Pong

PongBuy this gameThe Game: Avoid missing ball for high score.

(No, really!) (Atari, 1972)

See the videoMemories: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? And who hatched that egg (or fried that chicken) first – Atari founder Nolan Bushnell or inventor Ralph Baer, who licensed to Magnavox his concept for a dedicated video tennis game that could be hooked up to a TV set? Continue reading

Rebound

ReboundThe Game: Live in glorious black & white, it’s the first-ever game of video volleyball! Two players square off – well, okay, rectangle off – against each other as horizontal Pong paddles situated on either side of a dotted-line “net.” The ball drops out of mid-air toward one player or the other, who must move into See the videoplace to (hopefully) bounce the ball into the right direction. It may take a couple of tries to get the ball over the net, but don’t let it take three bounces or you forfeit a turn (and a point). (Atari, 1973)

Memories: Created on a hardware with a very similar architecture to that of Pong, Rebound was Atari’s first attempt to think outside the Pong box. Obviously, there are similarities: Pong paddles stand in for volleyball players, and the ball and “net” graphics are familiar enough to anyone who’s ever laid eyes on Pong. But where Pong only needed to simulate artificial action and reaction, Rebound actually has a tougher job: simulating real live gravity. But Rebound‘s gravity is a bit unpredictable and not quite authentic. Sure, volleyballs have been known to go astray, but Sir Isaac Newton would be left reeling by Rebound‘s first-ever video game simulation of real physical laws. Continue reading

Odyssey 100

Odyssey 100The Game: A simple version of video ping-pong; players use three knobs, one to control horizontal movement, one to control vertical See the videomovement, and a third to control the “English” or spin of the ball. (Magnavox, 1975)

Memories: Caught flat-footed by the success of Atari‘s Pong home console, Magnavox found itself struggling to hang onto the very market that Ralph Baer‘s original Odyssey console had created in the first place. Perhaps not surprisingly, Magnavox turned back to the Odyssey, not just for inspiration but to – at least in a limited fashion – put the machine back on the market. Continue reading

Odyssey 200

Odyssey 200Talk about upscale. The Odyssey 200, released not long after the Odyssey 100, added an extra game to the mix, bringing the machine’s built-in game total up to three. In addition to Tennis and Hockey/Soccer, the Odyssey 200 adds Smash, essentially a vastly simplified game of racquetball. (Magnavox seemed to feel that the extra game – and the slightly more sedate paint job on the casing – merited a whole new unit and model number.) Continue reading

Odyssey 300

Odyssey 300Taking Atari’s lead for the first time, the Odyssey 300 – in its bright yellow shell – saw the console abandoning the trio of horizontal/vertical/English controls that had been in place since the original Odyssey. In addition to mimicking the all-in-one controls of Atari’s Pong, Odyssey 300 – still boasting the standard Tennis, Hockey and Smash variations of its predecessors – introduced digital on-screen scoring. The Odyssey games were no longer reliant on the honor system: at 15 points, one player won the game. Continue reading

Breakout

BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them See the videothat you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. Missing one of your precious balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1976)

Memories: The year was 1976, and Atari’s founder, Nolan Bushnell, had an idea to revive the overmined “ball and paddle” genre: turn Pong into a single-player game, almost like racquetball, in which players must smash their way through a wall of bricks with a ball without missing that ball on the rebound. Bushnell was sure the idea would be a hit. Continue reading

Odyssey 500

Odyssey 500With the same trio of games as the Odyssey 400 – Tennis, Hockey/Soccer and Smash – the Odyssey 500, released in 1976 by Magnavox, would appear See the videoto not be much of an upgrade, but in fact, it’s an absolutely critical turning point for home video games: the Odyssey 500 did away with squares and rectangles to represent the player, and introduced character sprites – hardware-generated characters that roughly mimicked the shape of a human being. Continue reading

Tennis / Hockey

TennisThe Game: Activated by leaving a cartridge out of the slot, powering the system up and pressing one of the selector keys, Tennis and Hockey are built into the system. Timed games can be selected, and the traditional rules of each sport apply. (Fairchild, 1976)

Memories: An interesting indicator of how new the idea of interchangeable cartridges were, Channel F featured two built-in games as well. If a Channel F owner bought the machine but never bothered with any of the game cartridges, he could still enjoy the console. It’s really no surprise, then, that Fairchild fell back on some standard-issue video game ideas – nothing obscure for Channel F’s built-in games. Continue reading

Odyssey 2000

Odyssey 2000After the baffling backward step of the Odyssey 400, Magnavox’s Odyssey 2000 saw a return to the Pong-inspired, single-paddle control scheme, with digital scoring restored as well – Magnavox had decided to rest the Brown Box design (and the subsequent variations on it) permanently in favor of, once again, the General Instruments AY-3-8500 “Pong on a chip” processor. Packaged in a red casing, this would be the last anyone would see of the smoothly rounded-off, integrated Odyssey console. The next system to bear the name would return to its roots – with wired controllers that weren’t necessarily stuck to the main console – and look forward, with a futuristic new design that stands up even today. Continue reading

Odyssey 3000

Odyssey 3000It adds nothing to the Odyssey 2000’s “four action-packed video games,” but the Odyssey 3000 is a quantum leap in the design aesthetic of the console itself. Finally breaking away from the basic casing design that had been in place since the Odyssey 100, Odyssey 3000 packs four games (well, really just three plus a Tennis “practice mode”) into a sleek, futuristic-looking black wedge with highlights that almost anticipate – believe it or not – the look of the computer screens in Star Trek: The Next Generation (though to be more realistic, it may have been influenced by the design line of Atari’s Fuji logo). The controllers are detachable but hardwired, and nestle snugly into the console itself. Continue reading

Avalanche

AvalancheThe Game: Watch for falling rocks – because it’s your job to catch them. You control a series of containers arranged in a vertical row, and your task is to catch all of the rocks, without fail, not letting a single one of them hit the ground. The more rocks you catch, the more containers you’ll fill, and you’ll be left with fewer, and See the videosmaller, containers. If you let a rock through your defenses too many times, the game’s over. And you’ll probably be hit in the head with a lot of rocks. Neither outcome is really a good thing. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: Avalanche is a relic of the early days of videogaming, where no idea was left untried. It’s a fiendishly simple and surprisingly tense little number for what appears to be such a simple game. Continue reading

Gee Bee

Gee BeeThe Game: It’s like pinball, but not quite. Not only are the bouncing-ball physics and bumpers of pinball present, but so are walls of bricks which, when destroyed, add to your score and sometimes redirect your ball in unpredictable directions. Pinball meets Breakout. (Namco, 1978)

Memories: If you’re wracking your brain trying to remember this game, don’t spend too much time – not that many gamers actually got to play it first-hand. It is, in fact, only in retrospect that Gee Bee‘s true historical significance has been revealed. Continue reading

Super Breakout

Super Breakout4 quarters!The Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them that you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. In some games, there may be other, free-floating balls trapped in “cavities” in the bricks, and setting them loose will mean See the videoyou’ll have several balls – and not all of them necessarily yours, disturbingly enough – to handle. Missing one of your balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Super Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: The sequel to Atari’s original Breakout coin-op, which actually enjoyed greater success at home on the Atari VCS than in the arcades, Super Breakout added some minor innovations to the original game, including the cavities (and their rogue balls) and the double-paddle (and the paddle length shortening by half when you knock a ball into the top of the playing field). Still fundamentally a black & white game, Super Breakout’s colorful bricks were achieved the old Magnavox Odyssey way: colored overlays on the screen itself. Continue reading

Breakout

BreakoutBuy this gameThe Game: You’ve got a mobile paddle and – well, frankly, balls. But you don’t have a lot of balls at your disposal (am I the only one becoming a little bit uncomfortable discussing this?), so you have to make the best use of them that you can to knock down the rows of colorful bricks overhead. Missing one of your precious balls – and we all know how painful that can be – forces you to call another ball into play. Losing all of your balls, as you’ve probably guessed by now, ends the game. So, in essence, Breakout is a metaphor for life from the masculine perspective. (Atari, 1978)

See the original TV adMemories: Breakout is a fine adaptation of the game created by a one-time early Atari employee named Steve Jobs (who got a lot of help from his friend Steve Wozniak; these two later founded a computer company named after a common fruit). As the original arcade game wasn’t all that complex, the VCS version doesn’t need to overcome any technical hurdles. And yet it does! Continue reading

Bomb Bee

Bomb BeeThe Game: Video pinball is back, and now in more than one color! Bomb Bee takes the game mechanics of Gee Bee and makes them noisier and brighter, adding “bumper traps” that can keep the ball bouncing in tight cul-de-sacs, racking up massive bonus points with every strike. (Namco, 1979)

See the videoMemories: When Namco introduced the world’s first arcade game with a full-color monitor, Galaxian, it was still fairly experimental, and some other Namco releases in 1979 were still in black & white. One of the first color games to follow Galaxian was Bomb Bee, Toru Iwitani’s reworking of Gee Bee, now in brilliant color. Continue reading

Cutie Q

Cutie QBuy this gameThe Game: You control a pair of paddles at the bottom and center of the screen. Serve a single ball into play, and skillfully deflect it toward rows of brightly colored monsters; tripping all of the “face bumpers” near the center of the See the videoscreen can yield a big bonus multiplier. If you can drive the ball toward a tunnel structure at the top center of the screen, it’ll do a lot of the work for you, blasting monsters from behind until it carves a gap big enough to fall toward your paddles again. Of course, standard Breakout rules apply: if you let three balls leave the screen, the game’s over. (Namco, 1979)

Memories: The third and final game in Toru Iwitani’s series of riffs on video pinball and Breakout, Cutie Q is the most unique (and also my favorite of the three). Not simply content to add more color to his previous game, Iwitani started from scratch, even adding a tunnel full of suspiciously Q*Bert-like critters that can be eliminated for bonus points. It still retains some pinball elements, but Cutie Q is more firmly in video game territory than either Gee Bee or Bomb Bee. 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

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