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Retro Tech: Game Boy

Hello. All right, you come over all the way to this side… – Okay. – …behind the table. – What’s your name? Raja, Marques. – Raja. – Good to meet you. – Marques. Nice to meet you. – I wanna give you this. It’s a blindfold. – Cool. So go ahead and put that on and let me know when you’re totally blind. – I’m totally blind. – I’m gonna put an object over here on this table. All right, go ahead and reach down, – pick it up and see if you can ID it. – Okay. Oh. Man: It’s a brick.

Definitely a screen. Maybe a GPS. Is this a cassette tape player? Uh, it’s a controller. Man 2: Oh, there’s some buttons. Oh, it’s definitely a gaming thing. Oh, snap. Is this a Game Boy? Is this a Game Boy? Oh, my God, it’s a Game Boy. Oh, yeah, it’s totally a Game Boy. – ( Game Boy chiming ) – ( gasps ) Oh, love that sound. I’m Marques Brownlee and I review dope, new tech. But on this show I’m rewinding the clock to discover the tech of the past that changed our lives forever. This is “Retro Tech.” All right, it’s time to break the seal on literally the oldest piece of tech I’ve ever held.

The Game Boy first came out back in April of 1989. So this year is the 30th anniversary of its release. Let’s get in there. This is happening. Ready? The Game Boy is the most popular portable handheld gaming console ever. And it kinda changed the course of gaming history. I was not a part of that. I never used the Game Boy. Never owned one. So, this is a totally fresh true first impression for me of a piece of tech that changed history. I recognize this guy. Don’t worry. I know who Mario is. This is Tetris. This is Tetris. I’m holding Tetris. Let me pop this open. I don’t know how to open this. Uh… think like 1989. How would you… Push. I’m… pushing. Oh, that’s terrible. ( laughs ) That was, uh– They could’ve done better there.

The unboxing experience has gotten better since that piece happened in 1989. This is it. Wow, these are big buttons. That is a thick console right there. ( music playing ) I’m gonna fire it up. Oh, it lit up. Ooh. ( Game Boy chimes ) Okay, so I’ve got my Game Boy. But this is the first time I’ve held a piece of tech that I basically know nothing about. So I wanna speak to some people who’ve lived and breathed this thing to find out its cultural impact over the past 30 years and what made the Game Boy pop.

– Marques. – What’s up? – Good to meet you. – As well. So, to begin, I’d like you to check under your seat. Oh, my goodness. Am I in some– Oh no! – Oh, Game Boy! – ( Game Boy chimes ) First thing I’m gonna ask is for you to look under your chair. All right! Yes! Oh! Oh, memories. ( singing ) ♪ Memories ♪ – ( Game Boy chimes ) – That little ping. Bing! You guys need more batteries. Brings back so many memories. Yeah. That taste. Remember when you used to suck on your Game Boy? Was it just me? All right. In 1989 when this came out, what were the ’80s like? ( music playing ) The ’80s were a time of a massive shift in culture and technology. This was the birth of personal technology. I mean, this is when the Walkman first came out. You had a lot less entertainment at your disposal. There was no on-demand TV. Life for a child was boring. I mean, seriously, kids, like, you don’t even know how good you have it. You have smartphones. You can even play on a tablet. In the ’80s it was just painful.

Good Lord. At the time, gaming was largely in arcades. ♪ Here we go, here we go, here we go ♪ And then all of a sudden, home consoles really made a play. It was revolutionary. Announcer: Everybody enjoys Atari. No, we don’t need a babysitter tonight. Seth: The Atari was such a phenomenon that all there other companies wanted to make video games and get in on the action. When it comes to space games, nobody compares to Atari. Excuse me. Have you compared them to Intellivision? So a couple years later, Nintendo comes knocking and they say, “You know, we have this video game system.” People are skeptical because Nintendo started out as a card company.

They made playing cards. Do you know how old Nintendo is as a company? I would be guessing it started in the ’70s. – 1970s? – Yeah. – 1800s. Yeah. – Really? Nintendo’s been around for more than a hundred years. It was only in the very early ’80s they start to think of themselves as a technology company. Nintendo just took over and started spearheading the games industry. It is the video game craze, the Nintendo craze. Nintendo was the king of video games at this point. You got all these great games. You got Duck Hunt. You got Solomon’s Key. You got Castlevania. Dan: You had Zelda games. You had Mario games. You had all the big Nintendo stars. Seth: So when the Game Boy was coming out there was a little doubt that this was gonna be good. And the designer behind the Game Boy was this guy named Gunpei Yokoi. And famously he was one day on a very crowded train in Japan and he saw a businessman just kinda poking away at a calculator to kill time on his train ride.

And he thinks to himself what if he could actually have a real mobile game he took could take with him on the train. One of the great things about the early days of Nintendo is they really believed in R&D, in experimentation. So Gunpei Yokoi came up with first the Game & Watch which was an interesting halfway step between arcade games and home games and portable games. ( speaking foreign language ) It wasn’t actually any good, but it was kinda clever and fun and people liked it. That was the beginning of Nintendo dipping their toes into mobile games. And then taking that forward, he evolved that concept that started with the Game & Watch into the Game Boy.

Announcer: Now, you can have all the power and excitement of Nintendo right in the palm of your hand. Introducing Game Boy. Nobody did hype like Game Boy did hype. Sherri: It was revolutionary. It’s Nintendo in your hand. The Game Boy promised to take these games that we love so much and allow us to take it with us anywhere. If someone came into school with one of them it was like they were the cool kid and then everyone’s crowding around – in the classroom like looking at that thing, you know. – Yeah. You turn it on, it was like, “Ah! It’s moving!” And you can do stuff with it. And I think it’s something about maybe the design. It’s a very friendly design. But this thing was made in the days when people were worried about nuclear weapons. Anything other than direct hit, this thing could survive it. There’s a Game Boy that has survived a Gulf War bombing and it’s still playing Tetris today.

Still the single most indestructible piece of gaming equipment we’ve ever had. Marques: Durability is definitely vital to the success of any piece of tech, old or new. But is the Game Boy really as tough as they say? To find out, I’ve asked YouTube legend and friend Casey Neistat to come meet me at a Brooklyn warehouse. I don’t entirely know what I’m here for today, but Marques invited me by to play with one of my favorite childhood toys, which I probably haven’t seen since I was 12 years old. That’s all I know. That’s all I know. Marques, why– why are we doing this again? Okay, so there’s a story of a Game Boy surviving a bombing in the Gulf War. And if it can survive that, I kinda just wanna know where that breaking point is ‘cause I don’t– I feel like it doesn’t get much worse than that.

So, flamethrower, fire extinguisher. I feel like I wanna– I wanna man the fire extinguisher here. – Okay, I’ll man the flamethrower first. – Yeah. I’m gonna ask for Brian. His assistance. For making sure we do this safely. I’d help you, Marques, but I’m just gonna stand over here instead. You don’t wanna, like, hold on to it or anything? No, no, I’m good. You look great. All right. So we got the Game Boy over here. I just have to trust my aim. You can count on me, Marques. All right. ( Casey screams ) Casey: That’s so much fire. Marques, what happened to your eyebrows? Not the most comfortable backpack I’ve ever worn.

– Yeah. – All right. ( chuckles ) They’re burning. ( indistinct chatter ) I think we have our first casualty, everyone. Okay, here’s the thing. – The outside is– is really– – Severely melted. Melted, charred. – The buttons are now black. – It’s burned all around, too. The flame really encompassed the totality of the device. It definitely wrapped around and cooked the whole thing. It also seems like the body was more susceptible to just melting than the buttons. The real question is are you gonna be able to get the cartridge in there? Oh, that’s gonna be the hardest part. It– It softened the back. You’re gonna, like, need the blowtorch again. Melted it and now the cartridge might… not… fit. Maybe if you. Maybe we should– We should just put it on and just try to give it everything you’ve got. And that sounds promising. – ( indistinct chatter ) – ( gasps) – ( Game Boy chimes ) – Come on! – Are you serious? – ( laughs ) Are you serious? What? Okay, so the screen is toast. – Is it, though? – But– The screen is fine.

Oh, the screen under the protector is still on. I feel like we have 100% functionality. It completely does everything that it did before it was literally blowtorched. It just smells a little worse. ( coughs ) I’ll agree with you on that. – ( laughs ) – So that’s– That’s about the most incredible thing – I’ve seen in a long time. – That was like 12 hard hits. I mean, it’s not bad. – It’s impressive. It’s impressive. – It’s not bad. Marques: Okay, so the Game Boy was undeniably built like a brick. But the hardware is nothing without software. So, what about the Game Boy experience made it fly off the shelves back in 1989? Big part of the Game Boy success is that it was paired with the perfect game for it.

Announcer: Game Boy comes with the outrageous new game Tetris. Tetris was the game that everybody had to play. It was super addictive, super easy to get into, difficult to master. So it’s like, “Oh, maybe I am a gamer. If I can play this, let me see what else I can play.” Tetris has even a more unusual origin story than the Game Boy. Tetris comes from the Soviet Union in the early ’80s where a computer scientist named Alexey Pajitnov in his little lab came up with a game that he called Tetris. Play Tetris with my friends. Man: Okay. And he just made little copies and just kinda started selling it out the back of the van and backtracked and tried to get the rights from the Russians later. That lead to a series of lawsuits and fights.

Millions of dollars changed hands and somehow Tetris ended up on every platform imaginable and became a part of the daily lives of millions of people around the world. I have Tetris in my Game Boy. You have Tetris in your Game Boy. So I feel like we can go back in time a little bit – ‘cause we have the cable. – This is unbelievable. Tetris was your gateway drug. There was hit after hit. You got Zelda Link’s Awakening, Super Mario Land, Metroid. This is when Nintendo made its way to the American zeitgeist. Dan: It became the background noise for so many things.

You’d see Hillary Clinton playing one on Air Force One. Astronauts up in space stations would send back photos – of themselves playing the Game Boy. – It’s not going too well. – I think I got your number. – I just lost. – ( sighs ) – OG. And if your Game Boy wasn’t enough, you could get a host of other weird, wacky, and wonderful add-ons. ♪ Smile! You’re on Game Boy camera ♪ Most Game Boy accessories never really caught on, but the Game Boy had the video game market share and fan base that could support an ecosystem of third party accessories. So, we’ve tracked down some of the most noteworthy accessories to the Game Boy. And now I just kinda wanna see if they’re any good or not.

This is Dope or Nope. All right, let’s get it started. First accessory, please. Okay, we have… a Handy Boy by STD. ( chuckles ) Okay. The slightly lower text screen was a bigger part of why the Game Boy was so cheap and so appealing, but if you wanted to play at night, you need some sort of a light to see the screen at all.

Oh, yeah, that light is good. There’s a flip down. So if I wanna do not magnified, I can. And then I got the speakers. – They’re turned on. – ( Game Boy chimes ) Wow, that’s loud. ( music playing ) I can’t say I don’t like it. Honestly, if you’re looking for, like, one accessory to turn the Game Boy into something better than it already is, this one’s dope. All right, what do we got. This… not a whole lot of English on this box, but this is the Pocket Sonar. Let’s– Let’s check this out. Okay. Okay, so this is the part that goes into the back of the Game Boy.

And this is probably… use the sonar to catch fish? Do I– Do I have any– any way to demo this right now? Is there a way to catch fish? Uh… I’m almost scared to ask. Uh-huh. So… this won’t be painful. Trust me. It’s just a little sonar. These menus are not English so I’m gonna go ahead and assume that the first menu option means start. I– I think I need a deeper body of water for it to actually show the fish. It’s a– It’s an idea. It’s a concept. But I’m not sure this is gonna be winning me any dinners in the next couple weeks. So, basically, uh, Pocket Sonar. Nope. All right, next up. Oh, part of it fell off. The Game Boy Camera. Which at one point held the Guinness World Record for the smallest digital camera. The Game Boy Printer and printer paper. How do I take a picture, though? Oh, there– Wow! That is the viewfinder. Holy smokes, that is actually not that bad.

And I’m gonna go ahead and hit A. – ( Game Boy beeps ) – And it saves my photo. That’s my selfie. There’s my first selfie on a Game Boy. So now I think I’m ready to print. And now I’m sending the print from the Game Boy to the printer over this cable. It’s like a postage stamp sized little print here. Uh, this is– this is what the final print looks like. It’s not very good, obviously. So, the printer, I’m sure it worked better back in the day. Cool idea, but the execution not so great. The Game Boy Printer, that’s a nope. But the camera, on the other hand, that worked a lot better than I expected it to. The viewfinder on the Game Boy screen was fine. I can take selfies or photos of other things with the same camera. This is really impressive. That’s dope. The Game Boy is truly an iconic piece of tech, but back in the ’90s it had to compete with other portable gaming consoles that seemed more state of the art. ( music playing ) The Game Boy was actually competing against systems from Atari and Sega.

They had color screens. Just big, loud displays. Of course, you’re like, “Well, I want color.” So you’re gonna go with the Game Gear. Wrong choice because for that color, for that bigger display, you are paying in battery life. You wanna go with something that lasts long. Seth: The Game Boy was developed with this philosophy that Nintendo really lived by. It was lateral innovation by withered technology. And what that meant was that they looked for tech that might’ve been around for a couple years. And the technology was mature enough that they knew how to use it. So while other companies were putting out systems that seemed much flashier, they didn’t really know how to use all that flash. Dan: Nintendo kind of did what Steve Jobs did years and years later with the iPhone. They really striped out a lot of what you didn’t need. It didn’t have fancy controls. It had a little D-pad and two buttons and that was basically it.

It had very simple audio. Sherri: And there was a slot in the back for your cartridges and you would slide it on and you just wait for the bing! The audio you could only do basic bloops and bleeps. And you go, “Who would want that?” Well, it turned into a whole music genre that a lot of people love now. Marques: The lo-fi sound of the Game Boy is so iconic that it spawned a whole genre of music called Chiptunes. So I’ve invited a Chiptune artist who goes by Storm Blooper to show me how all this works. Chiptunes is basically the creation of music utilizing old video games sound chips. So there’s a specific chip in the Game Boys – just for the music? – Just for the music. Yeah, so it can only play four notes at any given time. So, it’s incredibly limiting, but with that people have made some really insane compositions. Marques: The Game Boy’s internal memory is so small that it can only handle a song about eight kilobytes in size. In other words, one Chiptune song is about 500 times smaller than one compressed MP3.

So, how do we get started making a Chiptune song? – Okay, you ready to dive in? – I’m actually ready. ( Game Boy chimes ) You’re not familiar with music creation, huh? Not– not really. This is all super new to me. I guess I’ll be going from scratch. – ( music playing ) – So. That sounds real good. Let me– Let me change this second note. – Okay, okay. – ( music playing ) Beautiful. – It slaps. It’s good. – Okay. Okay, so far so good. I’m gonna give this– this Boy back to you. – I’m gonna let you be. I’m gonna let you do it. – All right. Let’s see what I can do here. ( music playing ) I’m– I’m just trying to put together something that flows from top to bottom and doesn’t sound like trash. ( music playing ) I’m working on the not sounding like trash part really hard right now. ( music playing ) Okay. All right. Uh… I’m almost there with my– with my masterpiece. ( laughs ) ( music playing ) How’d I do? I mean, this is– It’s pretty good.

Let’s bring in that kick drum, too. Ready? ( music playing ) Boom. Professional. – I can see a whole club bumping to this tomorrow. – Me, too! I wanna see– I wanna see what you’ve made ‘cause this is just me in two minutes messing around, but you’ve had way more time and experience. – Let me see what you– – Okay. – What you got. – Let’s do it. ( Game Boy chimes ) ( music playing ) Marques: I definitely didn’t expect you could squeeze music this fresh out of tech this old. Considering the short lifecycle of most tech around today, the legacy of the Game Boy truly feels like something special. So, I guess the last thing I’m trying to figure out is the impact these things had on the tech we have today. What do you think the Game Boy legacy is? The Game Boy’s legacy, it’s hard to overstate.

Without the Game Boy you don’t have the iPhone. You don’t have Candy Crush Saga. You don’t have smartphone gaming. You just don’t. The Game Boy singlehandedly changed technology forever. Margaret: And the Game Boy was the beginning of the idea of that everywhere we go in life have a thing in our pocket that knew how to entertain us. Seth: I mean, the Game Boy gave us control of free time. It changed what free time was. Dan: You would not see everyone on their iPhones if not for the Game Boy and the huge influence it had on our culture. And I think the legacy of the Game Boy is that minimalism in technology design is a feature, not a bug. Margaret: I think we’ve now kind of come full circle to the simplicity and the purity of design. What we saw reemerge with the first generation iPhone, an absolute straight line that you can trace from day one of the Game Boy. This is so Zen. Right? So clean and efficient and minimalist. Sherri: The Game Boy is so well-designed. So simple that you take for granted all the work that went into giving you this piece of tech.

When you sell 200 million of anything, it’s tough to say it was not a gigantic success. The Game Boy, besides being a huge seller, has made all of us into gamers. Sherri: And it became this worldwide phenomenon thanks to the Game Boy. So, okay, before all this, I felt pretty disconnected to the Game Boy because I hadn’t used one. But now that I’ve talked to people who have used the Game Boy and I’ve used it myself, I’ve experienced the legend of its durability and its companionship, now I get it. And not only that, but I also now recognize the connection between the Game Boy and the tech we have today. Without this there would be no this or many other pieces of tech we have today. This is important.

Thanks, Game Boy. ( music playing ) Hey, what’s up, guys? Thank you for watching this special. It was a lot of fun to make, and I hope you had a lot of fun watching it, too. So I have some good news. Future episodes of “Retro Tech” will be upcoming in December. So if you have any suggestions for other pieces of dope retro tech you’d like to see videos on, feel free to drop them in the comment section below. Let me know. Till the next one, thanks for watching. Catch you guys later.

Peace. .

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