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The Dawn of Video Games

April 29, 2009

The first video game I ever saw was called Night Driver. It popped up in a pinball parlour in my town when I was about 8 or 9 years old, and it caught my attention right away. This was an actual computer, right? A quarter let me turn a steering wheel as I navigated an all-black screen, with little marker pegs indicating where the road was. It was pretty bad. But also the best thing I’d ever seen.

A couple of years later, the pool hall in the little town we’d moved to brought in a game called Battle Zone or Battle Tanks or something, plus Asteroids. Those machines ate up a lot of my quarters as my friends and I braved the smoky old room to test our skills. A friend had an Atari 2600, and his brother later bought an Intellivision; home video games were even crappier than the ones you put quarters into.

In 1982, we moved to the city, and I discovered Tron, Gorf, Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and more. One of my favourites was called Vanguard, a space shooter. See, in those days, we went to arcades to play our games; big stupid rooms filled with loitering morons, run by sleazy old guys … the only other alternative was to head to the department stores and hope the salesdick in the TV department didn’t catch on that you were hogging the demo Ataris.

The games we played back then were pretty basic, but I will argue that they were better than what you people play today. Without the fancy graphics, cut-scenes, etc., it was really just about skill. Frogger, for instance, is more addicting than anything from UbiSoft. Breakout, Tetris, Dig Dug … simple concepts, crude graphics, but fun to play.

If you don’t know these games, you’re in luck. Someone has rounded up the top 95 old-school games, put them online, and here they are. Funny, the ROMs involved in games of that generation would underpower your mobile phone today, but back then they needed a housing the size of a refrigerator.

This site was fun to tour, especially when I got to Xevious; this is a game I played like a madman for most of the ninth grade, but I had forgotten all about it. I just tried it again and exploded several times … par for the course. Maybe this is why I don’t play or even enjoy video games now … I need that simplicity.

I’m going to go play Burger Time now. I’ll get back to you later.

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3 comments

  1. Oh my goodness!!! So many games I remember from way back!

    I did the same as you; there was a pool hall not too far from home that had a video game room (don’t tell my parents!)

    Some of the standouts from this list; Asteroids, Defender, Donkey Kong (of course!), Dragon’s Lair, Galaxian, Joust, Missile Command, Pole Position, Space Invaders and Spy Hunters. Wow, just a ton of fun!


  2. Vanguard is the best Atari Game, hands down. It has dynamic levels – something that was not common for the time – and the unique device of being able to fire in four directions. Plus, the ship looked like “PIIIIIIGS INNNN SPAAAACE!”


  3. Battle Zone was the recipient of many a Jakob quarter. And to think it’d slipped my mind…



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