The Game: As a lone space pilot flying down a seemingly endless trench, your job is simple – blast or bomb all of the vaguely-bow-tie-shaped space fighters that you see. If your fighter is on the lower half of the screen, you’re blasting straight ahead/upward; if you move your fighter near the top of the screen, you can bomb any fighters below you. The game ends when you run out of ships; fortunately you never seem to run out of ammo. (Bally, 1979)
Memories: With arcade games such as Star Fire (with its obvious TIE Fighters and Star Destroyers) and Starhawk (with its own animated trench) gobbling quarters, it might just be that Star Battle for the Bally Professional Arcade is where it all begins in the console realm – the sub-genre of the Star Wars-inspired space game.
The fact of the matter is, long before George Lucas decided to license Star Wars out as a potential video game property (with the first official Star Wars game arriving in 1982), the imagery of Star Wars provided a fertile breeding ground for video game ideas. Star Battle unabashedly wears its influences for all to see – the TIE Fighter-shaped enemies, the player’s X-Wing-inspired ship, the trench flying past (an illusion achieved through clever use of a color-cycling routine) – and it’s a fun little game to boot. Given its release date of 1979, barely two years after the movie (or, to put it in perspective, not long after the first Star Wars action figures hit the stores), it would seem that Star Battle was probably in the works from the very moment that its designer walked out of the theater in 1977.
Star Battle lacks a lot of the nuances that would be worked into future games inspired by the same scene of the movie (Atari’s arcade Star Wars, to name just one), but it secures its place in video game history just by showing its inspiration. It was inevitable that someone, somewhere, would put something on the market that would betray its roots, but it would seem that Star Battle is among the crop of games that got there first – and in a way, it left its own mark on future games as well.