As editor of Arcade Attack I often drop the ball. Our Charlie submitted this article almost three years ago. Sorry, Charlie!! Please have a read of his fascinating insight into what was going on at the arcade in 1978. And there’s a lot more where this came from.
**If you like this, have a read of Charlie’s take on 1980**
Year in Arcade is an article series that focuses on some of the highs, lows, and milestones of a particular time in gaming with a focus on arcades. Year in Arcade brings you back to the good (or in some cases, the not so good) old days.
Setting the Scene
If you didn’t know the songs and dances to Grease, odds are you had a friend who did, since it was the year’s top film. The movie’s soundtrack also dominated the music charts along with Andy Gibb’s Shadow Dancing. On the small screen, people were fixated on the latest Laverne and Shirley episodes along with newcomer Three’s Company.
In the first part of this series we explored gaming in 1980, which many consider the height of the golden age of arcades. This time, we are going back even further, to the beginning of the arcade-hype. To a time where disco was reaching its dying days and Lego people were invented. 1978 was the year arcades began to take shape into becoming what most people think of today – physical locations dedicated towards digital gaming, At the beginning of its uprising in the United States, arcades collected a yearly revenue of a modest 50 million (roughly the same amount of money it cost to make 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2).
Now that the background is set, take a bite of your Whatchamacallit and let’s head to the arcades!
Space Invaders. Seriously, that’s it. This entire article could be about the success of Space Invaders and its influence on the arcade gaming industry. The first fixed shooter and the first game with a difficulty curve, Space Invaders was THE major factor in triggering a golden age of gaming.
The premise was simple, but innovative for its time. The player is in control of a laser cannon at the bottom of the screen shooting aliens above with the intention of eliminating all aliens on screen. As the player defeated aliens, the remaining enemies would begin to move with increased speed. This was due to the game’s struggle to handle so many sprites, but was left in to keep things “thrilling”. While it did not create a yen shortage as the urban legend states, it did go on to make over 13 billion dollars (adjusted for inflation) in its many revisions. For a more modern comparison, that is more than video games made in ALL of 2006
Though I could go on about the impact and relevance of Space Invaders to the arcade industry, it was not the only gem released in the year. Super Breakout , the sequel to 1976’s Breakout by the gaming juggernaut Atari, was released into the world. The sequel introduced double the paddles and double the balls (giggity) in addition to three unique gaming modes. Best described as a ball and paddle brick-breaking game, Atari used this game to further progress a genre named after its predecessor. The game held a long lasting impact, eventually becoming a pack-in game for the Atari 5200, which was released 4 years later.
Keeping with the trend of sequels, another quality game for the year was Sea Wolf II. Developed by Dave Nutting Associates and published by Midway, Sea Wolf II is a first person boat shooting game, and was a perfect example of strong color use within video games with its use of saturated blues for the ocean, purplish skies and yellow boats and missiles. Sporting new (for the time) hardware, this allowed for two-player simultaneous use/gameplay. The game created an added layer of depth and immersion by having the viewpoint tied to a periscope attached to the arcade cabinet.
A year of many innovations, 1978 was a starting point for several video game companies. In addition to the new developments in gaming introduced by Space Invaders, Gee Bee is a game that, on its own, wouldn’t quite fit into the milestone section of the year in question, as it is essentially a Breakout clone with pinball elements. However, it was the first game developed by what would become one of the most influential companies in gaming with its arcade classics, Namco. While the game itself was not successful, creator Toru Iwatani and Namco would move on to produce other classics like Galaga, Ridge Racer, Time Crisis, and PacMan.
American Football fans got excited as Atari Football hit North American arcades in October. A traditional football game likely influential on future sport franchises such as Madden, it was the first non-racing video game to have a vertical scrolling feature. Known as one of the first games to accurately simulate sports, the game was also known for its use of a trackball. Although not the first to use it, its popularity resulted in future games looking into it (like a personal favorite of mine, Marble Madness).
Speed Freak is a first person racing game where the goal is to get to the finish line within the time limit. The game sports a unique art direction using vector graphics, something uncommon for its time. While not the first racer, first person game, or even first to use vector graphics, Speed Freak was the first arcade game to incorporate all three concepts into one fast-paced game. While over 40 years old, it graphically still holds up to this day with games being released decades later using similar graphics.
Games That Should Be Left Behind
With every year there are smash hits, and technical revolutions, but with these changes also come games that can be argued as forgettable and not worth revisiting. 1978 was no stranger to these misses. Here are two lowlights for the year.
Orbit was a multiplayer space shooter released by Atari. I would best describe this game as Asteroids before puberty. Severely underdeveloped, the game consists of one solid screen with only two non-player moving objects that move in a circular manner. With no single player, you are forced to grab a buddy to enjoy the one-on-one experience of this game. Sometimes one may be inclined to cut a game some slack due to its old age, but when the nearly identical Space War was released a year prior it doesn’t leave room for any.
If you ever wanted to play a game whose most engaging feature is sound effects that are a cross between a cheap siren and a computer dying, then Blasto should be on your radar. A one to two player top down shooter where your mission is to shoot all the bombs off screen within 90 seconds. Completion of the task results in a free play of a second stage where regardless of success or failure the game will end. It was clear that replay value was not a primary focus for the game, as at best you are given a whopping 3 minutes of gameplay. With no enemies, this type of replay value is low even for the year.
1978, for many, was the beginning of the boom that helped shape the gaming industry into what it is today. The games above provide just a small sample of what the year had to offer. Did I miss your favorite? Are there any other games you feel should be avoided? Do you actually like Orbit? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.