With the rise of powerful new gaming computers and consoles, we see more realistic game graphics than ever before. But how have these graphics changed over time? And what games helped establish the foundation for high-quality computer graphics in modern online games?
Here’s a look at how gaming graphics have evolved throughout history, from the NES to the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S today.
The NES Era
The Nintendo Entertainment System, released in North America in 1985, ushered in a new era of home entertainment. While it had a modest library of only about 30 games, every single one was a classic; simple concepts like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda brought an immersive experience to gaming unlike anything seen before.
An NES was a favorite household toy with 8-bit graphics and blocky characters that spoke directly to players through iconic voices. Many Gen X kids grew up in front of Nintendo and still remember well what it was like to play Super Mario Bros. with their siblings in a crowded living room – and maybe even arguing over who would get stuck with Luigi.
The SNES Era
During gaming’s 16-bit era, which lasted from 1990 to 1994, improved hardware became available. These new systems allowed for more complex characters and better graphics, not to mention gameplay.
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) was one of these 16-bit consoles. Released in 1990, it became wildly popular around 1993-94 with some of its most popular games, including Super Mario World 2, Street Fighter II Turbo Championship Edition, and Mortal Kombat 3.
The N64 Era
Games on N64 looked a lot like their Playstation and Saturn counterparts. One of Nintendo’s key contributions to gaming during this period was introducing 3D gaming to a more mainstream audience with titles like Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
During the N64 era, 3D gaming was still in its infancy, so gamers were generally impressed by what they saw. Still, titles like Goldeneye 007 brought a new level of depth to games that had never been seen before. While many console owners in 1997 didn’t expect more than 8-bit graphics from their games, Nintendo blew them away with polygonal characters that added an element of realism never before seen in a video game.
The GameCube Era
The original Nintendo GameCube was released in 2001 and featured low-poly models with somewhat muddy textures. The console’s release coincided with its star-studded launch title, Super Smash Bros. Melee, as well as Resident Evil 4 a few years later in 2005. Both games were ported to Wii years later, cementing their status as classics for a new generation of gamers.
Even though early GameCube games had simpler graphics, the console still managed to pack in way more detail than its competitors at that time. Nintendo accomplished that by having their own software development teams handle key first-party titles and maintaining strict quality control with both internal and external developers. This approach ensured that gamers were getting a consistent level of quality across each title they purchased.
The Wii Era
The Nintendo Wii first arrived in 2006. The Wii was a game-changer because it opened up gaming to a whole new market. Not only did it introduce motion controls, but it also made gaming more accessible with its casual-friendly games. So, even those who didn’t consider themselves ‘gamers’ found they enjoyed playing Wii games with others!
But despite all of its innovations, graphics on the Wii were still pretty weak compared to other consoles like Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (see below), released around the same time.
The Xbox 360 and PS3 Era
By now, video games were looking better than ever before but were still subject to limitations in hardware. However, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 brought extremely detailed 3D graphics and high-definition, respectively.
One of the most revolutionary introductions with these consoles was Avatar Kinect for Xbox 360 and PlayStation Move for PS3. Somewhat like Wii’s Wiimote, these peripherals had players control gameplay by moving around their bodies like real-life characters within the game – and introduced motion gaming as a genre unto itself within a relatively short amount of time.
The Xbox One and PS4 Era
It’s easy to forget how far gaming has come in such a short time. In an age when it feels like technology is changing every minute, it’s easy to forget that it wasn’t so long ago that we were playing games with blocky pixels and chunky controls, making us jump at shadows while racking up coins.
In comparison, modern consoles are powerhouses with detailed graphics and gameplay that seem to be constantly evolving. While gaming fans tend to take for granted just how different everything is today, it’s actually rather amazing when you stop to think about how much things have changed in such a short period.
The Current Generation – Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5
Next-gen systems like the PlayStation 5 are often heralded as a generational leap in technology and graphics. With classic titles being re-released on these futuristic consoles, it is clear that developers are striving to bring new life to their products with more realistic lighting effects, higher resolutions, and more detailed textures.
Today’s newest games are like nothing we could have imagined even five years ago. The latest technology has led to gaming becoming a fully immersive experience, with new ways of using sound and sight to immerse you in worlds that would once have seemed impossible.