A History of Star Trek at the arcades

Shaggy April 2, 2009 4


With important dates, new movies and a TV show coming along based on Star Trek, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at the history of Trek in arcades. I’ve long been a fan of Star Trek – I was five years old when Star Trek: the Next Generation came around and I was hooked on the show immediately. Of course where I am also an arcade fan, what better way to enjoy both than to look back at the history of Trek in arcades and how it has been involved in the coin-op arcade industry. This will include pinball machines and games that didn’t carry the title of Star Trek but were essentially Trek without the license.

Star Trek Wannabes

1: Star Trek by For-Play (1972) -Shortly before Pong made waves around the country, a small company decided to try their hand at making video games and for their first project they made a clone of the first but not-so-successful coin-op game Computer Space. That clone was named Star Trek, by For-Play. The Star Trek name was not startrek72licensed to the company but in the early and mid-70’s it wasn’t uncommon to see game companies doing this (for example, Atari would create a Jaws game a couple of years later without any license).

For-Play’s Star Trek did change one thing from Computer Space though – it simplified the controls from several buttons down to a joystick. Otherwise it was the same game but it didn’t really capture anyone’s attention at the time and it would not be long after that that Atari would release Pong which then started the video game craze. It is interesting to note that this Star Trek game was technically the second coin-op video game and not Pong but it probably would have done a little better had they not just decided to rip-off Computer Space pixel for pixel.


2: Starship 1 by Atari (1977) – While this does not carry the name Star Trek anywhere on the game, when you play it is quite obvious that Starship 1 was heavily influenced by the show. One might say that Starship 1 takes place in an alternate ST universe with you piloting the “Starship Atari” to save the Federation.

At your disposal is a yoke controller with one button to fire your phasers, another on the control panel to fire your “proton” torpedoes and a throttle control for speed. In the game you pilot the starship, shooting down enemy ships that appear on the screen while trying to avoid crashing into planets that constantly appear in your path. It is from the enemies where the game takes on even more from Star Trek – some ships are very close in design to Miranda-class ships (in fact this game pre-dates Star Trek II). It also used other designs that were obviously from Star Trek like a weird version of the Doomsday Machine (which have a huge face with a tongue sticking out) and Klingon BattleCruisers.

This game was notable for its detailed graphics (for the time) and the sprite scaling effect that would become very popular in the late 80s.

3:  Space Wars by Cinematronics (1977) – The very first game to use a vector monitor happened to be the best selling game that year and it also happened to have some Star Trek influence to it. The space war concept was not anything new – students had been creating a game like this for computers at universities for some time already but this would mark the first time that the concept would come to the public.

The idea for this game was enhanced by space battles people had seen in Star Trek with the Enterprise engaging alien space craft.  In fact for Space Wars, the second player ship is actually a Constitution-class starship. The game came in a huge cabinet and featured a control set that would be copied in later games like Asteroids and it also featured a number of variations that players could choose from, such as a sun or black hole at the center and more. I have read that this actually came out in 1976 but many sources say 1977. Either way, here’s a short video of the game in action.

4: Orbit by Atari (1978) – Orbit was Atari’s answer to Cinematronics Space Wars but instead of using a vector monitor, they opted for a raster (standard) monitor.  This took the Star Trek influence up a notch however as you could play as either the starship Enterprise or a Klingon Battle Cruiser.  This game also included many game variations like Space Wars did and it also was among the first Atari games to use professional, comic book style side art but the game did not do as well as the aforementioned title. Atari would later make up for this with their color vector game, Space Duel.

Official Star Trek Games

5: Star Trek Pinball by Bally (1979) – Often overlooked when it comes to gaming, Star Trek also has often appeared in the pinball arena – moreso than on the video game side if you are looking for official licenses.

The first officially licensed Star Trek pinball game was created by Bally and features artwork that ties it to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (as you can tell by the uniforms and the design of the Enterprise o