Activision founded

BoxingFed 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.

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Intellivision introduced

IntellivisionAfter 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.

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Space Invaders invade homes

Space InvadersAtari 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.

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Missile Command

Missile CommandAtari 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).

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Pac-Man arrives in America

Pac-ManUnder 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.

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Rally-XArcade 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.

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Atari 2600Atari 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.”

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BerzerkPinball 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).

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Radar Scope

Radar ScopeHaving 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.

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DefenderAfter 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).

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Space Panic

Space PanicUniversal (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.

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ScrambleAmerican 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.

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VentureExidy’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.

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VanguardChallenging 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.

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QixThe 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.

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