Written by TY PETERSON
Asteroids. Pong. Space Invaders. If you remember sitting around the local milk bar playing these games to Bowie or Duran-Duran, you are probably too old to be reading this magazine without a quality pair of reading glasses. But then again, maybe not, these classic games are making a comeback and they’re bringing company. But where did they come from?
70s : I’m living in the 70’s! The Brady Bunch, Platform Shoes, Glam. ROLLER DISCO BABY!
The 70’s was the golden age of the arcade; computers less powerful than a modern calculator nailed in wooden enclosures, just waiting for you to feed them shiny coins.
Pong was released in 1972 and became the father of all future video games. It became one of the earliest and most successful arcade video games. It was developed by an Atari programmer as a ‘warm-up’ exercise. Atari saw potential in that square electronic ball and paddle set and the rest became history.
Pong’s success paved the way for many other games, like Space Invaders, with its annoying, blocky aliens you shoot at as they get lower and lower and frustratingly faster and faster. Pinball machines were resigned to the trash heap once arcade games burst onto the scene. But Namco, creators of Pac-Man, released Gee Bee; an electronic pinball machine with fewer lights, colours and sounds. But it was electric so therefore cooler, right?
Home video consoles were also born in the 70s. Nintendo’s first console was released in 1977 imaginatively named Nintendo Colour TV Game in 1977 contained not one, not two, but SIX different variations of Light Tennis, or Pong, depending on which side of the Atari-Nintendo law suit you sat.
The games of the time were limited to one tile graphics and movement was generally up/down/left/right, if any. No challenge compared to today’s ADD satisfying button mashing frenzy fests, but it was a start.
80s: Rad man, it’s like, the 80s, Spikey Mohawks, Everything Neon, and Parachute Pants. PUNK’S NOT DEAD!
Arcade games were still popular in the early eighties and amongst the most popular titles, Frogger, Donkey Kong and the arcade version of Disney’s Tron, which actually went on to earn more than the film it was based on. Go figure.
The 80’s witnessed the birth of everyone’s favourite stereotypical Italian plumber, ‘It’s a me, Mario’ in Nintendo’s Donkey Kong. The goal was to leap the barrels and reach the Kong. Another of gaming’s most recognizable figures, that affectionate, dot hungry little yellow circle dude Pac-Man also burst onto the scene.
1985-6 saw the release of the first true mainstream home gaming consoles, namely the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Sega’s Master System. Arcade gaming was all but dead, side-scrolling platformers had become the norm and Super Mario Bros. became the world’s best-selling video game, a title held until 2009.
Hand-held game consoles made their first appearance in the late eighties with Atari’s Epyx and Nintendo’s much more popular and enduring green-screened Gameboy. Sure, they may have required battery changes every thirty seconds and been heavy enough to beat anyone who wanted you to give them a go unconscious, but the idea was there.
Retro: “I want it to look 80’s. But not too 80’s, 80’s but like today’s 80’s, not 80’s 80’s. Get me?”
Gaming has come a long way since Pong and the arcades, but you might be surprised to find that many of the classics are still with us.
Anyone who has ever owned a Nokia mobile is familiar with the addictive Snake, whose origins lie in the arcades of the 70’s.
MAME, an arcade emulator for PC has introduced classic gaming to countless numbers and are popular to the point that there is a thriving industry built on manufacturing MAME cabinets, replicas of the physical arcade cabinets of yesteryear.
At the time of writing this article, a quick check on EBay shows listings for classic home consoles like the NES and Sega Master System ranging in price anywhere from $30 up to $250, long gone, but not forgotten.
Nostalgia and retro appeal has seen the development of emulators for these systems running on jail-broken iPhones and iPod Touches, Android mobiles and PC’s. They are even available on today’s modern consoles through Xbox Live, the PSN Store and Wii Shop.
And it’s not just the games, but the classic characters with all their charm and appeal. Mario has appeared on every single Nintendo console since his initial introduction. Pac-Man is constantly being re-imaged. And let’s not forget Light Tennis… erm, I mean Pong.