Origins: Pong was based on a 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 a game of 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, then it will bounce off. The idea is simply to make the other player miss the ball – thus scoring a point.
Game play: while it sounds utterly boring, the game play is actually very addictive. It is easy to play but very difficult to master, especially with faster ball speeds, and more acute angles of ‘bounce’.
Nostalgia: for me this is the father of video games. Without Pong you probably wouldn’t have video games – it started the craze that would continue grow and become a multi-billion dollar industry. I will always remember this game!
Origins: this game was developed by Konami in 1981, and was the first game 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. 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 frog 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 dinking in and out of traffic, and sometimes going nowhere. The graphics are poor, the sound is terrible, but the adrenalin really pumps as you try to avoid that very fast car, or the snake that is 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!
8. Space Invaders
Origins: Tomohiro Nishikada, the designer of Space Invaders was inspired by Star Wars and War of the Worlds. He produced on of the first shooting video 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 co-ordination.
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 games!
Origins: Galaxians expanded on the Space Invaders theme by having aliens swoop down on the defender. It was one of the first 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.
Game play: 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 games that I played on a desktop computer that was almost exactly like the arcade fame. I had an old Acorn Electron, and this game was almost perfect on this little machine. I miss my old Acorn Electron!
Origins: This game was created by Williams Electronics in 1980. The Game was designed by Eugen Jarvis, Sam Dicker, Paul Dussault and SLarry DeMar. It was one of the first 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 games of the era were horizontal shote-em-ups. This game changed the playing field by being a vertical shooter. Yet again aliens are intent of doing nasty things to earth – this time they are trying 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 alien, and catch the human before the alien reaches the top of the screen.
Game play: 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, and this formed a major part of the strategy. There were some different type of aliens that 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 use 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 way down.
Game play: 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 move 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 breath a sigh of relief when one city survived.
Nostalgia: this was one of the first games I played on a table top 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: This game was heavily inspired by Pong. It was created in 1976 by Atari, with Nolan Busnell and Stew Bristow being the key designers. It’s probably one of the most cloned games ever, even today there are new 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 bounce back at you. Your task is simple – stop the ball 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!
Game play: this is a fairly difficult game to master. As the bricks get lower each level and the ball speed increases, it becomes more and more difficult to ‘break out’. Also, sometimes the angle that the ball comes off the bat is so acute that it is very difficult to judge where the ball will bounce! It’s one of those games where you just 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 used to spend hours playing this game as my Father sat and studied. It was like a male bonding session!
3. 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 it a larger replica motorcycle style cabinet, with speedo, brakes and a throttle. This game became the benchmark for future racing games and lead to the highly praised Out Run series. The game cleverly used ‘billboards’ and trees to give you the feel 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).
Game play: 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, so this gave me a feeling that I actually had one. I was very good at this game (an d 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 that relates 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 very hungry. You find a maze full of ‘dots’ and zip around eating them. Unfortunately there’s some ghosts who aren’t too happy about this and they will chase you and eat you – but hey, there’s some really big dots that 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 passage way between each side of the screen. In the center, is the cage that holds the ghosts – occasionally bonus fruit appear next to the cage. You essentially have to eat all the dots in order to progress.
Game play: This is a simple concept, but with pretty decent graphics and an addictive tune it became a huge success. 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 on 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.