Original version: Frogger, released in 1981 for arcade
It’s not easy being green. Or yellow, for that matter. Frogger centers around the titular tree frog who needs to get to his home on the other side of the river. Seemingly the only part of Frogger anyone remembers is the first half of the screen with the cars, even though the river is the main course.
Anyway, Frogger is a good example of how all video games have a story presented by the gameplay, no matter how rudimentary it may be. Just think about it for a second. A tree frog has to get across a busy highway, then get across a river without drowning and has to rescue his lady friends along the way. He then safely reaches his home and the next frog comes to join him. Now, there’s a certain lack of attention to detail that becomes apparent when you discover that the frog can hop as quickly as the cars can drive. Also, once he reaches the other side of the river he jumps into the water… and doesn’t drown. If you try hopping onto the patches of grass you lose a life. What?!? That is an unacceptable plot hole! But once you get past these narrative blunders, Frogger is fun to play.
Frogger was developed by the up-and coming Konami. Konami was founded in 1969 by KOzuki Kagemasa, NAkama Yoshinobu, and MIyasako as a pinball machine repair service. Through the seventies it started the push towards making games and in 1978 released their first four games, the all-too original Block Game, Block Invader (just one, mind you), Space Ship, and Space King. Konami surprisingly stayed in business long enough to release Frogger. It was really fitting that they chose Sega/Gremlin for the game’s worldwide distribution, since Sega had previously released the electromechanical game Frogs in 1978.
Actually, Frogs was a commercial failure, and executives at Sega/Gremlin initially rejected Frogger for this reason. When Elizabeth Falconer, a market researcher at Gremlin, was told to comb through Gremlin’s library of games to find if there was anything worth licensing, she found Frogger. She asked if the game had been reviewed yet, and was told that Gremlin turned down the game based on its simple controls and cuteness. Falconer fought hard for a chance to make a prototype and her boss eventually gave her the go-ahead, provided she could convince the executives to greenlight the game. At the pitch meeting Falconer distributed a booklet she had made which highlighted the appealing features of Frogger. Jack Gordon, the director of video game sales, immediately tossed the booklet back to her and snapped that Frogger had already been rejected because it was a game for women and children, and several other executives at the table nodded in agreement. Falconer speculated aloud that some of these executives were probably the same ones who had rejected Pac-Man the previous year. The room fell silent with shock and embarrassment.
Falconer took advantage of the silence to explain why Frogger was to be a success. She mentioned the easy-to-learn but difficult to master controls, the predictable but challenging patterns, the eye-catching visuals, the equally catchy soundtrack, and so on. She finished her presentation with a simple request: to build a single prototype to gauge players’ reactions. The room sat quiet until one of the executives told the others to just let her have it. Sega/Gremlin produced the prototype and installed it in a local saloon for playtesting. Despite being played mostly by grown men Frogger was a hit, and this was enough to convince Sega/Gremlin to move forward. What’s more, most distributors were excited to distribute Frogger based only on the reaction at the saloon.
Just as Falconer predicted, it was thanks to the novel concept, the broad market appeal, and charming graphics of the game that made it instantly popular. It was so popular that other companies blatantly copied it. Clones of the game were everywhere. Happily for Sega/Gremlin and Konami. they could combat the clones with official ports. Whereas Atari couldn’t port Pong in 1972 because there was no supply of consoles (except the Magnavox Odyssey which Pong ripped off), by 1981 there was a wide variety of consoles and computers to choose from. The simple gameplay and simple, colorful graphics were well-suited to any computer.
The controls, too, were simple, the only input being a single joystick. There weren’t any buttons to get in the way. Do you think this made it an easy game? Think again.
What sticks with me the most, even years after playing, is that kickin’ music which I’m sure you thoroughly enjoyed while watching that video. Music was still very new in 1981. 1980’s Rally-X was the first game to have background music playing throughout but 1.) it wasn’t anything special, and 2.) most other games had little music beyond an intro, if anything. Phoenix contained two sizable clips of music from “Romance de Amor” and “Für Elise” but those stopped once complete. Frogger‘s soundtrack was never-ending. Most of the soundtrack was chip-tuned versions of popular songs, like the children’s song 「犬のおまわりさん」 (“Inu no Omawarisan”–“The Dog Policeman”) and the opening theme of the sickeningly saccharine anime 「花の子ルンルン」, as well as American folk songs like “Yankee Doodle.” Frogger‘s soundtrack was the quintessential 8-bit arcade music. This kicked off a veritable music boom–soon every arcade game and his brother included music. Some were short clips, like Crystals of Zong having three-second long excerpts of “If I were a Rich Man” and “Light My Fire.”
If you own a Frogger arcade cabinet, you can download a backup of the rom here and play it using MAME.