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Rally-X

3-D computer rendering of Rally-X cabinetThe Game: Go, Speed Racer, go! (Well, almost.) As the driver of a high-powered race car, you rocket around corners and down straightaways, trying to pick up every yellow flag in the maze-like course and avoiding deadly collisions with pursuing red cars. Watch out for rocks and oil spills, and use your smokescreen See the videoBuy this gameonly when necessary to distance yourself from the red cars. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1980)

Memories: Namco released Rally-X at the same time as Pac-Man, and like Pac-Man, Namco licensed Rally-X to Midway. In fact, the major buzz at that year’s AMOA (Amusement Machine Operators’ Association) annual trade show – where arcade owners tried to figure out which would be the hottest new games to buy for their establishments – was for this dandy little racing/maze game, and Pac-Man was considered an also-ran, perhaps a little too abstract for the U.S. market. Continue reading

Radar Scope

Radar ScopeThe Game: Why is it that, when aliens invade the Earth, you’re the only person on call? Doesn’t the front office have a more recent phone list? At any rate, wave after wave of aliens attack, dive-bombing you repeatedly and – providing See the videoyou don’t blast them out of the sky – rejoining their formations to attack anew. These aliens are a particularly nasty breed, as they can fire while diving and retreating. If you can clear the screen of extraterrestrial nasties, the invasion begins again. Are you getting overtime for all this alien-blasting? What are the benefits like? (Nintendo, 1980)

Memories: A pretty obscure entry from Nintendo, this 1980 rip-off of Galaxian adds some cool touches, such as the odd perspective which barely hints at 3-D, and the turning, tumbling alien ships. When one considers that Zaxxon was at least two years away with its primitive (but at the time impressive) isometric graphics, Radar Scope‘s obscurity is not well-deserved. Continue reading

Red Baron

Red BaronThe Game: Take to the sky for some biplane battle with Baron von Richtoven himself! In a combat environment where banking too sharp can either be a daring maneuver or certain doom, your mission is to take out as many enemies as you can See the videoBuy this gamebefore you yourself accumulate too many bullet holes in the sides of your biplane. Dirigibles also make tempting targets and, for the truly daring, there are land-based tanks nestled near mountains and civilian homes. The game is over when the last of your planes is shot down. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Emboldened by their first-person tank combat simulator Battlezone, Atari also set out to create the first ever first-person flight combat simulator. (Presumably this fascination with first-person combat sims predated Atari’s shotgun wedding with the U.S. Army that resulted in the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle Trainer.) And lest you think there’s no connection between Battlezone and Red Baron, take a close look at that cabinet – it’s exactly the same design as the Battlezone cabinet, minus the periscope-style viewer and second joystick. Continue reading

Space Chaser

Space ChaserBuy this gameThe Game: It’s got dots and a maze, but this is no Pac-Man. You’re trapped in a symmetrical maze with an enemy homing missile, and the maze is littered with rows of dots. You must maneuver your ship over these dots to collect them, while avoiding any collision with the missile. If the missile locks on to you from the other end of a long corridor, it will speed up drastically and hit you (unless you can round a corner first). You have no defense against the missile – just avoid it. If you survive long enough to clear the maze of dots, you get to try again – only this time with an additional missile (later screens add even more enemies for you to avoid). You can give your ship a boost by activating your engines, but such speed changes are both short-lived and very costly to your already-dwindling fuel supply. (Taito, 1980)

Memories: It seems like around 1980, everyone had a variation on a similar idea. Somewhat resembling Targ and Spectar in the basic tenet of its ships-chasing-each-other-in-a-maze premise, Space Chaser is perhaps the most challenging of its genre for giving the player no option except to flee. Continue reading

Space Panic

Space PanicThe Game: An astronaut is trapped in an enclosed, vertical space with aliens who have a taste for human flesh. With his oxygen supply running out, he must dig holes in the floors of the multi-level structure and lure the aliens into those holes, which gives him mere seconds to dispose of the trapped aliens by filling the holes in. Clearing a level of aliens replenishes the oxygen tank and deposits the player on a new screen full of aliens, some of whom require extra effort – namely, the carefully-planned digging of an entire vertical shaft to fall through – to kill. (Universal, 1980)

Memories: A fiendishly hard and oft-copied game (particularly in the home computer arena, where it inspired such games as Apple Panic and Lode Runner), Space Panic may well be the first game of its kind: a game in which the player controls someone climbing up and down vertical levels on the screen. Continue reading

Space Zap

Space ZapThe Game: Players are manning the defenses of a space station under a constant onslaught from all sides by alien attackers. The station’s laser cannons can take out the alien ships and intercept their incoming fire; when an entire wave of attackers is eliminated, a much more mobile fighter will attack, and destroying it will advance the game to the next level of difficulty. (Midway,1980)

See the videoMemories: Space Zap is a game about helplessness. The player can’t move his space station one inch. It’s only possible to sit, shoot, and maybe sneak in a prayer here and there. Making matters more complicated is the fact that aiming controls and firing controls are separate; if Space Zap simply allowed the player to pick a direction and automatically fire, it’d be almost too easy. As it is, that’s certainly not the case. Continue reading

Star Castle

Star CastleThe Game: You control a lone space fighter in the immediate vicinity of the nearly-impenetrable Star Castle. Its three layers of shields rotate, but those layers aren’t solid, so you might be able to get a shot in and destroy the alien craft at its center – but it’s also just as likely that the alien will get a clear shot at you…and its firepower is far greater. (Cinematronics, 1980)

Memories: Tim Skelly’s all-time arcade classic managed to get a cult following despite being eclipsed technologically by some of its contemporaries. In order to get its three rotating shield rings to be multicolored, Star Castle relied on transparent overlays on the monitor – not unlike the TV screen overlays of the original Magnavox Odyssey home video game console – to provide that color. Continue reading

Targ

Targ - photo courtesy Tim SniderThe Game: You’re trapped in a symmetrical maze with a bevy of robotic target vehicles – “Targs” – which are programmed to do just one thing: collide with your vehicle. You have one advantage on these decidedly mean streets, however – you can fire missiles ahead of your car (but the Targs are capable of dodging your projectiles too, so don’t get too cocky). Every once in a while, one of the impregnable blocks in the maze will disgorge a new enemy which is just a little bit faster and deadlier than the rest. Clearing the screen of Targs advances you to a new level with faster enemies – and eventually they’ll put the brakes on your attempts to survive. (Exidy, 1980)

Memories: This is one of those games that’s just emblematic of what was great about the early 80s heyday of the arcade – the graphics did what was required without a lot of embellishment, and the emphasis was on the breakneck speed of the thing. And Targ moved fast. Really fast. Continue reading

Tempest

TempestBuy this gameAs a strangely crablike creature, you scuttle along the rim of an abstract, hollow geometric tube, zapping red bow-tie-ish critters and purple diamond-shaped things which carry them. There are also swirly green things (swirly thing alert!!) which spin “spikes” like webs, and by the way, you should avoid spikes. See below. (Atari, 1980)

See the videoMemories: Tempest is a bizarre little game to crack. Since you spend your time rolling around a vaguely tubular structure, the game is controlled with a knob only, and surprisingly, the speed with which you move the control is reflected in your onscreen speed. With some practice, Tempest was a truly addictive, engrossing game, one of the arcade’s best. Continue reading

Warlords

WarlordsBuy this gameThe Game: Think of it as Pong to the death. Two to four players hurl a fireball (multiple fireballs as the game progresses) around the playing field, smashing the walls to each other’s castles and – hopefully – hitting the other players’ kings and putting them out of commission. Your launcher doubles as a mobile barrier See the videoaround your castle which bounces the fireball right back at your curiously Vader-esque opponents. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Far more famous at home on the Atari VCS than it was in the arcades, Warlords was a really fun game with the right group of friends (or friendly enemies). I’ve only ever seen one machine, and it was a cocktail table (or, to use less industry-specific jargon, a “sit-down”) version – and now that I think about it, it seems like Warlords would have been a bit difficult to pull off as an upright cabinet, but uprights did exist – with B&W monitors only. Continue reading

Wizard Of Wor

Wizard Of WorThe Game: This should sound pretty famililar to anyone who’s ever played Doom. You (and, if you can find a trigger-happy friend, one other player) suit up as “Worriors” and wander around a twisty maze inhabited by nasty creatures (which can turn invisible and sneak up on you).

You must kill them all.

Glad we got these complicated instructions taken care of. (Midway, 1980)

See the videoBuy this gameMemories: This maze game, which hit arcades in 1980, was a true milestone. For one thing, it kept Midway on the map as an arcade game manufacturer (its only previous major successes having been Space Invaders, licensed from Taito, and Galaxian, licensed from Namco) with something other than imported Japanese titles in its repertoire. Continue reading

“Popeye” Pac-Man

Popeye Pac-ManThe Game: As a yellow sailor man consisting of a head and nothing else (jaundice was really bad in those days), you maneuver around a relatively simple maze, gobbling small dots and evading four colorful monsters who can eat you on contact. In four corners of the screen, large flashing dots enable you to turn the tables and eat the monsters for a brief period for an escalating score. The monsters, once eaten, return to their home base in ghost form and return to chase you anew. If cleared of dots, the maze refills and the game starts again, but just a little bit faster… (unknown bootleg manufacturer, 1980)

Memories: When Pac-Man took off into the stratosphere, there were two ways that everyone who happened to not be licensed to distribute Pac-Man coped: they made games that played, if not looked, very similar (Lock ‘n’ Chase, Thief, Mouse Trap), or they just flat out copied Pac-Man, making ridiculously insignificant cosmetic changes (Hangly Man, Piranha, and this game). The bootleggers of the latter category, in skipping that pesky development and R&D process involved in creating something original, cashed in by getting their games on the street first. Continue reading

Astro Blaster

Astro BlasterThe Game: Another day, another alien invasion. But this time it won’t be so easy to fight the aliens off: your ship has a limited supply of power, and See the videoyour guns can overheat if you force them to spend too much time blazing away. You have to be judicious with your firepower, dodge incoming fire, and hold out long enough to dock with your own mothership and refuel between waves. (Gremlin/Sega, 1981)

Memories: While Space Invaders “inspired” a glut of knockoffs since 1978, several games tried to improve upon the slide-and-shoot formula in later years: Namco‘s Galaxian and Nintendo‘s Radar Scope introduced dive-bombing attacks, Moon Cresta by Nichibutsu replaced the standard “three lives” system with a three-stage rocket, and Gremlin/Sega‘s Astro Blaster brought something else to the table to up the stakes: the game was based on the premise that any spaceship would have limited fuel and ammo. Continue reading

Bosconian

BosconianBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a well-armed spacecraft (which appears to have been borrowed from Galaga), you weave through an unending barrage of support craft, asteroids, and hunter ships, all of which can kill you. And somewhere on the screen – as indicated by your radar – are several large Bosconian star destroyers (what, did they lease these from Lord Vader or something?). You can blast away at the destroyers’ six outer pods, or you can go for a shot right into the heart of a destroyer, taking the whole thing out by blasting its central pod. A piece of advice: don’t be too close to a Bosconian when you do this…the large explosion can end your space traveling days too. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1981)

See the videoMemories: Wow – a game with big killer space stations surrounded by lots of hostile patrol ships? They must be building Sinistar in the next sector over. But seriously, Bosconian is another game which meets the qualifications of a bona fide classic – easy to learn, hard to master – and, given the shape of the player’s ship (plus the fact that both games were licensed from Namco), I’ve always wondered if Bosconian was intended to be a sequel to Galaga. Continue reading

Cosmic Avenger

Cosmic AvengerThe Game: You pilot a space fighter, bombing and blasting away at enemy ground installations, ships, and missiles. Strafe away! (Universal, 1981)

See the videoMemories: Okay…it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what Universal was copying here. Cosmic Avenger is a somewhat more colorful ripoff of Williams’ 1980 hit Defender, and Universal wasn’t entirely nuts for trying to copy that game – Defender was raking in huge amounts of dough. There were also numerous elements which were strikingly similar to Vanguard. Continue reading

Colony 7

Colony 7Buy this gameThe Game: You’re in charge of defenses at Colony 7. Even though a shield protects the settlement’s power generators, weapons and populated buildings, the onslaught of alien intruders gradually and inevitably wears that shield down. Once holes have been bored through the shield, the aliens have a clear shot at Colony 7 – and you’re toast. You’re the colony’s last hope, aiming your crosshairs at anything that threatens the surface. (Taito, 1981)

Memories: Does Colony 7 look a little familiar? If so, think of another game from roughly the same era. Not a translation of the arcade game, but an Atari 2600 cartridge with roughly the same style of game play. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: An oversized gorilla kidnaps Mario’s girlfriend and hauls her up to the top of a building which is presumably under construction. You are Mario, dodging Donkey Kong’s never-ending hail of rolling barrels and “foxfires” in your See the videoattempt to climb to the top of the building and topple Donkey Kong. You can actually do this a number of times, and then the game begins again with the aforementioned girlfriend in captivity once more. (Nintendo, 1981)

Memories: Make no mistake about it, Donkey Kong is the point of origin of one of today’s largest video game empires, both fictional and real. The character of Mario appeared again in numerous arcade games. Continue reading

Eliminator

EliminatorThe Game: One or two players, using a control knob and a thrust button, pilot their ships around a rectangular arena which is also home to a floating fortress. At the heart of the deadly fortress is a growing Eliminator, which will eventually, when it reaches its full potential, slip its bonds and zip around the arena, destroying See the videoeverything in sight. The only way to destroy the Eliminator is to force it into the outer wall of the fortress with your lasers. (This also works on your fellow player, or the computer-controlled second player surrogate, as well.) You can also fire a well-placed shot down the launch tube of the fortress and destroy it before the Eliminator can fully form. (Sega/Gremlin, 1981)

Memories: What an exasperating and fun little game this was! With its seemingly Asteroids-inspired control scheme (and its blatantly Star Wars-inspired way of beating the enemy), Eliminator was a real hoot…if you could master the controls. Continue reading

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