It ain’t easy being the keeper of the peace in sun-drenched, wild-west town Gold Gulch. So, what would happen if the lawman of the town, with trusty firearm at his hip, slowly lost his spit one day? Bill gives you a brief rundown of the C64 classic computer game Law of the West, and a little bit about Alan Miller, the famed game designer who made it. Then, watch in horror at the inevitable carnage of a peace officer on the edge.
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.
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.
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.
The combination of a game console and a computer was a holy grail pursued by the video game industry since its early stages, a quest that continued right into the modern age. Of course, these days, all you need to add to a console is a keyboard and mouse; the Playstations and Xboxes of today are merely home computers that you can’t upgrade, with which you use your television as a monitor. It was a pursuit that helped send the whole industry over a cliff in 1983 – 84. You’d think that they would have taken heed of the Odyssey², an early attempt at mashing up a computer and console released by Magnavox in 1978, and which struggled to maintain market share against heavy-hitters like the Atari VCS/2600 and Mattel’s Intellivision.
O2’s innovative membrane keyboard
The O2 had a 49 key membrane keyboard baked right into the design. Advertising for the console revolved around this fact, which unfortunately ended up as mere novelty. Outside of players being able to enter their name in some games, and a nifty type and speak program paired with The Voice speech synthesizer, the keyboard was under-utilized by game makers and no storage options were offered to highlight the system as a computer.
With specifications lacking when put up against other consoles, and games that failed to leverage its keyboard, the Odyssey² ran a perennial third in the early video game race and quietly disappeared in the big videogame flameout.