The Game: Climb into the cockpit of Starship Atari for deep space combat duty. Your mission is simple: wipe out every alien ship you see, as quick as possible, while taking as little incoming fire as possible. Take too much damage, and your fighting days are over. (Atari, 1976)
Memories: Housed in an imposing cabinet whose top half was a futuristic, vacuformed plastic hood containing the game’s monitor, Starship 1 was the first first-person space cockpit shooter, putting players in the hotseat of their own space fighter two years before Space Invaders came along. It’s innovative, but Starship 1 had its share of weaknesses, including a display with the kind of on-screen flicker that would become more familiar to players of Atari’s VCS console.
It’s amusing to note that the basic shape of the U.S.S. Enterprise and its arch-enemy Klingon ships can be seen quite clearly here – there seemed to be a notion, between this game and earlier space fare such as Space Wars, that these ships and their shapes had passed into the public domain. This carefree use of Star Trek iconography would carry on into Atari’s home games as well, with the intro screen of the Atari computer game Star Raiders being quite a notable example.
Once one gets used to the airplane-inspired control scheme, Starship 1 is fairly easy as video games go. But it was still a giant leap ahead for space-based games, even though the player really only has X/Y axis control and the ever-expanding starfield is little more than background wallpaper.