It’s hard to debate Chris’s point that the 90’s were truly a renaissance for Chicago game development. Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, Cruis’n USA, and even The Addams Family pinball game are great examples of the 90’s being an incredible decade for Chicago games.
Here’s the thing though, all of the amazing games created in the 90s would have never even existed if it weren’t for the games from the 80s. Smash TV only exists because of Robotron, and that’s true in a few ways. Not only is Smash TV a very obvious evolution of the creative concepts introduced by Robotron, but it’s also Robotron’s commercial success that allowed a company like Midway to continue creating games. Without games like Defender and Robotron, Midway would not have existed in the 90s, at least not in the capacity that it did. Games like Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam wouldn’t have had the chance to even be conceived, much less released.
It’s not like the games of the 80s are bad, either. If the debate is about which decade is more relevant to the history of Chicago gaming as a whole, it’s not like the 80s has a roster of garbage games, while the 90s has all the superstars. I’m sure there are plenty of nostalgic gamers out there who prefer Defender over NFL Blitz, who would rather play Robotron than Mortal Kombat.
There is no debate that the games of the 90s were more culturally significant. Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam were huge when they came out. “Get over here!”, and “He’s on fire!” were phrases that became every day nomenclature. Gaming culture was different in the 80s than it was in the 90s though. If Joust had been released in the 90s, with 90s graphics, and 90s marketing, would it have been a cultural touchstone the way MK was? I think there’s a good chance that it would have been.
Here’s the kicker… the arcade scene as a whole owes virtually its entire success to one company and one decade; Midway Games in the 1980s. Midway may not have developed every single arcade game made in the 80’s, but it published and released an astounding number of them. The list of games either developed or published (in the US) by Midway includes Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Galaga, Joust, NARC, Defender, Robotron, Tapper, Spy Hunter, and more. Pick any three of the games on that list and you’ve got three of the greatest arcade classics ever. And all of those games came out in the 80s.
Looping back to an earlier point, it was the success that Midway enjoyed in the 80s that paved the way for the games of the 90s to exist. These classics of the 80s inspired the games of the 90s not just in Chicago, but everywhere, and Chicago’s Midway Games is responsible for a huge part of that. The 90s were clearly the more flamboyant generation, and probably more commercially successful, but more influential, more relevant? I’m not so sure about that.