Today is Atari’s 40th Anniversary which also marks a good time to look over 40 years of arcade games in general. What is your favorite arcade game and why?
Here’s something that I find quite interesting, Atari’s production and pricing numbers on all of their arcade machines from Pong to RUSH 2049 (actually up to Radikal Bikers as that is the last one with the numbers but a few others and 2049 are listed). Document at Atarigames.com. I would certainly be interested in finding this information for other companies like Sega, Namco, Taito and Midway if anyone has that out there. If you didn’t already, check out our recent post on the prototype arcades that Atari made over the years.
Many flyers here from The Arcade Flyer Archive. This is a general look at the arcade industry so it won’t be all about Atari, but what I find interesting from each year, just giving the highlights, important games or weird ones. I don’t have the time to go over every thing but I hope to cover a good deal. Because there is so much to cover (and I won’t even be scratching the surface on what came out), I am using a new feature the site is offering now, tabs. Just click on the tab for time period below to see games I have picked to highlight from that time. Each one will be image heavy so give it time to load if you are on a slow connection.
Just a note, I just started this the other day but realized that it was going to take forever to get this all up by the 27th. This just covers 1972 -1989, Part 2 is up now!
UPDATE: Tabs have been updated to improve loading times.
The game that really got the ball rolling, PONG
GOTCHA – First maze game, first controversial game (the original “boob” controllers”), First color game (was released in both B&W and Color).
Pong Doubles – First 4 player game
Tank – Most successful game of the year that saved Atari from closing down in the face of all the Pong clones out there.
Gran Trak 10 – First driving game ever. I had always thought that Tank! used a ROM chip first but actually Gran Trak 10 did and it was released before Tank was.
QWAK! – First arcade to use a light-gun, also was a single player game which was unusual at the time. Games didn’t have the capacity for AI really so most were two player titles. You could also argue that this was the first “first-person” game.
One On One – By a shortlived company called PMC. First basketball game, first to use “ball-top” joystick controllers. I have never understood why anyone thought burnt orange was “brilliant color” back in the 70s.
Fewer Pong clones overall, more original ideas coming to fruition
Gun Fight – First CPU-powered game, which gave the public a first chance to use a CPU-powered device, without them realizing it. This was actually a Taito game licensed for use in the States under Midway, the Japanese version of the game called Western Gun did not use a CPU but the logic chips most games were using at the time.
This year was the first time movies would start influencing games, in particular JAWS. Atari made an unlicensed Jaws game called Shark JAWS but the way they made the title made it look like it was an actual JAWS game. Also was Maneater by Project Support Engineering, notable for it’s awesome cabinet (but lousy game). You have to love the “Realistic ‘Chomp’ and ‘Scream’” the flyer promotes. US Billiards also made a title called SHARK, which used a maze concept for four players.
SKI – It was also the first year arcades began to dabble with simulator type games, such as with Allied’s SKI. Also that same year Allied released a vertical scrolling tank game called Fire Power that used a joystick and throttle, something that would become common in arcades much further down the road.
Hi-Way – The first sit-down driving game, by Atari
Indy 800 – 4 players? Pshaw you say. Indy 800 brought the joy of playing together in groups of eight, which when crammed around a single cabinet feels like massive multiplayer gaming. Players had their own controls, even a horn. The game also sported a 25″ color monitor. This game cost $6495 in 1975 dollars, which is equivalent to $28,241.61, according to DollarTimes.com. I guess I can’t complain too much about games which are about $7000 today.
Sega decided to lay off the Pong-A-Bee clones in ’75 to make Bullet Mark. This is back from when they would use real, but hollowed out/disabled guns in the games.
Super Flipper – Now that’s video pinball (by Chicago Coin)! They had to point out that it could be operated anywhere as there were still areas that banned mechanical pinball machines at the time.
Breakout – One of the more famous titles to come out this year, with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s hands in its creation.
Sea Wolf – The advent of the CPU allowed for more complex games to hit the market. This meant that concepts tackled with electro-mechanical games could be done with video now. Sega had made a game in the 60s called Periscope and now Midway tried the idea with Sea Wolf.
Heavyweight Champ – Relatively unknown Sega game that was the first one-on-one fighting game to hit the market. It used some unique controllers that allowed for high and low punches and large detailed characters on the screen which was pretty unusual at the time.
This year a new idea appeared that would catch fire among arcade manufacturers. That would be the light-cycle/snake type game. Companies that would jump in to this(its not clear who was first): Ramtek (Barrier), Meadows (Bigfoot Bonkers), and Gremlin (Blockade). A year later Midway created Checkmate, Atari did Dominos, Sega did Crash Course, Gremlin did another called Comotion. Midway’s title is the most interesting and advanced; While Ramtek’s Barrier had 4 player play, Checkmate’s single player allowed you to play against 3 CPU opponents which was new. It was the first game to have instant replay, it had music, and it was the first game I have seen to use commentary similar to what you would find in first person shooters many years later, such as “Player 2 meets his maker” or “Player 1 pronounced dead” when they die. Video is here, and below is the flyer for Atari’s Dominos which is the most interesting flyer out of the crowd.
Another idea that came into being about the same time in ’76 was the first person driver. Atari and Midway unveiled their concepts in this genre at the same trade show, with Night Driver and 280 ZZZAP respectively.
Death Race – Video games avoided controversy for a while after Gotcha, until Exidy put themselves on the map with Death Race.
Cops N’ Robbers – First game to use angled glass to create a depth effect with the cabinet, which was borrowed from electromechanical games. This would be used in many games afterwards, proving to be an effect arcades could pull off best since the only way to do it at home would be to build your own arcade cabinet.
Amazing Maze – Among Midway’s first forays into non-Pong clones. Over a million maze combinations gave it replay value but its important contribution to games digital music was a bit of a turn off. Not the best example of music but it was early tech. You might want to turn the speakers down on the video here.
Fonz – Before he jumped the shark, the popular Fonzie(Henry Winkler) from Happy Days starred in his own video game. This would be the first to use a celebrity in a game. This also got around the limitation with digital sound by using a tape deck for music.They didn’t use him in this advertisement for the game though.
Arcades had a good bump from the games of ’76 and ’77 would build on that. The Star Wars craze would hit this year, which would influence many games to come. The hunger for space-related content was shown primarily with…
Space Wars – First vector arcade game, most popular game of ’77 and remained so until Space Invaders came the next year. It was still in the top 10 games of 1980 and sold over 30,000 units for Cinematronics. Based on popularity you could say this is where the Golden Age began but its often overlooked and forgotten that it was a “killer app” at the time.
Starship 1 – Using the increased popularity of Star Trek and improving on the reflected graphics technique by combining it with a black light, this game also used a yoke controller, scaling raster graphics (I recall that being a big deal in the 90s with the Lynx, Genesis and SNES but didn’t know at the time arcades had done it over a decade earlier), and the use of detailed comic book style artwork around the monitor bezel.
Subs – Not all games were about space battles. In fact quite a few military style games came out this year. Subs was the first game to use two monitors, which were overlaid with a green film that included a radar type display that isn’t shown in the video below. By Atari.
Canyon Bomber – A sort of reverse Breakout by Atari which did well enough it was ported to the Atari 2600. This had support for English, German, French and Spanish.
Car Polo – A 4-player color game by Exidy where you use cars to play soccer.
Circus – An Exidy game that took the Breakout concept to another level, with clown popping balloons. Several other companies would make concepts like this afterwards.
M-79 Ambush – Aside from the detailed guns this game was the first to use raster memory and a dedicated chip for the video. This allowed for smoothly animated sprites as you can see below. It also used an angled screen for better screen detail than the video can show. By Ramtek.
Drag Race – Used real analog tachometers to indicate when you should shift
Super Bug – Another driving game but one that would use a new graphics technique that Atari patented. They used that in lawsuits against other companies like Sega years later. That was the scrolling playfield.
Some consider this the beginning of the Golden Age although I think that it’s hard to pin point exactly as some good games came out in the previous two years and as mentioned, Space Wars sold a Golden Age level number of games and was released the year prior. Either way this was an important year.
Space Invaders – May as well start out with The Big One, Taito’s Space Invaders. A lot of games up to this point were timed and SI bucked that trend with waves of enemies that would keep coming. One version of the cabinet used that angled glass technique mentioned in other games to create a more exciting playfield than just black. Some regions had coin shortages and arcades without one were shunned, all because of this game. Produced and distributed by Midway in the US.
Avalanche – This concept is popularly known through Activision’s KABOOM! on the Atari 2600. Activision programmers had been working for Atari at the time Avalanche was done.
SkyDiver – This moved into simulator territory by using actual ripcord controllers to pull your chute. This was also the first (and one of very few) arcade games to use a pinball type feature, where the marquee would light up the letters SKYDIVER. If the player lights them all up, they got a double bonus score
FROGS – Before Frogger, there was this.
Fire Truck – Using the same graphics technique that had been done with Super Bug, Fire Truck was also the first co-op game on the market
Atari Football – Popular sports game that introduced trakball controllers for a new way to control the action. The speed of the player is direct tied to how fast you spin the trackball. The two player version was released in Oct 1978, the 4 player version below April 1979. In 1979, Atari re-used the trakball technology with more sports games including Atari Baseball, Soccer, Basketball
The last year for this decade had plenty of cool games to find. The space craze continued unabated and was capitalized on further this year. Color games began to get some legs this year as well, as they had only come out in very few numbers previously.
Asteroids – Atari used vector technology for the first time with Lunar Lander, but a concept they had been working on for a while would become much more popular in Asteroids. This was Atari’s Space Invaders in a way, it led to the development of larger cash boxes to handle the amount of quarters gamers were putting into the machines.
Galaxian – Namco knew that capitalizing on the Space Invaders craze was a good risk and it paid off for them with Galaxian. It’s smooth full color graphics and unique enemy patterns equaled an instant hit. Manufactured and marketed by Midway in the US.
Star Fire – An Exidy game that was a take on Star Wars without the license, gained popularity quickly and also was the first example of an “environmental cockpit” cabinet.
Fire One – I remember a DOS game with ASCII graphics that in the instructions it told me to make my own cardboard screen divider to play the game. If I had Fire One’s split screen divided cabinet, that would have been much easier, plus a great color screen. By Exidy
Field Goal – Taito really like the Breakout idea as first shown by their colorful, football themed game.
Warrior – Often thought of as the first one-on-one fighter although it came after Sega’s Heavyweight Champ (still, we could use more info on HC since it is very hard to come by). Still was a cool idea, top-down view of two knights duking it out with pits on the screen. Angled glass allows artwork to fill in the black space as a static screen image. It’s worth showing both sides of the flyer on this one.
Phantom II – Predecessor to the vertical shooters that would dominate the later 80s.
The first full decade of arcade games would give us numerous classics to choose from. 1980 in particular was a busy year for new game releases.
Pac-Man – One of the best selling arcade games ever, setting the bar at around 100,000 units. Ms. Pac-Man would also do extremely well. Namco has released numerous multi-game compilations with Pac-Man on it, the most recent of which is Pac-Man’s Arcade Party.
Defender – Another big hit this year and an original by Midway instead of a Japanese import that was exact opposite of Pac-Man in terms of complexity. Great colorful, scrolling graphics and quite a challenge.
Missile Command – Nuclear war was on people’s minds aplenty so this game gave you an out for that. Used a trakball for precision control, released in four different cabinet designs including a environmental cockpit cabinet.
BattleZone – A first-person experience where the action wasn’t off-rails. View the action through a scope type viewer, blast the 3D tanks and saucers that appear. When I discovered this at a local arcade years ago you could hardly peel me away from it. It holds up great all these years later, as many of these games do.
Berzerk – Destroy the robots and stay ahead of Evil Otto, the smiley face that hunts you from room to room relentlessly. Stern’s first top seller, this game used voice to sort of taunt the player and provoke them. This is also known as the first game to cause player deaths in two instances.
Star Castle – A game kind of like Space Wars but with a few twists such as massive fortress with spinning rings protecting the enemy in the center. The game was among the first to try out some artificial intelligence.
Armor Attack – Kind of like Atari’s Tank from a while back but now using awesome vectors
Stratovox – Had Atari released Wolf Pack in 1978 they would have received this accolade, but they didn’t so Taito’s Stratovox received the honor of being the first game to use voice.
Steel Worker – A not-so-well known strategy puzzle game by Taito
Space Tactics – The first game to use a moving monitor, by Sega. The control panel and cockpit cabinet made this feel like a simulator experience. This could be considered to have a hand in VR technology that would come along in the next decade.
Moon Cresta – Data East found a way to stand out in the field of Galaxian-esque shooters – make enemies with wild patterns and allow your ship to power-up through multiple stages. These concepts became pretty standard down the road.
Donkey Kong – Nintendo’s great platformer game that has become a holy grail for high score competition.
Tempest – Atari went to work to come up with a first-person kind of Space Invaders and the designer Dave Theurer is reported to have been inspired by a nightmare that gave him the breakthrough to create what became this. It was Atari’s first full color vector game, thus avoiding the need for screen overlays.
Centipede – Top down shooter from Atari that would become a big hit.
Galaga -Namco’s follow-up to Galaxian that was so good, I still have people asking me if I have it in my arcade these days.
Gorf – A talking game that took Space Invaders, Galaxian and a couple of other similar concepts blended into one game. An early example of a boss battle at the end of each set.
Qix – Great but strange strategy game. This would influence several sequels and similar games.
Venture – Cool adventure game in the vein of Berzerk
TRON – A movie license game that was so good, it made more money than the movie did.
Frogger – Get your frog across the road in this iconic game
Robotron 2084 – Tough as nails but great classic that would influence “twin stick shooters” for many years to come. By Williams
Liberator – A reverse Missile Command with cool graphics by Atari
Reactor – Gottlieb’s game creation of a nuclear reactor. Great sound on this one.
SubRoc 3D – 3D is trying to be all the rage these days; Sega gave it a spin in ’82 with a periscope system that used spinning discs to create the effect.
Moon Patrol – Moon rover shooter with a great tune. First example of “parallax scrolling” with the layered landscapes.
Dig Dug – The popular game by Namco, released by Atari in the US that had you digging around to pump up and explode underground creatures
Xevious – Top down vertical shooter that would set the standard for many, many games to follow. By Namco and Atari
Pole Position II – Formula One racing that solidified the popularity of racing games for the rest of time.
Dragon’s Lair - Not the first laserdisc game but certainly the most popular for the brief time the technology was a thing on the market
Star Wars – After a long wait, Star Wars finally came to arcades, in color vector graphics form and with a solid yoke controller.
Major Havoc – Awesome color vector platform game, used a roller for movement. Combined sidescrolling platform style play with space combat. Another one of my favorites
Discs of TRON – Couldn’t fit into TRON so they made it a game of its own. Environmental cabinet was awesome but huge
Spy Hunter – Tapping into James Bond, but without the license or music, top down shooter where you drive a car that can transform into other vehicles, shooting bad dudes along the way.
Crossbow – Interesting light-gun concept where you protect adventures as they slowly walk across the screen.
Cosmic Chasm – port of a home game (from the Vectrex) to arcade, but in color.
I, Robot – First game with full 3D graphics. Also had a weird drawing program you could play and a hall effect joystick, an analog type controller that relies on a magnetic effect.
TX-1 – Atari and Namco came together again to make a game like Pole Position but this time the cabinet was massive, sporting three monitors.
Karate Champ – By Data East, this brought one-on-one fighting into a realm that would more closely resemble what fighters became known for later and gave arcades a good boost.
Kung Fu Master – Jumping in on the marital arts craze, this game had weird enemies that would latch onto you if they touched you. This was probably the first beat ‘em up that would soon be copied by games like Double Dragon. By Irem
Marble Madness – Quirky game that you roll a marble down a surrealistic landscape to the goal. By Atari
1942 – A top down shooter by Capcom that became quite popular. This was actually the first arcade cabinet I ever purchased.
Cube Quest – Laserdisc space shooter that used 3D polygons for enemies, trakball for control.
I know the popular thing to say about this year is that Super Mario Bros came in and saved the entire industry but to really believe that, ignores the great games and contributions of titles in 1984 as well as 85 that kept people coming back to arcades.
Space Harrier – Strangely awesome game by Sega, a type of run ‘n gun/fly game. Sega made this in a standard cabinet but also as you can see here, a motion deluxe cabinet.
Gauntlet – Great 4-player co-op RPG game that brought people to arcades in droves.
Peter Pack Rat – Platformer game by Atari where it was a little like a blend of Donkey Kong and Pac-Man
Paperboy -I was a paperboy for a while around the age of 14. It wasn’t anywhere near this dangerous or fun.
Gradius – Popular sidescrolling shooter in space by Konami. Used a unique power-up system that would influence games down the road. Also known by the name of Nemesis
Ghosts N’ Goblins – Tough sidescrolling game with a medieval fantasy theme by Capcom
Outrun – Sega released this popular driving game in ’86, with a few different cabinet designs
Darius – Side scrolling shooters were rising in popularity and Darius stood out for its three monitor wide screen that used angled glass to remove black bars between screens as well as branching level select.
Bubble Bobble – What dinosaurs and bubbles had to do with each other never would have made any sense until this fun co-op game came along.
720 – Skateboarding brought to the arcades using a strange joystick that was like a trakball with a joystick poking out of it. Skate or Die!
Rampage – Smash buildings like it was a 50s style monster movie for 3 players. By Midway
Ikari Warriors – Top down shooter that was a lot like Taito’s Frontline, playing on the Rambo craze at the time. Introduced unique joysticks that would be twisted to change your character’s position.
APB – Be a police officer in this humorous off-rails game by Atari Games
XYBOTS – An evolution of the Berzerk concept and granddad to the DPS games that were just a few years away on PC. You could change the view by twisting the joystick ball top left or right.
After Burner – Awesome aerial combat game by Sega that came as a standard and motion deluxe cabinet. The game set a standard for aerial combat games to follow.
Contra – Side-scrolling action inspired by movies like Aliens and was as tough as nails
Double Dragon – Technos created an isometic beat ‘em up game that gained a huge following soon afterwards and launched a genre that continued on for a few years into the 90s. Had a surprise at the end if you played co-op with a friend.
Assault – Top down tank shooter by Namco and Atari Games.Used a dual joystick setup
Final Lap – Developed by Namco and manufactured/marketed by Atari Games in the US, this is the first arcade game to employ networking, up to 8 units could be linked. Linking racing games is standard in arcades today.
NARC – First arcade game to run on 32-bit hardware and first to use fully digitized and animated characters. Back from when arcades weren’t afraid to throw blood around.
Galaxy Force II -Taking a page from After Burner but putting it in outer space, this was primarily known for it’s super deluxe motion cabinet.
Tetris – Perhaps the most recognizable puzzle game ever, both Atari and Sega produced versions of this game this year.
Toobin’ – Navigate a river in a tube with this unusual obstacle course racing game by Atari Games
Syvalion – Play as a dragon in this weird maze/shooter combo game by Taito.
Hard Drivin’- 3D simulator driving with a detailed cabinet.
STUN Runner- Another 3D game by Atari Games that jumped into the future and featured a combat system
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The popular cartoon series showed it was a perfect fit for an arcade beat ‘em up
Cadash – A side scrolling RPG game by Taito for four players using two linked cabinets.
Tournament Cyberball 2072 – Unique football games involving robots, exploding footballs and dual screens
Final Fight – Excellent beat ‘em up by Capcom
Laser Ghost – Interesting 3 player light-gun game that used angled glass in the guns to create a laser sight on the screen.