Tech Industry

Flashback 1989--Gaming 20 years ago

If 1989 seems this strange looking back, then what will we look like in 2029?

R-Type strategy guide, Easter Eggs, and do you see my signature on the cover?
Scott Stein/CNET

I found an old issue of Video Games & Computer Entertainment magazine in an ancient cardboard box filled with stuff I somehow saved from my years at summer camp. Dated July 1989, it's more than 20 years old--and it's an incredible reminder of how quickly things can change.

Besides the god-awful layout by modern standards, I found a few notable shocks when thumbing through the issue:

  • Game ads have addresses to write to and phone numbers to call, since there were no Web links yet.
  • The TurboGrafx-16 preview, featured on the front cover, boasts how the $199 console will have "stereo output" and an optional $399 CD-ROM player with CD-G support that will be able to "display still pictures and graphics" in addition to music.
  • A letter regarding Tengen's Nintendo cartridges and Nintendo's lawsuit with them discusses whether or not they'll still be making Tetris. More interestingly, the editor's response reveals that the magazine's lead time in 1989 was three to four months...which is nearly the same as print magazines today.
  • A preview page discusses Sega's upcoming games shown off at the recent Summer CES in Chicago.

It sounds like an alternate reality nowadays, but there once was a time when the CES was in other cities than Las Vegas, took place at a different time than January, and had a heavy focus on games. The article, written by Andy Eddy, points out the highlights, in case you weren't already disoriented:

Layout, circa 1989. Scott Stein/CNET

  • World Games, an adaptation of the hit Epyx title.
  • Wanted, a Light Phaser game.
  • Passing Shot
  • Dynamite Dux
  • Captain Silver
  • Cloud Master
  • Basketball Nightmare
  • Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap
  • Ultima IV
  • Walter Payton Football
  • Alex Kidd: High Tech World
  • And some hot new titles from Activision, including Cyborg Hunter, Rampage and Bomber Raid.

If you can remember more than seven games from the list above, you're a better Sega fan than I--and I owned every Sega system from the Master System onwards.

He also discusses how, later that year, Sega will release the Mega Drive in America, with all its 16-bit wonder.

It makes me wonder where games will be in another 20 years--what we'll be boasting about, and how much of our current generation's crop will be irrelevant in a similar look back. Then again, it's funny to reflect on how some things have survived--many of the games on the Master System and TurboGrafx-16 are now available on the Wii's Virtual Console or on other devices, as our culture becomes ever more retro-obsessed.

Seeing a used-game ad spread across one page reminded me even further of how many of these titles have been lost to the general collective memory, save a quick look at Wikipedia. It's like gaming's library of Alexandria. On the other hand, hey, it seems like GameStop buys back games for about the same price as Play It Again did in 1989.

For your amusement, some used game prices from 20 years ago. Scott Stein/CNET

And, more importantly, in 2029, will print magazines still have a three-month lead time? Yes, that's a trick question.