Category Archives: 1980

Title screen for Missile Command, an arcade game by Atari 1980

Missile Command and Centipede Getting Movie Adaptations

It looks like Emmet/Furla/Oasis Films and Atari are getting together to make movies out of two of the video game company’s best-known properties.  Missile Command was released in arcades by Atari in 1980, created by famed game designer Dave Theuer. Centipede was the product of Donna Bailey and Ed Logg, also released in 1980. Bailey was one of the few female designers in the industry at the time, and Logg might be more famous for creating Asteroids the previous year. 

The plotlines of retro video games of the 80’s were notoriously thin; the  geopolitical climate that would result in ICBM missiles raining down from the sky towards six nameless cities was never revealed in Missile Command, nor was the exact nature of the natural disaster that would create giant centipedes, mushroom-laying fleas, and giant spiders touched upon in that game. So the writers of these films really have their work cut out for them. They’ll have to fire up their favourite arcade game emulator and see if inspiration strikes.

The Intellivision, a home video game console by Mattel 1980.

Intellivision Takes a Swing at Atari

Developed by Mattel and consulting firm APh, the Intellivision (Intelligent Television) provided the first serious competition against Atari’s popular VCS game console.

With its advanced graphic capabilities and versatile keypad/disc controllers,  the console was a success when released wide in the U.S. in 1980. Mattel’s aggressive advertising push for the Intellivision, which highlighted the superiority of its many sports games over Atari’s offerings, sparked a marketing war between the two companies. As Intellivision spokesperson George Plimpton was quick to point out, between Atari’s Home Run and Mattel’s Major League Baseball, there was simply no comparison. While Atari promoted their library of popular arcade game translations unavailable on other systems, hits like Night Stalker and Astrosmash help solidify the Intellivision’s success.

Magazine attack ad for the Intellivision, a home video console by Mattel

George lays into Atari

Speech synthesis via the Intellivoice module, as well as a game delivery system through Cable TV called Playcable, were eventually made available for the system. In 1983, Mattel redesigned the original Master Component console into the Intellivision II, simply a retooled box and controllers with the same capabilities at a reduced price.  The Intellivision III was announced early that year, with such features as a built-in voice synthesizer, colour LCD display on the case and wireless joystick controllers.  It and the top-secret Intellivision IV next-gen console project were cancelled by the end of the year as the home video game market collapsed.

The Intellivision II, a home video game system by Mattel 1983

Intellivision II and controller

After the company made a tenuous grasp for the home computer market with the ill-fated Aquarius computer, Mattel Electronics went out of business in 1984.  All rights and existing stock for the Intellivision were sold to T.E. Valeski, former VP of Sales and Marketing at Mattel. As Intellivision, Inc. (later changed to INTV), the company marketed a cosmetically altered version of the original Master Component called the INTV System III in the fall of 1985. They met with enough success to produce several new games for the console, until this new venture closed its doors in 1990.

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

A screenshot from Space Panic

Space Panic: Drilling Down a Genre

I remember being fascinated with Space Panic when I first spied it in the arcades in 1980. A game genre will eventually become so ingrained over time that you lose sight of what it really meant, but the idea of platforms and ladders introduced in Universal, Ltd.’s Space Panic helped video games construct worlds that you could clamber around in, like an electronic equivalent of an Erector Set. Combine this world with an ever more difficult puzzle element where you dig holes to trap and dispatch angry aliens, sometimes requiring planning over multiple levels, and you get the perfect kind of gameplay, something that is easy to grasp but difficult to master. Added into the mix is a frenetic pace as your antagonists get more and more quick at chasing you around the screen, and a deadline to accomplish your mission as your oxygen slowly runs out.

Space Panic cleared the way for a myriad of platform games, from Donkey Kong to Dig Dug and beyond. You ever climb the side of a building and run across the rooftops in an Assassin’s Creed game? It all started here, dig it? For more information on Space Panic, 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.


Excerpt from Zork cover art.

Zorked: The Story of Infocom

I’d be hard-pressed to do a review of the computer gaming I did in my youth and not dedicate an entire chapter to the wonderful text-adventures put out by Infocom in the 80’s.

I remember that the first disk I ever bought for my gigantic 1541 floppy drive, newly attached to my Commodore 64, was a Commodore-labelled version of Infocom’s Zork.  Just a few minutes exploring the surface landscape and then delving deep into an ever-expanding Underground Empire had me hooked.

Box art for Zork, a computer text adventure game for the TRS-80, by Infocom 1980

Zork, TRS-80 version

Starting as an answer to Crowther and Wood’s original Adventure text adventure, a group of MIT students designed Zork as a program on a mainframe computer, and eventually developed a system to port it to personal computers. After an initial release by VisiCalc makers Personal Software, the Infocom team decided to publish the games themselves, and hence was a computer game giant created.

Ten Zork games were eventually produced, along with a huge library of other works spanning genres such as science fiction, history, mysteries, fantasy, and on and on.  When Douglas Adams got wind of what Infocom is doing with interactive fiction, he signed on with the company to adapt his seminal comedy science fiction book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  From this unholy pairing of Adams and Infocom “IMP” Steve Meretsky would come one of the most cruel, diabolical computer games of all time.

Even as graphics eventually supplanted text and the human imagination as the canvas of computer game design, the great writing and intricate design of Infocom’s worlds kept me visiting them. For our full history of Zork and Infocom, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Valve’s Steam Controller – What Goes Around…

Venerable game developer, publisher and distributor Valve Software introduced their new Steam Controller yesterday, and the shrill whistle of those blowing their stacks was deafening.  People were pretty steamed, if you will.  Gamers were taken aback by the design of the controller, which eschews traditional user interfaces such as analog joysticks or a pressable D-pad with two round, flat trackpads. Players use their thumbs on the surface of the pads, which also serve as buttons since they are clickable. Valve promises the high-resolution trackpads give players a much higher degree of control over previous methods. Haptic feedback and a large touchscreen are also thrown into the design for good measure.

Gamer response was quick and furious. It reminded me of another unique control scheme that was met by derision from gamers back in the day…

Meme featuring the Steam Controller and Intellivision controller

Steam Controller, seems familiar…

As always, for more information on the history of the Intellivision, consult your local Dot Eaters article.