In an era where we saw the launch of the Apollo 13 mission, the invention of the microprocessor, the LCD – and of course – the debut of Star Wars, it was a magical time of space and technology. It was also a time where your only entertainment was from each other. Luckily, Pong arcades were introduced and while they were wildly successful (making profits in the millions), video games were a unique and exciting thing that had spawned an entirely new market. In retrospect, the innovation in gameplay of the 70s were akin to the launch of the original PlayStation in the 90s with its quirky and ground-breaking titles. Today we will be looking at a few lesser known titles from the Golden Age of gaming. These hand-picked games were chosen either because of their leading-edge innovations or because they were simply entertaining. Oh, and did I mention that there were alot of space games? Here is my list of games from that era:
With SNK being a new company in 1978 (formerly known as Shin Nihon Kikaku, or “New Japanese Project”), the company was created to design and produce software and hardware components for many different business clients. Some brief time after, they saw the rapid growth of arcades which changed their direction to include coin-operated games according to The History of SNK.
Being the very first game from SNK , the Ozma Wars arcade ran on the same hardware as the Space Invaders arcade cabinet, the game that it is based on. It is a vertical space shoot-em-up that was the very first game to introduce a stage system as well as the first “energy bar” (read: counter) that not only depletes when getting hit but would slowly deplete over time. Your energy does get replenished but only at every fifth stage during a “docking scene”. This would repeat until your energy reaches zero. The game also featured enemy formations as well as events that had you fending off meteors or comets. Playing the game did feel like I was playing Space Invaders with it’s 2D plane of movement and fire button, however the background animations did make it feel as if I was moving forward in space. Enemies in this game would send you a barrage of projectiles in a bullet hell-esque way which did add to the difficulty. Today, many people consider this game to be the precursor to modern genre staples such as Konami’s Gradius and Irem’s R-Type.
Star Fire was a relatively successful first-person space shoot-em-up that broke alot of new ground in the gaming space by being one of the first sit-down arcade cabinets and was also the very first game to allow the player to enter their initials into the score table. Another innovative thing about this game was the ability to cause partial damage with a glancing shot. The game is known to have the look and feel of the Star Wars movie with it’s Tie-Tighter style enemies and the players primary weapon being 4 lasers shooting in an “X” pattern. Title screen even had the same font as the Star Wars logo. Due to it’s visual themes, LucasArts decided to use the same gameplay idea and went on to create the 1993 Star Wars Arcade.
Exidy – The company who created the notorious Death Race – created Vertigo, a little-known space shooter using motion simulators. Vertigo also used a sit-down cabinet and what had inspired the company to create more cabinets of this style, however Vertigo did not see the same success as Star Fire. In 1983 the game got ported to the Atari 8-bit family and Commodore 64, and in 2003 a homebrew port of the game was made for the Atari 2600. While playing this game, I felt the controls were a bit “loose” and I found myself swamped with enemies during the first few seconds of gameplay. The game uses clean sound samples and the graphics were quite colourful (maybe a bit much for space shooter). The game uses a system where you need to pump more quarters in to add more “fuel” to your ship. There are accounts of a sequel called Star Fire II that never came to fruition. On a serious note, the founder of Exidy (Harold Ray “Pete” Kauffman), passed away in July of this year. May his legacy live on.
Released in 1979 by Atari, Lunar Lander only sold 4,830 units during it’s release and was one of first games to be registered into the Copyright Office. Lunar Lander uses vector graphics which required a specialized monitor. The game was inspired by a similar game called Moon Lander created in 1973 by Jack Burness as a demo on another vector based computer. It used a light pen instead of the buttons and thruster of the arcade version. Moon Lander also had a an easter egg where if the player lands on the right spot, a McDonalds would appear on the moon. After having a short run with Lunar Lander, production was shifted over to “Asteroids” and had the first few hundred Asteroids machines housed in Lunar Lander cabinets. A port of the game was released for home computers in 1981, as well as a clone for the VIC-20. There are also modern remakes that you can play in your browser.
With my short time playing this game, I felt engaged watching my vertical and horizontal speed while making sure not to use up all my fuel as I land on any of the indicated spots. It was addicting and it felt similar to landing a plane in a video game. With me being a simulator buff, I felt right at home looking at the numbers and trying to carefully bring my velocity and angle down. A feature that I felt was important was the different levels of thrust that you can apply to your lander. This allows for more minute changes in velocity and direction. If you have the chance to play this game, I would recommend it.
You can see that games were headed in a certain direction. In today’s world, arcades have died off (at least in North America) but now you have console games that boast new gameplay mechanics. You have The Shadow of Mordor with it’s Nemesis System, and then you have Metal Gear Solid V with it’s FOB System to name a few.
With studios clamoring to get a piece of the pie and with technology advancing we then had a market that starts to become saturated. Next we will look at what games in that era and what happened during that time that made games the way they are today.
Thanks for reading!