This is the first entry in a series cataloging every video game to exist (according to Wikipedia).
In order to write Games Appreciation articles I have to know which games are timeless classics–true masterpieces of the medium. To know which games are the masterpieces, however, I have to play tens of thousands of other games. Not all the way through, mind you. I only play as long as I need to in order to see which ones are the greats. As a general rule, the better a game is, the longer I will play it. I’ve passed Super Mario World, a true classic, multiple times. I had to play Hang-On for a couple of hours before determining that it’s an “almost classic.” I suffered through some other games, such as Agent Orange, for no longer than a couple of minutes. And then there are the few I didn’t have to play at all. Custer’s Revenge is such a notoriously awful game that I was well-enough informed already and never played it. I just pretend I did so I can eventually claim that I’ve played every video game there is. Of course, there are some games that I’ll never be able to play because they’re too rare, or no longer exist. But it just doesn’t sound impressive to say that I’m “the man who has played every game except the ones I don’t have access to, which turned out to be a lot.”
So anyway, in order to write the Games Appreciation articles I had to play “every” game ever made up to thirty years prior to whenever you’re reading this (and I’ll eventually narrow the gap to ten years). I have to be that far back because 1. Hindsight is 20/20, 2. As games become more complex they become more difficult to review on a binary scale (timeless classic or not) so I have to be mature enough to review them accordingly, 3. Remakes and re-releases can often change a game drastically, 4. A game must be available on an emulator or current PC OS to be considered “timeless,” and emulation almost always lags a decade or more behind platforms, and 5. Used games are inexpensive and I’m poor.
While doing this research I left short notes on most of the games for future reference. On the advice of a friend (Hi, Crystal!) I have decided to put the notes here in case you’re curious. A word of warning: I wrote these notes for my own benefit so they may be lacking, nonsensical to you, merely copied from a website, etc. But here are the notes for the 1st-generation video games.
The first rendition of computer Tic-Tac-Toe. Created by Alexander S. Douglas for the EDSAC.
Created by William Higinbotham for a public exhibition.
Created at MIT by Steve Russell. First game to be set in space, first game with weapons, first to spread beyond a single computer installation as it was copied and recreated on other PDP-1 systems.
The games created for the TX-0 by the small programming community at MIT included Tic-Tac-Toe, which used a light pen to play a simple game of noughts and crosses against the computer, and Mouse in the Maze, which let players set up a maze for a mouse to run through. Groups, such as the IBM program catalog and the Digital Equipment Computer Users’ Society (DECUS), shared small games as well as programs, including, for example, “BBC Vik The Baseball Demonstrator” and “Three Dimensional Tic-Tack-Toe” in the April 1962 IBM catalog, and dice games and question and answer games in the DECUS newsletter. By the latter half of the 1960s, higher-level programming languages such as BASIC which were able to be run on multiple types of computers further increased the reach of games developed at any given location. While most games were limited to text-based designs, rather than visual graphics like Spacewar, these games became more complicated as they reached more players, such as baseball and basketball simulation games. Access to the computers themselves was also extended to more people by systems such as the Dartmouth Time Sharing System (DTSS), which connected several thousand users through many remote terminals around the campus to a central mainframe computer. By the 1967–68 school year the DTSS library of 500 programs for the system included, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz wrote, “many games”. Over a quarter of the system’s usage was for casual or entertainment purposes, and Kemeny and Kurtz noted that “we have lost many a distinguished visitor for several hours while he quarterbacked the Dartmouth football team in a highly realistic simulated game”.
Simulation by Ken Thompson that lets you fly around a 2D representation of the solar system.
Made by Nolan Bushnell. Too complicated for average Joes to wrap their heads around (at the time). First coin-op video game.
Second-ever coin-op video game. Smash hit at Stanford (and in direct competition with Comp. Space) but commercially inviable.
[edit: This is an example of a game I didn’t write any notes for. Why would I need to remind myself about Oregon Trail?]
First 4X game. Originally named Empire, now known as Classic to distinguish it from its replacements. When the host computer was retired the source code was lost forever, and two coders independently made their own versions from scratch, also named Empire.
Text-based game of hide-and seek.
The first player controls the Pursuer which is represented by a square and the second player controls the Pursued which is represented by a plus sign. As the Pursuer moves closer and closer to the Pursued, an electronic beep sound increases in frequency to a feverish pitch until the Pursuer catches the Pursued. Each time, the Pursuer catches the Pursued, a point is scored and the chase starts over again. This was the first maze arcade game, as well as the very first video game to cause a considerable amount of controversy, predating other early examples such as Death Race by several years. It was controversial due to the controls being perceived as pink rubber bulges that were meant to represent breasts and were squeezed in order to control the action. This was done because some members of Atari jokingly mentioned that joystickscuriously resembled a phallus. As a result, it was decided to create a “female game” and this game was henceforth referred to as “the boob game” by company staff. The controls of later versions of the cabinet were however replaced with standard joysticks. Advertisements suggested that playing the game would lead the player to get chicks as well.
Light gun game created by Yokoi Gunpei and Yamauchi Hiroshi.
Simulator meant to teach rudimentary business concepts. Charlie Kellner ported the game to the Apple II in February 1979. Throughout the 1980s Apple Computer included Lemonade Stand (along with other software) with the purchase of their systems.
First of many games by this name
Another hide-and-seek game, but you play this one similarly to Battleship. You have ten turns to “hit” all the Mugwumps.
Racing game in space.
A text-based battle simulator set in the Star Trek universe.
4-player Pong, later released as Quadrapong
Top-down racing game. Most popular game of 1974 but because of a clerical error, Atari lost money on every copy sold.
First1st-person game (possibly). Run around a maze.
Duck-hunting game with screen overlays
First Volleyball game
Either Spasim or Maze War was the first 1st-person game
First game with scrolling graphics. Track widens and narrows as you drive along.
Written by David Kaufman. Text-only space trader.
Two player top-down combat game by Kee Games
Light Gun arcade game by Yokoi Gunpei
Two player arcade game where the players, operating turrets, must shoot down more planes than the other. Sometimes called Anti-Aircraft II because of its two player aspect.
Two player demolition derby game
Arcade game by Exidy
First game to include bosses.
Also known as “Puppy Pong” was an adaption of the original arcade Pong for use in a non-coin-operated environment. It was conceptualized by Nolan Bushnell and Steve Bristow to move their arcade games into a non-arcade environment—in this case to help occupy children in pediatricians’ waiting rooms. Originally designed to be model of Snoopy’s doghouse with Pong built into the side of it, when Charles Schulz disallowed the use of Snoopy the model was changed to a generic doghouse with a puppy looking over the top. Puppy Pong saw a limited production run and was in testing stage at Chuck E. Cheese’s early locations.
DnD RPG made by Don Daglow (creator of the 1971 Star Trek game). Very advanced, with line-of-sight, ranged and melee combat, and NPC AI. Displayed on screen instead of using printer.
First game to depict combat between two discernible humans, and the first game with a microprocessor.
Atari’s first cockpit cabinet
Eight player racing arcade game. The game is housed in a large custom rectangular cabinet that takes up 16 square feet (1.5 m2). Each side of the cabinet has two steering wheels and four pedals. The monitor is set in to the top face of the cabinet and looked down upon. The game uses a 25 inch full color RGB display and does not use color overlays. Each game was sold with two spare car boards and one each of the three processing boards, so that the game owner could repair it by simple circuit board substitution. Two “card extender” boards were furnished with each game sold that enabled technicians to probe individual components on suspect boards while they were still operating in the game. A complete set of circuit board logic diagrams was also furnished, as was a set of schematics for the modified GE color monitor. The cabinet also features overhead mirrors to allow spectators to watch the game while it’s being played.
Two-player arcade game with 8-direction joysticks
A dungeon crawl style RPG first developed for the PLATO system around 1975, with copyright dates listed as 1978 and 1984. It was a pioneering game, allowing parties of up to ten players to travel as a group and message each other, dynamically generating dungeons (instead of pre-computing them), and featuring a wireframe first-person perspective display.
Team deathmatch tank-driving simulation. One of a handful of early first-person computer games developed by John Edo Haefeli and Nelson Bridwell in 1975 at Northwestern University.
The name pedit5 refers to the programming workspace on the PLATO system. Like all PLATO software, the game was executed on a mainframe computer, but played on terminals located elsewhere. In the game, the player guides a character who wanders a single-level dungeon accumulating treasure and killing monsters. When a player encounters a monster, he can use one of several spells. Characters can be saved from one play session to the next. Pedit5 was eventually deleted. A new version of the game, based on the original work but significantly improved, was written by three other programmers as orthanc, named after a tower in The Lord of the Rings. The original version of pedit5 was resurrected as orthanc1. Both orthanc and orthanc1 remained on the PLATO system.
First-person arcade game by Kee Games. Player pilots a fighter jet.
Atari head Nolan Bushnell originally tried to license the Jaws name for the game, but was unable to secure a license from Universal Pictures. Deciding to go ahead with the game anyway, it was retitled Shark JAWS, with the word Shark in tiny print and JAWS in large all caps print to create greater prominence. Bushnell also created a second hidden subsidiary corporation, Horror Games—the previous being Kee Games, to help isolate Atari from possible lawsuit.
Six-player horse race by Kee Games. The computer controls an extra horse, bringing the total number of horses to as high as 7. Players must jump over obstacles to take the lead.
Two player game. Find your way out of the maze before your opponent.
Japanese Pong clone by ATF Electronics
Blockade clone by RamTek
Two player clone of Blockade
The original Light Cycle game. Two players leave a trail a trail behind them and try to outlast each other.
The original Brick game. Move a paddle back and forth to direct a ball into bricks. Made by Steve Wozniak with the “help” of Steve Jobs.
The first real Text Adventure.
Midway game designed by Jay Fenton and Dave Nutting. Unofficially called Midnight Racer.
The first video game (with the possible exception of Gotcha) to have a real controversy. Contains wanton destruction.
Strategy land-management game based on Hamurabi.
Racing game with electromechanical projection. This game is the first and only projection game released by Atari. It also was the first game licensed from Namco by Atari.
A rebranding of Moto-Cross to tie in with Happy Days.
A television Pong clone
Black and white boxing game by Sega. First game to feature hand-to-hand fighting.
Smaller, 4-player version of Indy 500.
Exactly what it sounds like.
Light gun game. Atari’s answer to Gun Fight.
Trivia game with answers stored on a removable 8 track tape.
Midway game designed by Dave Nutting, based on Sega’s 1966 arcade game Periscope (the first game to charge 25 cents per play)
A Kee Games successor to Gran-Trak 10, with AI cars and multiple tracks.
The object of Starship 1 is to destroy alien spacecraft while maneuvering through star and asteroid fields. The game uses a first person perspective on a black-and-white monitor. The player’s ship is controlled with a control yoke that is connected to two potentiometers. There is also a lever that controls whether the ship is moving “fast” or “slow”. Compared to common arcade games of the time, Starship 1 was comparatively advanced, but used quite a bit of analog technology that would become less common in arcade games in following years.
A motorcycle game meant to cash in on the Evel Knieval craze of the 70s.
The game simulated a two-player tank battle on a large hex grid. Tanktics had no graphics; the player moved tokens on a map using coordinates the computer, acting as referee, provided. Crawford used maps and tokens from Avalon Hill’s Panzer Leader when developing the game. To compensate for the computer’s weak artificial intelligence, he gave it twice as many tanks as the player. At the end of the game, a point system determines whether the player has won or lost the game. Because of the technical limitations of the game and microcomputer hardware, Tanktics was not a success.