‘I sense a great disturbance in the Force’

Legend of Zelda Wind WalkerMighty Nintendo, home to the great pantheon of immortal video game characters, has been shaken to its foundations by an ancient force re-awakened. Since 2004, Nintendo enjoyed a resurgence of commercial success thanks to the creation of the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii. The company once scorned by die hard gamers saw the same worldly cynics madly scrambling to buy Super Mario Kart and Nintendogs! Nintendo re-established itself by focusing on the ‘Blue Ocean’ – the huge number of casual video game players who enjoy playing games for short periods of time, leaving the intensely competitive ‘Red Ocean’ market share of core gamers to Microsoft and Sony.

The ancient force stirred, gathered its strength, and dipped its mighty hand into the Blue Ocean, sending ripples across the world to the shores of Super Mario’s Temple.

In October, 2009, Nintendo reported that profits for the six month period from March to September decreased by 52%! Global sales of the Nintendo DS decreased 15% during that time to 11.7 million units (insert gasp here how this many sales could be a decrease – but the ways of the Gods are fickle). Software sales for the DS are expected to contract by 17% to 150 million units by the end of March, 2010 (again..insert gasp).

What force could possibly shake the foundations of Super Mario’s Temple?

Apple.

The grand technology Zen master Steve Jobs has extended his reach into the video game world with iTunes, the iPod Touch, and the iPhone. The president of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, admits that Apple is having an impact on Nintendo’s fortunes, though he claims he is an Apple devotee and that there is no apparent rivalry between them.

A Short History About Apple and Video Games

When it comes to thinking about companies that create technology for playing video games, the name ‘Apple Computer’ doesn’t exactly leap into mind. It’s sort of a strange paradox because Apple was founded in 1976 by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak on the original premise of creating “...computers for the rest of us...”. The Apple II was never designed for playing games; however, many lone programmers spent countless hours slaving away in their basements, bedrooms, and garages to create titles like Expedition Amazon, Apple Panic, Choplifter, Lode Runner, Drol, Sammy Lightfoot, Sneakers, The Dark Crystal, Time Zone, and Wavy Navy. I will never forget the thrill of playing Transylvania by Penguin Software, Prince of Persia by Broderbund, or Ultima II by Origin Software. The first personal computer game companies evolved, including Broderbund Software, Sierra Entertainment, and Electronic Arts. Founded in 1982, EA was a small company of programmer ‘auteurs’ who created famous Apple II titles like Archon, Pinball Construction Set, and Skyfox. The first computer game designer ‘celebrities’ were crowned, including Bill Budge, ‘Lord British’ Richard Garriott, Ken & Roberta Williams, Jordan Mechner, and Doug Smith.

When the Macintosh appeared in 1984, it was all about the mouse and the graphic interface. Apple focused on showcasing how Macintosh and its flickering bluish white display screen could be used for graphics and writing. In 1986, desktop publishing was the ‘killer app’ for buying a Mac. Apple wasn’t interested in games. But that didn’t stop developers from trying to wring some fun out of Macintosh. Dark Castle and Beyond Dark Castle were very popular. Most people don’t know that you could play networked games on a Macintosh in the late 1980’s using an Appleshare connection. I regularly fought my friends in long Maze Wars tournaments after work (God I hated seeing the killer eyeball come round the corner wall before my nemesis killed me!). The introduction of Hypercard in 1987 and its use of hyperlinks led to the creation of The Manhole (1988) and Cosmic Osmo (1989) by Rand and Robyn Miller, who later went on create the Myst adventure series on the PC in 1993.

One moment I’ll never forget is at the 1991 Game Developer Conference in San Jose’ California at the old Hilton Airport Courtyard Inn. Apple sent a lone company game evangelist to walk among the 200 PC and video game developers who attended. It was truly a ‘Daniel in the Lion’s Den’ moment as the game developer crowd wasn’t exactly receptive to the evangelist’s message that Apple really cared about games. I observed it was a good thing there was plenty of food for the developers at the reception!

Steve JobsFast forward to 1997 and the second coming of Steve Jobs as he returned to Apple and launched the iMac computer. Steve rightly decided that it was important to get game developers on board to help make Macintosh ‘cool’ again to computer users. So he did something clever and enlisted the help of programming wunderkind Jon Carmack to create QUAKE for the iMac and show off the 3D graphic capabilities of Apple’s computers. It had the desired effect; game development for the Mac started to take root. While it’s true that the number of titles was nowhere near what could be found for Windows based computers, at least there was a better chance of making money developing games for the Mac. You know Apple has come a long way in computer games when Blizzard developed a Macintosh version of World of Warcraft!

Join the Doctor at ringside next time for Part Two of the ultimate Super Smash Brothers matchup: Super Mario versus Steve Jobs!

Doctor Arkanoid Doctor Arkanoid

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