The Game: Piloting a ship navigating a tunnel in space at breakneck speeds, your mission – aside from screaming down that tunnel way over the speed limit without getting too far off course- is to dispatch countless suspiciously bow-tie-shaped fighters before they get a clear shot at you. (Has anyone ever wondered what all these short-range fighters are doing out here? Bah, never mind. Probably got separated from a convoy or something.) If the enemy ships do manage to get a shot off, you have a narrow window of opportunity in which to intercept the incoming laser fire – very narrow, considering how fast everything is moving. Fire too much, and your lasers overheat and become temporarily useless. Stray too far off course, and your hull temperature shoots upward until your ship explodes. (Atari, 1979 – released by Centuri in 1982)
Memories: This oft-forgotten gem in Atari’s coin-op library may well be the very first first-person arcade flight sim, and it’s an eye-searingly psychedelic riot of colors to boot. That this game isn’t recognized in the same annals as Atari’s Asteroids or Tempest for innovation probably goes down to its obscurity. Truthfully, the graphics aren’t anything an Apple II couldn’t pull off in lo-res mode, but for 1979, they’re an impressive feat. The all-encompassing cabinet of Tunnel Hunt added to the dizzying 3-D effect, cutting the player off from his or her surroundings and keeping their eyes on the screen.
So why isn’t Tunnel Hunt recognized for that pioneering 3-D accomplishment? Because Atari didn’t release the game in 1979, when it was finished. Programmer Owen Rubin was never completely satisfied with the game, and Tunnel Hunt sat on the back burner as the privelege of being the first released 3-D flight sim went to Atari’s vector graphics coin-op, Red Baron. Centuri later licensed the game from Atari and put it on the market in ’82, at a time when everyone was desperately trying to get product into the arcade…but by that time, we had Zaxxon redefining the use of 3-D graphics, making Tunnel Hunt look ridiculously lo-fi.