Tag Archives: Pong

Dazcooke’s Video Game Land Presents…20 Games That Changed History – Part One

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.

Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal…1972 style

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

Fun fact – the highest score you can get on the original arcade game is 3,333,360 points

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.

Book Review: The Ultimate History Of Video Games by Steven L Kent

The Ultimate History Of Video Games by Steven L Kent (2001). Published by Prima Publishing

In general, you will not find too many academic books explaining about video games. Sure, there are several useful books for programmers and developers to help with creating games, but not that many that discuss the industry and its past; generally magazines and the internet are the go to sources for this. However, while trawling through my University library the other day, I came across this promising looking book. Considering that I study History, this book covers two of my great interests, and I thought that I should give it a read.

Being published in 2001, it obviously does not give a completely up to date view on the gaming world, but focuses on the time span from the early 1970’s and the birth of arcades all the way to the end of the fifth generation of consoles in2001. Indoing so, the book covers a vast array of issues and stories from the video game industry, following the story of the birth of Atari and Nolan Bushnell and its rivals such as the Colecovision and Magnavox Odyssey, before covering the ‘golden age’ of the arcades and fall of the industry before 1983, the birth of Nintendo and Sega into the industry and the subsequent 16-bit war, before focusing on the death of Sega and the emergence of Sony as a major player. Now I’ve read a lot of history books, and can safely say that this is one of the most engaging reads I have ever had; Kent writes in a fluid style that appeals to all and gives a great deal of thoroughly referenced evidence and factoids to cover all his points (for example, explaining the origins of Easter eggs in games, how the ‘The’ in Sonic The Hedgehog is trademarked, and the legal cases surrounding Mortal Kombat). The book is also exceptional in portraying the thoughts of several important individuals from the industry whom Kent interviewed in detail before writing; Nolan Bushnell, Shigeru Miyamoto, Howard Lincoln, Trip Hawkins and Dave Rosen amongst several others provide captivating insights into what was going on at the time. Reading through this book provided me with much more information that I thought was possible to collect on the subject area. You will also be getting your moneys worth: at over 600 pages this book will provide plenty of enjoyment over a long time.

I would like to point out a few personal criticisms that I have with the book however. Kent gives much more focus to the period of the arcades than to the modern era (especially the fifth generation which for the large part is skipped over), and often he will explain a point in brief detail before covering it in much more detail in a later chapter; a bit less repetition would have been nice. Also Kent omits several important games or does not give them enough credit; obviously the big titles such as Pong, Super Mario Brothers, Sonic The Hedgehog and Donkey Kong are covered, but major RPG titles and franchises such as The Legend Of Zelda and Metroid are given brief mentions at best. I get the feeling that Kent wanted to highlight the consoles and the development behind them more than anything else, but considering this is a book covering the history of ‘video games’, then some successful titles should receive a bit more credit.

As an overall judgement, The Ultimate History Of Video Games is a fine book and an engaging read. Arcade enthusiasts in particular I feel will relish the information in the book, and anyone looking to get an overall view of the industry can’t go wrong with using this as a starting point. Very much recommended.