The Amazing Maze Game

The Amazing Maze GameThe Game: You control a dot making its way through a twisty maze with two exits – one right behind you and one across the screen from you. The computer also controls a dot which immediately begins working its way toward the exit behind you. The game is simple: you have to guide your dot through the maze to the opposite exit before the computer does the same. If the computer wins twice, the game is See the videoover. (Midway, 1976)

Memories: Not, strictly speaking, the first maze game, Midway’s early B&W arcade entry The Amazing Maze Game bears a strong resemblence to that first game, which was Atari’s Gotcha. Gotcha was almost identical, except that its joystick controllers were topped by pink rubber domes, leading to Gotcha being nicknamed “the boob game.” Amazing Maze was just a little bit more austere by comparison. Continue reading

Barricade

BarricadeThe Game: Up to four players control markers that leave a solid “wall” in their wake. The object of the game is to trap the other players by building a wall around them that they can’t avoid crashing into – or forcing them to crash into their own walls. Run into a wall, either your own or See the videosomeone else’s, ends your turn and erases your trail from the screen (potentially eliminating an obstacle for the remaining players). The player still standing at the end of the round wins. (Ramtek, 1976)

Memories: If you’re a fan of the “Light Cycle” concept made popular by Tron (both the movie and the game), this is where it all started, with an obscure game from a relatively obscure manufacturer. But that obscurity isn’t earned by a game that essentially launched and entire genre. 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

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

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

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

Atari Video Music

Atari Video MusicSee the videoBack in the heady days of Nolan Bushnell-managed Atari, when the home versions of games like Pong and Stunt Cycle were making decent money, and the sky seemed to be the limit, and the 2600 was nothing more than a promising idea on the horizon, anything could’ve been the next big thing. And not even necessarily anything that was a video game. Despite all of the legendary stories of executive meetings in hot tubs, on-the-job marijuana use, and blue-jeans-as-businesswear, it may just be that nothing provides as much concrete evidence of the heady, psychedelic early days of Atari as one of their most obscure products: Atari Video Music. Continue reading

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