) processor and memory via an interface port.
Sega CD Screenshot
1992 - Memorex VIS (Tandy Visual Information System) North America
In 1992 another multimedia gaming machine arrived silently on the market. The Tandy Video Information System (VIS).  The VIS supported CD-ROM based educational video game software and audio compact discs, and offered an optional modem for connection to online services.  Tandy sold the device with the concept "MANY OF THE BENEFITS OF MULTIMEDIA WITHOUT HAVING TO PURCHASE A COMPUTER".

Memorex VIS Screenshot
1992 - Victor Wondermega \ JVC X'Eye JapanNorth AmericaCanada
Victor Wondermega \ JVC X'Eye JVC had helped Sega by delivering the most advanced sound made by a gaming console.  A wider range of sounds not only gave the CD games more of an impact, but it was better then most audio CD players at the time.  In return for their work, Sega gave JVC the "OK" to create this console.  This system could play both Sega Genesis carts and Sega CD games in a single unit.

Victor Wondermega \ JVC X'Eye Screenshot
1993 - Pioneer LaserActive JapanNorth America
Pioneer LaserActive In 1993, Pioneer entered the foray with the release of the LaserActive.  Competing directly with Panasonic (3DO) and the Philips (CD-i), Pioneer upped the ante in this genre by basing their system on Laserdisc technology (the precursor to the DVD format).  At the time, the LaserActive was the closest system to deliver a product that did meet most of the multimedia demands of the consumer - movies, games, karaoke, music, edutainment - all presented in the best audio\video quality available.

1993 - Amiga CD32 EuropeNorth America
Amiga CD32 Commodore, the noted home computer manufacturer of the 1980s, had endured failed attempts entering the video game console market with their releases of the Commodore 64 GS and the Commodore CDTV systems.  Their final attempt at capitalizing in the very profitable hardware arena was the Commodore Amiga CD32, debuting in the UK in 1993.  The CD32 was marketing as being the first 32-bit CD-ROM based system (though the FM Towns Marty, released in Japan in 1991 actually owns this true distinction) and enjoyed moderate success in the UK.

Amiga CD32 Screenshot
1993 - Panasonic 3DO North AmericaCanadaJapanEurope
Panasonic 3DO The 3DO REAL Interactive Multiplayer (3DO) system is one of those consoles that is either loved or hated by those in the gaming community.  Released by Panasonic in September of 1993, this new gaming machine was one of the first entries within the 32-bit gaming era.  The developer, The 3DO Company, was created by Trip Hawkins, co-founder of Electronic Arts.  Their aim was to create the first 32-bit system that truly delivered a 3D gaming experience.  On many levels they achieved this objective and were successful in pioneering technological advances.

Panasonic 3DO Screenshot
1993 - Atari Jaguar North AmericaCanadaJapanEuropeAustralia
Atari Jaguar With Sega and Nintendo battling neck and neck with their 16-bit platforms, Atari seized the opportunity to return to the console market after 7 years.  A small company calling themselves 'Flare 1' were on the verge of developing a multiprocessor console.  Needing the funding to develop it further, they approached Atari Corp. Atari was trying to develop their own console code named 'Panther' at the time.  They jumped on the offer, and development for the 'Flare 2' continued alongside the 'Panther'.
Atari Jaguar Screenshot
1994 - Bandai Playdia Japan
Bandai Playdia The Playdia Quick Interactive System was one of Bandai's next attempt at entering the videogame console industry.  It was released in 1994 in Japan only and marketed as a family oriented system. Geared toward a younger audience, the Playdia was somewhat smaller then most consoles.  Its blue casing giving it a more "toy" feel.  The Playdia controller used infrared waves instead of cords and was made to be used either on or away from the machine.

Bandai Playdia Screenshot
1994 - Capcom CPS Changer Japan
Capcom CPS Changer In the 1990s, SNK took a chance at bringing their arcade games to the home console market by creating the Neo Geo AES system.  The home system garnered a niche fan base despite its high price tag.  In 1994, Capcom saw an opportunity to venture into this niche home market. Gamers enjoy popular arcade titles without Capcom having to pay royalties for "lower quality" home conversions on other systems.  Not a bad idea!

Capcom CPS Changer Screenshot
1994 - NEC PC-FX Japan
NEC PC-FX The NEC PC-FX is a very Japanese console.  As the follow up effort to the highly successful (at least in Japan) PC Engine, NEC was looking to hit one out of the park with gamers.  Unfortunately, their efforts were too little too late and the PC-FX ended up being little more than a footnote in the history of video gaming.  The PC-FX was originally developed in 1992 as the Iron Man, but due to the continued success of the PC Engine and the developers disinterest in changing platforms,  it was shelved until 1994 when it was released to compete with the 3DO.

1994 - Sega 32X (Super 32X, Mega 32X) North AmericaCanadaJapanEuropeAustralia
Sega 32X It was the winter of 1994, and new more powerful consoles were entering the videogame market.  Gamers were enjoying new 3D arcade games, and the 16-bit Genesis / Mega Drive seemed to be feeling its age.  It was January 8th 1994 when Sega CEO Hayao Nakayama directed his company to produce a 32-bit cartridge-based console to be in stores by Christmas 1994.  The project was dubbed Jupiter.

Sega 32X Screenshot
1994 - SNK Neo Geo CD \ CDZ JapanNorth AmericaCanadaEurope
SNK Neo Geo CD \ CDZ Through the 1990s SNK was ruling the arcades.  Their cartridge based Neo Geo AES made their arcade hits playable at home, but the high price tag kept it out of the hands of many gamers.  With other consoles switching game formats, SNK saw an opportunity to also use the large storage capacity of CD to make their hit games cheaper to manufacture.  Of course this would make games more affordable to the general gaming public.  In 1994, SNK released the Neo Geo CD in Japan (and shortly after in the U.S).

SNK Neo Geo CD \ CDZ Screenshot
1994 - Sega Saturn North AmericaCanadaJapanEuropeAustralia
Sega Saturn In development for 2 to 3 years by Sega of Japan, the project known merely as GigaDrive (a word play for a more powerful Megadrive) began with a goal of being the most powerful 2D console to date with 3D capability based on their arcade Model 1 hardware.  Initially the goal was to surpass another CD-based console called the 3DO.  In November of 1993, technical specs for 32-bit CD-based console by Sony had surfaced.  Not being pleased with the projects 3D capability (compared to Sony's), Sega of Japan's engineers scrambled to improve on the design.

Sega Saturn Screenshot
1994 - Sony PlayStation JapanNorth AmericaCanadaEuropeAustralia
Sony Playstation Japanese electronics company Sony's involvement in the videogame industry began as a manufacturer of a custom sound chip used in Nintendo's SNES console.  Rival companies NEC and Sega had taken the leap to CD based gaming and Nintendo had no intentions of being left behind. They immediately partnered up with Sony to develop their CD based system.  Sony went on to develop two units.  One was a 16-bit add-on for the Super Famicom / SNES that sat underneath the system and allowed CD based gaming (SNES CD).

Sony Playstation Screenshot
1995 - Bandai Pippin ATMARK (@WORLD) JapanNorth AmericaEurope
Bandai Pippin In 1995, Apple Computer Inc. joined the foray by finishing the development of a system based on a scaled down version of their System 7 OS.  Named the Pippin, Apple followed the 3DO Company's lead by licensing this technology to an outside manufacturer - Bandai Digital Entertainment.  The Bandai Pippin ATMARK was released in Japan in 1995 and was marketed as the first modern hybrid console merging the power of a computer with the ease of a gaming station - as well as integrated network capabilities (hence the connotation in the name).

Bandai Pippin Screenshot
1995 - Casio Loopy (My Seal Computer) Japan
Casio Loopy Casio of Japan had crashed and burned in console gaming with the Casio PV-1000.  However in October of 1995, they decided to attack the market from a different angle.  The marketing strategy focused on girls.  Lousy marketing executives from other companies have tried to interest females in the past by selling their consoles in more feminine shades of color (Master System, Zemmix, Twin Famicom, Lady Cassette Vision and a few others had girly pink colored versions of their consoles).

Casio Loopy Screenshot
1995 - Nintendo Satellaview BS-X Japan
Nintendo Satellaview BSW-X The Satellaview was not really a console, but was an interesting add-on for the Super Famicom.  It was licensed by Nintendo and was released in Japan in 1995.  It cost 14,000 yen (about $150) and a subscription fee had to be paid monthly to use the service.  The unit sat under the Super Famicom and was the only device to utilize the port found underneath the console.  It connected to a satellite channel called St. GIGA and allowed subscribers to download games, demos, news, interviews, and whatever else Nintendo felt like offering.

Nintendo Satellaview BSW-X Screenshot
1995 - Atari Jaguar CD North AmericaCanada
Nintendo Virtual Boy In 1995 Atari finally wised up and created a CD-ROM add on to tap the 700+ megabit CD format.  The Jaguar CD retailed for $150, and came equipped with a double speed CD-ROM capable of running Jaguar games, Audio CDs and CD+Gs.  Games could run full motion video at 24 frames per second.  The Jaguar CD also featured a built in Virtual Light Machine (color and visual effects that react to the music and sounds).

1995 - Nintendo Virtual Boy JapanNorth AmericaCanada
Like the Adventure Vision back in 1983, Nintendo utilized LED technology in their Virtual Boy.  Nintendo proclaimed that they had achieved a true 3D perspective with this new console, but in truth what they created was a headache generator.  The system was pretty much a failure on all levels and was discontinued within one year of its release.

Nintendo Virtual Boy Screenshot
1995 - Funtech Super A'Can
Funtech Super A'Can In 1995, Funtech Entertainment Corporation released the first original gaming system in Taiwan - the Super A'Can.  Produced and sold exclusively in its native country, the console and controllers feel very fragile, constructed of thin plastics that belies its strong, dark grey outwardly appearance and extremely high price tag.  This system is often mistaken as a Super Nintendo Entertainment System clone due to both the physical design and the processor powering this unit.  A closer inspection of this rare oddity reveals a different picture.

Funtech Super A'Can Screenshot
1996 - Nintendo 64 JapanNorth AmericaCanadaEurope
Nintendo 64 Nintendo stretched the life of their 16-bit console for as long as they could.  Their initial attempts at entering the market with a 32-bit CD add-on (see PlayStation) never saw the light of day.  After the releases of Sony and Sega's 32-bit systems, Nintendo began spreading the word of their new console in development.  The leap to a 64-bit console became known as Project Reality.  The system was a joint venture by Nintendo and Silicon Graphics. Nintendo would later change the name to Ultra 64.

Nintendo 64 Screenshot
1998 - Panasonic 3DO M2 Japan
Panasonic M2 (3DO 2) Two years after the release of 3DO, the company began working on it's successor codenamed Bull Dog (model FZ-DR21 - the external drive unit for the development kit).  At first, M2 began as 64-bit add-on for 3DO systems.  The concept was initially developed by the same people responsible for the first 3DO system (called Opera).  Later around 1995, 3DO sold the technology to Matsushita and left the hardware market.  The Japanese electronic giant worked on the base of the system to produce a better technology called M2.

Panasonic M2 (3DO 2) Screenshot
1998 - Nintendo 64DD Japan
Nintendo 64DD Nintendo chose to continue with the cartridge format, but wanted to do something to compete with the CD-ROM storage capacity being used by rival game systems.  Their solution was the Nintendo 64DD.  The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive was the first writable bulk data storage device for a video game console.  Using a 64-megabyte writable magnetic disk media, it would allow game developers freedom to store unprecedented amounts of gaming data on a console machine.

Nintendo 64DD Screenshot
1998 - Sega Dreamcast JapanNorth AmericaCanadaEurope
Sega Dreamcast Around March 12th, 1997 rumors began to surface about what began as a 64-bit upgrade for the Sega Saturn.  Eventually news began to leak about Sega's development of a totally new console.  By June 1997, Sega had two different design specs under consideration to become the new console.  One design was code-named Black Belt and the other Dural.  Black Belt was being designed by Sega of America.  The console would sport an IBM/Motorola PowerPC 603e CPU with 3Dfx Voodoo graphics chipset.

Sega Dreamcast Screenshot
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