Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Posts Tagged ‘arcade

Asteroids (Atari)

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Back in the 70s, before the VCS/2600 dominated the home market, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell created the first arcade game, Computer Space.  Intended to be a single player version of what is considered by some to be the first video game, Spacewar! by MIT students on a PDP-1 valued at $100,000, it was a marvel of ingenuity that was met with commercial failure outside of the scope of nerdy college kids.  Shortly after, Bushnell created the much more user-friendly Pong and raked in over $1 million annually for Atari.  Unfortunately back then it was much easier to copy a game and get away with it (home versions of Pong that didn’t come from Atari/Sears were actually referred to as “Pong clones”) so the way Atari stayed on top was to make the newest and best games.  The apex of the concept begun in Spacewar! came with the Atari coin-op Asteroids in 1979.

Although the connection with Spacewar! and Computer Space hasn’t been universally made, I always view the games as being generational improvements on the formula.  If you ask Atari exec Lyle Rains, which is credited with conceptualizing the game, he would probably tell you it came from his famous discussion with Ed Logg, a then Atari programmer, when he asked, “what about a game where you smash asteroids – big rocks into small rocks?”  After that Logg and designed and programmed the game with fellow co-worker Dominic Walsh.  One of the basic concepts to be born out of the early days of arcades, Asteroids is not only one of the highest regarded titles of all time but it holds the top slot in terms of sales at Atari.  Selling more than 70,000 units domestically, many of them needing to be modified with larger coin boxes to keep from shorting out, this game was so popular that when the next big game, Lunar Lander, came out some were custom installed with Asteroids instead because the customer was only interested in that specific game.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Shmuppreciation 2012

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Gradius Series (Konami)

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Responsible for plenty of attributes to the shmup genre, notably the space aesthetic, but the most significant thing I remember about the title “Gradius” is how often people mispronounced it.  Okay people, I’ve confirmed this with Konami, the pronunciation is “grah-dee-us”, not “gray-dee-us”, “grah/grey-die-oos” or any other awkward pronunciation.  It’s pronounced simply how it is spelled.

The Gradius series has withstood the test of time with the first technical iteration in 1981 and the most recent actual game released in 2008 (Gradius ReBirth on Wii).  In that time the series has graced almost every console and portable that has come out, although recent iterations have been predominantly collections.  Not only that, the series is responsible for a few offshoots including my favorite shmup of all time, Salamander (Life Force in US), and the Parodius series.  Despite critics rightfully complaining that each new title in the series seems to harken back to the original, I feel it is the series staples that keep dedicated fans and strong sales.  I grew up knowing this series on the NES, although I am told that in Japan and Europe it has a more significant presence on the MSX.  Like all shmups, it does bury its roots in the early days of the arcade and to me is still on that short list of video games you must play before you die.  Nowadays the list of titles is quite long, but after recently playing the series over last week, I still find the original title (not necessarily first in the series) to be the most significant.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm

What is a Shmup?

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For some reason, this screen from R-Type is always what I think about when I hear the word “shmup”.

It’s leap day, a day that on most years doesn’t even exist, and had it not been for today it would officially be March.  For those of us in the retro gaming world, shooter fans or basically anyone who listens to Drunken Gamers Radio it also means Shmuppreciation month.  For 31 long days we show our appreciation for intergalactic starships, Moai heads, tiered power-ups, sexy young girls with large breasts that aren’t involved in a hentai game, dodging thousands of bullets and actually seeing a vertical raster effect in a high-definition game.  It is all for the love of the shoot ’em up, these days called “shmups” for short.  What’s distinct about the shmup is that aside from most other genres, it has been around as long as video games themselves – yes, the first video game was a shmup – and has remained relatively unchanged for more than 30 years.  As an avid fan with probably more than $1,000 in shmups alone among almost every system – did I mention the shmup has some of the most expensive games in existence? – I wanted to reflect on the history of the shmup.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 29, 2012 at 1:30 pm

Now & Then: The Simpsons Arcade Game

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Now & Then is different from both a retrospective and a review.  It tackles games you probably already know and is a place for gamers to discuss these games.  Below is an overview of a game’s presence in the market then and now.  Authors of these articles share their personal experience, so we encourage all of you to do the same in the comments.

Last week The Simpsons Arcade Gamereleased on the PSN, the XBLA version coming out a few days earlier, and completed Konami’s classic beat-em-up licensed arcade series.  For some reason media outlets decided to review this game – this makes little sense to me given that by definition the game will be outdated and any potential customer has already played it – but I know plenty of freelance reviewers that have amassed a decent collection of free retro games by trading a review for a download code.  Although this is not the best arcade brawler on the market, even among licensed peers X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s probably the most popular.  There’s a good reason for this, as Simpsons mania took America by storm at the beginning of the 90s, it was impossible to avoid the disfunctional family from Springfield, USA.

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Written by Fred Rojas

February 13, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Posted in Now & Then

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Storytelling: How Shigeru Miyamoto Saved NOA

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When Nintendo decided to move over to America, it wasn’t to begin the world of the NES but rather to establish a market for arcade games.  Nintendo of America (NOA) had struggled ever since it migrated to the United States, complete with difficulty finding a home base in both New York and New Jersey, eventually staying for good in the Seattle area.  At the time Nintendo’s owner, a gruff businessman by the name of Hiroshi Yamauchi, had inherited the company and vowed to make it into the powerhouse it eventually became.  Yamauchi recently warmed up to his son-in-law, Minoru Arakawa, and decided to make him in charge of Nintendo’s American migration thanks to his free-spirited nature, familiarity with the country and ability to overwork himself.  Now Arakawa was attempting to find the big arcade game that would put NOA on the map like Space Invaders had done for Taito.  That game was to be a linear space shooter called Radarscope.

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Written by Fred Rojas

January 27, 2012 at 2:44 pm

Generation Gap Pt. 1

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It’s difficult to understand and discern the various console generations that have existed, so here’s a brief overview of each one and the consoles that spawned in North America during these generations.  Please note that these posts cover home consoles only (and goes into broad detail on specific larger market share, not every console that released) – while arcades and PCs were a signficant part of gaming in the respective 80s and 90s, they will be covered in different posts.

First Generation (1972 – 1983)

Magnavox Odyssey – Launch Price: $75-$100 (retail dependent) – Released: 1972
Designer Ralph Baer’s team started working on the console, codenamed “brown box”, in 1966 and completed a prototype in 1968.  I wasn’t even remotely alive when the Odyssey was on the market, so my experience with the console is limited to a few brief and clumsy plays of Ski at various Midwest Gaming Classic conventions.

The Odyssey had interchangeable cartridges that were purchased individually, much like more modern consoles, and also included an overlay for the television.  Since it was unable to generate graphics necessary for the games itself, it would instead use the TV overlay to create the playfield and dots or lines would be the only true visual created by the console.  Each cartridge would trigger jumpers in the console to generate the desired images or items on the screen.  Some games would also include dice and various other items, creating a virtual board game of sorts.  One of the most popular among the Odyssey titles was of course Pong, which was actually named Tennis on the console.  Unfamiliarity with a device of this sort and co-branding with Magnavox stores created a public perception that the Odyssey would only work with Magnavox televisions, which wasn’t true.

Click to see a list of Odyssey games

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Written by Fred Rojas

October 20, 2011 at 10:52 am