With the “end of the decade” (unless you ascribe to year 1 vs year 0 philosophy ) every blog and website has been creating their “X of the decade” lists. All the video game sites have posted their best games of the decade list so I have been reflecting a lot on my life of playing video games. I freely admit that I am not the most hardcore of gamers but I enjoy playing and recently realized that I have been playing video games for 4 decades (70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 00’s) : O. I have not always played the best of games and I have never been the best at playing games but it has always been a fun pastime and I thoroughly enjoy working in the games industry. So as a fun exercise in making myself feel really old I have decided to take a walk down memory lane and share some of the games (both video and table top) I have played over the years. First up are the 70’s and early 80’s so stop watching That’s Incredible, take off your Moon Boots, grab a Pepsi Light and read on:
I never owned a Pong home system but a friend down the street from me had one. At first we played this a lot, but as the novelty wore off the game saw less use and eventually just collected dust under the TV in the rec room. Thank god early video game pioneers (AKA computer geeks) were also war gamers and RPG players who had the vision to create more interesting game ideas and it was not long before the Atari 2600 was released.
Along with Sea Wolf, Space Invaders was one of the first arcade games I ever played. It was also one of the first console games I would play on the Atari 2600. The game was so basic yet so challenging because like many games of that time complexity was added to levels by simply speeding up the enemies movements while the player saw no skill advancement.
Combat was one of the original games that shipped with the first generation Atari 2600 units and was based on an earlier arcade title. The cover art promised so much more than the game delivered but I played the hell out of this. Me and my good friend (the one with Pong) both into things like army men, tanks, playing war, and this was a new outlet for our war mongering tendencies.
Dungeons & Dragons
The same friend with the Pong console had something else I never had, ..an older brother. Looking back, I owe a debt of gratitude to my friend and his brother for helping shape my future. They provide me with an early outlet to play video games. They also introduced me to a game that would be a defining period later in my career, because his older brother was a Dungeons & Dragons player. I would spend hours thumbing through his Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual, and Player’s Handbook and he DM’d my first D&D game.
Adventure was my first fantasy video game experience and it tried very hard to capture the spirit of Dungeons & Dragons. I loved the elements of the Adventure game like the sword, killing the dragons, memorizing the maps but man did I hate the fraking bat. The way he would steal your key causing you to get you stuck in a room or take your sword and drop off a live dragon in exchange. The one fun thing the bat did was play tour guide. If got killed by a dragon there was a chance the bat would pick up the dragon and your corpse (digesting in it’s stomach) around for a tour of the world. A few years ago a company released the Atari joystick as a plug-n-play game with a bunch of games loaded onto it including Adventure, picking up one of these brought back a lot of memories.
The grocery store near my house had a Battlezone arcade game and I loved playing while my mom shopped for groceries. It felt so different than the other games of the time. Unlike side scrolling games, it felt like a limitless world open for exploration and the green vector graphics felt very hi-tech. Sometimes I would waste a dollar in quarters just trying to drive the tank to the mountains, little did I know this was not possible with the games design.
Behind D&D, Gamma World was my favorite RPG and still holds a special place in my heart. I loved the D&D elements of monsters and magic, (in this case mutants with psychic powers merged with sci-fi and technology. I don’t completely remember my first character but I recall he was some sort of bear or wolf mutant who wielded a machine gun and grenades. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to go with a group of people to pitch a number of properties to Hollywood producers. Gamma World was one of the properties we pitched and it was surprising to see how well directors and producers responded to the property. With fantasy overdone (and mostly done poorly), Gamma World and the “Mad Max on acid” aesthetic was very well received. Unfortunately the Hollywood writers strike put everything on hold and nothing ever happened with the Gamma World pitch but I would love to see the property see the light of day again as a RPG, video game , or movie.
On the way up to the Mt. Baker Ski Area you drive through the little town of Glacier. Glacier is the last stop on a highway that ends in the North Cascades. It a great place to get away from society and conventional thinking. Mt. Baker was one of the first ski areas to allow snowboarding and is now world famous for it’s snow, terrain, and down to earth vibe; it is counter culture to it’s core. In the town of Glacier there was a funky restaurant called Graham’s. Graham’s was a wild plavce to go to as a kid. It was full of drunk skiers, had a build your own burger bar, a robot that looked a home made R2D2, showed movies of drunk mostly naked skiers trying to skim across a pond of melted snow, and a Donkey Kong machine. Me and my buddy Rob played the a lot of DK in the back of Graham’s, it was a good escape from crazy adults, and we could watch the movies while avoiding the glaring looks of his mom. Rob was better than me at DK, but as I learned a few years ago, not quite as good as our classmate and friend Steve Wiebe. Steve is in the awesome documentary King of Kong: A Fistfull of Quarters and is one of the best DK player in the world.
I had one of these old Donkey Kong handhelds in 8th or 9th grade. I wish I still had the thing but my mom probably ended up selling it in a garage sale for a nickel. Now they sell on eBay for upwards of $300
Pitfall is one of the best selling 2600 games of all time. I loved this side scrolling platformer. The race against the clock made the game challenging and I never got a score high enough to send into Activision for the award but I spent a lot of time with friends trying.
Remember that friend with the stuff I didn’t have? You know.. a brother..Pong..etc. Well he also had a Apple II computer complete with a joy stick and a copy of Castle Wolfenstein. This game rocked my world! It was like D&D on a screen. I loved sneaking around the castle killing nazis, finding guns, grenades, and loot. The game was expansive and include stuff like leveling and digitized voice dialog.
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Loved the movie, loved the game. I think this game is a great, early example of a story driven quest based adventure game. It did a great job of using NPCs to help move the story forward and provide you with the items necessary to complete the game.
My friend Rob from the Donkey Kong story had the Intellivision system and then later upgraded to the Intellivision II. He also had the Intellivoice speech synthesizer which worked with just a few games. This system had some great games but a poorly designed controller. The controller did offer more options for gameplay but the key pad would suffer from wear and if you lost the keypad overlay cards for the games you would have to memorize the necessary buttons. The console came with a couple games including Astrosmash, Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack. Some of my favorite games were on the Intellivision system and in general I think the system offered more innovative games than the 2600.
This game was freaky but I loved it. You were like the people from the Incredible Voyage, cruising around inside a human body curing diseases, giving medicine, and fighting with white blood cells.
Bomb Squad was a fun puzzle type game that used the Intellivoice. The object of the game was to diffuse bombs of various complexity using tools like wire cutters and a soldering iron. Like Micro Surgeon, I found this games fun and challenging. These types of games would be great as web based casual games or on mobile platforms like the iPhone.
World Series Major League Baseball
This was one of the best sports game of the time. It was one of the first games to use a multiple camera angles. This gave it a similar effect to watching a baseball game on TV. It was fun to play against a friend because it provided a good perspective for both players.
Burgertime was a quirky platformer where you played chef trying to make hamburgers all the while being chased by menacing hotdogs, fried eggs, and pickles. The chef could use pepper to stun the enemies or smash them by dropping parts of the hamburger on top of them. A fun game from the 80’s that had silly elements similar in nature to Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr, Dig-Dug, and Mario Bros.
I found B-17 Bomber an incredibly hard game to play but I kept playing it. I love the sense of adventure flying across the English Channel on a bombing sortie. One trick to the game was managing your fuel resources. If you loaded up the plane with too many bombs you would run out of fuel before you reach the target. You also had to keep an eye on the map to sight in the target properly. If you waited for the voice command to say “target close” in that shaky synth voice you would likely miss the drop point. The best approach was to move to the bomb bay view when your plane looked to be close to the target on the overland map. That way you would have enough time to get the bomb site over the target.
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons
They did it! The finally did it. A Dungeons & Dragons video game. This was a fun solo dungeon delving experience complete with a world map, different dungeons, treasure, weapons, and monsters. The game was not that big of an improvement over adventure although it did have more levels, more monsters, a fog of war, and marginally improved graphics.
The follow up release of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: The Treasure of Tarmin had a significant improvement in display and in my opinion is the earliest example of a first person shooter style game.
The early console games may not be great by today’s standards but for their time the were incredibly innovative, especially when you consider the limited processing power of both the computers the games were designed on and the consoles they were made to run on. Today companies like 5th cell (Scibblenauts) and Valve (Portal) continue to push game design from the perspective of innovative play while Bungie, Infinity Ward, and Activision-Blizzard push the envelope of aesthetic, story, immersion, and community.
Next late 80s to early 90s arcade and console games