Third Generation (1983-1990)
The third generation of video game consoles, also referred to as the 8-bit era, began in 1983. The third generation differentiates itself from the second generation based on a few key characteristics. Controllers for third generation consoles had directional pads, or D-pads. The hardware for these consoles allowed scrolling in multiple directions, and the resolution could get up to 256 x 240 pixels. Graphics were between 3-bit and 5-bit, and so enabled 8 to 32 colors. Additionally, these consoles included up to five channels for audio.
The third generation began with the release of the Nintendo Family Computer, later known as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and the Sega SG-1000 in 1983. This era demonstrated the move of market dominance from the United States to Japan, as well as the end of the market crash that happened earlier in 1983. The third generation also ushered in tile- and sprite-based graphics, instead of the earlier block-based graphics that had been used. During this time, consoles began to be labeled by their “bits,” and even though the processors of the previous generation were also 8-bit, this labeling really came into the play towards the end of the era as 16-bit processors were developed.
Three consoles cornered the market during the third generation: the Sega Master System, successor of the Sega SG-1000; the Atari 7800; and the NES/Famicom, which was the best-selling console of the era. Additionally, this generation saw the first children’s educational console market, as well as the first console role-playing games, or RPGs. Many of the most renowned games were created during the third generation, including Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario Bros.