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Video game milestones

By Patrick Day and Todd Martens, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

We look back at the highlights of the path that took us from simple lights on a screen to a multimillion-dollar entertainment event.

‘Pong’ (1972)

Although it’s mistakenly credited as being the first video arcade game (“Computer Space” was released the year before), “Pong” is definitely the first to achieve mainstream success. Based on the real world game of table tennis, the success of “Pong” is largely credited to its simplicity -- two paddles batted a small “ball” back and forth. When the game was unveiled in a Sunnyvale, Calif., bar, word of mouth soon had people lined up outside the place each day, waiting for it to open. ()
It was released first in its native Japan, but was soon exported to the U.S., where it officially became an international phenomenon. Its success led to its introduction in places not normally associated with video games, including laundromats. Eventually, the game would bring in around $500 million for its Japanese owners, a sum that caused the U.S. entertainment industry to finally sit up and take notice of video games. (Glenn Koenig / LAT)
It received a lukewarm reaction when it was released in Japan, but its debut in the U.S. the following year was a resounding success. Finally, video games had their Mickey Mouse. The little yellow Pac-Man character soon broke out of his glowing maze and into Saturday morning cartoons, cereal boxes and even a hit pop song. The game also spawned a string of sequels and spin-offs, including the even-more-popular “Ms. Pac-Man.” (Jebb Harris / KRT)
Disney was the first Hollywood studio to jump on the video-game market with a feature film designed to cater to the tastes and interests of gamers. “Tron” took its main character inside a computer and featured ground-breaking computer-effects work. Unfortunately, the film (featuring David Warner) failed to catch on with audiences in its inital release, and the video game based on the film became a bigger financial success. “Tron,” however, has retained a cult following throughout the years, and Disney recently announced plans for a sequel, more than 20 years after the original. (Disney Enterprises, Inc.)
Remember “Radar Scope”? Nintendo would just assume most people forget. The “Space Invaders"-like shooter, developed in the late ‘70s, was one of the company’s first arcade offerings. A success in Japan, it failed to translate to American audiences. The company faced financial disaster for having manufactured thousands of unsold units.

Enter “Donkey Kong.” The game became the company’s first major U.S. success, and introduced audiences to who would eventually become the plumber-turned-hero Mario. Donkey Kong also saved the failure that was “Radar Scope,” with Nintendo converting the majority of “Radar Scope” machines to its suddenly wildly successful man vs. ape game, the arcade offering that established Nintendo’s brand in America. (Nintendo)
Before the film version of “Mortal Kombat,” movies based on video games had a short, unlucky history. “Super Mario Bros.” and “Street Fighter” and even “Double Dragon” -- they all bombed. But there was something about “Mortal Kombat” -- on the surface, just another fighting game with some extremely violent content -- that caused gore-hounds or fight fans or some combination thereof to seek it out. The film took in $70 million at the domestic box office and was the most successful game-to-movie until “Tomb Raider” surpassed it in 2001. (R.E. Aaron / New Line)
Titles licensed from film and television shows have long been derided by video-game fans as quick attempts to make a buck on a brand name. Nintendo’s “Pokemon” series has been the exception, its dozen-plus titles having sold more than 164 million copies worldwide, according to the company.

This year’s Nintendo DS editions -- “Pokemon Diamond” and “Pearl” -- were released to critical acclaim, and the two titles taken together (collect them all!) have already sold about 9 million copies. Perhaps more importantly to Nintendo, the Pokemon titles are spawning a new generation of young role-players. (Yoshikazu Tsuno AFP / Getty Images)
Before Microsoft entered the video game market, skeptics scoffed, predicting the Xbox would go the way of the company’s failed WebTV experiment, and would never mount much of a challenge to Sony and its Playstation consoles. Yet the first “Halo,” dubbed “Combat Evolved,” immediately established the Xbox as a must-have machine.

Massive lines and camp-outs were staged for the release of its 2004 sequel, which sold about 2.4 million copies in its first 24 hours of release. The title sold more than 7 million copies worldwide in less than a year, and also established Xbox Live, Microsoft’s online gaming component. The Sept. 25 release of “Halo 3" for the Xbox 360 is expected to set its own records and further propel sales of the next-gen console. (Associated Press)
As the world’s biggest Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), Blizzard Entertainment’s “World of Warcraft” simultaneously changed the gaming experience and perfected a model of gaming as cash cow. Currently the game boasts around 8 million subscribers worldwide, each of them paying monthly fees (around $13 to $15 in the U.S.) to continue playing. The game’s addictive nature has prompted some in the mental health community to begin speaking out about the dangers of “Warcraft” addiction, which has been blamed for failed marriages and cases of child neglect. (AP / Blizzard Entertainment)
Electronic Arts turned the launch of “Madden NFL ’08" into a true opening-day event, inspiring more than 2 million customers, thus far, to plop down about $50 for a game that’s updated once every year.

The company essentially took over New York’s Times Square in August, hosting an Ozzy Osbourne concert and having former New York Giants’ star Tiki Barber on hand. Fans reportedly began lining up as early 2 p.m. for the annual “Maddenoliday” (not our term), and video game stores around the country hosted their own midnight sale parties. (Electronic Arts)