As part of a running web series of me and my 9-year-old son playing co-operative (and yes, sometimes adversarial) video games together, we fired up a 1990 Midway arcade classic: Pigskin 621 A.D. Done by the team that produced the earlier Arch Rivals basketball arcade game, Pigskin is a just-deep-enough version of football, couched in the hilarious terms of a bunch of knuckle-dragging savages beating the tar out of each other on the playing field. As you’ll see in this video, we had a great time. Enjoy!
Midway Mfg. Corp had ridden the coattails of Atari with their arcade video games Winner and Winner IV, both PONG clones released in 1973. They stopped following and helped push the technical envelope, however, with their groundbreaking Gun Fight, released in 1975. The arcade game placed two western hombres, one controlled by the player with two pistol-grip joysticks, in a showdown amongst rolling conestoga wagons and numerous cactii. It was based on the Taito arcade game Western Gun, but Midway game development contractors Nutting Associates decided to add a CPU in their redesign for the game’s release in North America, making it the first use of such technology in an arcade game. This allowed for more complicated on-screen sprites than the simple square paddles and ball of previous PONG games, as well as more unpredictable movement from the computer-controlled cowboy. The company followed up Gun Fight with Boot Hill in 1977, placing the video sprites on top of a western tableau diorama built into the cabinet. Gun Fight designers Dave Nutting and Tom McHugh, of Nutting Associates, went on to make Sea Wolf and Wizard of Wor for Midway.
Even 35 years later, Space Invaders epitomizes video games. Like the titular creatures who march inexorably down the screen at the player-controlled missile base, when the arcade game was released by Taito in 1978 it marched video games out of the dodgy doldrums of bars, bowling alleys and pool halls and into mainstream venues like restaurant lobbies and supermarket foyers. Thus, the game helped define the idea of video games in the minds of the public.
Taito engineer Tomohiro Nishikado drew his inspiration for the game from classic SF movies such as War of the Worlds, and upon release the game caused near the same kind of commotion as Orson Welle’s famous radio adaptation of that story. Space Invaders was so wildly popular in Japan that shop owners cleared their inventory and lined their walls with game cabinets to cash in on the craze. So many 100-yen coins were dropped into the machines that the Bank of Japan had to triple production to keep the money in circulation.
Van Halen bass player Michael Anthony, dreaming of disintegrating David Lee Roth, 1982
Space Invaders was met with great success in North America as well, under a license to Midway. Arcade operators were confident when they purchased a cabinet, knowing that they would recoup the cost in quarters within a month. When it became the first arcade game licensed for a home video game console, Space Invaders proceeded to save the struggling Atari VCS and put it on the road to complete domination of the home system market for several years.
Market penetration for the game was such that even the New England Journal of Medicine got into the act in 1981, dubbing a pained wrist caused by constant play of the game as Space Invader Wrist. Never had coming down with a new ailment been so much fun.
Today in our The 12 Video Games of Christmas feature, we have Midway Arcade Origins for PS3, developed by Backbone Entertainment and released by Warner Bros. Interactive.
Warner Bros. picked up the assets of Midway when the company filed for bankruptcy in 2009. Their presentation here of 30 classic Midway arcade games is certainly a no-frills affair, where you merely quickly cycle through the cabinets to choose your game, while the murmur of a busy arcade plays in the background. A nice option though is being able to tag games as favourites, so you can use that option to quickly find the cabinets you prefer to play on. You also get access to operators switch options, letting you do things like change difficulty or add more lives. Unfortunately, there are no bonuses or history offered.
There could also be some more options given for configuring controls in the games, although most of them feel pretty good on the PS3 gamepad. It’s also great to see these classics up on the big screen, bezel art and all. A high score leaderboard system helps you keep tabs on your friends’ activities in the arcade.
I wouldn’t exactly call this collection the “origin” of Midway’s storied past in the video game world, but it certainly is a cornucopia of gaming goodness from the company.
Today we start our 12 Video Games of Christmas feature, where we spotlight a game a day that would jingle a retrogamer’s bells this holiday season.
In the stocking today is the Midway Arcade app for iOS devices. It is a universal app that works for both iPhone and iPad. It is a collection of 10 classic titles from Midway, one of the first manufacturers of arcade video games and producer of such classics as Gunfight, Sea Wolf, a little number imported from Japan called Space Invaders, among many, many others. This app features some of the later games of Midway.
The in-game Menu has you moving through a virtual re-creation of a classic arcade, faithfully replicating the noisy din of a typical video game hangout. As you shift from one rendered classic cabinet to the next, you can choose to step up to one of the 10 games included for the initial $1.99 purchase:
Root Beer Tapper
Four skill games: Basketball, Pool, Air Hockey and Roll Ball (Skee-ball)
Available for in-app purchase are two game packs, for $0.99 each:
Fantasy Game Pack
Wizard of Wor
Action Game Pack
It gets to be a bit of a broken record with reviews of classic game emulation on mobile devices, but a real problem here are the controls. There aren’t many options for adjusting the nature of the virtual joystick, and the tilt-controls are a bit wonky too. Driving games like APB and Spy Hunter are a lost cause. A mitigating factor here is that Midway Arcade supports the iCade, a mini-arcade cabinet with a joystick and button array, which you just might see under the tree later in this series. Since the iCade lacks a steering wheel, it doesn’t help much to control the vehicle games.
Midway made some great games for the arcades, and Midway Arcade brings that shifty, smokey coin-op jive right onto your iOS device.
Where we pull a visual bauble out of the treasure chest of images at TDE and examine it with a loupe.
Today in the cortex, a flyer for Space Invaders, which helped solidify video games as popular entertainment. Invaders’ biggest contribution to the North American video game industry was probably how it brought coin-op games out of bars and bowling alleys, and into restaurants, coffee shops, hotel lobbies and other mainstream venues. Such did video arcade games move from a smokey niche market and into popular consciousness.
But that’s nothing compared to how Space Invaders affected Japan when original manufacturer Taito released it there. The game was so popular, with so much change being dropped into the machine to play, that the Bank of Japan had to triple 100-yen coin production to keep it in circulation.
This flyer sent by North American licensee Midway to distributers is mighty explosive. A fitting graphic for a game that set the world on fire. For more information on Space Invaders, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.