Gaming History 101

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Posts Tagged ‘asteroids

Podcast: What the Shmup

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One of the oldest and most popular genres in gaming is the “shoot-em-up” or “shmup” for short.  Whether you’re a space ship, a young girl, or even a winged pod the basic goal is to navigate the screen, rack up points, and don’t die.  Fred and Jam dive into the origins of the shmup, the sub-genres that exist, and some of their personal favorites.


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How Product Design has Transformed the Amusement Industry

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The term “arcade game” these days conjures up images of cutting-edge graphics and sound, combined with innovative and interactive technology that can bring any concept to life.  However, good graphics and interactivity have not always been a necessity for a game that is both enjoyable and addictive. I dread to mention the recent phenomenon of the Flappy Bird app but it is an example of an outrageously faulty and basic game becoming extremely popular. This has been seen in the past with games like Space Invaders, Pac Man, Tetris and Asteroids following very basic concepts and graphics, but still being addictive and rewarding when completed.

The Really Early Days

The first arcade games kicked off at amusement parks and are still present at fairs and theme parks, but there’s nothing particularly sophisticated about them. Ring toss, throwing balls at stacked cans, shooting targets, and other simple challenges have been doing the rounds for hundreds of years and can still draw in the punters to this day. Just don’t go expecting an easy win. Perhaps this is what is indicative of a good game – making it appear simple whilst making it actually fiendishly difficult to win. Make it too hard, however ,and you are left with Zelda II.

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Podcast: The Final Countdown – Pt. 4 (finale)

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We finally wrap up our “much-longer-than-we-ever-expected” series discussing the stories and cultural relevance of the games in G4’s Top 100 video games of all time.  Fred Rojas is yet again joined by Rob “Trees” from EZ Mode Unlocked to wrap up the final games and even have a brief side discussion on games that may be missing.


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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

Tagged with , , ,