Origins: Pong was based on a Do Some Work game called ‘Tennis for Two,’ which was a simulation of a game of tennis on an oscilloscope. Physicist William Higinbotham, the designer, goes down in history as creating one of the first electronic games to use a graphical display.
The Concept: The game is intended to represent Tennis or Table Tennis (Ping Pong). Each player has a bat; the bat can be moved vertically. The screen has two horizontal lines on the top and bottom of the screen. A ball is ‘served’ and moves towards one player – that player must move the bat so that the ball hits it. The ball rebounds and moves back the other way. Depending on where the ball hits the bat, the ball will move in different directions – should it hit one of the top or bottom lines, it will bounce off. The idea is to make the other player miss the ball – thus scoring a point.
Gameplay: while it sounds utterly boring, the gameplay is actually very addictive. It is easy to play but tough to master, especially with faster ball speeds and more acute ‘bounce’ angles. Nostalgia: for me, this is the father of video driving games. Without Pong, you probably wouldn’t have video driving games – it started the craze that would continue to grow and become a multi-billion dollar industry. I will always remember this game!
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Origins: this game was developed by Konami in 1981 and was the first to introduce me to Sega. At the time, it was very novel and introduced a new style of game. The Concept: Easy – you want to walk from one side of the road to the other. Please wait a minute; there’s a lot of traffic; I better dodge the traffic. Phew, Made it – hang on, who put that river there. Better jump on those turtles and logs and get to the other side – hang on, that’s a crocodile! AHHH! It sounds easy – the cars and logs are in horizontal rows, and the direction they move, the number of logs and cars, and the speed can vary. You have to move you from up, down left and right, avoiding the cars, jumping on logs, and avoiding nasty creatures and get home – do this several times, and you move to the next level.
Game Play: Yet another simple concept that is amazingly addictive. This game relies on timing; you find yourself drinking in and out of traffic and sometimes going nowhere. The graphics are poor, the sound is terrible, but the adrenaline really pumps as you try to avoid that high-speed car or the snake hunting you down! Nostalgia: I love this game for many reasons. I played it for a long time but never really became an expert – however, it was the first-ever game I managed to reproduce using Basic on my ZX81 – I even sold about 50 copies in Germany!
2. Space Invaders
Origins: Tomohiro Nishikada, the designer of Space Invaders, was inspired by Star Wars and War of the Worlds. He produced one of the first shooting video driving games and drew heavily from the playability of Breakout. The Concept: aliens are invading the Earth in ‘blocks’ by moving down the screen gradually. As the intrepid savior of the Earth, it’s your task to use your solitary laser cannon by moving horizontally and zapping those dastardly aliens out of the sky. Luckily, you have four bases to hide behind – these eventually disintegrate, but they provide some protection from the alien’s missiles.
Game Play: this is a very repetitive game but highly addictive. Each wave starts a little closer to you and moves a little fast – so every new wave is a harder challenge. The game involved a fair amount of strategy as well as good hand-eye coordination. Nostalgia: I wasted a lot of time playing this game. While originally simply green aliens attacked, some clever geek added color strips to the screen, and the aliens magically changed color the lower they got – that was about as high tech as it got back in the days of monochrome video driving games!
Origins: Galaxians expanded on the Space Invaders theme by having aliens swoop down on the defender. It was one of the first driving games to have colored sprites. Concept: Take Space Invaders, add some color, remove the bases and make some of the aliens swoop down at you and you have Galaxians. Essentially the concept is the same as Space Invaders; you’re defending the world against alien invaders, but rather than the whole screen full of aliens moving down at you in a nice orderly fashion, you get groups of aliens swooping down in haphazard ways.
Gameplay: if you liked Space Invaders, then you’ll love this. The strategies are different, as you often have to avoid two or three different groups of alien ‘swoopers,’ but if you can shoot them as they swoop, then you get some great bonus points. The game is difficult until you get used to some of the patterns. Nostalgia: this was one of the first driving games that I played on a desktop computer that was almost exactly like the arcade game. I had an old Acorn Electron, and this game was almost perfect on this little machine. I miss my old Acorn Electron!
Origins: Williams Electronics created this game in 1980. The Game was designed by Eugen Jarvis, Sam Dicker, Paul Dussault, and SLarry DeMar. It was one of the first driving games to feature complex controls, with five buttons and a joystick. While slow to catch on due to its difficulty, it still was a popular game. Concept: Most of the shoot-em-up driving games of the era were horizontal shoot-em-ups. This game changed the playing field by being a vertical shooter. Yet again, aliens are intent on doing nasty things to earth – this time, they are trying to kidnap 10 humans. You are in charge of the sole defender and must kill the aliens before they kidnap the humans. You fly over a ‘landscape’ and can see your humans mulling around on the surface. The aliens appear and drop towards the humans – you can kill them at this point, but should they grab an alien, you must shoot the aliens and catch the human before the alien reaches the top of the screen.
Gameplay: This was a great game that was easy to play but tough to master. Shooting the aliens and catching the humans gave the best bonuses, which formed a major part of the strategy. Some different types of aliens chased you, making the game a lot more hectic than others; often, it was just a relief to finish a level. While not as addictive as some, it did give a feeling of achievement when you reached a high score. Nostalgia: I went on vacation with a friend for a week, and we spent the entire week in the arcade playing this game and the number one game on my list (I won’t reveal the name now!). It was one of the best memories of my teen years!
5. Missile Command
Origins: In July 1980, Atari published a revolutionary game. It didn’t have a joystick but had a ball that controlled an on-screen cursor. It was programmed by Dave Theurer and licensed to Sega. Concept: Those pesky aliens are getting smarter. Rather than sending space ships down to fight, they’re hiding in deep space and sending a bunch of missiles to blow up the Earth’s cities. This game was unique as it uses a ’round’ joystick. You used this to move to a point on the screen and then fire a missile into this spot – the culminating explosion would destroy any missiles that hit the ‘cloud.’ The missiles were essentially lines that moved down from the top of the screen at varying angles and speeds – some of them would split into multiple ‘missiles’ half ways down.
Gameplay: This is a very strategic game. Placing your bombs in the right place and timing them right could essentially clear the alien missiles quickly and easily. As the game moves on, you found yourself spinning the wheel frantically, trying to get the bombs in the right place. This game was adrenalin-pumping fun – sometimes you seemed to be up against impossible odds, and yet you’d breathe a sigh of relief when one city survived. Nostalgia: this was one of the first driving games I played on a tabletop machine. While these didn’t really catch on, it was still fun to be able to put a can of soda down while you played!
Origin: Pong heavily inspired this game. It was created in 1976 by Atari, with Nolan Bushnell and Stew Bristow being the key designers. It’s probably one of the most cloned driving games ever. Even today, there are new driving games based on the same theme coming out. Apparently, the Apple II computer was inspired by this game – wow, where would Steve Jobs be now without Breakout.
Concept: The idea is simple – you have a bat at the bottom of the screen that can move back and forth. Above you is a wall of bricks. A ball will move from your bat – every time it collides with a brick, the brick disappears, and the ball bounces back at you. Your task is simple – stop the ball from going off the bottom of the screen by placing your bat in the way and bouncing the ball back at the wall – you also have to remove all the bricks in the wall to progress to the next level!
Gameplay: This is a fairly difficult game to master. As the bricks get lower each level and the ball speed increases, it becomes more difficult to ‘break out.’ Sometimes, the ball’s angle comes off the bat is so acute that it is tough to judge where the ball will bounce! It’s one of those driving games where you keep on saying ‘just one more game,’ and before you know it, five hours have passed. Nostalgia: when I lived in Wales, we had a little utility room that housed books and my little ZX Spectrum – I spent hours playing this game as my Father sat and studied. It was like a male bonding session!
7. Hang On
Origin: This game was released in 1985 and was developed by Sega. It was one of the first ‘3D’ racing games and one of the first to introduce a ‘realistic’ aid to playing the game – that is, a larger replica motorcycle style cabinet with speed, brakes, and a throttle. This game became the benchmark for racing driving games and led to the highly praised Out Run series. The game cleverly used ‘billboards’ and trees to give you the feeling that you were moving at high speed.
Concept: You are a motorcycle racer – you sit on top of a bike and have to race around a 3d race track, overtaking other riders and reaching certain checkpoints within a time limit. The game featuring different places and conditions (such as night). Gameplay: Yet another easy game to play but very difficult to master. Timing the turns was essential, especially if other bikers got in the way. Each slight touch of another bike or crash into a barrier slowed you down and made it harder to reach the checkpoint in time. The awesome graphics (for the time) made this game pleasurable to play as you really felt you were in a race. It is another game that kept you coming back for more. Nostalgia: As a kid, I always wanted a real motorbike, which gave me a feeling that I actually had one. I was very good at this game (and Pole Position) and constantly had my name on the high score table – it’s perhaps the only game I could truly say I was a master.
Origin: Developed by Toru Iwatani and programmed by Hideyuki Moakajima San, this game came out in mid-1980. The name is derived from a phrase related to the sound when your mouth opens and closes (allegedly). Namco produced the game, but it really took off in America when Midway released it.
Concept: You are Pacman, and you are starving. You find a maze full of ‘dots’ and zip around eating them. Unfortunately, some ghosts aren’t too happy about this, and they will chase you and eat you – but hey, some huge dots give you the power to banish the ghosts back to their central cage. The maze is complex, filling up the whole screen, but there are no dead ends – there’s also a passageway between each side of the screen. In the center is the cage that holds the ghosts – occasionally, bonus fruit appears next to the cage. You essentially have to eat all the dots to progress.
Gameplay: This is a simple concept, but it became a huge success with pretty decent graphics and an addictive tune. There is a lot of strategy to the game – each ghost follows a set pattern (although eventually they’ll forget this and follow you) – in fact, there are books dedicated to the best route to avoiding the ghosts. The game gets harder as you go, with the ghosts speeding up and getting smarter.
Nostalgia: there’s something about the music in this game that is just so catching -even as I write it, I can hear it in my mind. It’s one of the first games that I can remember using music as a major selling point. I wasted many hours playing this game, and although I was never great, I always had fun trying to devise new routes. It is also probably my most successful programming achievement – I designed a version of this for the Acorn Atom, and I actually sold a couple of hundred copies (again in Germany) – I am proud that as a twelve-year-old, I was able to use logic and programming skills and make some money doing it.
Origin: It’s truly amazing to think that this game was first released in 1979 – I’ve been playing it for 30 years now! Developed by Atari and designed by Lyle Rains and Ed Logg, the game cleverly used vector graphics and real inertia physics to convert a simple concept into a classic game.
Concept: Your little spaceship has strayed into an asteroid belt. With the use of thrusters, a trusty laser cannon, and a hyperspace unit, you must move your spaceship in all directions over the screen and avoid the asteroids. You can go anywhere on the screen, and even go off the edge is OK – it just happens to be a wrap around the universe. The asteroids come at you from all angles. Initially, they are large and are fairly slow. Once hit, they split into smaller asteroids, and these smaller asteroids split again – the smaller the asteroid, the faster it goes. Occasionally a nasty alien ship will appear and start firing at you – he’ll occasionally hit the asteroids and split them. The idea of the game is simple – destroy all the asteroids without colliding into them or getting shot by an alien.
Gameplay: Wow, what can I say. To really succeed at this game, you have to use strategy – firing at all asteroids will fill the screen with a lot of small, fast-moving asteroids, making it difficult to avoid collisions. Therefore the game required that you pick off one asteroid at a time and then deal with the smaller asteroids. While doing this, you also had to maneuver gingerly; with real inertia, you often found yourself drifting without realizing it, and suddenly you’d be in the middle of four or five asteroids.
Nostalgia: this is one of the only games that I still play today. Whether it’s the ‘Buck Rogers’ in me, or I just like the challenge, I don’t know! You’d think that after 30 years of playing, I’d either master the game or get bored; somehow, neither has happened – I can sometimes get a mega score, but usually, I’m just average. I guess I like that it makes me think and keeps my hand-eye coordination in tip-top condition! Now, if only I could get all that money that I pushed into the asteroids machine back – I’d be prosperous!