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

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

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

Star Battle

Star BattleThe Game: As a lone space pilot flying down a seemingly endless trench, your job is simple – blast or bomb all of the vaguely-bow-tie-shaped space fighters that you see. If your fighter is on the lower half of the screen, you’re blasting See the videostraight ahead/upward; if you move your fighter near the top of the screen, you can bomb any fighters below you. The game ends when you run out of ships; fortunately you never seem to run out of ammo. (Bally, 1979)

Memories: With arcade games such as Star Fire (with its obvious TIE Fighters and Star Destroyers) and Starhawk (with its own animated trench) gobbling quarters, it might just be that Star Battle for the Bally Professional Arcade is where it all begins in the console realm – the sub-genre of the Star Wars-inspired space game. Continue reading

Star Raiders

Star RaidersThe Game: Zylon warships are on the rampage, blasting allied basestars out of the sky and wreaking havoc throughout the galaxy. Your orders are to track down the fast-moving raiders and destroy them before they can do any more See the videodamage. You have limited shields and weapons at your disposal, and a battle computer which is vital to your mission (though critical damage to your space fighter can leave you without that rather important piece of equipment). The game is simple: destroy until you are destroyed, and defend friendly installations as long as you can. (Atari, 1979)

Memories: The original version of Atari’s Star Raiders leaves very few doubts as to its origins; in a sense, it’s a new take on the old grid-based Star Trek mainframe game, only with ample opportunities for arcade-style action. Oh, and – astonishingly, even back then – the game kicks off with a title screen showing a spaceship obviously based on the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which also appeared in 1979. How the lawyers missed that one, we’ll probably never know. Continue reading

Battlezone

BattlezoneBuy this gameThe Game: As the pilot of a heavy tank, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and landing vehicles. (Atari, 1980)

Memories: Though the above description is exceedingly simple, See the videoBattlezone was another pillar of Atari’s stable of outstanding vector graphics games (which also included Tempest and Asteroids). With its two-stick control system, mimicking a real tank’s controls, its slowly lumbering game play, and its periscope-like screen, Battlezone was, for its day, an incredibly cool and realistic game (with a huge cabinet too). 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

Cosmic Conflict!

Cosmic Conflict!The Game: This is a very simple first-person space game in which you watch various and sundry harmless space freighters waft lazily past your screen, punctuated at regular intervals by TIE-fighter-like attackers which do pose a moderate See the videothreat to you (but not much of a moderate threat). (Magnavox, 1980)

Memories: It’s a simple game – it’s not inconceivable that one could beat it on the first try. Continue reading

Space Battle

Space BattleBuy this gameThe Game: You command a mighty battleship with three squadrons of fighters at your disposal to fend off five alien attack fleets. You can manually dispatch your fighter squadrons, send them directly into battle, and recall them to See the original TV addefend your ship. When your fighters go into battle, you can assume control personally and engage in a dogfight with the agile enemy fighters, or you can let the computer fight your battles on autopilot (it’ll get the job done, but usually with an undesirable, if not unacceptable, rate of losses for your side). The game ends when your squadrons have eliminated all of the converging alien fleets, or when the aliens have made quick work of both your squadrons and your command ship. (Mattel Electronics, 1979)

Memories: In 1979, Glen Larson’s TV space epic Battlestar Galactica was as hot a property as you could get on the small screen, with its movie-scale special effects (or at least, the show’s underbudgeted and overworked producers and special effects wizards hoped you thought the effects were movie-scale). Having watched rival toy maker Kenner score a major coup with the license to manufacture toys based on Star Wars, Mattel quickly stepped in to snag the rights for Battlestar Galactica. Short of whatever Star Wars sequel George Lucas turned out next, Galactica was as close as you could get to the next big thing. Continue reading

Star Strike

Star StrikeBuy this gameThe Game: Flying low over an alien installation, you are the last hope for the planet Earth. When the alien space vehicle has Earth lined up in the sights of its launcher, the planet will be destroyed. Your mission is to blast alien defensive See the videofighters and bomb their mothership into oblivion before that happens. (Mattel, 1981)

Memories: Star Strike was one of the games Mattel waved in everyone’s face to prove how superior the Intellivision was to its rival, the Atari 2600. But for its time, and considering that Atari’s biggest hits at this point were chunky home versions of Print new overlaysthe distinctly 2-D Asteroids, Missile Command and Space Invaders, Star Strike‘s Star Wars-inspired 3-D animated trench was quite impressive. However, the game was notoriously difficult for those weaned on the excessive simplicity of the aforementioned arcade adaptations. Continue reading

Bradley Trainer (a.k.a. “Military Battlezone”)

Atari Bradley TrainerThe Game: As the pilot of a Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, you wander the desolate battlefield, trying to wipe out enemy tanks and helictopers without accidentally firing on your own allies. (Atari, under special contract for the United States Army, 1981)

Memories: You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in the arcade business who’d complain that a game was too good. But Ed Rotberg, designer of Atari’s original 3-D vector graphics tank hit Battlezone, would be the exception. His revolutionary first-person fighting game was impressive enough to attract the attention of the United States Army, and this landed him a very special job he did not want: retooling the game to the Army’s exacting specifications to turn it into a real training simulation. 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

Liberator

LiberatorBuy this gameThe Game: So, you’ve always wanted to pilot the Liberator? If you’re talking about the Atari Force’s trusty little flotilla of space fighters, you’re in luck. Your four fighters take up positions at the four corners of the screen, and you use a trackball to aim a cursor; hitting the fire button fires the weapons of the ship nearest the cursor. Basically, the “Malagon Army,” according to the introductory screen, has pulled off a See the videostrategic (to say nothing of logistical) coup in invading the entire galaxy – and you and your four fighters are supposed to free…well…the entire galaxy. Hopefully you packed a lunch. At the beginning of your mission, you’re trying to pick off Malagon scout ships in deep space. You then move on to a succession of planets where you have to take out missiles (and the ground bases that hurl them at you) and enemy satellites. Letting a missile through can begin to cost you ships quickly, and when all four fighters are fragged, you’re finished. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: An interesting game, Liberator, even if it breaks my heart by teasing me with that name and then having nothing to do with the starship of the same name from the 70s BBC space opera Blake’s 7. (Actually, it would almost make as much sense to adapt this game to that storyline as it did to try to attach it to the Atari Force comic books, which were shipped with numerous Atari VCS cartridges but had no prior presence in the arcade.) 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

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

Phaser Patrol

Phaser PatrolThe Game: The war between the humans and the spacefaring enemy Dracons isn’t going well, and you’ve enlisted to join the fight. In the cockpit of your space fighter, you toggle between your flight computer (where you can find and set a course for Dracon attack groups on the map, or helpful starbases where you can replenish and repair your ship) and the direct view ahead when you engage in combat. The Dracons throw a lot of firepower at you, but your own torpedoes have a longer “reach” than their ammo. Your ship can take a pounding in a firefight, gradually eliminating your shields, your targeting ability, and even your weapons. The game is over when you can’t withdraw for repairs and are destroyed by the Dracons. (Arcadia, 1982)

See the videoThe Game: In 1982, an assemblage of former Atari programmers, along with a few hand-picked rookie programmers, started their own third-party video game venture. To be in that market at that time, however, one had to make games for the Atari 2600, and the Arcadia programmers’ game concepts outstripped that machine’s software. Not to be slowed down by that minor problem, Arcadia introduced a new piece of hardware along with its first game. The Supercharger more than doubled the 2600’s RAM, and had the beneficial side effect of allowing Arcadia to avoid the costly practice of having cartridge casings made; instead of cartridges, the Supercharger loaded its enhanced games from cassette tape, usually in under 30 seconds. 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

Star Raiders

Kneel to the awesome power of the mighty Atari 2600 Video Touch Pad!Star RaidersBuy this gameThe Game: Zylon warships are on the rampage, blasting allied basestars out of the sky and wreaking havoc throughout the galaxy. Your orders are to track down the fast-moving raiders and destroy them before they can do any more damage. You have limited shields and weapons at your disposal, and a battle computer which is vital to your mission (though critical damage to your space fighter can leave you without that rather important piece of equipment). The game is simple: See the TV addestroy until you are destroyed, and defend friendly installations as long as you can. (Atari, 1982)

Memories: A cult classic on the Atari 400 & 800 computers, Star Raiders was something that the VCS just couldn’t do. Continue reading

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