Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday’s everyone! The 2022 video game season is pretty much over at this point, with another year of notable releases and events going by and entering the history books, but what about video games of year’s past? As I do every week where I highlight a notable title released 10, 20, 30, and sometimes 40 years ago, I thought it would be fun to look back at not only the biggest games of the year, but also some of the most noteworthy and interesting things happening in the entire video games industry. Take a break from all that crass materialism the Holiday’s demand of us for a few minutes and read about some of the big things that happened in gaming from 1982, 1992, 2002 and 2012.
Highest Grossing Film of 1982: E.T.
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Best Selling Album of 1982: Michael Jackson – Thriller
*Click here to listen to the album*
Highest Grossing Arcade Game of 1982: Donkey Kong
*Click here to see gameplay*
Two 1981 releases, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, as well as the 1982 release Ms. Pac-Man, dominate the arcade business, bringing in millions of dollars. This wasn’t anything new, though, as arcade games had been steadily increasing their revenues year over year. That kind of money making doesn’t go unnoticed and before long Hollywood came knocking on the door. While video games had been present in films before, there hadn’t been a movie dedicated entirely to video games, until Disney stepped up and released Tron. In Tron, a young computer programmer named Flynn is transported into the digital realm by an evil program called the MCP. Here, Flynn must partake in various video games, but instead of playing them he lives them. Unlike the games that inspired it, Tron was a box office bomb.
Filmmaker Steven Spielberg was having a fantastic 1981 & 1982. His film Raiders of the Lost Ark was a smash with critics and audiences, and his 1982 film E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial was the biggest box office success of all time. An avid gamer, Spielberg was eager to turn his films into video games and would partner with Atari, the biggest video game company in the world, to make them. In late 1981, Atari programmer Howard Scott Warshaw began work on Raiders of the Lost Ark, an adventure game that was well received by critics. While Raiders would get several months of development, Warshaw’s next project was to take Spielberg’s other film, E.T., and turn that into a game, in less than one month. Despite closely working with Spielberg on Raiders, Warshaw would shoot down the director’s attempt to make E.T. into a Pac-Man clone. What he ended up making was one of the most notoriously bad video games of all time and directly led to the video game crash of 1983, nearly destroying Atari in the process.
Over on television, video games were also making waves. Aside form the multitude of Saturday Morning Cartoons based on various arcade games (Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Pole Position), a brand new game show would premier in 1982 that had contestants compete against one another in a bid to get the highest score. Called Starcade, the show premiered on the cable network TBS (then called WTBS) and was hosted by Alex Trebek in its pilot but, due to scheduling conflicts, Trebek was out, replaced by Mark Richards. However, Richards appeared to have a strong distaste for video games and looked like he wanted to die, so he was replaced by Geoff Edwards. Initially, Edwards had no interest in video games, but after being surrounded by them he started to fall in love, becoming an avid gamer up until his death in 2014. Starcade’s big prize was often an arcade cabinet pre chosen by producers, though they would sometimes replace the cabinet with a jukebox, a robot, or an all expenses paid vacation. Starcade would last for two years before being cancelled, and wouldn’t be seen on TV again until 2002. More on that later.
The end of 1982 was a good one financially for Atari, with E.T. selling over 1 million copies, and their new console, the Atari 5200, was the hottest gift at Christmas. However, E.T. was being raked over the coals by critics and players, while the 5200, which was technologically superior to its competitors, had a major problem with its controller. In an effort to be truer to the arcade, the controller would feature an eight way joystick, the problem, though, was that Atari cut corners in an effort to save money, using a rubber boot to center the stick instead of more costly springs. This caused the joystick to become uncentered and, by all accounts, useless. Not only did it have a poor controller, but the system was not backwards compatible with the Atari’s 2600 (initially). This was seen as a bad move on Atari’s part by consumers who expected their software to migrate with the console. Bizarrely, Atari’s chief rival, Intellivision, released an Atari 2600 adapter that allowed consumers to play 2600 games on their Intellivision.
As if having two poorly rated products on the market wasn’t bad enough, several new companies got in on the home video game business. 1982 saw the release of at least SIX brand new video game consoles. Timex, best known for their watches and clocks, started to feel pressure from competitors, as well as rising costs for raw materials, in the late 70’s/early 80’s. They decided to throw their hat in the ring with the Sinclair 1000, a home PC that could also play games; it did not do well. Another non-traditional company, Emerson, who were best known for making radios and TV’s, released the Arcadia 2001. It was a kind of mash-up between the Atari 2600 and Intellivision, likely a move to try and get the best of both machines, but it was ultimately not well received, leaving the market after only 18 months.
The company General Consumer Electronics was next with their bizarre (and very cool) Vectrex. This unique gaming console came with its own screen that was oriented like an arcade cabinet screen. Players would insert the game cartridge to start the game and would then overlay a sheet of plastic on the screen that would give the illusion of color and provide a background to the crude vector graphics used by the Vectrex. The costly machine would cause GCE to sell the device to Milton Bradley, though by 1983 it was too late for video games and the machine failed miserably, being discontinued in 1984
Not all of these new consoles were bad, with the two most popular being Coleco’s ColecoVision and CBM’s Commodore 64. Both devices were different enough from one another, and their competitors, that they were able to stand out. The ColecoVision was a traditional home console, similar to the Atari 2600, but was vastly more powerful. Its superior graphics and processing meant that it had the closest experience to the arcade than any other console, and proved it by scoring a major victory in obtaining the license to release Donkey Kong, which was the pack-in title for the console. However, it was a victim to the 1983 video game crash and the console was discontinued in 1984.
The Commodore 64, on the other hand, was incredibly popular and did survive the 1983 video game crash, likely because it wasn’t a gaming console, but a home PC. In fact, the Commodore 64 may have, in some way, helped fuel the crash of 1983 by offering $100 rebates to anyone who would trade in a competitor’s machine. To take advantage of this, many retailers and mail-order dealers would run a promotion in which they would sell customers the Timex Sinclair 1000 for $10 on the promise that they’d also purchase a Commodore 64. This allowed the consumers to then trade in the Sinclair and pocket the $90 difference. In turn, this led to a fierce price war between CBM and all of the other home PC manufacturers who were fighting for market share. At the end of the day, Commodore 64 outlasted all competitors, earning around 40% of the market. The longest lasting 1982 console, the machine was discontinued in 1994.
In semi-related gaming news, over in Japan, Sony released the world’s first CD player. While the optical disc was not their invention, Sony, along with Philips, crafted their own type of optical disc that could store and play audio. CD players would arrive in the U.S. in 1983 and were a big seller. Of course, CD’s would eventually make their way into the video game space, though it would take nearly a decade.
With the home computer gaining popularity in the U.S., Time Magazine named the PC “Man of the Year” or, as they would call it, “Machine of the Year”. Time noted that the PC was the most significant force in the year’s news, and was responsible for wide spread changes in society. They called the PC the year’s greatest influence for good or evil, and heralded the dawn of the information age.
Several new companies would launch in 1982, on the PC side you would have Compaq, Adobe, Lotus, and E*Trade, while in the video game sector the companies Electronic Arts (EA) and Lucasfilm Games (later named LucasArts) would arrive.
The arcade would, once again, produce the best and most exciting video games of the year, while consoles would continue to experiment with long form gameplay styles, while also releasing inferior arcade game ports:
- Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Cloudy Mountain
- Black Widow
- Bump ‘n’ Jump
- Chopper Command
- Demons To Diamonds
- Dig Dug
- Donkey Kong Jr.
- E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial
- Haunted House
- Mr. Do!
- Ms. Pac-Man
- Night Stalker
- Pole Position
- Raiders of the Lost Ark
- River Raid
- Robotron: 2084
- Super Pac-Man
- Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress
- Wizardry II: The Knight of Diamonds
- Yars’ Revenge
- Zork III
Highest Grossing Film of 1992: Aladdin
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Best Selling Album of 1992: Whitney Houston – The Bodyguard – Original Soundtrack Album
*Click here to listen to the album*
Best Selling Video Game of 1992: Sonic the Hedgehog 2
*Click here to see a vintage commercial*
Street Fighter II continued its dominant run, maintaining the number one spot as the highest grossing arcade game of 1992, beating out strong competition from Midway’s Mortal Kombat. On the console side, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 took the spot as the best selling game of the year, though following directly behind it was the Super Nintendo port of Street Fighter II. This SNES port would also be named “Game of the Year” by just about every outlet, with some other notable GOTY winners being Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (the 3rd best selling game of 1992) and Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2 & Streets of Rage 2. Side note, over in Europe, the second best selling game of the year was Road Rash II on the Mega Drive.
In terms of overall market share, Nintendo continued to dominate, bolstered not only by the success of Street Fighter II on the SNES, but also with their brilliant handheld console, the Game Boy, which was (once again) the best selling video game console in the world. Nintendo also had the best selling home console in the world with the Super Nintendo, even taking the top spot in the U.S. from Sega’s Genesis. On top of their stellar year in sales, Nintendo also put out two peripherals for the SNES. Released first, in February of 1992, was the Super Scope, a light gun peripheral shaped like a bazooka that would rest on your shoulder. Bundled with the gun was a collection of six mini games called Super Scope 6. The peripheral was a hit with players, selling over one million units, however interest would die down fairly quickly, and only 11 games took advantage of the Super Scope.
Nintendo’s other big peripheral of 1992 was the SNES Mouse which came bundled with copies of Mario Paint. Over 70 games were compatible with the SNES Mouse, though many of them were Japan-only exclusives. As for the titles in the West, a lot of them were ports of PC games like Doom, Nobunaga’s Ambition, and Might & Magic III, as well as some rail shooters. Like the Super Scope, Nintendo sold just over one million units, though most of those sales came from people buying the Mario Paint bundle.
After 15 years on the market, Atari would finally drop support for the 2600, as well as support for the 6 year old 7800 model, and all Atari 8-Bit PC’s. The reason for the discontinuation was due in large part to a major announcement from Atari in 1993, a brand new console that would directly compete with the SNES, Genesis, and TurboGrafx-16; Jaguar.
Ten years after Sony launched the audio CD player, video game companies began using the format to distribute video game software. Three CD-ROM based consoles releasing in 1992 but, like 1982, the U.S. was in the midst of another recession and the high sticker price for these devices meant they wouldn’t quite take hold in the market place. The most expensive (and thus, worst selling) was Philips’ CD-i, with a whopping $799 price tag (about $1,700 in 2022). Philips had, along with Sony, pioneered the modern audio CD format in the early 80’s and they were now looking to break into the home video market. The CD-i was originally envisioned as an educational tool, a home video player, and, oddly, as a point of sale machine. It wasn’t until 1993 that Philips began seeing the potential of the system as a video game console (more on that next year).
The other two CD-ROM consoles were both from already established game companies, Sega and NEC. From NEC came the TurboDuo, though the console was, technically, a re-release of its earlier TurboGrafx-CD attachment for its 16-bit system. This was a lower priced model that combined both systems into one console, making it a pretty good choice for consumers, if only it had games. On the other side, Sega released their Sega CD console, a peripheral for the Genesis that would sit underneath the console and use some of its processing power to run games. The Sega CD was well known for its slate of full motion video games, including the highly controversial Night Trap. While the CD became the dominant format for music in 1992, they weren’t exactly taking the video game world by storm…not yet.
Founded in 1988, game retailer FuncoLand went public in 1992, selling one million shares at $5.00 each. It was one of three major video game retailers in the U.S. along with Electronics Boutique and Babbages. Based on what I could find, FuncoLand was the second game retailer to go public, following in the footsteps of Babbages who went public in 1988. For those unfamiliar, FuncoLand is widely regarded as the first store that sold both new and used video games, allowing customers to trade in their old games for cash or store credit. FuncoLand was also responsible for the creation of Game Informer magazine, who started the publication as a newsletter to promote upcoming games to their customers. Perhaps the most well known thing about FuncoLand was that it allowed customers to try out any game before buying it. Stores would have designated stations set up in the store where you could ask to play anything you wanted before committing to the sale. The company would last until the year 2000 where it would merge with rival Babbages, who were owned by Barnes & Noble. B&N would then combine Babbages and FuncoLand into what we now know as GameStop.
There only appeared to be one major game studio founded in 1992, Humungous Entertainment. Founded by two LucasArts veterans, Ron Gilbert and Shelly Day, the company would specialize in creating adventure games for children. Their first title, Putt Putt Joins the Parade, was fairly well received by critics and the public. More importantly, though, for Gilbert, was that the game helped bring a different audience to gaming. In an interview for the digital magazine Game Bytes, Gilbert noted that vide games were still considered a hobbyist product, with limited appeal to the mass market. Putt Putt, and Gilbert’s subsequent games in the Pajama Sam series, would show that games could branch out into other demographics than the typical 12-24 year old male.
In tech news, an engineer at IBM named Frank Canova would create a prototype for the world’s first smartphone. Codenamed “Angler”, IBM would show off the device at the 1992 COMDEX computer industry trade show in Las Vegas, whetting the appetite of many in attendance. The device would eventually be made available to consumers in 1994, as “Simon”.
The internet continues to grow thanks to the home PC becoming cheaper and cheaper. While there were millions around the world using the internet, there were only about 25 websites to explore. I assume at least half of them were dedicated to displaying Simpsons quotes.
After the release of Mortal Kombat, Lethal Enforcers, and Night Trap, politicians and parents groups began to wonder if these violent video games were warping the minds of children. Over the course of 1993, the debate would continue, growing into a full on Senate hearing in December of 1993 after the release of Doom.
A bunch of solid titles came out in 1992, including some very stellar exclusives on both the SNES and Genesis. The NES continued to see software released due to its massive install base, while the Game Boy chugged along as well. TurboGrafx-16 was still around but not making much noise in the U.S., and all those CD-ROM consoles were pretty much DOA. On the PC side, we got some great point & click adventure games, first person shooters, and the grandfather of all modern RTS games, Dune II:
- Aces of the Pacific
- Adventure Island 3
- Air Zonk
- Amazing Tater
- Art of Fighting
- Battle Clash
- Bucky O’Hare
- Contra III: The Alien Wars
- Contra Force
- Darkwing Duck
- Defenders of Dynatron City
- Dragon Warrior III
- Dragon Warrior IV
- Dune II
- Fatal Fury 2
- Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
- G.I. Joe: The Atlantis Factor
- Gargoyle’s Quest II
- Godzilla 2: War of the Monsters
- Golden Axe II
- Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
- Joe & Mac
- King of the Monsters 2
- King’s Quest VI
- Kirby’s Dream Land
- Krusty’s Super Fun House
- The Legend of the Mystical Ninja
- The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
- Lethal Enforcers
- The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse
- Mario Paint
- Mega Man 4
- Mega Man 5
- Mortal Kombat
- Night Trap
- Phalanx (Notorious cover of a man playing a banjo)
- Q*bert 3
- Quest For Glory III: Wages of War
- Sewer Shark
- The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Juggernauts
- The Simpsons: Bart’s Nightmare
- The Simpsons: Bartman Meets Radioactive Man
- Sonic the Hedgehog 2
- Soul Blazer
- Street Fighter II (Super Nintendo)
- Street Fighter II Turbo (Arcade)
- Streets of Rage 2
- Super Adventure Island
- Super Double Dragon
- Super Mario Kart
- Super Mario Land 2
- Super Play Action Football
- Super Star Wars
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time
- Total Carnage
- Ultima: Runes of Virtue
- Virtua Racing
- WWF Super WrestleMania
- Wave Race
- Wizards & Warriors III: Kuros: Visions of Power
- Wolfenstein 3D
- Wonder Boy in Monster World
- X-Men: The Arcade Game
- Ys III: Wanderers from Ys
Highest Grossing Film of 2002: Spider-Man
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Best Selling Album of 2002: Eminem – The Eminem Show
*Click here to listen to the album*
Best Selling Video Game of 2002: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
*Click here to see a vintage commercial*
The success of Rockstar’s 2002 title Grand Theft Auto III open the flood gates for other developers to create their own open world games, while also pushing the boundaries of violence and taste. This attention also draws the ire of parents groups, women’s rights groups, and politicians. In June of 2003, two teenage stepbrothers (aged 15 & 13) shot at motorists as they passed by, killing one and wounding another. In their defense, they claimed that they got the idea after playing GTA III. Families of the victims sued Rockstar and Take Two, the developer and publisher, Sony, who marketed the game, and Walmart, for selling the game to the boys. Notorious lawyer Jack Thompson would lead the case against all three. Rockstar would attempt to have the case thrown out due to the game’s ideas and concept, as well as as any purported psychological effects on the teens, were considered free speech. Try as I might, I could not find anything that gave some kind of resolution to this lawsuit, I did, however, find a 2005 Salon article that talks about the two teenagers, their upbringing, and their subsequent punishment. It’s harrowing, and I recommend you give it a read: https://www.salon.com/2005/02/22/gta_killers/.
Despite the controversy, Rockstar’s next entry in the series, Vice City, is a massive success. With almost 1 and a half million copies sold in the first two days, Vice City is the fastest selling game in history and becomes the best selling game of 2002. It too courts controversy for its violence but, even more, is the amount of protest it gets from the Haitian community who feel that the depiction of their people is highly offensive, racist, and traffics in stereotypes. Rockstar counters this by basically saying that they make fun of all ethnicities equally, so it’s all okay.
Due to the increased amount of violence in video games, some in government tried to restrict sales of mature rated games to minors. In one instance, the Missouri county of St. Louis banned the sale of mature rated games to anyone under the age of 18. This law quickly drew condemnation from the both the retail and video game industries, leading them to challenge the law in court. In the case of INTERACTIVE DIGITAL SOFTWARE ASSOCIATION V. ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI, the plaintiff’s argued that, like other forms of art, video games were protected under the first amendment and, therefore, were not allowed to have restrictions placed on their sale. The presiding judge, Stephen Limbaugh (who is related to conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh) ruled that video games had not proven themselves to be a form of artistic expression and that their interactivity meant that anything gleaned by the player is their interpretation, not the authors, therefore, they did not qualify for first amendment protection. Limbaugh threw the case out, allowing St. Louis county to continue its mature games ban. Later, in 2003, the case would be appealed in the Eight Circuit, where a panel of three judges overturned the decision and said that video games do have first amendment protection. Just because they are interactive, that does not mean there isn’t artistic intent by the author.
By 2002, the video game industry was two years into its next generation of consoles. With the release of the GameCube and Game Boy Advance in 2001, Nintendo began to winddown support for both the Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Color. As far as units sold, Sony’s PlayStation 2 was absolutely dominant, having sold nearly 50 million PS2’s around the world. Meanwhile, the GameCube, as well as Microsoft’s Xbox, were barely making a dent in Sony’s armor, with combined sales of both consoles never even coming close to that of the PS2.
While online gaming had been around for several years by 2002, mainly through PC’s, console gaming hadn’t really taken hold. However, with the rise of broadband internet across North America, the idea of playing games online through your console began to become a more and more attractive prospect. Sony and Microsoft both knew that this was the future of gaming and added in this functionality to their consoles. While Sony required players to purchase a peripheral to activate online gamin, Microsoft built an ethernet port directly into every Xbox. The online functionality wasn’t initially available at launch, with Microsoft delaying the project to November 15th, 2002 and calling it Xbox Live. Microsoft offered a “starter kit” to players that included a headset, a demo disc with upcoming games, and a prepaid subscription card that ranged from 1 month to 12 months. An Xbox Live subscription allowed players to create their own gamertag that they would use across all Xbox games, a revolutionary idea at the time. While NFL Fever 2003 and Re-Volt Live would be used to beta test the service, the only Xbox Live enabled game on launch day was Epic’s Unreal Championship, though many games would follow suit and, of course, the rest is history.
While most of the ire towards video game violence was directed at Grand Theft Auto, the most violent games on the market were, of course, all of the FPS war games. With the advent of 3D graphics cards on PC, war games were becoming far more visually impressive and were getting closer and closer to realism by the day. One of the most highly regarded games of the year on PC was EA’s Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, which featured a grueling, hyper realistic (for the time) depiction of the D-Day assault at Omaha Beach. On consoles, Medal of Honor: Frontline also has players take part in D-Day and, while it isn’t as impressive as its PC brother, Frontline proves that FPS war games on consoles were a viable genre, leading to competitor series Call of Duty to debut one year later and really ignote the war game boom on PC & consoles.
Over in the world of entertainment, a unique cable network debuts on Comcast, a 24 hour channel devoted entirely to video games; G4. Created to rival TechTV, which was geared towards adults interested in the PC/tech industry, G4 was pitched as a channel for the younger demographic, 12-24, and would focus mostly on console gaming. The network was created by Charles Hirschhorn, the former president of Walt Disney Television, who envisioned G4 as the MTV of its generation, and hoped to turn video games and their developers into modern day rock stars.
G4 debuted with 11 original programs, as well as reruns of the 1982 game show Starcade. As for original programming, there was Blister, a news/review show, Cheat!, a show that featured cheat codes and gameplay tips, Cinematech, which was full of video game cutscenes, Filter, a top ten show, G4tv.com, a roundtable talk show, Game On, a traveling game show where players would be chosen from the public to compete head to head in various video games, Icons, a show dedicated to profiling famous developers and game franchises, Judgment Day, a game review show hosted by Victor Lucas & Tommy Tallarico, Players, a Cribs style program where celebrities would show off their collections and discuss their gaming habits, Pulse, ANOTHER video game news show that also discussed pop culture, and Portal, a comedy program that was filmed using the machinima technique. G4 would last for 12 years, going off the air in 2014, before coming back in 2021 and, sadly, shutting down again in 2022.
In PC gaming new, two years after it debuted, The Sims becomes the best selling PC game of all time, overtaking Myst. Currently, the best selling PC game is PUBG: Battlegrounds.
At the 2002 Interactive Achievement Awards (later called The DICE Awards), EA’s other war game series, Battlefield 1942, took home the Game of the Year prize. Other big winners included Animal Crossing, Splinter Cell, GTA: Vice City, Eternal Darkness, Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Metroid Prime, Metroid Fusion, Sly Cooper, Medal of Honor: Frontline, Neverwinter Nights, Ratchet & Clank, Tekken 4, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, and Warcraft III.
2002 was a fantastic year for video games, with several high profile sequels and long lasting franchises debuting this year:
- Animal Crossing
- Armored Core 3
- Battlefield 1942
- BMX XXX
- Bomberman Generation
- Burnout 2
- Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance
- Contra: Shattered Soldier
- Cubivore: Survival of the Fittest
- Disney’s Magical Mirror Starring Mickey Mouse
- Dragon Ball Z: Budokai
- Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku
- Dungeon Siege
- Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
- Eternal Darkness
- Fatal Frame
- Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee
- Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
- Grandia II
- The House of the Dead III
- Jet Set Radio Future
- Kingdom Hearts
- Lost Kingdoms
- Mario Party 4
- The Mark of Kri
- Maximo: Ghosts to Glory
- Medal of Honor: Allied Assault
- Medal of Honor: Frontline
- Medieval: Total War
- Mega Man Battle Network 2
- Metal Slug 4
- Metroid Fusion
- Metroid Prime
- Mister Mosquito
- Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance
- Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2
- Neverwinter Nights
- Onimusha 2: Samurai’s Destiny
- PaRappa The Rapper 2
- Ratchet & Clank
- Resident Evil 0
- Resident Evil Gaiden
- Resident Evil: Remake
- Robotech: Battlecry
- Shenmue II
- Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
- SOCOM U.S. Navy SEALs
- Sonic Advance
- Spider-Man: The Movie
- Star Fox Adventures
- Star Wars: Bounty Hunter
- Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast
- State of Emergency
- Suikoden III
- Super Mario Sunshine
- Super Monkey Ball 2
- Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis
- Tekken Advance
- Tekken 4
- Time Crisis 3
- TimeSplitters 2
- Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4
- Turok: Evolution
- Virtua Fighter 4
- Warcraft III
- Way of the Samurai
Highest Grossing Film of 2012: The Avengers
*Click here to watch the trailer*
Best Selling Album of 2012: Adele – 21
*Click here to listen to the album*
Best Selling Video Game of 2012: Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
*Click here to watch the trailer*
When it launched in 2009, Kickstarter was a platform to help creative types get their work out to the public without the need of a publisher, record company, or film studio to approve and distribute the work. Over its first three years, Kickstarter would help launch several independent novels, films, comics, board games, and video games. Typically, though, these projects were low cost and fairly low profile, but that all changed in 2012 with one game, Double Fine Adventure.
During the filming of a documentary about the game Minecraft, production company 2 Player Productions met with Double Fine founder Tim Schafer to conduct an interview. While at Double Fine’s office, 2 Player noticed how open the team was to the documentary film crew and so they pitched an idea to Schafer to have the 2 Player crew come and document Double Fine’s next game. Schafer was intrigued but realized that no publisher would just let every detail of their new game be documented. Knowing that Double Fine and 2 Player didn’t have enough resources to self publish a game, the 2 Player crew recommended that Double Fine use Kickstarter as a way to get the funding for both the new game and the documentary.
Seeing crowdfunding as an opportunity to make something that had niche appeal (and could be done relatively cheap), Schafer elected to make a brand new point & click adventure game. While Schafer had made a name for himself by releasing games in the genre, they had fallen wildly out of favor with the gaming public at large, with Schafer’s Grim Fandango being one of the last major titles in the genre. Not feeling very optimistic about their chances to receive a ton of funding (remember, a failed Kickstarter project means you get nothing), Double Fine decided to ask backers for $400,000, $300k to make the game and $100k to make the documentary. The team decided to launch the project on February 8th so that, successful or not, Schafer could discuss the event at the upcoming Game Developers Conference in March. The project went live and Double Fine waited.
After nine hours, Double Fine Adventure had hit its goal of $400,000 and, for the first time in Kickstarter history, Double Fine Adventure had reached over $1 million in less than 24 hours. As the total kept climbing, Schafer would give updates on what his previous games had cost, from Day of the Tentacle ($600k) to Grim Fandango (~$3 million). The final tally was $3.3 million, leading to a massive disruption in game development. The success of Double Fine Adventure would lead to other luminaries in the industry to try and pitch their own niche games, including Obsidian Entertainment with Pillars of Eternity, IGA with Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, and Yu Suzuki with Shenmue III. While the fervor around Kickstarter games has kind of died down over the years, especially after some high profile misfire’s like Mighty No. 9, the types of games it helped bring back into mainstream attention is incredibly important. Before Double Fine Adventure, which would eventually be retitled Broken Age, major publishers likely wouldn’t even take your call if they knew you wanted to make a point & click adventure, isometric RPG, or long forgotten sequel, but now, seeing that audiences were willing to shell out millions of dollars for niche games, they were a lot more receptive to them.
While indies and niche genres were having a moment in 2012, three high profile companies saw some of the biggest failures this year. The first was Sony’s PlayStation Vita, the follow-up to their handheld device, the PSP. While initial sales were promising, the device was just too expensive for the casual gamer audience that Sony was trying to court, while the higher budget titles weren’t grabbing the attention of the hardcore gamers that Sony hoped would grab the system.
Over at Nintendo, they too tried to make a console that could appeal to both casual and hardcore gamers, the Wii U. Featuring a tablet style controller, the Wii U was geared towards using this controller as a second screen, similar to what was done on the DS/3DS. Nintendo had hoped that they could grab some of the audience that left them in favor of the Xbox 360 and PS3 by licensing AAA titles like Mass Effect III and Assassin’s Creed III but, again, a high sticker price scared away the casual gamers and the hardcore already had a PS3 or 360, making Nintendo’s offering look far too late an entry in a race that was already over.
The last failure to talk about is from Sega, who had been trying to get a stronger foothold in the worldwide gaming marketplace by creating games they felt catered to those audiences. However, their title Binary Domain was a complete dud when it arrived, selling a pitiful 20k copies in North America. Sega would reevaluate it’s plans for game distribution in the West, cancelling a few upcoming titles and electing to release the latest Yakuza game as a digital download on the PS3.
The 2012 E3 event was a fairly lackluster affair, likely due to the end of the current generation of console’s lifecycle, with most studios hard at work on games for the upcoming generation, one that they couldn’t talk about yet. E3 was becoming a massive, global phenomenon, though, with coverage of the event being carried by cable networks G4 and Spike TV, as well as having the events streamed live on the internet, through Xbox Live, and from Sony’s PlayStation Home application.
The most high profile event of E3 was probably Nintendo’s, as they were there to tout their upcoming console, Wii U. They dedicated their entire press conference to the system and its games, completely ignoring their best selling handheld console, the 3DS (although they did a smaller event the next day talking about that device and its games). This is also notable as it was Nintendo’s last live, in-person press conference at E3. Moving forward, the company would elect to release pre-recorded press conferences that they referred to as Nintendo Directs.
Over at the Microsoft press conference, a few big name games were shown off, including 2012 releases Halo 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, and upcoming titles like South Park: The Stick of Truth and the Tomb Raider reboot. Microsoft was also still going all-in with Kinect, trotting out recording artist Usher to demo Harmonix’s Dance Central 3. Finally, Microsoft discussed their growing partnership with media and entertainment companies, discussing their Halo web series, Forward Unto Dawn, and touting the new integration that Xbox Live would have with live sports in both the NBA and NHL. They were also very excited about the brand new Xbox Music app which would let you listen to your Zune library on your 360, totally radical!
Sony’s press conference was just as uneventful, also showing of trailers for the 2012 games Far Cry 3 and Assassin’s Creed III, while promoting upcoming titles God of War: Ascension and Naughty Dog’s latest, a very intriguing game called The Last of Us. Looking back on these two conferences from Microsoft and Sony, it was becoming clear that the Xbox ecosystem was being touted as a home entertainment machine, with games, tv show, films, and music all taking the same priority, while Sony seemed keen on just focusing on games. From a shareholder standpoint, this might have made Microsoft look strong and Sony weak, but from the player’s perspective, this likely made Xbox looks like they were leaving them behind while PlayStation was where they wanted to go for great gaming. More on that next year.
Going back to big failures of 2012, we’ve got three more. First is the demise of THQ, a low budget studio that was known for putting out schlock, enjoyable stuff, but schlock. In November of 2012, THQ announced that they would be unable to pay back a $50 million dollar loan from Wells Fargo, sending their stock price into the basement. To help pay back the loan and stave off bankruptcy, THQ partnered with Humble Bundle to release the THQ Bundle. Sales from this only amounted to $5 million, far below what was needed. A “stalking horse bid” was put in by Clearlake Capital Group, in the hopes it could purchase THQ’s assets at a ridiculously low price. The Judge denied this bid and THQ’s creditors approved the piecemeal sale of all THQ’s franchises and licenses. Crytek would grab the Homefront franchise, Sega would purchase Relic Entertainment and the Warhammer 40k license, Take-Two would purchase the publishing rights to Evolve, as well as the WWE license, Koch Media would purchase the studio Volition and the rights to Metro (eventually buying Homefront from Crytek), and Ubisoft would purchasing the publishing rights to the upcoming Obsidian RPG South Park: The Stick of Truth. All of THQ’s remaining assets would go to Austrian game publisher Nordic, renaming itself THQ Nordic in 2016 after successfully purchasing the name.
The next big failure came from EA, though not particularly of their own doing. Online blog The Consumerist had made a name for itself by running a bracket style contest to determine the worst company in America. Traditionally these were financial institutions or telecommunications companies, but in 2012 the video game industry was finally called out, when readers named EA (Electronic Arts) the worst company in America. The vote appeared to be skewed by players who were angry over the ending to Mass Effect III, which they felt was inadequate and without resolution. However, another contributing factor was EA’s practice of releasing a game and then having extra DLC content available immediately at launch, meaning that your $60 game would now cost an extra $20 if you wanted the final chapter or some extra piece of gameplay. EA didn’t take this very well, saying that there were far worse companies than them, including financial institutions the would prey on low income families and companies that were actively polluting the environment. Gamers didn’t seem to care though, they just did it for the lulz.
Our last big failure of 2012 comes from Microsoft and their abysmal operating system Windows 8. Touted as the future of PC’s, Windows 8 was designed to turn your PC into a tablet. Microsoft assumed that everyone would want to use touchscreens in the future, due to the high demand for tablets and smartphones, and while that may be true in some sense, the PC is a different experience than a tablet, and therefore requires a different interface. While some critics praised the new look and feel, it was soundly rejected by just about everyone else. Microsoft would quickly patch in an app that would let you use a Windows 7 style interface, but it was a stop gap, a band aid to cover the wound of Windows 8 until a successor could be crowned.
At the 2012 DICE Awards (formerly the Interactive Achievement Awards), Journey would take home the top prize. Other big winners included XCOM Enemy Unknown, Tell Tale’s The Walking Dead, Halo 4, Assassin’s Creed III, Borderlands 2, Mass Effect 3, Need For Speed: Most Wanted, and Paper Mario: Sticker Star. Over at the Spike VGA’s, the more “MTV” of the two awards shows, the top prize went to The Walking Dead, with other big winners being Halo 4, Journey, XCOM, Borderlands 2, Dishonored, Mass Effect 3, Persona 4 Arena, the song “Cities” by Beck from the game Sound Shapes, and Grand Theft Auto V for most anticipated game. This was also the last year the show would be called the Spike VGAs, rebranding to VGX in 2013, before being cancelled in 2014.
2012 was the last full year for the Xbox 360 and PS3, with their successors just around the corner. As such, we started to see a lot of games come out that pushed the boundaries of the consoles and helped them put out some of the best games of all time. Of course, PC gaming was still going strong, and we started to see mobile games continue to dominate the casual market, making sure that everyone in America had something to play while they went poop:
- 007 Legends
- Armored Core V
- Assassin’s Creed III
- Asura’s Wrath
- Borderlands 2
- Candy Crush Saga
- Call of Duty: Black Ops II
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
- Crusader Kings II
- The Darkness II
- Dead or Alive 5
- Dear Esther
- Diablo III
- Double Dragon Neon
- Double Fine Happy Action Theater
- Dragon’s Dogma
- Epic Mickey 2
- FTL: Faster Than Light
- Far Cry 3
- Final Fantasy XIII-2
- Gotham City Imposters
- Gravity Rush
- Halo 4
- Hotline Miami
- Kid Icarus: Uprising
- Kinect Star Wars
- Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance
- Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning
- The Last Story
- Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes
- Lollipop Chainsaw
- Mario Party 9
- Mario Tennis Open
- Mass Effect 3
- Max Payne 3
- Mutant Mudds
- Need For Speed: Most Wanted
- New Super Mario Bros. U
- Ninja Gaiden 3
- Nintendo Land
- Orcs Must Die 2
- Paper Mario: Sticker Star
- Persona 4 Arena
- PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale
- PokéPark 2: Wonders Beyond
- Prototype 2
- Puzzle & Dragons
- Quantum Conundrum
- Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault
- Resident Evil 6
- Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City
- Resident Evil: Revelations
- Retro City Rampage
- Rock Band Blitz
- Scribblenauts Unlimited
- Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2
- Silent Hill: Downpour
- The Simpsons: Tapped Out
- Sine Mora
- Sleeping Dogs
- Sniper Elite V2
- Soulcalibur V
- South Park: Tenorman’s Revenge
- SSX (2012)
- Street Fighter X Tekken
- Tekken Tag Tournament 2
- Theatrhythm Final Fantasy
- Tokyo Jungle
- Torchlight II
- The Walking Dead
- XCOM: Enemy Unknown
- Xenoblade Chronicles
- Yakuza: Dead Souls
- Zombi U
Wow! That’s going to do it folks. I had a ton of fun reading up on video game history as I did research for this, and took some lovely trips down memory lane. I hope you stay safe this holiday season; don’t drink & drive, try and get some rest, and be sure to hug your loved ones, they need it more than ever. Thank you for reading, and don’t forget, next week we’re talking about the upcoming 2023 releases; I can’t wait! Finally, I want to leave you with an all time holiday classic, something that warms my heart every time I hear it; I hope it does the same for you:
Wait, no, that’s not the right song…let me see…um, one second. Okay, this is it.
Sigh, not again. Hey, you know what, fuck it, this is it. This is the Christmas song now, okay? Deal with it.