Category Archives: 80’s

Title screen for Super Mario Bros., a video game for the Famicom by Nintendo 1985

Celebrating Famicom’s 30th – Super Mario Bros.

(This article was originally posted to The Dot Eaters on July 15, 2013)

Here is the last of the TDE articles detailing various aspects of the Famicom, as well as the NES, the North American version of the console released in 1985.  These posts celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Famicom, and lead up to the full history of the Famicom, to be posted tomorrow. The post today also falls on the 30th anniversary of Mario Bros., so two koopa’s with one fireball, so to speak.  While Famicom project lead Masayuki Uemura and his team at R&D2 labs at Nintendo do great work putting together the hardware of the famed video game console, it’s the games for the system that give it longevity.  And there’s few games that boost Famicom and NES sales as much as Super Mario Bros..

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A Video Game Movie Review: Joysticks (1983)

The following is a movie review of mine from Ten Point Review. The idea of the site is to rate a movie according to four criteria, and then add and subtract points from that sub-total depending on how you react to various other aspects of the film, thusly coming up with a score of between 0 – 10.

This article was originally published on The Dot Eaters on Jun. 25, 2013

Enjoy.

You might be thinking, “Why the hell review this chunk of cinematic excrement?”. If so, I see you’ve already watched Joysticks. Also, good question. I asked myself this very thing about 1000 times while subjecting myself to the movie.

As a video game historian, you’d think Joysticks would be right up my alley. I squee with delight at quick glimpses of classic arcade games in movies like Tron and WarGames. I even jones on the scene in the 1978 version of Dawn of the Dead where they’re in the arcade playing all those classic 70’s games like Starship.  And I have to say, Joysticks does not skimp on the video games.  Heck, even the opening credits are interspersed with plenty of 80’s video game footage.

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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

 

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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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

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 Visual Cortex: Activision Pivots

The original third-party video game maker for the Atari 2600 was Activision, formed by four disgruntled Atari game designers looking for more respect and a bigger piece of the financial pie. Former music industry exec Jim Levy, as well as venture capitalist Richard Muchmore, rounded out the company’s management.

Activision saw the writing on the wall for video game consoles in 1983. That was the year they pivoted from consoles onto computer platforms, porting popular hits like Kaboom! and River Raid to the Atari 8-bit XL line, as seen in the ad featured today in the Cortex.

Ad for computer games by Activision, a video game company 1983

Activision makes their move to computers.

Moving to computers helped the storied company survive the big video game crash of 1983-84, allowing them to become one of the biggest video game companies operating today.

For more information on the history of Activision and the Atari 2600, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Excerpt from screenshot of Berzerk, an arcade video game by Stern 1980

Video Games Go Berzerk

When the arcade ruled the entertainment landscape, I played a tonne of Berzerk, an arcade video game released by Stern in 1980.

Atari’s Gotcha might have been the first maze game, but Berzerk really brought the genre to life. You are a lone survivor of a robot uprising, racing through room after room trying to avoid the indigenous population of up to 11 of the murderous machines. If you touch one of them, you die. If you get shot by one of them, you die. You touch the walls, you die. You also cannot linger too long in a room, even if you clear out all of the robots, because soon Evil Otto will appear, pure hate in the form of a smiling, bouncing ball. Designer Alan McNeil based the game on his dreams, as well as taking inspiration from Fred Saberhagen’s Berzerker series of SF books. Otto himself comes from a security guard McNeil had run-ins with while working at Nutting Associates.

Even though it doesn’t seem to be part of a larger overall maze, running from room to room in Berzerk gave one a sense of wandering a complex, hopelessly lost and unsure of what you’ll face when you pass through the next door. It’s an extremely early example of an open-world game, although what kind of world and what you’re supposed to be doing besides surviving is anyone’s guess. Another thing that brought the game alive was the groundbreaking speech synthesis used to give voice to the robots, taunting the player with gems like “Chicken, fight like a robot!” and “The humanoid must not escape!”. If you dared try to walk past the cabinet in the arcade without stopping, you might be admonished with “Coins detected in pocket!”.

Berzerk rightfully earned a lot of love in the arcades, as well as at home with a wonderfully done adaptation to the Atari 2600 in 1981. This was followed by a version for Atari’s 5200 console, which actually included the speech. An arcade sequel was commissioned, released as Frenzy in 1982, although it didn’t meet with the same success.  The original, however, had a wide-ranging influence on the industry, including inspiring Eugene Jarvis to improve upon the formula with his classic Robotron: 2048, as well as the later Smash TV.

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

 

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