The games industry has come a long way over the centuries. In the 1960’s and 70’s when the very first consoles were being pieced together by just a few small enthusiasts, I doubt the people adjusting the circuits would have ever dreamed of how far videos games would advance – for now we live in a world where consoles have entered the mainstream and permeate almost all walks of life. The first arcade machines weighed approximately the same as a baby elephant; nowadays you can carry a console with a billion times the power output around in your back pocket. Enthusiastic gamers such as myself are forever waiting for the next great step forward, the next AAA blockbuster, and will no doubt do so until the end of time. For all this to happen though, there needed to be trailblazers; games that took the world by storm, altered the way we approach games and never looked back. It is my intention in this set of articles to pay homage to 20 games that I feel have earned those spots in history.
I had to think pretty hard about what should and shouldn’t be included in this list. There are hundreds of games out there that could quite easily stake a claim to changing the way the industry operates and the way fans react to games, and narrowing down those choices has been tough. In the end, I plumped for games that I personally feel have changed the way I look at the video game genre. The games don’t necessarily have to be good or bad, I don’t even need to have played some of them – so long as the effect has been felt and is justified.
The games I have picked will be presented in chronological order rather than a tiered system, and for each game I intend to give a small bit of background, and explain why I feel it is worthy of a position as one of the 20 games that changed the world. Each article will feature two games, leading to 10 articles in total.
1 – PONG (1972) – ATARI INC.
Where else can this list start other than Genesis Chapter One? Pong was not the first video game – it wasn’t even the first table tennis game. The first home console, the Maganvox Odyssey, had a table tennis game set up at its first public demonstration; it was played by one Nolan Bushnell (co-founder of Atari) who felt it could do with some refining, and asked one of his engineers, Allan Alcorn, to make a better version. The result was Pong, a 2D training exercise that let you move a paddle up and down a screen to play table tennis against a computer controlled opponent. After installing the first model at a local bar, Alcorn was called out after a few days to fix a problem with the arcade machine. One of the mechanisms had jammed…because the machine was stuffed with quarters from punters eager to play the game.
Within a few short months, Pong was established as the first commercially successful video game. By 1974, there were over 10,000 machines, all being sold for more than 3 times the production costs. In 1975, Atari released a home version exclusively through the Sears company in America, shifting near to 150,000 units that Christmas alone and fuelling a boom that would lead to the establishment of video game consoles in people’s homes. Pong is also notable for starting a trend that would lead to the crash in the 1980’s – Atari did not file a patent for the game, meaning copycats spread up everywhere looking to take a slice of the profits. Bushnell would encourage Atari to be more proactive with its game design and produce products that would keep the copycats in the shade, although the market would continue to be flooded with poor imitations of popular designs.
It’s astonishing to think that such as simple game would essentially lead to the birth of the industry, but that was the impact of Pong.
2 – PAC MAN (1980) – NAMCO
If Pong set the industry on its way, it was Pac Man that became the undeniable icon of the early 1980’s. Straight away from its inception, it became a pop culture icon that shifted a ton of merchandise, and offered arcade fanatics a whole new game to play – both male and female.
Like all the great games of the 80’s, Pac Man (originally called Puck Man, the name was changed in America to prevent nasty vandals replacing the P with an F) was beautifully simplistic. You took control of the titular hero, a big yellow blob with a mouth, and guiding him round a maze collecting all the pellets to move onto the next level. In order to up the challenge, four ghosts are also released into the maze to chase Pac Man down – if you touch one, you lose a life. There are four special capsules in each level that allow you to eat the ghosts, earning bonus points and temporarily putting them out of play, and every 10,000 points you earn grants you an extra life. Although it was designed to be played indefinitely, a bug means that you can only complete 255 levels before the ‘kill screen’ appears. As of writing, only 6 people in history have ever achieved the maximum score.
Pac Man’s impact on the industry is quite enviable. It dwarfs almost every other arcade game ever released in terms of gross income (estimated at roughly $7.6 billion in today’s money). The yellow hero, along with the ghosts Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde are the first video game mascots. It popularised the maze-escape and stealth genres in gaming. Finally, as aforementioned it was the first video game to capture the imagination of women; so much so that Ms. Pac Man was created just two years later to cash in on the craze. The game still remains synonymous with the industry over 30 years since its release, and is one of only three games displayed at the Smithsonian Museum.