Arcade game maker Midway introduces the coin-op video game Galaxian in American arcades. The game, originated in Japan by Namco, is the first entry in a fruitful relationship between the two companies; another game in the works at Namco will prove to be huge windfall for Midway in 1980.
Magnavox releases the video game cartridge War Of Nerves for the Odyssey2 video game system, designed and programmed by Ed and Linda Averett. With an emphasis on giving orders to a robot army not directly under the player’s micro-managed control, this may be the earliest example of a real-time strategy video game.
Fed up with Atari’s refusal to grant them bylines on the best-selling games they’ve been designing and programming for the Atari VCS, Atari employees Alan Miller, David Crane, Larry Kaplan and Bob Whitehead quit their jobs and form the first third-party video game software house, Activision, with former music executive Jim Levy aboard as the new company’s CEO. Infuriated, Atari files a raft of lawsuits alleging theft of trade secrets, but is ultimately unable to get an injunction preventing Activision from releasing games for the VCS.
After over a year of play testing and preparation, Mattel Electronics launches the first major competitor to the market-dominating Atari VCS video game console: Intellivision (short for “Intelligent Television”). Boasting superior graphics and a library of the first-ever licensed sports titles (though licensed by various pro sports leagues, rather than by specific teams or individuals), Intellivision is well-poised to enter a market where sports games are all-important.
Sierra On-Line releases its first computer game, Hi-Res Adventure #1: Mystery House, for the Apple II computer. Pairing simple text descriptions with even simpler line art, the game marks a turning point in computer adventure games, and sets Sierra on a course to become one of the best-selling game software houses of the ’80s.
Atari releases the home version of Space Invaders as a cartridge for the Atari 2600, the first time that a video game company has licensed another company’s game for home play. (All of Atari’s arcade ports up to this point have been home versions of Atari arcade games.) It turns out to be an astute move: Space Invaders is the “killer app” of the VCS, becoming so popular that the cartridge boosts sales of the system needed to run it.
Atari scores a direct hit on arcades everywhere with Missile Command, a game which reminds video game-obsessed youth that the Cold War is still on. (In the months it takes to develop the game, programmer Dave Theurer has recurring nuclear-war-themed nightmares.) Cementing the trakball as a viable controller for fast-paced, non-sports games, Missile Command inspires a popular home video game cartridge (which, in the interest of not giving young gamers nightmares, dispenses with the Cold War theme in favor of a science-fiction explanation of the missiles’ origin).
Under license from Namco, the game’s Japanese originators, Midway Manufacturing introduces the obsession that is Pac-Man to American arcades. Titled Puck-Man in its homeland (due to the yellow character’s resemblance to a round hockey puck), Midway swaps vowels for fear that vandals will turn the letter P into an F on the arcade cabinets. With its cute characters and instinctive game play, Pac-Man catches on immediately, propelling the video game industry into overdrive.
Arcade game maker Midway introduces the coin-op video game Rally-X in American arcades. The game, originated in Japan by Namco, is rolled out at a 1980 trade show for amusement and arcade machine operators alongside another Namco/Midway import, Pac-Man. With its more-accessible-to-mainstream-America race car elements, Rally-X is considered the hot favorite of the two, possibly a major hit in the making.
Atari releases the Adventure cartridge for the Atari VCS home video game system. Designed and programmed by Warren Robinett, Adventure is the first of its kind – a VCS game with a playing field larger than the TV screen, mapped out in the program’s memory – but later becomes better remembered for one “room” in the game’s maze which contains the programmer’s name, one of the earliest video game “Easter eggs.”
Chicago-based pinball manufacturer Stern makes one of its earliest forays into the booming video game industry with an altered version of the hit game Space Invaders, retitled Astro Invader. The game proves successful enough for Stern to invest in development of original games.
Japanese import Moon Cresta bursts into American arcades, challenging veterans of previous slide-and-shoot space games to dodge its never-ending waves of multi-colored invaders. Also on display is the best metaphor ever for “extra lives”: the player has to assemble a three-stage rocket to fight off the attackers.
Cinematronics’ vector graphics arcade wargame Armor… Attack hits the market, pitting players against armed ground vehicles and enemy helicopters. (Of course, players have to insert their entire defense budget of 25 cents first, and even then, it’s still down to reflexes.)
Atari releases the arcade game Asteroids Deluxe in the United States, adding shields and other twists to the familiar game play of the smash hit Asteroids.
California Pacific Computer releases the computer role playing game game Ultima for the Apple II. Written by Richard “Lord British” Garriott, and developed from the design work in Garriott’s earlier game Akalabeth, this is the beginning of the best-selling Ultima series of RPGs.
Cinematronics releases the cult classic arcade game Star Castle, a vector graphics game sending players on a mission to create a tiny vulnerability in a space station’s colorful rotating defense shields. Once its shields have been penetrated, a well timed shot can destroy the enemy fortress.
Atari releases the arcade game Battlezone in the United States, bringing back Tank’s double joysticks but putting the player in the tank in a first-person perspective (complete with “shattered glass” is enemy artillery takes the player’s tank out of commission).
Pinball manufacturer Stern Electronics establishes a firm foothold as a maker of video games with the paranoia-inducing coin-op Berzerk. Featuring voice synthesis disturbingly similar to the voices of Battlestar Galactica’s Cylon warriors, and a bouncy, smiling killer named Evil Otto who appears with little or no warning, Berzerk becomes a cult classic (even meriting a serenade on Buckner & Garcia’s 1982 album Pac-Man Fever).
Boasting a tricky dual-joystick control scheme allowing players fine-tuned control over their on-screen character’s movements, Crazy Climber invades arcades in the States following its introduction in Japan. Cheerfully urging players to “Go for it!”, the cult arcade classic makes splattering on the sidewalks seem fun.
Having just opened up its American branch, Japanese video game manufacturer Nintendo introduces its first arcade game, the virtually-unknown space shooter Radar Scope. The game fails to make a splash, and many of the Radar Scope cabinets in Nintendo’s warehouse are later converted into their next (and far more profitable) game, which involves a plumber saving a woman from a gorilla.
The Odyssey2 video game console’s answer to Space Invaders, Alien Invaders – Plus!, hits stores. Though patterned after the familiar layout of the arcade game, the Odyssey edition offers some interesting variations, especially once the player runs out of protective shields.
After a mad last-minute rush to prepare it for display at the 1980 Amusement Machine Operators of America (AMOA) trade show, Williams Electronics debuts what will become its most successful arcade game, Defender. With a more complex control panel than nearly any video game since Computer Space, Defender is ignored at AMOA, only to become a top earner in arcades (and a source of bragging rights for those who master the control scheme).
Universal (a video game manufacturer unrelated to the Hollywood studio of the same name) introduces the minor arcade classic Space Panic, a game which goes down in history primarily for inspiring the home computer game hit Lode Runner later in the decade. Space Panic is also the first arcade game in which success is dependent on the player climbing ladders, a year before the release of Donkey Kong.
American pinball manufacturer Stern Electronics releases a video game licensed from Japanese game maker Konami Industries, Scramble. Though it earns a small but loyal following among arcade gamers, Scramble‘s true claim to history will be in setting a legal precedent: it later becomes the first video game whose code is copyrighted as a literary work in its own right as Stern seeks to take down bootleggers who copy the game’s program and brazenly market it under the same name.
Atari releases the home version of Missile Command as a cartridge for the Atari 2600. The manual included with the game explains the missile attack as the product of an alien invasion, not Reagan-era Cold War tensions. Though the cartridge is an instant best-seller, its programmer receives a reward that convinces him to look for work somewhere other than Atari.
Better known for making jukeboxes and speakers, Rock-Ola dips its toes into the video game industry by releasing Warp Warp in the United States. The arcade game, originated in Japan by Namco, features cute, colorful characters in a maze setting, not entirely unlike Pac-Man, but fails to catch on in American arcades.
Exidy’s swashbuckling coin-op video game Venture arrives in arcades, letting players control the actions of the bow-and-arrow-shooting treasure hunter, Winky. The game’s unique structure provides an early example of an “interactive graphical menu” letting players choose which treasure room to plunder next – but a choice has to be made quickly, in real time, because there are still monsters that can kill Winky on the menu screen.
Sega introduces Astro Blaster to an arcade scene already awash in space shoot-’em-ups, but the game carves out a small niche for itself. Its greatest contribution, later on, may be in providing much of the inspiration for Activision’s home video game hit Megamania.
With game play similar to the coin-op hit Defender (but more detailed, colorful graphics), Universal introduces the minor arcade hit Cosmic Avenger in America. Though it never really sets earnings records, home video game rights are eventually snapped up by Coleco, which will offer a home version of Cosmic Avenger on its upcoming Colecovision console.
With one unprofitable flop behind it, the American branch of Nintendo has a lot riding on its second arcade game. Fortunately, it strikes gold with Donkey Kong, the coin-op which launches the careers of both Shigeru Miyamoto and a plumber named Mario (though in this game, he’s known as “Jumpman”). Nintendo is now in America to stay.
Challenging players to fly their space fighter through an array of twisty mazes in an attempt to reach the final goal – destroying the “brain” of an enemy rocket – SNK’s Vanguard is released in American arcades. This is one of the first coin-op video games to present the player with an option upon running out of “lives”: allow the game to end, or insert another quarter or token to continue from the last position.
The first game generated by west coast programmers working for Taito’s new American game design division, Qix hits the arcades, reeling players in with its weird sound effects, abstract game play, and an enemy that anticipates the look of Windows screen savers years before either Windows or screen savers exist. Qix becomes an instant cult classic, though it proves to be nearly impossible to replicate with the current generation of home video game hardware.
Not wanting to miss a piece of the Pac-Man pie, American pinball & video game manufacturer Williams Electronics releases Make Trax in Stateside arcades, one of the few Japanese-made games licensed by Williams for American release. Yet another maze chase game, Make Trax at least has the novelty of turning the player into a paintbrush trying to coat the entire maze with color.