Wednesday, June 21, 2006

My history with electronic games, part 1: 1970s

I was trying to make a larger post, but I came to realize that I was never going to get it out unless I broke into pieces. So here is part 1, my history with electronic, computer, and video gaming in the 1970s. Part 2 is here, part 3 is here, and part 4 is here.

I was born in 1969, so the 1970s were the kid years for me. By the 1980s, I was already in high school or college.

The following list is alphabetical. Some images are creative commons, others are not, but links are provided back to their source. In some instances, links go to sites where you can learn more about the game or even play the game.

Air Hockey

This was probably my favorite thing to play in an arcade. The object is to knock a flat puck into your opponent's goal eleven times before he does it. The clack-clack sounds of the puck and walls was hypnotic. Playing against a human had something that even the best arcade games didn't. It was also one of those games that I'm just pretty good at.

I would bank shot a lot. If the volley continued, I would break the flow of their concentration by knocking the puck faster and faster back and forth to myself against a few walls until finally knocking it right in to their goal.

I loved the way the delicate air pressure felt when you put your hand onto the surface of the board.

You can still play air hockey in arcades. In Israel I don't know that many of them, and I'm not disposed to losing my shekels in them for a few minutes of play.

Arcade games

I would play arcade games with any spare change that I had by the time I was eight or so. There were always a few at the pizza store, bowling alley, or outside the supermarket. Full rooms full of arcade games didn't hit until the eighties.


You shot the spinning asteroids and spaceships, and the asteroids broke into little pieces that you also had to shoot. I definitely played this in both arcade and console versions. I was ok, but not great, and I usually began to die quickly after the little more accurate ships appeared.

Atari Game Console

Yeah, we had one of these, while my neighbor got one of the Intellivision systems. We probably owned no more than fifteen cassettes over its lifetime. Those funky joysticks with the red button took a lot of abuse.


You had to choose the right button to press before a little red blip went past your side of the board. This was pretty dumb. As I recall, the little red led would come at a random paddle, so even though it looked like you were playing against an opponent, you were really both playing against the electronics.


Knock the blocks out of the wall and then get a new wall and do it again. I played this just a bit in the arcade versions, and more so on the Atari. I also programmed my own version on both the Commodore 64 and Apple II computers.

I also programmed many other games on these computers. Whenever our computer had fairs of some sort, I would bring in the computer and kids would have to pay a "ticket" to play my game in order to win prizes.


This was also one of my good ones. You have to kill the centipede and falling spiders before they ran over me, but if you hit the centipede mid-section it broke into little pieces. Mushrooms were in your way. If you cleared out all of the mushrooms on the bottom of your screen, which were meant to interfere with your movement, new ones would be planted. I was good at leaving only the ones at the side of the screen, which didn't interfere with my movement. Also, if you could arrange it, you got the centipede to go straight down a mushroom corridor where automatic fire would kill the whole thing at once before it could split up.

Collosal Cave Adventure (Dungeo, Advent, Zork)

This was the original text based adventure game. Probably almost every computer game today is essentially based on it. It evolved into graphical adventure games, and then into the shooter and resource civ games.

The game gave you text descriptions of what was happening, and you had to respond in some terse style of text commands. The game remembered where you picked things up or dropped them.

But the original spawned many famous hacker culture phrases, such as "You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike", and so on.

I played this on the PDP-11, occasionally on a printer monitor (that is, not a TV type screen like the one you are sitting in front of, but a monitor that is a printer. Everything you typed in or was typed by the computer showed up on the printer.

I never actually finished it. XYZZY.

Digital Derby

Gosh, I still have this on my shelf, although the battery cover is missing. And it still works. It is really noisy and obnoxious.

Your car doesn't move. Instead, there are two strips of plastic with cars printed on them that scroll by at different speeds, which you can adjust by "changing gears". You have to simply move your car back and forth as they scroll by, avoiding collisions. If you fail, a loud red light and a buzzer flash.

The game is timed at 55 seconds, and your score is related to a counter that increases depending on your speed.

Donkey Kong

Played on both arcade and Atari versions. This big ape rolls barrels at you which you have to jump over while climbing ladders. This game eventually became Mario Brothers.


The first color computer game, all the spaceships would drift back and forth in a holding pattern (like Space Invaders) while a few would peel off and try to attack you. If you didn't kill them, they would reappear at the top of the screen and rejoin their brothers.

Not as good as it's similar successor, Galaga.

Mattel Classic Football

This was one of our handheld led games. We had this one, an advanced version that also let you go backwards (the first one didn't), and probably something else, too.

You were a bright red blip on a 3 by 10 field. You had to move your blip past the dimmer blips to the other end of the field, while they tried to intercept you. You could only move forward if they left a hole for you to slip through, so you had to click the buttons fast when the hole appeared.

And I didn't even like sports.

Microvision - Block Buster, Bowling, and Pinball

We had this cartridge system. It was my brother's actually, some sort of birthday present. We ended up with the three games listed. They were about as diverting as snake is on your cellphone. Back then, that meant a lot.


I never liked this then, even. It was pretty stupid. You had to take the objects out of the part of the body indicated by a spinner without touching the metal surrounding the hole. If you touched, a buzzer went off.


You had to move around in a maze devouring all of the little dots while avoiding the monsters chasing you. Yeah, I played it, but I never got past level 7 or so. A later monochrome computer version was pretty cool and I got much further. The reason to do well was to see the little animated sketches that appeared after every three levels.


Another timed game, where you have to fit the pieces into the right slots before the board shoved them all up into your face. Also dumb.


I do enjoy a good game of pinball, when I can find an uncomplicated one that doesn't have a huge hole between the flipper's reach. If the game is too short, I don't feel like I got my money's worth.


Did I have a dedicated Pong machine? I think I did. You played against your brother, so again, it was cool. I think my brother won about 60% of the games. I was already learning about wiring and television cabling by this point.


Each player was responsible for timely pressing their color in order to replay sequences after they were played (at increasing speeds). I don't recall playing this all too much. I probably would have been very good at it over the last twenty years, but I'm starting to slow down.

Slot car racing track

These were made out of plastic and tended to break a lot, or the wires wouldn't connect well and required some hacking. Most of these had little pins on the bottom of each car that kept it in its slot, but some allowed you to switch tracks through some sort of magnetic changeover feature.

Space Invaders

Aliens would march across the screen, move down one step, and then march the other way across the screen. You had to kill them before they reached the ground. In the meantime, they fired at you, and you had some protective blocks.

If you eliminated the bottom row of ships, they moved faster. But you had to ignore the rows and think columns. By eliminating the end columns, the marching took that much longer. Also, the best trick was to shoot your own hole through a protective block from the bottom and then shoot straight up with cover.

Simple and addictive.

Stop Thief

The game starts with the thief in a random location. When ever you push a button, you hear clues as to where he moving and what he is doing. Footsteps (yump yump yump) or breaking glass (brinkle brinkle!). The first to move to the correct location and guess the thief's whereabouts wins, or something like that. The thief's location would scroll across the LED screen.


A simple game to pass the time. Each game was a unique maze, and you had to shoot the wumpus before he killed you. It was a text game, where the information you had was only what exits there were in your current room, and some mysterious clues like flying bats. If you moved without first acquiring a light source, you were likely to fall into a pit or be eaten by a grue.

Silly, really, but nifty programming.

By the end of this decade, I had also gone through dozens of card games, become passable at bridge, and began playing both Cosmic Encounter and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.


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Gerald McD said...

This brought back some great memories. My kids were born in 1970 and 1972, so I was playing many of these with them in the 70's and 80's.

We played Simon on camping trips, in the tent, when it rained, and outside on July 4, waiting for the fireworks displays to begin.

My grandkids still play with our old Atari game machine and cartridges, although we wore out several sets of joysticks, which also were compatible with the Commodore 64, which we had.

First text adventure game I played was on a cassette tape (before floppy drives), through my VIC-20. It involved exploring an apparently derelict spaceship. The Zork series was my favorite of this type of game.

One of my favorite Atari cartridges was Video Pinball. If I got tired of playing it, I could leave it running, and it would play automatically for quite some time -- sort of like a modern day screen-saver.

I no longer have the reaction time needed for the fast arcade games. I now prefer turn-based action.

Pawnstar said...

I know this is nitpicking, but Perfection is not electronic by any stretch of the definition. It's mechanical.

Looking forward to the next installment.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

FellonMH - really? no electic or battery?

Well then I either have to include mechanical in my descriptions or exclude them. If I include them, then I have to decide if Mousetrap is also included.


Joe Gola said...

Anthony's right--you wind up Perfection.

Mike Doyle said...

Yup, I'm here with you. Just 2 years your senior, I hit most all of these as well. Except, my parents couldn't affort the 99 bucks or so for the atari, which REALLY bummed me out at the time. Enough friends had it though so I had plenty of time playing adventure and such. Electronic Football was a favorite of mine at the time – I loved it and like you didn't like the real thing. Tempest was a favorite of mine in the arcades. Going to the mall equaled $5 of coins and an hour or two of fun there playing these. Ahh the memories...

Anonymous said...

You say you did not play "The Secret of Monkey Island" (1990) and "Monkey Island: LeChuck's Revenge" (1991)?

Oh, you missed there one of the most apreciated jewels of gaming history. No great graphics, but the story and the atmosphere where just unique.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

mehere: If I ever play computer games, I'll consider looking for it. Thanks.


Frank Branham said...

I'm only two years older than you, but my memory of large arcades goes back into the early 70's. Bally had a chain that was in malls in the early to mid 70's.

There were definitely large arcades going back much further, the penny arcades had mutoscopes, and little animated shows, as well as early bagatelle and bowling games as well as pinball.

70's arcades were great treasure troves of things I wish I could still play. Lots of pinball machines, shooting galleries, mechanical baseball, golf, horse racing, odd crane simulators, and a glorious O.K. Corral game that is the obvious inspiration for the old Ideal dexterity game.

The technology in these was so very nifty. Lots of cam-driven animation, eventually drifting into evocative 8-track based sound systems. The insides of the machines were often dark with a few active florescent objects revealed by black light.