Gaming

Electronic Games 1979: Addictive, Exciting, Primitive As Hell

After the first Pong cabinet was placed in Andy Capp’s Cavern in 1972, video games exploded, reaching their full stride by the late ’70s. Here are some of the notable games/systems you played (or would have played) back then:

Duck Hunt (1976)
Before Duck Hunt hit the NES as part of the most famous (and arguably most successful) gaming bundle of all time, Nintendo released a version of the game as a standalone toy. A revamp of their IR-based Laser Clay Shooting System! (1973), Duck Hunt used a battery powered lightgun and projector to fly ducks randomly around your wall. Tastefully, there was no little dog there to laugh at you when you inevitably ran out of batteries. [See Duck Hunt in action here]

The Atari 2600 (1977)
Parents may hate consoles now, but the Atari 2600 was greeted with open arms by parents who were happy to keep their kids safe at home rather than exploring seedy arcades. It wasn’t the first modern (cartridge-based) console—that award goes to the 1976 Fairchild Channel F. But Fairchild gave up on games before the phenomenon had passed while Atari became the best selling Christmas gift of 1979. Powered by a 1.19MHZ processor and bundled with two joysticks, two paddles (for Pong) and a game, the launch price was $US199. That doesn’t sound like much, but in when adjusted for inflation since 1977, that was about $US700.

Simon (1978)
In 1974, Atari released an arcade cabinet called Touch Me. It was a critical flop. But four years later, a pair of inventors tweaked the game, shrinking it down to portable sizes and adding colour to the formerly black buttons. The result? Simon, the addictive memory-music game that holds up to this day. Sold by Milton Bradley, a slew of clones would pop up over the years. But c’mon, Simon they were not.

Really Bad Sports Games
Sports are hard enough to stomach on their own, but Atari’s early versions of baseball, basketball and football, while necessary to the evolution of video game sports, were simply horrible. With the exception of Activision’s 1981 Ice Hockey, none of these games have aged well because even in their simplified versions with limited rule sets and minuscule rosters, the very premises of these sports are far wider in scope than any early era video game. Then again, Pong, made in the early ’70s, may be the best “tennis” game of all time.

Space Invaders (1978)
Space Invaders is, quite simply, the biggest arcade game of all time. Taito’s simple game incorporated sci-fi elements like lasers and aliens to a humble 5×11 grid of monochromatic descending sprites. (In fact, Space Invaders was never technically in colour—coloured cellophane was merely laid over the monitor.) It’s been attributed to coin shortages in Japan and the rise of mainstream arcade prominence in the US. And while Pac-Man would also be a mega force of its own, he wouldn’t be around until 1980.

Coleco Telstar Arcade (1977/78)
No, the Coleco Telstar Arcade did not revolutionise gaming forever, it’s just a personal favourite. Before the rise of cartridge-based consoles, single-title home arcade units were extremely popular. There was a huge market of PONG clones that were essentially a base unit with knobs that plugged into your TV. Anyway, Coleco made a lot of these dedicated machines, but their most advanced/ridiculous was the Telstar Arcade. The triangle base unit contained Pong, gun and racing controls, plus it actually accepted additional (triangle-shaped) cartridges to expand gameplay. I sort of wish that the Xbox 360 were designed so ludicrously.

Adventure (1979)
It might not look like much now, but Adventure was, aptly, the first action/adventure video game. A modest 4KB, Adventure followed a dragon-slaying hero through a labyrinth of mirrored environments (the Atari simply wasn’t capable of more complex levels) in his quest to transport a chalice to a yellow castle. Grand! And beyond its invention of an entire genre, the game introduced the concept of inventory (to hold contemporary gaming mainstays like swords and keys). What Adventure was missing was the motivation of a damsel in distress. [Try it here]

Asteroids (1979)
One ship stuck in an asteroid field—duplicate that idea in arcade cabinet form over 56,000 times and you have Asteroids, Atari’s best selling arcade game of all time (though admittedly only about a third as successful as Taito’s Space Invaders). As players blew the heck out of space rocks, they also had to control inertia in what’s considered the first real physics based game. The effect is akin to a dogfight on ice. [Try it here]


Pinball Wizardry
It’s tough to think of the year 1979 without Pete Townshend popping into your head. So what was going on in terms of Pinball in that era? Circuitboards. In 1977, Bally’s Lost World became the first pinball machine to replace chimes with electronic sounds. And by 1979, Williams’ Gorgar introduced the first pinball game with a continuous soundtrack. But since this was the ’70s we’re talking about, we’ll remind you that Kiss pinball came out, too, and people weren’t playing it with any aura of self-deprecation.

Sources: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 and a healthy dose of Wikipedia/wasted youth] .

Gizmodo ’79 is a week-long celebration of gadgets and geekdom 30 years ago, as the analogue age gave way to the digital, and most of our favourite toys were just being born.