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Computer Space

Computer SpaceThe Game: Two ships are locked in deadly deep-space combat, firing interplanetary ordnance at each other. Whoever survives the most confrontations within a set amount of time is the victor. In the game’s one-player variation, See the videothe machine controls one ship, and a two-player version was also made. (Nutting & Associates, 1971)

Memories: To go all the way back to the beginning of video games in the arcade is to go back to Computer Space – which is also arguably the first arcade flop.

The idea behind the game wasn’t exactly new – it was almost a decade old, in fact. Steve Russell’s college mainframe favorite Spacewar! had captured the attention of a college student named Nolan Bushnell. Having served his own apprenticeship as a carnival barker in his younger years, Bushnell was sure he could sell anyone on entertainment, and he knew a potentially exciting new medium for that entertainment when he saw one. Continue reading

Football

FootballThe Game: Trade those pads in for pixels and get ready to hit the gridiron. Each player controls a football team represented by Xs or Os, and uses a keypad to select offensive and defensive maneuvers – and the trakball to tear across the turf as fast as the player can move it. Additional quarters buy additional playing time (each quarter gets two minutes of play). Whoever has the highest score at the end of the game is the winner; later four-player variations sported additional trakballs so the offensive player could control his team’s quarterback and another could control the receiver for passing plays, while there were now two independent players on the defensive team. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: The only serious rival for Space Invaders‘ arcade affection in 1978, Atari’s Football almost beat those crafty aliens to the punch by a couple of years. Continue reading

Space Wars

Space WarsThe Game: Two ships are locked in deadly deep-space combat, firing interplanetary ordnance at each other. Some variations include a sun whose gravity well will draw the immobile or the unwary to their destruction, or a roaming asteroid which can be a handy shield one moment and a killer obstacle the next. Whoever survives the most confrontations within a set amount of time is the victor. (Cinematronics, 1978)

Memories: Packaged in a mammoth, industrial-fridge-sized cabinet, Space Wars may be imposing, but it’s hardly original. Larry Rosenthal, creator of the so-called “Vectorbeam” technology, picked a well-worn computer gaming icon that was fun, strategic…and in the public domain. Continue reading

Space Invaders

Space InvadersBuy this gameThe Game: It’s quite simple, really. You’re the pilot of a ground-based mobile weapons platform, and there are buttloads of alien meanies headed right for you. Your only defense is a trio of shields which are degraded by any weapons fire – yours or theirs – and a quick trigger finger. Occasionally a mothership zips across the top of the screen. When the screen is cleared of invaders, another wave – faster See the videoand more aggressive – appears. When you’re out of “lives,” or when the aliens manage to land on Earth… it’s all over. (Midway [under license from Taito], 1978)

Memories: Three buttons, three colors (if one includes black), all for 25 cents. And thus began the video game boom that made Taito a major manufacturer, with dozens of other companies – Atari, Bally/Midway, Namco, Nintendo, Sega, you name it – riding the large wave launched by Space Invaders. There was indeed an invasion underway…but it didn’t originate from space. It was launched from Japan and Silicon Valley, and for a while…it did take over the world. Continue reading

Asteroids

AsteroidsBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a lone space cruiser, you must try to clear the spaceways of a swarm of free-floating asteroids, but the job isn’t easy – Newton’s laws of motion must be obeyed, even by asteroids. When you blow a big rock into little chunks, those chunks go zipping off in opposite directions with the speed and force imparted by the amount of energy you used to dispel them. To that screenful of bite-sized chunks o’ death, add an unpredictable hyperspace escape mechanism and a pesky UFO that See the videolikes to pop in and shoot at you, and you’re between several large rocks and a hard place. (Atari, 1979)

Memories: Easily the most “physics-correct” space video game ever made, Asteroids was also one of the coolest. It was equally fun to play it real safe or, as in the example animation seen below, to just go nuts and live on the edge. Continue reading

Starhawk

StarhawkThe Game: The player pilots a space fighter into an endless dogfight above a space station trench. Enemy ships attack from all directions, and even zip See the videodown the trench; and and all of these can be blasted into bits for points. Beware the fastest of these enemy fighters, which will appear with very little notice and fire directly at the player’s score, relieving it of points every time the fighter is successful with its attack! (Cinematronics, 1979)

Memories: 1979 is the year that trench warfare – i.e. the Death Star trench – hit arcades and consoles alike. With the premiere of Star Wars in May 1977, game designers everywhere seemed to home in on the movie’s climactic flight through the Death Star trench as obvious video game material, and with good reason: the enclosed space offered plenty of hazards and limited room to maneuver, as well as the illusion of 3-D depth. As long as the hardware for a given project could handle the display requirements, the game play was a no-brainer – it had already been dictated by George Lucas and ILM. The only thing that kept the earliest variations on the Death Star trench theme from appearing immediately after the movie was the turnaround time for development, programming and manufacturing. Continue reading

Armor Attack

The Game: One or two players are at the controls of speedy ground assault vehicles which can zip around an enclosed maze of open areas and buildings with almost mouse-like speed. Heavy tanks and armed helicopters routinely appear in this maze, attempting to shoot any player vehicles they spot; the player(s) can, in turn, fire back at both of these vehicles. Caution: a damaged tank may still be able to draw a bead, so it’s best to keep firing until the tanks are completely destroyed. (Cinematronics, 1980)

Memories: However popular Atari’s vector graphics games were, the real rock-solid workhorse of that genre of gaming was the comparitively small Cinematronics. Armor Attack (whose marquee cryptically punctuates the title as “Armor… …Attack“) was no household name like Asteroids, and it may have been a mere sleeper without being a sleeper hit; the game play, for the most part, dated back to Kee Games’ Tank! from several years earlier. But it’s fondly remembered today – and made enough of a mark for a unique home version. Continue reading

Asteroids Deluxe

Asteroids DeluxeThe Game: As the pilot of a lone space cruiser, you must try to clear the spaceways of a swarm of free-floating (and yet somehow deluxe) asteroids, but the job isn’t easy – Newton’s laws of motion must be obeyed, even by asteroids. When you blow a big rock into little chunks, those chunks go See the videoBuy this gamezipping off in opposite directions with the speed and force imparted by the amount of energy you used to dispel them. To that screenful of bite-sized chunks o’ death, add an unpredictable hyperspace escape mechanism and a pesky UFO that likes to pop in and shoot at you, and you’re between several large rocks and a hard place. Only this time you have shields. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: As an unspoken, unwritten internal rule, Atari’s coin-op division just didn’t do sequels. While other companies were happy to keep turning out endless variations on the same basic themes and attaching a number to the title each time, or some extra designation like “plus” or “deluxe,” Atari’s arcade designers reasoned that they had so many good ideas that they didn’t need to do sequels. The surprise success of Asteroids, however, was one case where Atari realized it could cash in if only it could ignore that rule. Continue reading

Defender

DefenderBuy this gameThe Game: Alien invaders besiege the helpless population of a planet, and you are the last line of defense. Ideally, you must destroy the aliens before they can abduct humanoids from the ground; if an alien ship gets to the top of the screen with a captive, it absorbs that unlucky soul and it becomes a much more dangerous and aggressive Mutant. Smart bombs give you the option to wipe out everything alien on the See the videoscreen, but of course you only have three of them at the outset of the game. You can also perform an emergency hyperspace warp, but you could rematerialize in a far more perilous situation than the one you just left. When you go to the next level by eliminating an entire alien fleet, you receive a bonus multiplied by the number of humans who are still safely on the ground. (Williams Electronics, 1980)

Memories: For many people, Defender is the pinnacle of video games, hands down. Fast-moving, unrelenting, hard to beat but easy to become addicted, Defender was always a bit too fast for me – but it’s a perennial favorite for so many others. Continue reading

Missile Command

Missile CommandBuy this gameThe Game: Tucked away safely in an underground bunker, you are solely responsible for defending six cities from a relentless, ever-escalating ICBM attack. Your three missile bases are armed with nuclear missiles capable of intercepting the incoming enemy nukes, planes and smart bombs. One nuke hit on any of your three launch bases will incapacitate that facility for the rest of your current turn, but one nuke See the videohit on any of your six cities will destroy it completely. (The only chance you have of rebuilding a city comes when a bonus city is awarded for every 10,000 points scored.) And when all six of your cities have been destroyed, the cataclysmic end of the world proceeds. Game over. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Possibly the first video game ever to register on the so-called moral compass, Atari’s Missile Command contained a strong, anti-nuclear message, arriving at the dawn of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. For those of you who weren’t alive at that time, here’s a little bit of historical context. 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

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

Mouse Trap

Mouse TrapThe Game: In this munching-maze game (one of the dozens of such games which popped up in the wake of Pac-Man), you control a cartoonish mouse who scurries around a cheese-filled maze which can only be navigated by strategically opening and closing yellow, red and blue doors with their color-coded buttons. See the videoOccasionally a big chunk o’ cheese can be gobbled for extra points. Is it that easy? No. There is also a herd of hungry kitties who would love a mousy morsel. But you’re not defenseless. By eating a bone (the equivalent of Pac-Man‘s power pellets), you can transform into a dog, capable of eating the cats. But each bone’s effects only last for a little while, after which you revert to a defenseless mouse. (Exidy, 1981)

Memories: Though its seemingly Tom & Jerry-inspired food chain made a cat vs. mouse variation of Pac-Man virtually inevitable, Mouse Trap frustrated that potential with a complex control system – too complex, actually. Continue reading

Stargate / Defender II

StargateSee the videoThe Game: The alien abductors are back. Their henchbeings are back. And fortunately for the hapless humans on the planet’s surface, you’re back too, in a fully armed warship with a belly full of smart bombs. But the aliens have brought new and unusual reinforcements, and now the ultimate X-factor is seen visibly floating in the night sky – a stargate which could deposit your space fighter anywhere, delivering you to safety…or a rendezvous with a swarm of aliens. (Williams Electronics, 1981)
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Memories: This sequel to Defender was a game I positively hated way back when. Why? Because I just flat-out sucked at the controls of Defender, so Stargate showed me no mercy whatsoever. With an even more complicated control scheme than its ancestor, I didn’t stand a chance at Stargate. But watching the people who had learned how to really make the game theirs? That was something else. Continue reading

Vanguard

VanguardThe Game: Your Vanguard space fighter has infiltrated a heavily-defended alien base. The enemy outnumbers you by six or seven to one at any given time (thank goodness for animated sprite limitations, or you’d be in real trouble!). You can fire above, below, ahead and behind your ship, which is an art you’ll need to master since enemy ships attack from all of these directions. You can’t run into any of the walls and expect to survive, but you can gain brief invincibility by flying through an Energy block, which supercharges your hull enough to ram your enemies (something which, at any other time, would mean certain death for you as well). At the end of your treacherous journey lies the alien in charge of the entire complex – but if you lose a life at that stage, you don’t get to come back for another shot! (Centuri [under license from SNK], 1981)

Memories: Very much like another SNK-originated game from this period, Fantasy (which was licensed out to Rock-Ola), Vanguard was an early entry in the exploration game genre. Sure, shooting things was fun, but this game made it clear – through the “radar map” of the alien base at the top of the screen – that there was a clear destination to be reached. And if you weren’t good enough to get there with the lives you had, you could continue the journey – for just a quarter more – again and again, until you got there. Continue reading

Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator

Star Trek: Strategic Operations SimulatorThe Game: Your mission is to travel from sector to sector, eliminating Klingon incursions into Federation space without getting your ship and crew destroyed. Friendly starbases offer aid and allow you to make resupply stops so you can keep up the good fight – and you do have to keep a careful eye on your phaser, shield and warp power… (Sega, 1982)
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Memories: In the wake of the unexpected theatrical success of the second Star Trek movie, Sega revamped the popular Star Trek computer game that has been – and still is – available on almost every computer platform since the beginning of time, giving it vector graphics renditions of the movie Enterprise, Klingon ships, and starbases, not to mention cool-looking phasers and photon torpedoes (actually the best part of the game). Continue reading

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

Star Trek: The Motion PictureThe Game: You’re at the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise – that’s the cool part. The not-so-cool part? You’re in disputed territory – and the Klingons are bringing the fight to you en masse, attacking both the Enterprise and local Starbases, which you have the defend (lest you be left with no place to refuel). Use your phasers, photon torpedoes and shields judiciously – and do whatever it takes to halt the Klingon advance before they overrun Federation space. (GCE, 1982)

Memories: When the Enterprise returned by way of movie screens around the world in 1979, the sets and other visual details depicting the ship were brought right up to date to withstand big-screen scrutiny (and anticipated repeat viewing – though probably not even the movie’s makers knew to what degree that would be the case). The Enterprise’s onboard computers were shown to display, among other things, vector-graphics-style tactical displays – a fact not lost on the makers of the Vectrex console. Marrying the two was only – dare I say it? – logical. Continue reading

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