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A most gruesome death

Atari’s Epic Dig Dug Commercial of 1982

As part of a marketing push (an area where CEO Ray Kassar excelled at), Atari created a two-minute ad for arcade game Dig Dug. The funny thing about all this hoopla is that Atari hadn’t actually made the game: it was licensed by the company from Namco for release in North America. 

Dig Dug, an arcade video game by Atari and Namco, 1982

Dig Dug gameplay

 

The longer ad ran in theatres during the summer of 1982, while a shorter 30 second version ran on TV. Originally, 60′s singing and dancing sensation Chubby Checker (The Twist) was to sing the catchy theme song in the ad, but Atari ultimately went with a younger singer, perhaps for reasons of demographics. You can hear Chubby’s version here on the Atari Museum Public Group on Facebook. The song was posted by Matt Osborne, the son of Don Osborne, who was Atari’s VP of Marketing at the time. Upon listening to it, I’m sure you’ll agree that Atari made a huge mistake not going with Chubby.

As for the visuals, the various special effects in the ad were handled by production designer Jim Spencer and crew, who among other projects had the effects-laden movie Poltergeist under their belt. They would subsequently work on films like Innerspace and Gremlins.

Created by advertising agency Young & Rubicam and directed by Manny Perez, the spot would go on to snag a 1983 Clio award in the Cinema and Advertising category. It might not be high art, but at least it reflects the most important aspect of the video game it’s shilling: it’s a lot of fun.

For more information on the history of Atari, consult your local Dot Eaters Bitstory. 

 Sources:

Atari Coin Connection, “Dig Dug Meets Clio”, pg. 2, Aug 1983
Atari Museum Public Group, Facebook
1982 Entertainment Tonight segment on the making of Dig Dug ad

Jump into the hot seat with Fire Truck

What Starts With an “F” and Ends With “uck”?

Fire Truck. What, you thought I meant something else?

Of course, this game just might have caused you to drop a few F-bombs in 1978, as your buddy sat in the seat steering the titular vehicle and controlling the gas and breaks, while you struggle to keep the trailer straight with a tiller wheel mounted behind on a control panel. The game can be played solo, but since it’s the first arcade game to offer simultaneous co-operative play, a two-person crew is really necessary to get the most out of it. A purely one-player version would be released by Atari later as Smokey Joe.

firetruck-crunch

Try to keep collateral damage to a minimum as you fight fires, will you?

 

I’m not sure if I always ended up finding Fire Truck cabinets with defective second steering wheels, or if the game was shipped this way from Atari’s factory, but I found it impossible to control the trailer with the tiller wheel.  No matter how gently I handled that second wheel, the trailer would seem to have a mind of its own and just swing all over the place, usually into houses or other vehicles.

Still, Fire Truck was a unique game that had players working together instead of against each other. That’s worth a few smashed and/or burned houses, I guess.

For more information on the early days of Atari, consult your local Dot Eaters bitstory.

Image Source: The Arcade Flyer Archive

fire-truck-flyer-1978

Flyer for Fire Truck

 

Don Mattrick and the Xbox One, 2013

Don Mattrick, 18-year old Entrepreneur

You might recognize the name Don Mattrick. He served as President of Worldwide Studios at Electronic Arts, among other roles at the company, before joining Microsoft as Senior Vice President of the Entertainment and Devices Division in 2007. Eventually promoted to Pesident of the Interactive Entertainment Business, he ran such projects as the Xbox line at the company.  After leaving Microsoft, he assumed the role of CEO at the embattled mobile game company Zynga, creators of the FarmVille phenomena, among others.

But he got his start in the game business by co-founding Distinctive Software in 1982, at the tender age of 17.  Mattrick is standing on the right,  pictured with his partner in the company, Jeff Sember.

From left: Jeff Sember and Don Mattrick

From left: Jeff Sember and Don Mattrick

 

In this image they are showing off their game Evolution, on the Apple II. As a kind of primordial Spore (software superstar Will Wright’s treatise on the subject, released in 2008), the game has players guiding an entity as a one-celled protozoan to tadpole to rodent to beaver to gorilla to, ultimately, Man. Another big hit for Distinctive were the Test Drive games, hit driving game for the C64, Apple II and PC DOS. Racing games would become a speciality of the company. 

During the lead-up and launch of Microsoft’s Xbox One console in 2013, Mattrick became a whipping boy for the gaming community due to the draconian DRM scheme that saddled the console. Initially, trading or selling games was severely restricted on Microsoft’s unit. Particularly in memes created using the photo used as a featured image in this post, Mattrick and the Xbox were savaged. A tremendous outcry from players, as well as some brilliant positioning from Sony, eventually caused Microsoft to remove these restrictions.  

From the Apple II to the Xbox consoles. What a long, strange trip it’s been for Don Mattrick.

1983 ad for Evolution, a computer game by Don Mattrick and Jeff Sember

Ad for Evolution, 1983

 

Use the force, George!

George Lucas Takes His First Flight in Atari’s Coin-Op Star Wars Game

On August 10, 1983, the creator of Star Wars sat down for the first time to play Atari’s vector arcade game based off his famous film, via a cockpit cabinet installed at the Lucasfilm HQ in Marin County, CA.

And what a game! Colourful and detailed Quadrascan vector graphics, an elaborate and responsive flight yolk from famed Atari controller engineer Jerry Liachek, a digitized version of John Williams’ rousing score, along with actual spoken snippets of movie dialog. All this, and lots of exciting game play that nicely amps up the difficulty as you advance. You’ll notice a small plaque on the side of the machine on the first picture, towards the nose of the cabinet above Vader’s head. It reads “A special thanks for creating the Force behind so much fun.” A nice sentiment from Atari, indeed.

Watching Lucas on that August day were several anxious Atari and Warner Communications (mother corp. of Atari) execs, along with some Lucasfilm employees. In the middle of the crowd, wearing dark pants, is president of Atari’s coin-op division John Farrand. I believe that’s Warner Communications executive Manny Gerrard, the man who guided the purchase of Atari by his company, standing to the right of Farrand.

In typical style, while George played the game he remained deadpan, without much visible enthusiasm. The execs grew even more nervous, until Lucas emerged from the cabinet saying “That was great!”. 

For my money, Atari’s Star Wars is one of the greatest arcade games ever created. George approves.

For more on the Star Wars arcade game, check out this entry from TDE’s Oscar Week series, 2014.

For more information on Atari, consult your local Dot Eaters bitstory.

Onlookers watch George Lucas play Atari's Star Wars arcade game, 1983.

Onlookers watch George Lucas play Atari’s Star Wars arcade game, 1983.

 

Atari arcade game being played by George Lucas, creator of Star Wars

A reverse angle, with Lucas being advised by Don Osborne, VP of Marketing for Atari.

 

 

Box art for Super Mario Bros., a video game by Nintendo, 1985

A Look at How Super Mario Bros. Came to Be, on Its 30th Anniversary

This weekend, Super Mario Bros. turns 30 years old. The game has become so ingrained in popular culture that it’s easy to lose sight of just how important and influential Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi’s creation was when it hit Nintendo’s Japanese gaming console on Sept. 13, 1985. The Famicom had been enjoying success in Japan, but Super Mario Bros. became such a phenomena in that country that by 1989 there was one Famicom in every two households in Japan. In 1986, when SMB made its way to the North American version of the Famicom, the NES, it helped the system overcome the toxic environment left from the great video game crash of 1983 and became a huge hit here as well.

A couple of years ago TDE celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Famicom, and as part of that celebration we posted a look at the development of the game and the influences that helped shape SMB. After the jump, we present that post to you now, as we pay tribute to one of the greatest video games of all time:

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Video-Man Attacks

Spider-Man Crosses Joysticks with Video-Man

Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends was an animated series put out by Marvel from 1981-1983, an interesting link between the swinging 60′s Spidey cartoon and his modern incarnation in shows like 2012′s Ultimate Spider-Man.

More apropos to this site, here is an episode that addressed the video game craze, where Spidey does battle with Video-Man, a flat pixellated baddie who materializes out of an arcade game to fight the web-head and his buddies. Go for it!


Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends Season 01… by VNNetwork

Not Mostly Harmless

How to Torture Gamers Without Even Trying

Woe to the poor gamer who slid the floppy for Infocom’s computer adventure game adaptation of Douglas Adams’ seminal book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into their unsuspecting drive. Not because it was a bad game; it wasn’t. Unless you mean bad as evil. Then it was very, very bad, indeed.

Adams was an early technophile, quickly falling in love with the Apple II, and subsequently with Apple’s revolutionary Macintosh computer. He was also fond of Infocom’s adventure games, and signed a multi-game deal with the company in early 1984. Paired with famed Infocom game implementer Steve Meretzky, the two banged out the Hitchhiker’s game over a six month period; Adams writing passages in England and emailing them to Meretzky in Cambridge, MA. Meretzky ended up having to chase famous procrastinator Adams down to a remote British resort  to finish work on the game.

Cover of Hitchhiker's game, Atari 8-bit computers version

Cover of Hitchhiker’s game, Atari 8-bit computers version

 

Upon release in late 1984, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a huge hit, moving over a quarter of a million copies. Breaking many cardinal rules then established in interactive fiction, it also caused a million hairs to be pulled out by frustrated gamers. Transgressions included outright lying to the player about available directions to travel in, and even what the player was able to see. It also often required players to have read the book to know what to do in certain situations. Perhaps worst of all, a favourite torture of Adams was to let you miss some critical piece of equipment during a scene that would cause the game to dead-end later, with no recourse but to reload a save or replay the game. At times it seemed that Hitchhiker’s was purposefully created as a ploy by Infocom to sell more of their Invisiclue hint books.

These brutalities aside, Hitchhiker’s is still an entertaining and interactive excursion through one of the greatest science fiction comedies of all time.

For more information on Hitchhiker’s and Infocom, consult your local Dot Eaters Bitstory.

Ad for Infocom's computer text adventure game Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Steve Meretzky and Douglas Adams

Raise a beer to the great Douglas Adams, 1985 Ad

 

Still from Astron Belt, an arcade laserdisc game by Sega 1983

Astron Belted: Losing the Race to the Arcades

Something about the laserdisc video game craze of the early 80′s was and is fascinating to me.  From little pixellated images and 3 octave repeating tunes, we leapt into professional quality live-action or animated games with orchestrated scores. It seemed that arcade games had suddenly jumped into the future.  

Sega previewed their first video game to feature laserdisc technology, Astron Belt, in the fall of 1982 at the A.M.O.A. or Amusement & Music Operators Association trade show in Chicago. It wasn’t the first commercial interactive game with video footage: horse racing game Quarter Horse by Electro-Sport was shown at the 1981 A.M.O.A., and most likely released to the public that same year.

Laserdisc game Quarter Horse

Quarter Horse arcade laserdisc game, by Electro Sports

 

Even so, Quarter Horse was merely a betting menu accompanied by video footage of horse races. Sega’s machine allowed players to control a computer generated spaceship superimposed over movie footage. Players flew through space and over alien planetary landscapes, shooting enemy craft spewing laser fire and avoiding the tight confines of rocky canyons. It was a real game.

It was also real late. Shown at the 1982 AMOA, the game still needed refinement, and as it was being worked on the U.S. coin-op division of Sega was sold to Bally/Midway, prompting further delays. By the time Astron Belt reached U.S. arcades in late 1983, the  laserdisc video game craze had already been created earlier in the year by the animated extravaganza Dragon’s Lair, from Rick Dyer and Don Bluth, and was subsequently exhausted by a rush of carpetbaggers.

Hobbled by a lack of interactivity for players, along with nagging technical issues for arcade operators, these games were ultimately shown to be a brief respite for the slumping arcade market. The popularity of laserdisc games had begun faltering, and Astron Belt did little to improve this situation.

For more information on Astron Belt and the 80′s laserdisc craze, consult your local Dot Eaters Bitstory.

Image source: Quarter Horse flyer, The Arcade Flyer Archive

1983 ad for Astron Belt, a laserdisc arcade video game by Bally Midway

The armed and dangerous worlds of retired cop Jim Walls

Jim Walls Walks the Beat

Jim Walls joined the California Highway Patrol in 1971, working in the Southern California community of Van Nuys. In 1984 he was injured in a shootout during an enforcement stop, and while on administrative leave met Sierra boss Ken Williams via his wife Donna, a hair stylist who would occasionally cut Williams’ hair in a salon in Oakhurst. Williams was mulling over the idea of a Sierra adventure game about police work, and was looking for a consultant with real-world experience.

 

Working with Sierra, Walls would create the story for Police Quest: In Pursuit of the Death Angel, and go on to make two more games in the series, as well as the naval thriller Codename: Iceman, until leaving the company in 1991. His name would be replaced on the box by none less than former LAPD chief Daryl F. Gates in Police Quest: Open Season, released in 1993. That year Walls would consult for Tsunami Media, made up of mostly ex-Sierra people, producing Blue Force, another police procedural adventure game. 

blue-force-1993

Blue Force by Tsunami, 1993

 

Subsequent to a couple of unsuccessful crowd-funding campaigns to launch a new IP in the vein of Police Quest titled Precinct, Walls settled into retirement. But his work on the Police Quest series, a beloved part of the Sierra adventure game pantheon, writes Jim Walls’ name into the books of video game history.

For more information of the history of Sierra, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

 

Major Faux Pas

Major Fun with Major Havoc

1983 may have been the waning days of the arcade era, but video game companies were still producing amazing products that pushed the envelope, and Atari’s Major Havoc coin-op was no exception. Designed by long-time Atari coin-op division employee Owen Rubin, and prototyped under the title Alpha-1, I had an obsession with the resultant released game. The “Breakout” and “Galaxian” modes were pretty blah, but the game really shone in the parts where the titular hero Major Rex Havoc would land his spaceship onto an enemy Vaxxian space station. The player would then guide him through the complex, avoiding the local enemies and obstacles, following arrows along maze-like corridors to the station’s reactor, which he would sabotage. Then it was a panicked, breakneck race through the floaty, near-weightless environment back to the ship and a blast off out to minimum safe distance for the explosion. All this while maintaining oxygen levels so Havoc doesn’t asphyxiate.

havoc

Colourful, complex vector graphics and a superbly animated main character added to the mystique of this classic arcade game, one of the few that you can play today and still be challenged and transfixed.

To check out creator Owen Rubin’s webpage, click here.

For more information on the history of Atari, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

major-havoc-1983