Category Archives: 80′s

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

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

Images from the TDE databanks

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.

 

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

Run, E.T., Run!

Oscar Week at TDE: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Tonight’s the big night!  Overly primped celebrities engage in vapid self-congratulatory masturbation.  Still… we’re excited! Wrapping up this series of articles covering games based on movies either nominated for or winners of Best Picture, we have perhaps the most infamous: Atari’s adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Released in 1982, the movie concerned itself about the story of a young boy who befriends a lost space alien and attempts to return him home.  It was an immediate hit, and through various re-releases the movie ended up taking around $435 million over its box-office lifetime. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1983, but lost to Richard Attenborough’s epic biopic Gandhi.

Atari saw E.T. as a natural video game hit. Steve Ross, head of Atari owners Warner Communications, negotiated a 21 million dollar deal for the home video game rights to the movie. The problem was that negotiations took so long that Atari game designer Howard Scott Warshaw was left with only six weeks to get a game for the VCS/2600 out the door in time for Christmas 1982. Within that crushing deadline he attempted to create an involved adventure game featuring the lovable little alien, but the result is confusing and endlessly frustrating.  Players strive to guide E.T. around an abstract landscape, searching for the three pieces of the interplanetary telephone that he can use to phone home. With only a certain amount of energy to complete this task, E.T. is chased by government agents and scientists, who will delay his progress. Also on hand is young Elliott to lend assistance during the mission.

The game is at least interesting, with invisible power zones positioned around the different screens giving E.T. special powers, such as teleportation and the ability to scatter his pursuers. The real problems are the holes that are scattered about, into which the alien falls over and over and over and over and over again. My gosh, the holes. Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote “When you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” Atari’s E.T. cartridge has so many, many eyes to gaze so very, very long into you.

For more information on the E.T. game and its role in the great video game crash of ’83 – ’84, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Here are the rest of the Oscar Week articles on TDE:

The Towering Inferno (VCS/2600, U.S. Games 1982)
Star Wars (Arcade, Atari 1983)
M*A*S*H (VCS/2600 Fox Video Games 1983)
Rocky (ColecoVision, Coleco 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)
Jaws (Amiga, Intelligent Design/Screen 7 1989)

 

Quint prowls the waters for the dreaded beast

Oscar Week at TDE: Jaws (1989)

1975′s Jaws might not have been Steven Spielberg’s first theatrical film (it was his second; The Sugarland Express, released the previous year, takes that honour), but it most certainly was the first to put him on the map. The story of a resort-town police chief and his battle against a monstrous killer shark, it set the template for the movie blockbuster and kept a huge swath of the public away from their beaches, bays and bathtubs. While nominated, it didn’t swim away with Best Picture; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest flew away with all the big awards at the 1976 ceremony.

Jaws: The Computer Game was released in 1989 for the Amiga, C64, Atari ST and other systems. Made by developer Intelligent Design, Ltd. and published by Screen 7 Ltd., it is a strange mish-mash of strategy and 2-D platforming. Players take on the role of chief Martin Brody, who circles the island of Amity in his boat The Orca, following reports of shark sightings.  He can close beaches to prevent attacks, although keeping them closed too long ticks off Mayor Larry Vaughn and can lead to Brody’s dismissal. Both Hooper and Quint from the movie join Brody on his quest, along with a team of six divers who pilot a submersible vehicle into the depths around Amity.  The ultimate goal is to collect pieces of a special gun and a cache of bullets, which when assembled can be used to dispatch the fishy fiend.

Jaws: The Computer Game is actually fun to play.  Trying to guess where the shark will go lends a bit of strategy, and the underwater parts are competent if a bit draggy and frustrating at times. The colourful graphics help keep things interesting, along with John Williams’ famous main theme from the movie, which lends tension leading up to the titular fish’s occasional appearances. It’s worth going back into the water for this one.

Here are the rest of the Oscar Week articles on TDE:

The Towering Inferno (VCS/2600, U.S. Games 1982)
Star Wars (Arcade, Atari 1983)
M*A*S*H (VCS/2600 Fox Video Games 1983)
Rocky (ColecoVision, Coleco 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)