One of the best things to have come out of creating this blog/podcast is the new group of friends we’ve made. You guys listen to us, read our stuff but more importantly you engage with/chat to us on social media, email, post comments. It’s been a real joy. One of the friends we’ve made is Charlie who we’re pleased to welcome on board as a writer! Here he is with the first instalment of his ‘Year in Arcade’ series starting with 1980 (yep, before any of us were born, ha ha!). You can chat with Charlie on Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.
Setting The Scene
In the middle of – what many consider – the “Golden age” of arcade video games, 1980 was a year filled with more hits than misses for gaming. Successful even from a modern perspective, arcades managed to provide an annual revenue of $2.8 billion. This was a 300% increase from the year prior and would continue to rise the year after. However, before jumping into the games, here is a quick snapshot of what was going on in the year.
Star Wars fans rejoice as The Empire Strikes back is released in cinemas. Shows like Dallas, and The Dukes of Hazzard were dominating television screens. When entering an arcade it is safe to assume you may hear ‘Call Me’ by Blondie and ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ blasting from the speakers.
Without further ado, grab your favorite pair tube socks and a can of coke and let’s head to the arcades!
Missile Command – keeping the cold war alive since 1980
1980 is home to games that would be ported to then-current consoles like the Commodore 64 and the 2600 which were also later ported via arcade compilations in the 90s, with companies like Atari releasing classic after classic. I could say with near certainty that Missile Command had long lines of people waiting to defend their six cities from ballistic missiles, smart bombs, and bomber planes using anti-missile batteries of their own. In addition to its fabulous gameplay, its war-defense themes fit perfectly during a time when the Cold War was still fresh in people’s minds.
Keeping with the shooting theme, but with an outer space twist, this was also the year of Phoenix. This vertical shoot’em up successfully bridged the gap between Space Invaders in the late 70s, and future games like Galaga. Separating itself from others, this shooter had levels specifically aimed at fighting the mothership, an idea that would later evolve in gaming to become what we now know as ‘boss battles’.
Planting the seeds for games like Gauntlet, Wizard of Wor was released. Although not as successful as the other games mentioned in this section, it’s worth mentioning that the original WoW was a maze-type action game that allowed several multiplayer options. In addition to competitive play, a cooperative mode (a feature unique for its time/this era in gaming) made this a game that encouraged one to buddy up with friends as opposed to trying to take down their score.
When talking about successes and popularity within arcades, it would be ridiculous not to mention arguably, the most recognized game of the year…
If I didn’t mention Pac-Man my mother would be disappointed in me
So popular it is worth referencing in two sections of this article. Pac-Man, in all his wakka-wakka glory, was a staple at arcades for many years to come. Commonly considered one of the greatest video games of all time, Pac-Man proved gaming wasn’t just for boys by being deliberately targeted towards women gamers. Expanding on its innovative path, Pac-Man is also credited as being the first game to have power-ups, a function that has become a staple in gaming across a wide variety of genres to this day.
Showing the future is now (for 1980), Battlezone is another game that could have easily been touched upon in the popular section. Aiming for immersion, Battlezone impressed gamers with its unique first person perspective and pseudo-3D type display with vector graphics. Its backgrounds are just as intriguing as the tanks you fought, I recall wasting quarters trying to reach the volcano in my first few playthroughs. Capturing realism so well for its time, a modified version called The Bradley Trainer was created specifically for US Army training.
Sharing the spotlight are the maze game Rally X and Sega’s fixed shooter Carnival. Two completely separate games across two completely separate genres, both have one thing in common: The inclusion of a bonus round. Most of my research declared Carnival as the first arcade game with a bonus stage, but Rally X is another iconic game worthy of discussion.
Space Zap – My ears bled for this screenshot
Games That Should Be Left Behind
While 1980 was the middle of the Golden Age, some games were very much forgettable. They may have not been worth much space in arcades during the year…let alone in an arcade at all.
Targ is a game that struggles to stand out from the rest. Looking more like a proof of concept, even for 1980, Targ’s levels maintained the same checkerboard structure, and required double tapping for shifting in direction. Graphically simplistic, this game looks dated in comparison to its contemporaries as if it was released a few years earlier…
Another game that falls into the not-quite-worth-revisiting category is Midway’s Space Zap . As games like Phoenix intended to inspire progress in the genre of space shooters, Space Zap’ initial impressions kept the genre firmly in place. Relying more on reflex in shooting rather than freedom of movement, everything the game has to offer is shown within the first minute of gameplay. While sound during this time was primitive in comparison to the games of today, there are still many recognizable sounds and melodies for the time. This game sounds like a collection of loud noises intended to startle, not entice play.
1980 was a big year in gaming, the games mentioned above provide only a small sample of what the year had to offer. Did I miss some of your favorite games? Are there any other games you feel should be left behind? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.