The industry in the beginning of the 1980s was alive with simple arcades and wood-grained consoles. Arcade companies started churning out iconic titles like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man while Atari dominated the console market. With the industry generating about $5 billion in the early 1980s it was no wonder why you had companies from all over America wanting a piece of the pie, like the one that originally produced shoe leather. Today, we will dig for the hidden gems of that time period and we’ll talk about how they came to be. So without further ado here are my games of the early 1980s.
(Namco) 1 Player – 1982
We’ll start off with a long running game that you can still find on modern consoles. Xevious was released on the same hardware that you would find running the Galaga arcade. In Japan, it was Namco who released it in arcades and became a huge cult hit with some saying it’s one of the best games of all time, while Atari released the game in the US but did not see the same success. The game brought a few innovations despite being overlooked by gamers. For one, the game had amazing textures for that era (by using a trick called Palette-Shifting) and featured the first time a game had separate buttons for air and ground weapons. It also featured the first in-level bosses with central “cores” that you had to destroy as well as the first to have a hidden bonus that can be revealed by a secret maneuver. And finally it was the first arcade game ever to have it’s own commercial. Such innovations would not help this game in the US however. Some believe that the game did alot of what other shoot-em-ups did and so gamers were drawn to the more popular titles.
Not being from that era, I did feel as if the game was your average shoot-em-up, albeit with older graphics. While I can appreciate what it did to the industry, today the game feels dated. The innovations brought on with this game are definitely must haves in this day and age, and as such, doesn’t give the game any “charm”. The one redeeming factor for me at least was having to play the game in 3D Stereoscopic mode playing the Nintendo 3DS port. While playing a similar game – Gyruss – I felt that Gyruss was just more different and with me being all about outside-the-box game design I felt that Gyruss just had enough to keep me interested.
Raid On Bungeling Bay
(Brøderbund) 1-2 Players – 1984
In 1984, Will Wright of Sim-City fame created his very first video game which turned out to be quite an ambitious one. As a child, Will had a fascination with helicopters which led him to create this action-strategy title. The game was originally coded for the Apple II but later scrapped and ported to the Commodore 64. During development, he had written a map-building program for the Commodore called Weldt which then led him to create Sim-City. Raid On Bungeling Bay was done completely by Will from the coding, the art, to the game design. He had pitched the idea to many studios, one of which was working out of an old liquor store who Will eventually landed a deal with. He recounts during a conference in 2011 of “wanting a very large world that I could really get lost in, and feel like it was that large.” That was the feeling that I had when playing the game myself.
Raid On Bungeling Bay does share some similarities as Time Pilot 84. While you are a sort of aircraft and you shoot in all directions, that’s where the similarities end. The feel of the game is more akin to the 1994 Urban Strike with it’s 360 degree movement and ability shoot, drop bombs, and land. You start on an aircraft carrier in the middle of a body of water and as you move around the world you will eventually hit land. There are enemies and factories sprawled across the level and your main goal is to kill as many as you can. As you roam the world while killing off enemies, they seem to respawn endlessly. Not only that but the next time you go back to the same spot there are more buildings and more advanced weaponry. This goes on until you are overwhelmed and get shot down.
The world does seem to be controlled by an unseen entity building and advancing their empire. With the emergence of simulators from the previous years and the advancement of artificial intelligence in games, it seems that players were facing a much smarter enemy.
(Mattel) 1 Player – 1982
B-17 Bomber was developed for the Intellivision and was 1 of 3 games to utilize the Intellivoice Synthesizer Module, an add-on that gave games a voice that sounded similar to Steven Hawking. Development started in 1981 with John Sohl spearheading the project which started out as an air traffic controller but quickly became the game we know today once artist Bob Del Principe was added to the team. The first version was too big for the cartridge and did not have solid mechanics. When developers Steve Roney and William Fisher joined (after finishing 2 other games for the add-on) the game was still well behind schedule and needed additional help from the Mattel Electronics staff to get it to ship on time in the final weeks. One interesting tidbit was on the last day before shipping where they persuaded a random visitor to Mattel to play 30 minutes of the game which was the only stint of game testing B-17 Bomber had ever received.
In B-17 Bomber you are a pilot of a Boeing B-17 flying fortress and your mission is to fly across the English Channel to destroy multiple targets across Europe. The idea of having 9 menus (switching is done by using the dial) shows its brilliance as you choose a target, fly to it, fend off fighter planes, watch your gauges, bomb on the target, then go back to England to refuel and repeat. Having to constantly switch menus does keep you on your toes all the while you have this voice advising (read:yelling) you where the target is seen.
I felt that the game made proper use of the voice synthesizer to instill the urgency of the situation. By using the add-on, it seems that Mattel wanted to differentiate itself from the rest of the market that was rife with clones and botched releases. With a slightly higher definition than its rival – the Atari 2600 – we were starting to see the early workings of what an action-simulator game can be. Other games such as B-1 Nuclear Bomber seem primitive in comparison with it’s text parser and it’s un-animated cockpit view. I would highly recommend playing this game if you’re into early combat flight simulators.
And there you have it. Keep in mind that we had the video game crash of 1983 that affected mostly the console and arcade market while computer games stuck around. I hope you enjoyed my list of games from the early 1980s. Next time we will look at games in the later 1980s and we will dig at how they became to be.