51 Shades of Geek

Datsun 280 ZZZAP!

Datsun 280 ZZZAP!See the videoThe Game: Get behind the wheel for a late-night drive – at high speeds! The only visual clues about the road ahead are the reflectors zooming past. Avoid going off the road and go the distance. (Midway, 1976)

Memories: In the wake of Nolan Bushnell’s gambit to topple the exclusive arcade distribution system (see the Phosphor Dot Fossils entry for Tank!), a clever move that would turn modern antitrust lawyers into a pack of baying wolves, direct copying of other companies’ arcade code and circuitry was off the table. Now the competition merely duplicated Atari‘s game concepts rather than every line of code. Continue reading

Death Race

Death RaceThe Game: Two players control one car each, careening freely around an arena filled with zombies. Faced with zombie-fication at the pedestrian crossing of the undead, the drivers have only one option: run over their opponents! See the videoEach zombie that’s squashed leaves a grave marker behind that becomes an unmovable obstacle to zombies and cars alike. Whoever has run over the most zombies by the end of the timed game wins. (Exidy, 1976)

Memories: Death Race, which didn’t even come within shouting distance of having anything to do with the movie of the same name, was the arcade game that sparked the very first protests about violence in video games. Those protests go on to this very day, with games like the latest iteration of Grand Theft Auto and Bully drawing fire for depicting various kinds of real world violence. Compared to those much more recent games, it’s almost laughable to think that the abstraction of Death Race was where some parents first drew the line. Why? Because Death Race was the first person to put stick figures – a representation of a human being – on the screen and let you do something nasty to them. Continue reading

Night Driver

Night DriverThe Game: You’re racing the Formula One circuit by the glow of your headlights alone – avoid the markers along the side of the road and other passing obstacles…if you can see them in time. (Atari, 1976)

Memories: Aside from the very cool cockpit cabinet of the sit-down version of Night Driver, there’s a reason why it earns a spot in video game history. Go ahead and see if you can guess what it is. Give up? It’s the first time that a representation of depth appeared in the graphics of a video game. Until this point, home and arcade video games had presented their playing fields as strictly two-dimensional spaces: they were seen from straight overhead, or from a side-on view. Continue reading

Fire Truck

Fire TruckThe Game: Two players take the twin steering wheels of a fire truck racing through obstacle-cluttered streets en route to a fire. The player in front steers the front of the truck, while the rear of the fire truck is steered independently by the player in back (one player sits and the See the videoother stands, affording both a clear view of the screen). If both players aren’t well-coordinated, the rear of the fire truck will smack into parked cars, trees and other obstacles that the front of the truck may have cleared successfully. (Atari, 1978)

Memories: A wickedly fun (and funny) cooperative game, Fire Truck isn’t so much a racing game as it is an avoid-everything game. It’s rather unforgiving in that it demands that both players be virtually joined in lockstep as to where the fire truck is pointed – anything less is begging for disaster. Continue reading

Monaco GP

Monaco GPThe Game: Players get behind the wheel of a roaring race car, viewed from overhead, as it navigates a series of roads and occasional tunnels whose width varies dramatically. Tunnels are illuminated only by See the videoheadlights, which means that collisions with other cars are, if not certain, then at least much more likely. Any collision results in the player’s car having to get into traffic again from a dead standstill at the side of the road. (Sega, 1979)

Memories: Monaco GP looks like just about any other overhead racing game, though it certainly upped the ante in terms of color. Its interesting take on the concept of “road widening” also made it uniquely frustrating and amusing at the same time. But as similar as it may seem to rest of the overhead-view racing games of its day, Monaco GP does hold one distinction in video game history. Continue reading

Turbo

TurboThe Game: It’s pretty straightforward…you’re zipping along in your Formula One race car, trying to avoid other drivers and obstacles along the way while hauling a sufficient quantity of butt to win the race. (Sega, 1981)

Memories: Ah, the driving game wars of the early 1980s. Remember when everyone was ga-ga over this game and Pole Position, which were both essentially very pretty remakes of Atari’s old Night Driver game? Though, to be quite honest, both of the early 80’s driving game staples were graphically impressive. Turbo reached the checkered flag first, though – Pole Position was released the following year in the U.S. Continue reading

Pole Position

Pole PositionBuy this gameThe Game: Prepare to qualify! Fly to the finish line in a fierce field of Formula One competitors in a qualifying lap. Leaving the track is trouble – and hitting one of the billboards dotted around the edges of the Mt. Fuji track is a sure way to miss out on the subsequent race. (I’ve always wondered anyway: why are there billboards around a racetrack? Are race car drivers a desirable demographic to advertisers? Can they actually read those signs at 200+ MPH?) (Atari [under license from Namco], 1982)

See the videoMemories: First off, a note to our loyal readers: I hope you’re happy! Pole Position is, by a vast margin, the single most-requested, most-asked-about game ever at Phosphor Dot Fossils. You should see some of the mail I’ve gotten regarding this game’s absence in the past few years – accusations of everything from bad taste to just plain incompetence. Well fear not, faithful Phosphor Dot Fossils followers, for I actually love this game. Continue reading

Turbo

TurboThe Game: It’s pretty straightforward…you’re zipping along in your Formula One race car, trying to avoid other drivers and obstacles along the way while hauling a sufficient quantity of butt to win the race. (Coleco [under license from Sega], 1982)

Memories: One of the seminal first-person racing games of the 80s, Turbo was one of several Sega coin-ops that caught the eye of Coleco. The one hurdle in bringing it to the ColecoVision? Having to invent a whole new controller that would be similar enough to Turbo‘s arcade control scheme without being so specific as to rule out using the driving controller for other games in the future. And thus was born Expansion Module #2, a steering wheel controller with a detachable “gas pedal.” Continue reading

Change Lanes

Change LanesThe Game: The future! A dystopia of fast driving! Players are behind the wheel of a multi-terrain vehicle that can switch from fast handling on solid surfaces to amphibious speedboat in the blink of an eye. The currency of this violent future is fuel for this vehicle, and enemies in similar vehicles and in airborne vehicles will stop at nothing to claim fuel for themselves, regardless of the player’s safety. Grey highways and rivers are the usual modes of travel, though brown highways offer faster travel. Checkpoints must be reached in the correct order to rack up bonus points (players who arrive at the wrong checkpoint will be greeted with a checkerboard pattern instead of a number), but all checkpoints, even the wrong ones, grant players extra fuel. Surface enemies can be rammed out of the way, but there’s no honor lost in surviving by throwing the vehicle into reverse gear. Whoever survives the longest and scores the highest is crowned the Supreme King of the World. (Taito America, 1982)

Memories: Before there was RoadBlasters, before the first-person-driving-and-combat genre became a fleeting fixture on the arcade landscape, there was Taito‘s Change Lanes, an aggressive novelty in an increasingly crowded field of first-person racers. Sure, games like Pole Position and Turbo offered us the chance to race with an unprecedented view…but Change Lanes changed the venue, setting it in a kind of genteel Mad Max-inspired world: sure, fuel is a precious commodity, and in-game enemies will kill to keep the player from acquiring it…and yet someone’s maintaining the infrastructure. Good job on those frictionless brown lanes, infrastructure people. Continue reading

Pole Position II

Pole Position IIThe Game: So, you survived the qualifying lap and the big race in Pole Position and you’re ready to move on to bigger and better challenges? Well okay then. Now, in addition to the Fuji track, there are others to choose from – Buy this gamethe simple oval of the Test track, and the elaborate (and sometimes deadly) curves of the Seaside and Wonder tracks. As before, going over the shoulder isn’t a good thing – nor is crawling up the tailpipe of the cars in front of you, for the explosions in this game are even more spectacular than those of its predecessor. (Atari [under license from Namco], 1983)

Memories: Namco knows a thing or two about decent sequels, having given us such classics as Galaga (the sequel to Galaxian), Dig Dug 2 and the obscure Hopping Mappy. Pole Position II‘s controls are even more responsive, the graphics more fluid and realistic, and the explosions? Well, let’s put it this way – Pole Position kills you with a nice big explosion. Pole Position II throws debris. Continue reading

Buggy Challenge

Buggy ChallengeThe Game: It’s a duel for dune buggy supremacy, and it won’t be easy. Drivers must contend not only with other drivers, but with dangerous terrain (sand hills that can launch a buggy into mid-air with little or no control over where it might land), killer obstacles including rocks and fence posts, and the amazing ease of losing all sense of direction. (Taito, 1984)

Memories: A fairly obscure first-person racer from Taito, Buggy Challenge is visually impressive, but in an era when it seemed like arcade game manufacturers were desperately trying to add complexity to control schemes – after all, a complex control scheme will probably get players “killed” more often, forcing more coin drop – Buggy Challenge most outstanding feature may be its blissful simplicity. There’s a gas pedal and a steering wheel. Try not to hit stuff that will cause the dune buggy to blow up. It really is that simple. Continue reading

Pitstop

PitstopThe Game: A day at the races is just another day at the office for you. Pick from a variety of tracks and difficulty levels and try to achieve maximum speed…with a minimum of collisions. (Epyx, 1984)

See the videoMemories: Not quite as pretty as Turbo, Pitstop is a port of a game that Epyx had already made popular on the Atari home computers and the Commodore 64. Though the crash was in full swing by now, Epyx seemed to be hedging its bets by producing console games for the Colecovision and the Atari 2600. But graphically, and in terms of smooth game play, Turbo wins the race ahead of Pitstop in just about every area – and it’s all about control. Continue reading

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