The 70’s and 80’s made up the Paleozoic Era of Videogames. It began with the simplicity of creatures like pong and breakout, and eventually gave way to a myriad of massive arcade beasts. Ravenous for quarters, these games ruled the earth until the mass extinction event that was the arrival of home console gaming. Oh sure, there are still a few of those old dinosaurs around today, but the gaming world is now dominated by consoles and (to a lesser extent) personal computers. Many modern arcades are little more than quarter-fed museums.
This makes for fascinating reading. It’s a series of documents from Atari in 1983, covering the development and deployment of Centipede. (PDF) In it, Atari employees discuss the merits of replacing the trackball with a joystick, how well the game performed against other Atari games, and various strategies that were emerging from players on how to play. I was also really surprised to see a section talking about how to attract more (Japanese) females to their machines. Even back then, they were looking for a way to reach the elusive “female gamer”.
I’d forgotten how innovative Atari* was at the time. The rotary controller of Tempest. The trackball in Centipede. The surreal landscape of Marble Madness. I’ve remembered Atari for their low-quality titles for the Atari console and general short-sightedness that (thankfully, in retrospect) gave rise to the Nintendo console, but in the early 80’s they were really looking for new ways to
lure you away from your quarters make games fun and interesting. In 1983, they were still evolving.
Still, as good as Atari was in the early 80’s, it was Namco that ruled the day. Pac-Man was the Tyrannosaurus Rex of Arcade Games:
Hat tip: Jay Barnson.
* It might might be unfair to relate the Atari Console with the Atari arcade games. The history of the Atari brand is nearly impenetrable.)
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