TIME Video Games

These Are the E3 2015 Games We Can’t Wait to Play

Star Wars, Legend of Zelda, and many many more

What’s on your E3 list this year? Star Wars: Battlefront or Disney Infinity 3.0 (because The Force Awakens has you in the mood)? The Legend of Zelda for Wii U? (Alas, Nintendo says it won’t make the show this year.) A new Gears of War? The next Mass Effect? The Wii U’s maiden Metroid voyage? Dark Souls 3? (All rumored, but at this point still more “wishful thinking” than reality.)

Here’s a list of announced games — some we’ve played, but several we haven’t — that we most want to lay hands on at this year’s show.

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 3

    This year’s Call of Duty has several series firsts up its nano-mesh-augmented sleeves: Female soldiers on the front lines, cybernetic perks and “neurally connected” squad mates, a new parkour-ish movement system, and the option to tweak the physiques, personalities, backstories, weapons and abilities of up to nine soldiers.

  • Disney Infinity 3.0 (Star Wars)

    It’s the only toys-to-life game on the planet with all your favorite Star Wars characters. The “Twilight of the Republic” starter pack capitalizes on all the love (post prequel disdain) for George Lucas’s critically acclaimed Clone Wars TV series. Or if you’d rather go older-school, the “Rise Against the Empire” pack takes place during the original trilogy.

  • Doom

    Can Bethesda haul this longstanding tech-demo-for-better-games series out of the creative rut it’s been in for years? I hope so. And I expect we’re going to know so, one way or another, after the company’s E3 showcase on Sunday, June 14.

     

  • Fallout 4

    Last week I’d jotted down all the reasons another post-apocalyptic installment in the Fallout roleplaying series was the biggest surprise we’d likely get from Bethesda at E3. And then the company went and preempted a bazillion curtain-raisers by formally outing Fallout 4 weeks before the show. What did they reveal? That the game’s coming for PS4, Xbox One and PC, but also, based on the box art and preorder options, that the biggest surprise to come may be a late 2015 ship date.

  • Halo 5: Guardians

    The Halo series’ second trilogy mid-quel is a revisionist look at the series’ iconic hero (a predictable trope, though the devil’s in the details). Microsoft’s complicated the game’s narrative with a few enigmatic “he-said, he-said” trailers, so even with the game’s launch this fall (October 27), I’m guessing this year’s E3 coverage will be more about Halo 5‘s multiplayer wrinkles than any major story reveals.

  • Mario Maker

    Want to build your own side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. levels? Skin them to look like different Mario games, from the NES’s halcyon 8-bit days to the Wii U’s slick, high definition New Super Mario Bros. U? Do all of that from the comfort and convenience of the Wii U GamePad? Then share your creations with others online? With The Legend of Zelda for Wii U off E3’s books, expect Nintendo to focus heavily on this DIY platform-roller.

  • Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst

    First-person parkour-fest Mirror’s Edge remains EA subsidiary DICE’s best idea to date, so I can’t wait to lay eyes and hands on the overdue followup at E3 this year.

  • No Man’s Sky

    In your imagination, open universe ambler No Man’s Sky really is as infinite as developer Hello Games keeps boasting, giving you an endless, procedurally generated cosmos to plumb (and enough to do that you’ll never tire of doing it). In reality, no one has the faintest idea whether all the game’s random-seeded vastness is going to be beautifully significant, or astronomically shallow. Fingers triple-crossed, then — and that we finally get a release date at this year’s show.

  • Persona 5

    Developer Atlus’ fifth “high school shindig plus dungeon reconnoitering” roleplayer has enormous shoes to fill, after Persona 4 made just about everyone’s “best roleplaying game in forever” list. All we know about Persona 5 is that — weirdly but also intriguingly — director Katsura Hashino’s been pitching the game as an interactive self-help experience. Another one I’m hoping this year’s E3 sheds further light (and perhaps even a 2015 release date) on.

  • Rise of the Tomb Raider

    Studio Crystal Dynamics’ followup to Tomb Raider is technically a timed Xbox One exclusive (meaning it’ll eventually land on PC and PS4), but that may be all Microsoft needs to move systems in 2015 given the plaudits accorded the 2013 reboot. Expect Microsoft to focus on the game at this year’s show, as well as give us a release date.

  • Star Fox

    2015 could have been the year of Zelda, but with Nintendo’s anticipated open-world Wii U celeb delayed to 2016, the burden falls to Star Fox, luminary Shigeru Miyamoto’s attempt to make the Wii U GamePad — you maneuver the game’s transformable spacecraft with simultaneous motion and traditional button controls — indispensable.

  • Tom Clancy’s The Division

    Another epic angle on Ubisoft’s recent obsession with open-world games, The Division imagines a The Stand-like disease upending civilization, and a group of U.S. sleeper agents — trained to respond to just such a breakdown — emerging to do battle (in third-person) against the forces responsible for the virus’s deployment.

  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

    Since Uncharted series mainstay Amy Hennig abruptly left developer Naughty Dog last year, I’ve been worried about Nate and Sully’s fourth tour of duty. The game looks as terrific as you’d expect in preliminary teasers, so the question’s whether the series’ tropes — another “lost treasure” adventure, clambering over elaborate scenery (mostly on autopilot in the prior games) and relentlessly gunning down hordes of foes — haven’t overstayed their welcome.

  • XCOM 2

    Set decades after the events of 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown, developer Firaxis’s turn-based strategy sequel imagines a world in which the aliens won, and XCOM’s been reduced to an on-the-go insurgency.

  • Xenoblade Chronicles X

    All I want from E3 2015 is a release date for Xenoblade Chronicles X. It may lack Halo 5 or Uncharted 4‘s franchise power or entrenched demographic appeal, but I’d throw those games under a bus to play this one. That is, assuming developer Monolith’s crafted something as vast, dynamic and compulsive as Xenoblade Chronicles. With any luck, we’ll learn a lot more about the game at this year’s show.

TIME Video Games

This Is the Insane Number of Copies The Witcher 3 Sold

CD Projekt Red's three-quel is already way ahead of its predecessors, as well as most of its gaming peers

Ready for some crazy The Witcher 3 news? This, apparently, is what years of dedication to your IP and artful refinement of your category buys you: The third installment in a once-abstruse roleplaying series by likewise recondite Polish developer CD Projekt Red sold 4 million copies in its first two weeks.

That’s not quite Skyrim turf — Bethesda’s open-world roleplaying opus managed 7 million copies in just one week and over 20 million copies to date. But it’s one heck of an upsurge over the last game in CPR’s series, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, itself considered a resounding success both critically and commercially for the developer, with somewhere in the vicinity of 2 million copies sold worldwide.

I was lucky enough to get in on the ground floor with the original The Witcher, a PC-only game that came out of nowhere back in 2007, packing a lot of the play components and storytelling tenor sorely missing from the merry-go-round of increasingly anemic, cliche-riddled vamps on Dungeons & Dragons.

Read more: 5 Things I Love About The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3, to trot out a highfalutin word, may be the apotheosis of the stadium-rock roleplaying shtick–the Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band of video gaming. I’m still not finished with it, but I can say I’m much happier, 50 hours in, than I was with Skyrim at the same point. Will The Witcher 3 push past Skyrim sales? Probably not. But remember, it took Bethesda five The Elder Scrolls games to reach Skyrim‘s numbers, and CD Projekt Red’s already clearing the charts with game number three.

TIME Apple

Apple Just Gave Gamers a Huge Reason to Hope

Apple is making one very important technology change

Big news, Mac gamers: Metal, the codename for Apple’s pitch to one-up OpenGL in iOS, is coming to OS X, according to Apple software engineering VP Craig Federighi at this year’s WWDC. To be fair, it’s a long-expected move, but one that’s as potentially big news for gaming on a Mac as it was when Federighi unveiled the tool a year ago.

Back then, Federighi claimed Metal would dissolve most of the “thick” traditional layer between games and computing hardware, and replace it with one that offers “near bare-to-the-metal access” to Apple’s processors. Federighi called the performance difference Metal offers “stunning.”

A year later, it’s hard to gauge the impact of Metal’s existence. A glance at Apple’s iOS game store reveals pretty old-scool, non-Metal chart-toppers, from Minecraft and Plague Inc. to Terraria and Angry Birds. But in theory, and accepting Apple’s performance claims at face value, adding Metal to OS X sweetens the pot for intrepid developers looking to get more bang for their buck out of Apple’s Mac hardware.

The million dollar question, of course, is how likely Macs are to slough off decades of market share creep. Apple’s been selling Macs at record-breaking levels in recent years, it’s true, and Cupertino now consistently ranks among the top five computer vendors by brand name. But when you break those figures into meaningful operating system market share, Microsoft Windows’ high double digit percentages practically entomb OS X’s low single digits.

Will Metal for OS X woo more developmental investors? Perhaps (and speaking as a Macbook user, I can only hope so). The company’s managed to enlist powerhouse game developer Epic to pitch Metal at the API’s unveiling back in 2014, and Epic was back onstage today to trumpet the Mac announcement with a moderately impressive demo.

So Apple’s got the ballyhoo part down pat. All that’s missing? The games themselves.

TIME Video Games

Amazon Is Building an Elite Team to Enter a New Market

Amazon Smartphone Jeff Bezos
David Ryder—Getty Images Amazon.com founder and CEO Jeff Bezos presents the company's first smartphone, the Fire Phone, in Seattle, on June 18, 2014.

It's not just fun and games. But maybe it is

Amazon has its sights set on becoming the next big computer game maker, and it’s assembling a dream team to make it happen.

The e-commerce site run by Jeff Bezos has hired top talent in the video game industry, with more top developers expected to join to work on PC games, Business Insider reports. The information comes from an Amazon job ad placed on Gamasutra, a site for video game developers.

“Amazon is committed to gamers, and building great teams who are excited to use Twitch, the AWS cloud, and technical innovation to radically evolve gameplay,” the ad reads. “We believe that games have just scratched the surface in their power to unite players and will produce some of the future’s most influential voices in media and art.”

The ad also trumpets that Amazon’s team is already full of game developers with experience working on top-notch titles like Portal, World of Warcraft, BioShock, Half Life 2 ,Left for Dead, Dota 2, Halo, Infamous, Shadows of Mordor and The Last of Us. Amazon has already made a few mobile games, but it hasn’t done anything for full-blown desktops or consoles.

Read next: See How Amazon Just Changed Its Iconic Shipping Boxes

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Video Games

7 Things Fallout 4 Had Better Improve

A great franchise in great need of some upgrades

What could Fallout 4 do better than its predecessor, now that we know the game’s coming, possibly by year’s end? I mean besides the obvious stuff, like better graphics? (Reminder: it’s been seven years since Fallout 3.) Fallout 4‘s form and fate lie in its creator’s hands. But here’s a humble list of changes or additions I’d like to see:

A better ending (or endings)

Remember Fallout 3‘s denouement? The anticlimactic full stop? I know, it’s about “the journey,” and no argument there, but Bethesda caught enough flak about its wrap-up that it eventually removed the stop entirely, letting you brush past the finale to keep rambling around the game’s gorgeously bleak tracts. It’s probably safe to assume there’ll be no terminal paths in Fallout 4, I’m just hoping director Todd Howard has a finale (or finales) in mind that doesn’t feel as sudden and dissociative as Fallout 3‘s did.

Will the player finally speak?

Speaking of dissociation, Bethesda’s games have a significant Achilles heel that may in part explain why I found Fallout 3‘s ending so lifeless: everyone can speak but you in these games. When you do speak, it’s in silent, selectable sentences.

Which would be kind of awesome were you supposed to play a voiceless character. But that’s not what’s going on in Bethesda’s games. The rationale, I assume, is that recording all the voice work necessary to establish a palette of unique vocal types, carried through start to finish, would be insane, or at least insanely expensive. So we get the “voiceless vault dweller” compromise, the pro argument—weak, in my view—being that you can just make up any old voice you want to hear in your head.

MORE: This Is Microsoft’s Big Secret Windows 10 Feature

But maybe not Fallout 4. I’m cautiously hopeful change is in store here, because the iconically vault-clothed fellow at the end of the game’s debut trailer—possibly the protagonist, though who knows?—speaks.

A setting outside the United States?

Dang it, too late: based on the landmarks in the trailer, Fallout 4 is set in Massachusetts.

Intelligent artificial intelligence

Fallout 3‘s quasi-turn-based body targeting combat system (V.A.T.S., or “Vault-Tec Assisted Targeting System”) was amazing in principle, until you figured out the game’s anemic enemy A.I. Once you’d mastered headshots, since enemies couldn’t be bothered to protect their eggshell noggins, battles were more or less cranium-splatting busywork.

I’m not asking for impossible challenges, I just want Fallout 4 to hide the stupidity better. Make enemies more aware of where they are and what they’re up against, and telegraph that awareness to the player somehow.

A more thought-provoking post-apocalypse

I don’t need a bunch of empty-headed small talkers wandering through expanses to fill some social quotient—it’s the nearly-everyone’s-dead-post-apocalypse, not Times Square, after all. If you want vibrant people-choked cities, go play Grand Theft Auto V.

But there’s plenty Bethesda could do to make the Fallout series’ desiccated vistas more absorbing, meter by lunar meter. If I’m going to eek out a hardscrabble existence, poking around in post-kitsch-1950s rubble, reward me with landscapes that tell stories, where exploration and discovery (of a thing or person or topographical anomaly) becomes an extension of the world-building narrative, and thereby its own reward.

My favorite moments in Fallout 3 weren’t combat or mission related, they occurred during the game’s quieter stretches, alone in the wilderness, when I’d come across something innocuous, maybe some scrap of information, or a carefully articulated architectural detail, that enriched my sense of being in the world itself.

Minimized clutter

Richard Garriott (the Ultima computer roleplaying series) got a lot of us pretty excited in the 1980s, when he hyped giving every knife, spoon and fork in his games discrete, interactive physical attributes. This was back when adventure games were still a big deal, and 99% of the stuff an artist rendered onscreen was basically eye candy.

Decades later, mulling over the wastepile’s worth of junk Bethesda’s crammed into its clearly Ultima-inspired game worlds to scratch that there-for-there’s-sake fetish, I’d say it’s high time for object restraint. If I can pick up a filth-lacquered plate, I want it to be for a reason…like jamming it into a modified compound crossbow (weaponized dinnerware!), not schlepping to a caravan merchant for chump change.

Vehicles!

Why not?

Read next: The 15 Most Anticipated Video Games of Summer 2015

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Video Games

A New Star Wars Game Was Just Announced and It Sounds Amazing

It's called Star Wars: Uprising

There’s a new Star Wars game coming to mobile devices, and, while it’s still early, it sounds deeply promising.

Star Wars: Uprising, an RPG from Kabam, will be set just after the events of Return of the Jedi in a remote part of the galaxy. You’ll be able to play as a range of different classes, like Bounty Hunter, Smuggler or Diplomat. The game’s villain, an Imperial devotee, is trying to censor news of the Emperor’s death to keep his grip on power in the area, Wired reports.

Here’s more from the StarWars.com press release:

Star Wars: Uprising will feature key events set in the Anoat Sector, inclusive of Hoth and Cloud City, and will allow players to create characters, go on missions, build their gear and skills, and organize crews and factions to participate in wide-ranging battles. Keeping up with tradition of Star Wars roleplaying games, players will learn hundreds of new abilities and collect classic gear and equipment conducive to creating their own takes on iconic roles: Smuggler, Bounty Hunter, Rebel Guerilla, Diplomat, Gambler, or something new entirely.

Beta testing for the new game starts over the next few weeks. Hopefully this gives us all something to tide us over until The Force Awakens hits theaters in December.

 

TIME Video Games

Fallout 4 Is Finally Happening, and Yes, There’s a Dog

After years of noise and feckless speculation, finally some signal: Fallout 4 is happening, says open-world gaming magnate Bethesda Softworks. Insert a tunnel, oncoming train, and someone expounding about the sound of inevitability.

Bethesda’s servers appear to have fumbled the news about an hour earlier than expected, briefly lifting a Fallout-themed countdown curtain, due to zero out at 10:00 a.m. ET. At that point, we learned the game was in the offing for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Also: that there’s (still) a dog. Because everybody—hey Fable 2, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Grand Theft Auto V!—has a dog nowadays.

And now that the countdown’s complete, we can say it’s definitely happening. See the official trailer above.

(Yep, that’s another Ink Spots tune; this time they’re crooning “It’s All Over But The Crying.”)

Bethesda Softworks

It’s impossible to say without asking Bethesda, but just watching the trailer, I’d wager Fallout 4‘s still using Bethesda’s Creation engine (created for Skyrim), doubtless souped up, but still looking more like a tricked out, high-resolution version of Fallout 3 than a radical graphical leap (as you’d generally see when this much time’s passed between installments). That could be by design, of course: an attempt to establish visual continuity between 3 and 4. Whatever the case, it still looks terrific.

Our last trip to post-apocalyptic North America (by way of the mid-20th-century), was developer Obsidian’s glitchy but beautifully crafted Fallout: New Vegas in 2010. Fallout 3, Bethesda’s first and to date only in-house vamp on Interplay’s beloved late 1990s GURPS-inspired roleplaying duology, appeared way back in 2008.

Not that all the in-between waiting’s a bad thing. Bethesda fashions worlds roughly analogous to actual worlds, so sufficient prep time’s essential. No annual CallofAssassin’sCryNFL for Todd Howard—Bethesda’s bigwig producer/director on both the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series—and gang.

My guess? The big surprise at Bethesda’s E3 press event, which I’ll be attending on Sunday, June 14 in Los Angeles, is that Fallout 4 could ship by year’s end. Note the option to preorder the game right now from the official website.

TIME Video Games

The 15 Most Anticipated Video Games of Summer 2015

Check out our list of the games to watch for summer 2015

Check out the most anticipated games for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U and Nintendo 3DS due this year, including Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Knight, Konami’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Blizzard’s Heroes Unlimited.

  • ARK: Survival Evolved

    Hey look, another dinosaur game! What are the odds? Better still, it has nothing to do with LEGO, so viva la difference, then head over to Steam Early Access, where the game’s now available in beta. What’s it about? You, naked and starving on an island, hunting for resources, fending off primeval critters and either cooperating with or warring against hundreds of fellow players.

    PC

    June 2

  • Heroes of the Storm

    Blizzard’s newest idea is a team-brawler mashup, where you skirmish online against other players as one of several heavy-hitters plucked from the publisher’s iconic Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo franchises.

    PC

    June 2

  • The Elder Scrolls Online: Tamriel Unlimited

    Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls series was always arrowing toward a massively online multiplayer installment, and ZeniMax Online Studios’ freshman effort wasn’t half-bad when it launched on PCs in April 2014. But the delayed console versions stand to benefit from substantial extra time in the oven, as well as the company’s shift from a monthly subscription fee to free-to-play.

    PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    June 9

  • Kholat

    In February 1959, nine hikers in the Russian Ural mountains died; to this day, the cause of their death remains unknown. Kholat, an open-world, first-person “horror experience,” imagines what might have happened, dropping players years later into the spot where the mysterious event unfolded. Top that off with actor Sean Bean handling the story narration.

    PC

    June 10

  • LEGO Jurassic World

    Why haven’t we had more dinosaur games? No idea, but we can thank whoever green-lit director Colin Trevorrow’s upcoming Jurassic World popcorn-chomper for tugging at Warner Bros. purse-strings, thus giving Traveller’s Tales another chance to uncork its goofball LEGO shtick, this time taking on Isla “four films later and no one’s learned a thing” Nublar.

    PC, PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox 360 & One, Wii U, 3DS, PS Vita

    June 12

  • Batman: Arkham Knight

    The eponymous villain in developer Rocksteady’s third (and final) engagement of DC’s Batman mythos should hopefully breathe a little life into a series long overshadowed by the Joker. The biggest change, aside from the biggest sandbox version of Gotham we’ve seen and shift to new consoles, is the inclusion of the Batmobile—like a grim vamp on Insomniac’s dualistic Ratchet & Clank, as you shift between the Dark Knight and his tricked out ride to solve puzzles or assist you in battle.

    PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

    June 23

  • Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward

    It’s the first expansion to the hands-down best MMO on consoles (and in the top two or three on PC) today. The usual things apply: new areas to explore, a new playable race and the level cap’s been upped to 60. But you’ll also be able to build airships and fly to floating stratospheric continents, plus Square Enix is adding support for OS X (Apple) computers.

    PlayStation 3 & 4, Windows

    June 23

  • God of War III Remastered

    It’s God of War III (originally for PlayStation 3) jacked up to full 1080p at 60 frames per second, and sporting a new feature that lets you take, edit and share in-game photos.

    PlayStation 4

    July 14

  • Feist

    Feist, a beautiful, otherworldly sidescroller that’s been in development forever, is about a tiny fuzz-covered creature (think Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal) exploring spooky chiaroscuro forests, mountains, caves and swamps.

    PC

    July 23

  • Until Dawn

    A group of twenty-somethings, a secluded mountain hangout, and one horror-filled night. You’ve seen it a million times, but Supermassive Games is pushing the idea that each time you play through Until Dawn–and you’ll have to complete it repeatedly to figure out what’s really going on, apparently–you’re following one of thousands of possible paths.

    PlayStation 4

    August 25

  • Madden NFL 16

    This year’s Madden once more overhauls the controls, tweaking QB maneuvers (body-relative throws, touch and roll out passes) and adding what EA’s calling a “risk/reward catch and pass-defend system.” The emphasis, along with de facto visual, online and backend refinements, appears to be on helping you create splashy, photographical moments.

    PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox 360 & One

    August 25

  • Mad Max

    Mad Max, an open-world vehicle combat game, could be another bland movie-game tie-in…or, like the film itself, it could surprise us all. Current odds are on the latter: its developer, Avalanche Studios, has yet to drop the ball, and it’s already hit a few out of the park (see their acclaimed Just Cause series).

    PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    September 1

  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

    “The Phantom Pain” makes Metal Gear Solid V sound a little silly, like a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book, but publisher Konami’s stealth-gaming sandbox spree Metal Gear Solid V promises to deliver smarter enemies and a game world “200 times” that of last year’s prologue, Ground Zeroes.

    PC, PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox 360 & One

    September 1

  • Mighty No. 9

    A Mega Man rethink by another name, Mighty No. 9 takes that 2D platforming classic’s ideas—a robotic protagonist, clever weaponry and crazy end-level boss battles—and adds unique transformational abilities gathered from defeated enemies.

    PC, PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox 360 & One, Wii U, 3DS, PS Vita

    September 15

  • FIFA 16

    With the FIFA scandal ongoing, the cleanest way to get your football fix (that’s “soccer” for Americans) may be FIFA 16. But the biggest news this year is EA’s inclusion, long overdue, of female footballers (the first FIFA Women’s World Cup was held back in 1991), including 12 women’s national teams.

    PC, PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox 360 & One

    September 22

TIME Video Games

Nintendo Says It Isn’t Making an Android Console

Super Smash Bros.
Nintendo Super Smash Bros.

Sorry, Mario: No Google for you

Nintendo is putting the kibosh on rumors that its next gaming console will run on Google’s Android operating system.

The Android-on-Nintendo rumors were first sparked by a Japanese publication earlier this week. But a Nintendo official is making it clear that the new system, codenamed NX, will not run Android.

“There is no truth to the report saying that we are planning to adopt Android for NX,” a Nintendo spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal.

Though console gaming is what made Nintendo famous, the company recently announced that it was expanding into mobile games, possibly bringing your favorite Nintendo franchises — Donkey Kong, Super Mario Brothers, and the Legend of Zelda, for example — to mobile devices.

Read more: 3 Reasons Nintendo Should Switch to Google Android

TIME technology

How Donkey Kong and Mario Changed the World

Donkey Kong
Aaron Ontiveroz—Denver Post/Getty Images Donkey Kong

June 2, 1981: The arcade game Donkey Kong makes its U.S. debut

Before Mario was Mario, he was Jumpman. And when Americans first encountered him in arcades on this day, June 2, in 1981, Jumpman’s best friend — a pet gorilla named Donkey Kong — had turned on his owner, kidnapped his girlfriend and taken her hostage atop the towering steel beams of a construction site. It was up to us to help Jumpman get the girl, by coordinating his leaps from beam to beam while dodging projectiles lobbed by the furious gorilla.

Donkey Kong was a hit. It was also a milestone in video game history: the first of the so-called platform games, and one of the first to have a substantial narrative, along with a sense of humor, as Nick Paumgarten had written for the New Yorker. “Prior to Donkey Kong,” he says, “games had been developed by engineers and programmers with little or no regard for narrative or graphical playfulness.”

Its success cemented Nintendo’s role as a major player in the American video game market pioneered by Atari, following the dismal reception of Nintendo’s previous game, Radar Scope, a shooting game reminiscent of Space Invaders. Donkey Kong was a reversal of fortune that ultimately launched a line of games in which Jumpman came into his own as Mario, joined by his brother Luigi. And it helped usher in a new age of gaming — one that has since seen nearly as many ups and downs as Jumpman himself.

Following a surge of popularity in the late ’70s and early ’80s, video games started to get a bad rap — one they still haven’t quite shed — when worried parents began to see them as the undoing of the youth of America. By 1983, even before home gaming consoles were ubiquitous, video games had been blamed for “increasing crime and school absenteeism, decreasing learning and concentration, and causing a mysterious ailment called video wrist,” according to TIME.

The game industry countered the claims, arguing that video games promoted dexterity and quick thinking, and that arcades were a wholesome gathering place where young people could network and build social skills — the golf courses of the high-school set, per TIME. A University of Southern California researcher who interviewed arcade-goers for a 1983 study underwritten by Atari found that gamers tended to be “average or above average students [who] rarely played hooky from school,” and concluded that drugs and alcohol were not common on the arcade scene — if for no other reason than that they impaired players’ high-scoring abilities.

Atari and Nintendo had more to fear than parents’ concerns, however. The same year, video game profits tanked — thanks to “overheated competition, an oversupply of games, relentless price-cutting, plunging profits and a new finickiness among young video fans,” per TIME. The slowdown affected the glutted arcade market — which had more than doubled between 1980 and 1982 — and home video game sales alike.

Nintendo, powered up by Mario’s successes, largely managed to dodge the market’s profit-crushing projectiles. Atari, which lost $356 million and cut nearly a third of its payroll in 1983, did not.

Read more from 1983, here in the TIME archives: Video Games Go Crunch!

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