Space Race

Space RaceThe Game: Two rockets stand ready to lift off for a race into space teeming with fast-moving asteroids and space debris. Collision with even the tiniest piece of space junk sends a player’s rocket back to the bottom of the screen, with a slight time penalty (possibly for repairs) before it can lift off again. A vertical line in the center of the screen serves not only to divide the screen into “lanes” for each rocket, but to count down the amount of time remaining in the game. Whoever has the highest score when time runs out is the winner of the space race. (Atari, 1973)

Memories: Having scored instant success with Pong, Atari immediately had to contend with one of the side-effects of success: copycats. Dubbed “the jackals” by Atari co-founder Nolan Bushnell, they copied Pong, releasing their own unchanged versions of it under different names. Even companies that would become some of the biggest innovators in the nascent arcade industry made their first steps away from pinball and toward coin-operated video amusements by copying Pong.

And now, to make matters worse, thanks to a pre-existing contract that was taken on in order to keep cash flowing into Atari’s coffers as an untried startup company, Atari was going to have to surrender one of its games to one of those competitors. Continue reading

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

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

Speedway! / Spin-Out! / Crypto-Logic!

Speedway! / Spin-Out! / Crypto-Logic!The Game: In Speedway!, one player guides a race car through an endless onslaught of slower-moving traffic, Monaco GP style; colliding with anyone stalls the game for a moment. Two players are required for Spin-Out!, a copycat of Atari’s Sprint 2 coin-op, in which two race cars zip around a convoluted little track in an attempt to be the first one to rack up three laps. Crypto-Logic! lets you type in up to 18 characters on one line, and hit the enter key to completely scramble those characters. A second player then has to figure out what the jumble of letters was with as few misses as possible. (Magnavox, 1978)

Memories: The Odyssey2 was born from the ashes of Magnavox’s aborted Odyssey 5000 project, which would have housed 24 dedicated games for 2 to 4 players in a large, silvery console – and chances are, a lot of those games would have been along the lines of Speedway! and Spin-Out!. 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

Rally-X

3-D computer rendering of Rally-X cabinetThe Game: Go, Speed Racer, go! (Well, almost.) As the driver of a high-powered race car, you rocket around corners and down straightaways, trying to pick up every yellow flag in the maze-like course and avoiding deadly collisions with pursuing red cars. Watch out for rocks and oil spills, and use your smokescreen See the videoBuy this gameonly when necessary to distance yourself from the red cars. (Bally/Midway [under license from Namco], 1980)

Memories: Namco released Rally-X at the same time as Pac-Man, and like Pac-Man, Namco licensed Rally-X to Midway. In fact, the major buzz at that year’s AMOA (Amusement Machine Operators’ Association) annual trade show – where arcade owners tried to figure out which would be the hottest new games to buy for their establishments – was for this dandy little racing/maze game, and Pac-Man was considered an also-ran, perhaps a little too abstract for the U.S. market. Continue reading

Auto Racing

Auto RacingBuy this gameThe Game: Rev up your engines, put the pedal to the metal, and cruise around a track (which apparently has a nice suburban neighborhood in the middle of it, full of folks who no doubt appreciate the roar of engines zipping around them), See the videotrying not to go off the asphalt, and trying even harder not to crash into bushes or buildings. (Curiously, water is less of an obstacle.) (Mattel Electronics, 1980)

Memories: In the early marketing blitz for the Intellivision, the image of Auto Racing‘s shaded rooftops and varied terrain was almost inescapable. The previous standard-bearer for this kind of game had been Atari VCS fare such as Indy 500, and on a graphical level at least, this new Intellivision contraption was on a whole different level. Continue reading

Night Driver

Night DriverBuy this gameThe Game: You’re racing 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, 1980)

Memories: Just as the simplicity of Night Driver in the arcades was necessitated by the hardware limitations of its time, it was a perfect VCS title for the same reason. Though the arcade game boasts a slightly finer visual grain, it’s not by a large margin. The most distinguishable difference is the trade-off of the arcade game’s overlay artwork of the car for a blocky foreground car graphic at home; on the other hand, the home game trumps the coin-op by having color graphics. Continue reading

New Rally-X

New Rally-XBuy this gameThe Game: As the driver of a high-powered race car, you rocket around corners and down straightaways, trying to pick up every yellow flag in the maze-like course and avoiding deadly collisions with pursuing red cars. Special flags (marked with an “S”, of course) offer big points bonuses, while Lucky flags (“L”) give you bonus points based on how much fuel remains in your car’s gas tank, so it’s best to find them as quickly as possible. Watch out for rocks, and use your smokescreen only when necessary to distance yourself from the red cars. (1981, Namco)

See the videoMemories: Not even really a sequel to Rally-X, which hit the arcades at roughly the same time as Pac-Man, New Rally-X was an attempt by Namco to give its cutesy overhead racing game a little more “oomph” to Rally-X in the hope that it might pick up steam during the arcade boom that Pac-Man spawned. 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

Grand Prix (Atari 2600)

Grand PrixBuy this gameThe Game: Start your digital engines! Grand Prix puts the player behind the wheel of a sleek (and, it has to be said, colorful) race car. With the track scrolling from right to left, the game is simple: get ahead, and don’t crash into the other cars. That may sound easy enough, but hazards such as oil slicks can send a car spinning out of control very easily. (Activision, 1982)

See the videoMemories: One of David Crane’s earliest games at Activision, Grand Prix is almost as important as a tech demo as it is as a game. Consider the large, blocky pixel-cars Atari‘s first-party racing games; the colorful, finely-detailed cars in Crane’s Grand Prix were a revelation by comparison. Grand Prix brought us cars of many different colors, with animated tires, and none of the sprite flicker that had already come to characterize many a 2600 game by this point. It was yet another case of Activision putting Atari on notice to start bringing its “A” game – literally. Continue reading

Math Gran Prix

Math Gran PrixBuy this gameThe Game: This race is a numbers game. For each turn, players have to decide how many spaces they want to move (overdoing it can result in going off-track and crashing), and then have to answer a math question (math functions and difficulty depend on game settings). Answering correctly will allow the player to move forward the desired number of spaces. A few spots on the track offer the chance to pick a random number for an additional jump forward in the race. (Atari, 1982)

See the videoMemories: Few equations have proven as impossible in the video game industry as the still-ongoing quest to make educational games not just fun, but something that anyone would actually want to fork over money for and play. Hint: Math Gran Prix, despite its noble intentions, did not solve that equation. 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

Motorace USA / Traverse USA / Zippy Race

Motorace USAThe Game: As the lone motorcyclist in a cross-country car race, you have to dodge your opponents at high speed, one two-ton vehicle at a time. You drive through city streets, highways, and through the rough desert, trying to reach See the videoyour goal without running out of gas or getting splattered across the asphalt. (Williams Electronics [under license from IREM], 1983)

Memories: Whatever you called it, this was one of my favorite driving/racing games, combining the best elements of both maze games and scrolling obstacle course games, and handling things differently from the Pole Position and Turbo formula which dominated this particular genre at the time. 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

Bump ‘N’ Jump

Bump 'N' JumpThe Game: The race is on, and no moves are off-limits – bump your competitors off the road (and into apparently highly volatile vegetation that causes them to explode), or jump over them and any other obstacles that get in your way, See the videoincluding areas of water that cover the road. If you survive the race, you live on to the next round – at least until you run out of cars. (M Network, 1983)

Memories: One of a very few arcade licenses snagged by Mattel for the Intellivision and for the M Network line of games for the Atari 2600 and other platforms, Bump ‘N’ Jump has a bumpy ride as it jumps to the relatively underpowered Atari. Continue reading

Enduro

EnduroBuy this gameThe Game: As one of many drivers in a round-the-clock endurance race through many areas, terrains and weather conditions. While the pretty boys at Fuji may have sunshine all the time (or so it seems), an Enduro racer has to contend with slick snow, nighttime driving conditions (where the other drivers’ tail lights are the only warning you have of their presence), fog (which is much like night driving, but about 10 times worse), and so on. (Activision, 1983)

See the videoMemories: Enduro is a killer driving game, taking the same graphical gimmick that made Pole Position a hit, and increasing the challenge of the game – even to the point of exceeding the depth of the game that it’s loosely based on. Continue reading

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