Arcade Games Turning 40 in 2017

arcadehero January 11, 2017 4

With a new year upon comes the opportunity to reflect on games past. As usual we will start with the 70s and games turning the ripe age of 40. Prepare to feel old!

Here are your games Turning 40:

In no particular order

#1: Space War/Space Wars (Vectorbeam/Cinematronics)

The history of Cinematronics and Vectorbeam is an interesting one, with plenty of drama going on behind the scenes. It was based on the popular game that was found on various mainframes across the country, this launched a whole new genre of games thanks to the vector monitor design. Vector monitors had existed previously but not in a way that the amusement business could use them.

Space Wars

The arcade version of Space War would provide similar 1v1 action with each player controlling a space ship that could fly around the screen and fire. The game also featured keyboard-style keys on the control panel that allowed the user to play different variations (such as the addition of a star in the center). Space Wars quickly skyrocketed up the charts and was the number 1 game in the industry until Space Invaders came along the next year; even then it stayed in the top 10 earnings wise for a few years. I came across one of these years ago and was surprised by how many ribbon cables were in the machine.

#2: Super Bug (Atari/Kee Games)

One of the last games produced under Atari’s ‘Kee Games’ label but mainly significant for the graphics technique that it used. That was the first documented use of 8-way scrolling in a video game. Such a technique would become vital to many games down the road. It also was Atari’s first game to offer multiple language options.

Compared to modern racing games this one isn’t particularly exciting against the timer+the procedurally generated track instead of opponents. It did have a four speed shifter and a cool ‘crunch’ effect when you would crash. The cabinet also had excellent artwork as Atari was prone to add to their games.

#3: Starship-1 (Atari)

Another significant title from Atari that came along in a year where sci-fi fever was getting another jump start thanks to the release of Star Wars. This game had more of a Star Trek flare to it however, as development would have started before the world knew what Star Wars was. You pilot the “Starship Atari” in an effort to “save the Federation”. Enemies look just like Klingon ships or the Doomsday Machine (with a goofy face) while friendly ships would use a design that would show up in Star Trek II five years later.

Starship 1 Atari

This game pioneered another effect that would become big news in game consoles in the early 90s, scaled raster effects. It also sported elaborate artwork on the cabinet, particularly on the monitor bezel. Atari would attempt to make a version of this for their Atari 2600 game console that same year but it wasn’t very good.

#4: Car Polo (Exidy)

This driving game really stands out among the releases of 1977 thanks to the full color graphics running on a 25″ color monitor. While it wasn’t the first video game to do so, this was still a rarity among arcade titles of the day.

Car Polo

The game itself was a unique multiplayer experience for up to four players (the computer would control any car that a person didn’t). Each player controls a car that they use to bump, push and pass a ball around the playfield to make a score on the opposing team’s goal. It didn’t get more complicated than that but it didn’t have to.

#5 – Circus (Exidy)

Here is a game that gained a lot of attention on home consoles but not through an official port. Atari would ‘borrow’ the concept (like so many had done to them with the likes of Pong, Tank, Breakout, etc.) for their Circus Atari game on the Atari 2600. If clowns aren’t your thing, then it is time for some nightmare fuel via the Circus arcade machine flyer:

Granted the original Exidy arcade version did have better resolution graphics than Circus Atari as the balloons look like real balloons instead of blocks. The game plays just the same as you have a paddle controller that is used to move the clown+springboard from side-to-side. The monitor was a B&W tube with color overlays.

#6 – Triple Hunt (Atari)

Going back over to Atari is this interesting concept that offered up the interchangeable game idea. Triple Hunt featured three different games that the operator could switch between: Hit The Bear, Witch Hunt and Raccoon Hunt. They were all gun games that were essentially shooting gallery style in nature.

As the computing technology of the time was still very basic, operators would not only change out the software of the game they wanted but the artwork inside of the cabinet too. Just install the corresponding artwork and you were good to go. This was also possibly the first game to use the half-silvered mirror effect in a video game meaning that the graphics would appear to overlay the detailed artwork thanks to the trick used.

#7 – Canyon Bomber

This is one of those games whose concept sounds great at first but kind of falls flat when you play it – at least in solo. As the title implies, you are bombing a canyon. Why you are doing so doesn’t matter, what does is that you rack up the most points by the end of the timed round while getting as few misses as possible. Rocks are marked with a number, indicating how many points they are worth.

Where this game does shine is in 2 player as you battle it out with a friend to see who is the best bomber. You can play as a blimp or a bi-plane.

#8 – World Cup (Sega)

At this point in game history, the technology had improved enough that you could create sports games that involved a ball without it being a ball & paddle game ala Pong and the many produced variations. Such was the case with Sega’s World Cup video game.  Granted, this is a far cry from Virtua Striker and a bit of a rarity but it still managed to be interesting, thanks to the controls.

This one used a fairly unique control scheme – a trackball (that they call in the flyer a “ball-type control”) for player movement and a knob for ball control.

#9 – M-79 (Ramtek)

Nobody remembers Ramtek, but it wasn’t due to a lack of trying on their part. They wouldn’t survive to see the Golden Age reach the fever pitch but they did produce this mounted grenade launcher game with cast aluminum guns.

More importantly is the tech behind the game. Games using microprocessors/CPUs had been done since 1975 with Midway’s Gun Fight but this game upped the ante by using a CPU in the monitor too. This game used a true memory-based raster scan display, which later became standard.

#10 – Pool Shark (Atari)

Last but not least is yet another game from Atari. That kind of happens with any decade in the 70s and there is a good reason why they dominated the scene at the time (when we do 1987 here soon however, that will change). Pool Shark brought video billiards to the arcade although this did not have quite the effect that video pinball would have up against pinball machines.

Among Atari machines, this one is not very common. I imagine it would have fared better had it used a color screen instead of a B&W one.

Honorable Mentions:

Games that would have a spot above if they had more of a name or if there was more info about them

Twin Course T.T – Long before Manx TT there was the predecessor Twin Course. This game is virtually unknown as like many Sega releases from the 70s, there is little information to be found on it. It did feature two monitors in one cabinet though, allowing users to race against an opponent without having to share you screen.

2 Game Module – Another concept from Atari that was a unique cabinet design created to run two existing Atari titles in the same cabinet while taking up little space. It also pioneered the use of two monitors in one cabinet.

Boot Hill – Midway’s follow-up to Gun Fight. Not much changed in this Wild West shoot out game, other than adding a colorful background overlay behind a half-silvered mirror for a cool effect

Bazooka – This mounted bazooka shooting gallery style game stood out for that controller, otherwise it has been forgotten by time, much like the game’s creators, Project Support Engineering.


  1. Shaun Holley January 13, 2017 at 10:24 am - Reply

    Really like these features. Looking forward to the 1987 one. I’m playing Alien Syndrome now, which I think was released Jan ’87.

  2. Ryan Arnold January 17, 2017 at 2:57 pm - Reply

    There is a working Space Wars cabinet at Grinkers arcade in Boise Idaho. I played it there last summer. I’m not sure if all the buttons were original (they appeared to be as far as I could tell) but it was an excellent game with fantastic build quality. A total blast to play.

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