Category Archives: coin-op

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

He has a monkey on his back

Alan: A Video Junkie

I used to think this short film from SNL was a dream I had once.  But no, it’s real.

It is a poker-faced mockumentary about the dangers of the growing obsession of video games by youngsters of 1982. It is also a pitch-perfect indictment of the hysteria swirling around the pastime, drummed up by the news media to create a new boogeyman to scare adults. It’s 11:00 o’clock.  Do you know where your children are?  On the street corner, apparently, turning tricks for quarters to put into Dig Dug.

Made by Claude Kerven, the short aired on the premiere episode of the 8th season of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, September 25, 1982. They sure don’t make them like this anymore. Not only is it a reminder of video games past, it is also a monument to how SNL used to be edgy and hilarious:

Video via eBaum’s World

Breaking Good

Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Breakout

30 years ago, in January of 1984, Steve Jobs and Apple presented the Macintosh computer to an astounded public. Utilizing such exotic technology as a mouse and a 3.5″ floppy drive, the Mac helped transform the personal computer landscape, from arcane commands to easy-to-use point-and-click interfaces. While it didn’t exactly fly off the shelves when first introduced, the Mac design would forever influence how computers were made, sold, and perceived by the public.

10 years before unveiling the Macintosh, Jobs got his start in 1974 as the 40th employee at Atari, as a $5 an hour technician refining the design of video games developed at the company. After returning from India on an Atari service call, in 1976 Jobs was tasked by Nolan Bushnell to build a new game the Atari boss had designed, based on the company’s premiere game PONG. In it, gamers would hit the ball up against a wall of disappearing blocks, as opposed to batting it back and forth with another player. Offering an insane deadline of just four days to get the job done, Jobs enlisted the help of his friend Steve Wozniak to engineer the game. It was called Breakout, and was a major hit for Atari.

Jobs eventually left Atari, and along with Wozniak founded Apple Computer. With the release of their Apple II computer, they helped establish the personal computer industry. With the release of the Macintosh, Jobs would further popularize and refine computers. As a bombastic carnival barker and charismatic distorter of reality, you can see more than just a bit of Bushnell in the man.

For more information on the history of Breakout, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Visual Cortex: Explosive Invaders

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.

Starcade Archive

This is Starcade!

Let me shine a light on a collection of videos at the Internet Archive, episodes of the classic arcade game series Starcade.

The show ran on Ted Turner’s WTBS cable channel from 1982 – 1983, and in syndication the following year.  Billed as the first video arcade game show, Starcade featured players facing off against each other on the popular arcade games of the time.  Watching the episodes is like glimpsing coin-op Valhalla, with shiny Tron, Super Zaxxon and Stargate cabinets filling the backstage.  It prefectly captures the 80′s in video amber.

We might not have arcades in our neighbourhoods anymore, but we still have Starcade.

Retroclip: Thayer’s Quest

Thayer’s Quest
cabinet

After the enormous success of laser arcade game Dragon’s Lair, Rick Dyer and his RDI Video Systems company created another groundbreaking laser coin-op game in 1984, called Thayer’s Quest.  Its story was more closely based on Shadoan, the Tolkien-esqe source material that Dyer had conceived earlier and from which he had spun off Dragon’s Lair.

Thayer was an astounding attempt to produce a sword & sorcery RPG epic for the arcades.  Eschewing joysticks and buttons, Thayer had a full-size membrane keyboard mounted on the cabinet, which players used to input choices during the game.  At the start, you could enter your name, and then be personally refered to via speech synthesis.  Shown on the keyboard were various inventory items that Thayer could use at certain spots to advance the plot.  The game even had a save game system, where the last ten players could return to continue their progress after losing their last life.

The innovation found in Thayer’s Quest makes it a very special and unusual arcade game indeed.  Posted below is our gameplay video.  For more information on Thayer’s Quest, Dragon’s Lair and the rest of the 80′s laser game craze, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.