Looking back over the past 60 years of PC gaming, it’s hard to believe we’ll ever get where we are today. The first impression of computer games was given by extremely simple systems that offered hardly any functionality or immersion. They graphically showed simple dots on a screen and were controlled by computers the size of your living room. After around 50 years, gaming is one of the largest industries in the world, generating billions in revenue and reaching the far corners of the planet. Gaming today offers users a new level of realism, with both graphics and gameplay difficult to differentiate from reality.
The development of gaming was an incredible journey, which we will look back on in the following article. We’ll take a look at how games from simple dots on a screen have been transformed into virtual realities that can be viewed with 21st century goggles – also known as VR headsets. We’ll also look at how the hardware that powers these games has had to evolve to keep up with the ever-increasing demand that these games demand.
With this in mind, let’s not waste any more time and dive straight into the history of PC gaming!
We have to go back to the 1960s to get a first impression of what we know as PC games today. Before 1962 there wasn’t much going on for games. This year MIT students Martin Graetz, Alan Kotok and Steve Russell developed the pioneering game Spacewar – a multiplayer fighting game in which each player had to destroy the other’s spaceship to win. At the time of creation, the computers were enormous and miles away from what we have today. The PDP-1 mainframe computer for which it was developed was mainly used for statistical calculations, so the game itself is only a showpiece that offers the potential of computer and programming.
Later in the decade, more specifically in 1966, HP decided to launch its first 16-bit minicomputer, the HP 2116A, which is ten times faster than other machines of its time. Although PC games are still decades away, this was still the first real advance on the way to the home computer game.
The 1970s were an equally exciting year for games: the first game competition (a spacewar tournament) was held at Stanford University. It was a one-on-one tournament with the winner moving on to the next round of the competition. Although this was fairly revolutionary on a larger scale and soon became a catalyst for tournaments around the world, it wasn’t nearly as influential as Pong – the instant classic released just six weeks after the Stanford competition.
Pong was a tennis-style sports game that also played in 1972. The game developed by Allan Alcorn was originally developed for arcade machines and was extremely simple in terms of graphics and functionality. Each player uses a paddle that moves up and down vertically on the screen to hit one ball (the two pixels on the screen) back to the other. If you don’t return the ball, your opponent gets a single point. The first player to score 11 points was declared the winner.
Although the design was extremely simple, it still provided great entertainment for the time and later even received some sequels from Atari.
In the late 1970s, a series of text-based adventure games were released, in which players could interact with the game through commands sent from the keyboard. These games were developed for the minicomputers of the time and offer extremely simple gameplay.
Though game development developed fairly slowly in the 1960s and 1970s, this should change thanks to some hardware arrivals that were introduced in the 1980s.
It wasn’t long until the 1980s when the first personal computer was brought to life, bringing the springboard effect that brought gaming into the global spotlight. This slot machine, known simply as the IBM Personal Computer, has been designated by BYTE as an “excellent gaming device” due to its revolutionary speed and sophistication.
While it wasn’t perfect, it was a step in the right direction and gave everyday consumers the potential to play games from home – without taking up their entire bedroom.
Early titles included Microsoft Adventure and Microsoft Flight Simulator, both of which were extremely basic in design and function.
Just a year later, HP released the first mainframe desktop computer, the HP 9000 technical computer – catchy. It offered the same performance as the room-sized computers of the 1960s and was only a fraction of the size – another step closer to today’s modern gaming.
Other notable innovations in the 1980s were MS-DOS (Microsoft’s hard drive operating system), the development of Dell and the first VGA graphics card to offer consumers a resolution of 640 × 480 and to outperform the competing Omega console in terms of graphics.
The PC market grew exponentially in the late 1980s, with DOS computers dominating households over the less impressive Commodore and Apple alternatives. Dell, launched just 4 years earlier, is increasing its market cap from $ 1,000 to $ 85 million. Computer hardware was really on the home map.
The 1990s offered a whole host of exciting arrivals in both hardware and gaming. Wolfenstein 3D was released in 1992 and sold over 200,000 copies in just over a year. While it was recognized for creating the first person shooter genre, it was soon surpassed by Doom, which was released just 12 months later.
After Doom’s arrival, it quickly became known as the most influential game when it came to pioneering the first person shooter genre. While the graphics by Wolfenstein and Doom were still far from today’s standards, at that time they were considered to be major technological leaps – especially compared to games from the early 1970s.
DOS took over the gaming world between 1991 and 1995, accounting for between 91 and 94% of all sales of computer games during this period. Much of the popularity was due to the 486 PC processor, which at that time was running much faster than the competition consoles.
At the end of the decade, Valve released its debut product, Half-Life. The game was an instant classic among gamers and became one of the most popular first person shooter titles that hit the shelves. It was so popular that several fan-made mods were developed in the background of the game, including a competitive combat shooter that would make Valve a global name.
Unreal will finally be released before the end of the decade, resulting in the development of Unreal Engine and a new way of designing games. While these were early doors, this would ultimately become the blueprint for a higher level of realism in the next generation of games.
In the 00s, gaming graphics and hardware grew exponentially (in their complexity). PCs were found in most households across America, and games became more popular worldwide. Counter-Strike was released by Valve in late 2000 and quickly became one of the most popular first person shooters of all time. It is sold over 25 million copies worldwide and triggers a competitive game scene that should explode in the next 15 years.
A few years after the release of CS, Valve introduced the Steam platform to the gaming world. It is quickly becoming one of the most popular gaming platforms, offering thousands of games to its loyal following.
In addition to first-person shooter fame, the 00s can also claim one of the greatest MMORPG games ever made, World Of Warcraft. The game will be released in 2004 and is rapidly climbing to the worldwide subscription ranking. By the end of the 00s, World Of Warcraft had over 12 million subscriptions, making it the most subscribed MMORPG ever.
At this point, faster graphics accelerators and improved CPU technologies lead to much higher realism in computer games. Nvidia and RADEON both offer powerful graphics card options that developers can use to increase the complexity of modern game engines.
After the 00s, gaming was one of the largest industries in the world and continued to develop from year to year. AMD and Intel are now in a constant struggle to outdo each other. A similar story can be seen in the graphics industry between RADEON and Nvidia. Gaming has now reached a new level of realism and is gradually approaching what we know by today’s standards.
Unreal Engine 4 is finally released after eleven years of development and is quickly establishing itself as the pinnacle of 3D graphics functions. Although the engine was originally developed for first person shooters, developers have successfully used it for a variety of other game genres, including fighting games, MMORPGs and RPGs.
Thanks to increasing competition in games, GFINITY will open its first own esport arena in Great Britain by 2015. The arena hosts numerous events throughout the year, covering different games and attracting over 58 million spectators.
PLAYERUNKNOWN’s BATTLEGROUNDS will be released towards the end of the decade and will quickly sell over 10 million copies. This immediately makes it one of the top 10 best-selling games of all time.
When we enter the modern era of gaming, it is difficult to look back over the past 60 years and believe where gaming is today. The graphics are now at an all-time high, offering players a new level of realism that was never thought possible. PCs are now a staple food for home users. Building custom PCs is a huge industry all over the world.
GPUs are more powerful than ever, cost up to $ 1,600, and offer a level of realism that’s hard to tell from reality. There are literally thousands of games, most of which display what I call “modern graphics”.
Competitive Esport is now making millions of dollars every year, and professional franchisees are recruiting young, emerging stars for their ever-growing schedule. In addition, virtual reality is now the most advanced. Immersion and graphics data are reaching impressive new heights that are not a million miles from what you see in the science fiction films.
The future of gaming
Overall, the past 60 years of gaming have been a real journey, to say the least. Although no one can predict what the future of gaming will look like, it’s hard to see that graphics and gameplay advance much further than today. Ultimately, the initial surge in graphical advances we’ve seen in the past few decades will unfortunately flatten out – unless the way we develop games changes radically.
Aside from the imminent launch of Unreal Engine 5, we will most likely see more details in light, shadow, and general LODs (level of detail) across the game scene. Other highly productive development tools also allow developers to add a new level of realism to a player’s movements and interactions. While these changes may be subtle, they’re a significant improvement over games over the past 10 years.
In terms of hardware, CPU speed is likely to plateau over the next few years, with the speed not going to exceed the 5 + GHz that we see in modern processors. That said, we’re likely to find that simultaneous multithreading is common and processors have 4 threads per core – twice as much as today. GPUs will undoubtedly use ray tracing more often, especially when rendering light, shadows and reflections – and of course free us from pre-baked shadows and cube maps. Finally, we’ll likely see a generous surge in 3D audio as well, as surround sound technology becomes much more accurate.
All in all, we don’t know what the next 60 years of gaming will be like. However, if it’s something like the past 60 years, one can say with certainty that gaming will continue to be one of the largest industries the planet has to offer.