Mini consoles, maxi clash.
Piepacker was first designed as a free retrogaming platform; a choice that finds its justification in the wise teachings of the past.
The fierce battle that once opposed the Game Boy to the Game Gear has left its mark on video game history.
Nintendo’s small portable device whose technology was “outdated” has proven every critic wrong, inspiring as much awe as surprise. Compared to the steroid-filled contender produced by Sega, its resilience has become an educational model.
Its story is proof that, in the video game industry, a race to technological progress is not the only path that leads to innovation.
This philosophy resonates with the leading principles of Piepacker which, notably, takes advantage of time-tested technologies in order to optimize the ergonomic potential of the platform. All of this with only one goal in mind: focus on the gaming experience. History showed that users cared less about the equipment than how much fun they can get out of an experience.
Here comes a new challenger!
1989, 6 years after the great video game crash, the first console war is raging. The NES is doing well in Japan and in the US, giving Nintendo an advantageous position on the market. Yet, a new confrontation is brewing.
The previous year, Sega launched its counterattack with a new console: the Mega Drive. This fourth-generation console boasts 16 bits under the hood, twice more than its competitors. It takes on the American market — a critical step to guarantee a strong global supremacy — under the name Genesis.
Nintendo must fight back: the technological advances of its competitor could prove to be a significant threat.
A new front
Gunpei Yokoi, to whom we owe the Game and Watch and the D-pad, was head of Nintendo’s research and development division — the R&D1. With the assistance of Satoru Osada, Yokoi introduced a new portable device with interchangeable cartridges to replace the Game and Watch that counted only one game per unit.
The new project is surprising and doesn’t get everyone’s approval, including inside the Kyoto company. Its processor might be slightly more powerful than the NES, but its monochrome screen and rough appearance are perceived as regressions and don’t spark hope. Some even dub it “the brick”.
Nevertheless, the company stayed on course.
On April 21st a new portable console comes out of Nintendo’s factories: the Game Boy.
After only two weeks, 300 000 units, the entire first batch of production, are sold in Japan. Three months later, the console reaches the United States, where it’s an instant hit.
The competition wastes no time to respond: Atari, NEC, and Sega chase after Nintendo.
Nevertheless, only Sega’s Game Gear manages to stay in the race through its unique game library and an unchecked propaganda that mocks, or even insults, its now-famous competitor.
And yet, nothing can stop Nintendo’s brick from crushing its opponents.
We must wonder how a device with outdated performances could have succeeded in establishing itself as the ultimate reference?
First out, first served.
The first reason is only a matter of chronology. The Game Boy is the first console to come out for this new portable generation. The short year that passed between its release and the Game Gear’s was enough to make it a standard to outperform. A gap that could have been closed if it hadn’t been widened by economic factors.
The right price
The technical specifications of “the brick” are genuinely inferior to the Game Gear’s, but it is precisely what enables Nintendo to offer a price that, literally, defies all competition. In the US, it’s sold at $89.99, to Sega’s $149.99. The company stays in the lead and will keep widening the already existing gap thanks to the surprising technology of its console.
Whereas Sega, Atari and Nec offered colored screens, Nintendo’s is monochrome. But this technology, seemingly “outdated”, turned out to be an asset. The console needs very little power and can run on 4 R6 batteries for fifteen hours. For its part, the Game Gear requires 6 similar batteries for an average play time of 3 hours. A hindrance that forces players to always stay close to a power source. Something that goes against everything a portative console is supposed to be!
Furthermore, Sega’s device remains too voluminous and fragile compared to Nintendo’s which fits easily in the back pocket of the 90s’ baggy jeans and is incredibly sturdy.
Another plus for Nintendo, about to finish off its opponent with its game releases.
The killer App
The Game Boy is launched with the game Tetris. The results can’t be denied: the Soviet game becomes a must-have. All in all, 30 million copies will be sold around the world.
The triumph of this clever move will go beyond any of the company’s leaders’ expectations. Indeed, the puzzle game and its super simple concept will prove to be extremely addictive and will go down in history as the key to a brand-new market that hadn’t weighed much in the video game economy until then: women.
In 1995, the Japanese company announces that 46% of Game Boy users are female.
The game library of the console includes 1048 games in total against a little over 300 for the Game Gear. Throughout its exploitation, the Game Boy will be host to many hits and will put an end to any sort of competition with the release of one of the most profitable franchises of the world: Pokémon. Over 46 million copies of the original games were purchased.
At first glance, we might believe that this combination of factors was random.
In fact, this series of positive events is the result of Gunpei Yokoi’s practical enforcement of a specific philosophy: the “lateral thinking of withered technology”.
Kareta gijutsu no suiheishikō
“Lateral thinking” is opposed to the fundamental “vertical thinking” of traditional logic. Instead of immediately ruling out the least realistic solutions, lateral thinking encourages the consideration of all ideas, even the most far-fetched. The goal is to free ourselves from the biases that form our traditional thought process in order to open new paths and enlarge the field of possibilities.
Gunpei Yokoi applies this concept to create groundbreaking products that rely on time-tested technologies. Although the process presents risks, it has two major benefits: guaranteeing considerable production cost savings while focusing on innovation.
If Nintendo’s engineer has chosen to follow these precepts all the way, it’s also because of one of his convictions: if the people using his products play games with a powerful and immersive enough gameplay, they won’t care about technical details such as the screen resolution or the type of processor in use.
These principles have inspired Piepacker’s guidelines when the project was conceived. The stakes rest in creating products that use an already existing technology in new ways applicable to a new context, keeping the user experience at the forefront.
Innovation can often be mistaken for progress. We should never lose sight of the fact that, in the field of gaming, technology is a means to an end, not a goal in itself. This means that there are alternative routes which hold the possibility of bringing as much, if not more, success. It would be a shame to pass them by, unexplored.
Why shouldn’t we let AAA developers endlessly chase their own tails in a performance race? If you also believe video games are more about fun than polish, we urge you to join your friends on a virtual sunny beach to throw Windjammers frisbees, free on Piepacker! 😉