Gun Fight

Gun FightThe Game: Grab yer guns and draw, sonny! You face off against another player, with only six bullets and plenty of obstacles in the way – a pesky cactus or two, a roaming covered wagon, and so on. Whoever lines his opponent’s belly with lead first wins the round, and the final victory goes to whoever wins the most rounds. (Midway, 1975)

Memories: Originated in Japan as Gunman, Gun Fight holds a very special place in video game history – it’s the first arcade game with a microprocessor chip at its core. But that innovation didn’t start in Japan – it started when Dave Nutting, the brother of Bill Nutting (whose Nutting & Associates took one failed shot at arcade success with the first coin-op, Computer Space, in 1971), licensed Gunman from Taito. When originally manufactured by Taito, Gunman‘s guts were strictly analog, just like every arcade game that had come before in either country. Nutting had already been experimenting with implementing a game program through microprocessors, and decided to completely remake Gunman from the ground up. Continue reading

Starship 1

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. Continue reading

Star Fire

Star FireThe Game: This may sound awfully familiar, but you’re the lone surviving pilot of a space squadron decimated by enemy attacks. The enemy’s bow-tie-shaped fighters are closing in on you from all sides, and you must keep an eye on your own fighter’s shields, weapon temperature (overheated lasers don’t like to fire anymore), and ammo, all while trying to draw a bead on those pesky enemy ships. You’re also very much on your own – nobody’s going to show up and tell you you’re all clear, kid. (Exidy, 1979)

Memories: It didn’t just sound familiar – Exidy’s 3-D blast-o-rama Star Fire looked familiar – its TIE fighter-shaped enemies and the typestyle seen in its attract mode were straight out of Star Wars. How it escaped a legal dogfight is hard to fathom – unless it has something to do with George Lucas and 20th Century Fox not wanting to remind everyone that the only other exponent of that galaxy far, far away in 1979 was the Star Wars Holiday Special. 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

Gorf

GorfThe Game: The evil Gorfian Empire is attacking, and for only a quarter, you can enlist and defend Earth against the vicious (yet strangely cute) little critter with a robotic voice. In the first stage, Astro Battle, you have a defesive shield which is weakened with each shot the aliens fire at you – and every shot you fire back at them. (Truth be told, it’s a very thinly disguised take on the Space Invaders formula.) Then, in the Laser Attack level, the aliens break out heavier, nastier artillery that you have to dodge…if you can. Stage 3 sees a guest star from an earlier Midway game in the Galaxians stage, which is a sort of scaled-down version of the Galaxian game itself. Stage 4 is the hardest, with the Gorfian menace repeatedly spiraling out of a Space Warp, defying you to get so much as a single good shot fired off at it. Finally, if you survive the fourth stage, the Flagship level awaits. The flagship can fire any number of projectiles in your direction through your shield, and you have to not only dodge incoming fire, but try to get your own shot to hit just the right place on the flagship to destroy it. (Bally/Midway, 1981)

Memories: Gorf was a minor hit in its time, though this latest attempt to turn the Galaxian format into a franchise fell through the cracks. It didn’t help that the first stage seen in the attract mode was a Space Invaders clone. Continue reading

Buck Rogers: Planet Of Zoom

Buck Rogers: Planet Of ZoomThe Game: Zoom being the operative word here, your mission – as space hero Buck Rogers – is to fly in close quarters with all kinds of enemy ships, landers and structures, fending off their attacks, and generally staying alive as See the videolong as possible. Obligatory robot wisecracks and utterances of “beedy-beedy-beedy” not included. (Sega, 1982)

Memories: Debuting in arcades a mere two years after the exit of the popular but troubled Buck Rogers TV series, Sega’s coin-op had no real connection with it. If anything, the enemy ships and architecture in Planet Of Zoom are a bit more art deco, suggesting the comic book roots of Buck Rogers. Sega later ported the game to a few home consoles, and while the player’s ship in those games seemed to hearken back to the sleek fighters of the TV series, it was more likely a case of simplifying the arcade game’s fancy rocketship. Continue reading

Super Zaxxon

Super ZaxxonThe Game: That armed-to-the-teeth spaceborne fortress is back – and so are you, because you’re (of course) the only space pilot who can take it on. This time, however, you’ll be flying through the trench-like space station faster, the automated missiles and gun turrets will attack you more quickly and aggressively, and instead of flying through space between levels, this time you shoot through a tightly-enclosed tunnel at bat-out-of-hell speeds – trying to battle enemy fighters as well as minelaying hovercraft which drop indestructible mines into your path. And perhaps the biggest surprise of all? Whereas the boss waiting for you in Zaxxon‘s fortress was a big robot, this one’s an animè-cute dragon – and it’ll still kick your ass if you don’t blow it up first. (Sega, 1982)

Memories: Originally sold as a conversion kit so arcade operators could freshen up their year-old Zaxxon machines, Super Zaxxon really did nothing more than swap out the graphics set and increased the speed of the game phenomenally. If you thought Zaxxon was a breeze, this game will wake you up. Continue reading

Tron

TronBuy this gameThe Game: Based on the most computerized movie of its era, the Tron arcade game puts you in the role of the eponymous video warrior in a variety of contests. In the Grid Bug game, you must eliminate as many grid bugs (who are naturally deadly to the touch) as possible and enter the I/O tower safely before the fast-See the videomoving timer hits zero. The maddening Light Cycle game was the only stage to directly correspond with the movie. You and your opponent face off in super-fast Light Cycles, which leave solid walls in their wake. You must not collide with the computer’s Light Cycle, its solid trail, or the walls of the arena. To win, you must trap the other Light Cycle(s) (in later stages, you face three opponents) within the solid wake of your own vehicle. The MCP game is basically a simple version of Breakout, but the wall of colors rotated counter-clockwise, threatening to trap you if you made a run for it through a small gap. The Tank game is a tricky chase through a twisty maze, where you try to blast opposing tank(s) three times each…while they need to score only one hit on your tank to put you out of commission. (Bally/Midway, 1982)

Memories: Okay, granted, so there really isn’t much correlation between Tron the game and Tron the movie, but in this case, it doesn’t matter. The game, with its awesome backlit cabinet graphics of special effects stills from the movie successfully, stole just enough of the movie’s millieu to be a successful tie-in – and let’s not forget the awesome polyphonic recreation of Wendy Carlos’ cool synthesized score from the movie, which was heard mainly during the Grid Bug game. Continue reading

Tunnel Hunt

Tunnel HuntThe 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 See the videoshort-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. Continue reading

Zaxxon

ZaxxonThe Game: As the pilot of a lone fighter infiltrating a spaceborne fortress (vaguely inspired by the Death Star trench scenes in Star Wars), your mission is simple – survive long enough to vanquish the evil Zaxxon robot hidden deep within the fortress, and take out as much of the defenses as you can in the See the videomeantime. (Sega, 1982)

Memories: Zaxxon drastically changed the nature of side-scrolling shooter games by introducing a somewhat 3-D perspective to the game. Not only were altitude and forward motion taken into account, but you could also move side to side, banking, diving, and gaining altitude. Bearing in mind that Zaxxon was the first game to feature this kind of movement, its experimental nature and great graphics occasionally got in the way of the player’s attempt to ascertain exactly where he was in the playing field. Also, some of the actual obstacles in your path were indistinguishable from the harmless scrolling background. Continue reading

Astron Belt

3-D computer rendering of Astron Belt cabinetThe Game: You’re a lone space pilot on patrol in the middle of an intergalactic war. In deep space, on craggy hazardous planet surfaces and at all points in between, you’re a target for enemy forces, and while you can defend yourself, danger See the videocomes from all sides without warning: enemy fire, collisions with the landscape or enemy ships, and that old standby, pilot error. The video footage in the background comes from Toei Studios’ 1979 opus Message From Earth and, somewhat surprisingly, Star Trek II. (Sega / Bally/Midway, 1983)

Memories: In 1983, several companies seemed to simultaneously roll out arcade games based on the engineering principle that some or all of the game’s graphics would be played by a videodisc player. In the age of videotape, videodisc technology wasn’t perfect, but it presented something that was absolutely vital for bringing pre-recorded video to a game environment: random access. Without that, any game using pre-recorded video would’ve been forced to show the same sequence of visuals no matter what the player did. Continue reading

Blaster

BlasterBuy this gameThe Game: The human race narrowly escapes the conquering of Earth by the merciless Robotrons. The last surviving remnants of mankind See the videoscatter as they leave the planet, heading for a distant world known as Paradise. Your job? Make sure they get there – by blasting away at anything and everything along the perilous journey. (Williams Electronics, 1983)

Memories: In the continuation of the Defender / Stargate / Robotron story cycle, Blaster builds nicely on the nearly-movie-worthy saga by picking up from the inevitable conclusion of Robotron (i.e., the protagonist’s death). Now humanity is on the run, and there are all kinds of nasty creatures waiting to finish the human race off, including the Masterminds, which look a lot like Robotron‘s Brains, only more hideous (imagine a large brain wearing a Darth Vader faceplate, and you’ll get the idea.) Continue reading

Return Of The Jedi

Return Of The JediBuy this gameThe Game: In the first screen, you’re zipping through the forest of Endor on a stolen speeder bike, with Imperial stormtroopers on their own bikes chasing you. While you can shoot the stormtroopers’ bikes or bump them off the playing field, they can shoot you, and running into trees isn’t good for anyone’s health. Your only advantage? The indigenous Ewoks, those furry little critters who occupy a special, beloved place in every Star Wars fan’s heart, will help you out if you lead the stormtroopers into their primitive traps. The second screen is much like the first, only you’re flying the Millennium Falcon through the Death Star trenches, and the other speeder bikes are now TIE Interceptors. (Atari, 1984)

The Game: Though graphically superior, and almost certainly guaranteed to gross more quarters just because of the Star Wars association, this game was, more or less, Zaxxon with a new paint job. Still, many players at the time hailed it as a vast step up from the vector graphics Star Wars game which Atari had released the previous year, even if the controls were aggravating. Continue reading

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