Dig Dug painting by Brock Davis
I wouldn't say 1982 was quite the year 1981 was for arcades, but what year was? It still featured some great classics like Joust, Dig Dug and Q*Bert.
0033. Gravitar (Arcade)
For me, the best way to describe Gravitar is "Asteroids meets Lunar Lander." Like Asteroids, you're a triangle-shaped ship with a forward thruster and a single gun; like Lunar Lander, careful manipulation of gravity and momentum is required. This game starts you out on a galaxy map showing the different planetoids you can visit; when you approach one the game zooms in, kind of like Venture. Each planetoid has a mission to complete - destroying all the planetoid-mounted turrets, usually. There are also little marked spots you can land on to refuel your ship. Once you've completed a planetoid, you can leave and return to the map to fly to another.
This game's extremely simplistic vector graphics work very well for it, evoking a kind of retro VR feel. It's pretty impressive how the game zooms in as you approach a planetoid. The orbital gravity mechanic is challenging and refined. The whole game feels like a precursor to later, much more complex galaxy exploration games.
The text says this game bombed in arcades, and I can see that happening. It has some problems - it's tough to make Lunar Lander-type trajectory adjustments when all you've got is a forward thruster, and the enemy turrets' fire is tough to see and tougher to avoid. I bet I'd have had a lot less fun if those had been real quarters consumed by my screw-ups. Still, this is a cool game. Check it out.
0034. Joust (Arcade)
Sure, Joust is weird. You're a little alien-looking dude jousting with other little alien looking dudes, and you're all riding birds. You're riding what appears to be a flying ostrich (or a stork for player 2), while your enemies are riding buzzards or maybe condors. After you defeat your enemies by colliding with them while being higher on the screen then they are, you have to collect the egg that's dropped or your enemies will re-hatch and be more dangerous than before. Also, you should take care to avoid the pterodactyls and lava. Yep, it's pretty weird - but the wonderful thing about video games is that it does not matter.
The text calls the game "better than it sounds" and implies its popularity was "surprising." Joust needs no such apologies or tepid defense; it's one of the great arcade games ever. Flapping, the game's central action, is so much deeper than simply sending you upwards. You can adjust the speed of your flaps or hold left and right to achieve a variety of precise movements, like hovering, changing direction, speeding up or slowing down. A useful move involves going up and pausing ever so briefly to achieve a little float, then flapping while holding a direction to charge at an enemy. Everything in the game is balanced - You need to go for those eggs, but going down can be dangerous. Being at the top isn't always best, either - you can play territorially, using the platforms to define a loose box to defend. As the game speeds up, the frantic jockeying for position is intense fun.
Best of all, this is the first game on the list to feature cooperative play. Co-op is my favorite way to play games - I even play one-player games with my friends, alternating turns with the controller. Now, the co-op here is kind of competitive, since you're going for score, and if you want to be a jerk, you can take out the other player for 2000 points. My favorite video game experience, though, is to work together with someone and feel the camaraderie of the common goal.
I played Joust way more times than I needed to to write this; it's just so much fun. I never got past wave 6, though. I'm an arcade owner's dream - addicted, but not very good.
0035. The Hobbit (Various, Apple II played)
The Hobbit, released for various home computers, is a text adventure based on J.R.R. Tolkien's classic book, which I loved as a kid. This text adventure features graphics, which are drawn on the screen with agonizing, line-by-line slowness and feature amusingly awful color choices.
The Hobbit features a very impressive parser for its time, recognizing complex sentences with multiple actions separated by the word and. According to the text, it also follows the book very closely. I didn't get far, though, due to frustration with the AI characters who follow you around. They'll frequently take items you need to proceed from you, and although they'll sometimes give them back, I can't find a reliable way to get them to do so. To give you an idea of how awful of an experience this is, I was standing in front of a locked door when Gandalf took the key from me. I then had to wait one turn for him to say, "Fascinating, but I wonder what I could use it for?" and another turn for him to give it back to me. Argh! Also, since they act freely and on their own, your companions are capable of getting themselves killed, rendering the game unfinishable. Frustration awaits in Middle Earth.
0036. Choplifter (Apple II, Arcade played)
Choplifter, originally released for the Apple II, was ported to many systems, including, in rare twist, an arcade cabinet by Sega in 1985. I played that version for convenience's sake; it features greatly superior graphics, obviously.
In Choplifter you must pilot a helicopter past many enemies in order to reach the hostages. Then you have to land, wait for them to board, and go back and return them to your base. You've got to be careful not to shoot or land on the hostages, and if you're shot down when transporting them, they'll all die. This game is frantic fun, but punishingly difficult. Enemy turrets and vehicles fill the screen with bullets, and it takes next to nothing to bring you down.
0037. Robotron 2084 (Arcade)
Robotron was the first twin-stick shooter, assigning one joystick to the movement of your character and a second to directing a stream of fire. It might be hard to believe something that's become popular so recently dates all the way back to 1982, but here you go. It was a brilliant innovation, as the freedom to cover all sides allows the game to completely surround you with enemies.
This game is a frenetic spectacle, a retro-futuristic blur, all bright colors, flashing lights, loud noises and countless objects moving around at once. In addition to shooting enemies, you are to rescue humans by walking into them. This game is obviously designed to be fun as hell while separating you from your quarters with brutal efficiency, and it's effective at both. I got to level 6 and scored nearly 100,000 in a few tries, which I think is pretty good considering I'm shackled to an inferior keyboard scheme.
0038. Dig Dug (Arcade)
Everybody knows Dig Dug, right? It's one of the most invitingly fun arcade games of its time. It's not as brutally difficult as many of its contemporaries, at least at first. That is hardly to say it's easy, but it is more welcoming to the beginner than most. Still, it's more complicated than it looks, and as the levels advance it becomes important to manage tunnels and master the strategy of leaving an enemy partially inflated in order to turn and take on another. The enemies can converge on you in a hurry. And don't forget, when you're down to one enemy it'll try to escape. Beat it to the surface in order to claim those points.
You know, amidst all the bright colors and cheerful music it's easy to miss how disturbing this game's premise is. You're pumping your enemies full of air in order to make them burst from the inside out. Ewwwww.
0039. Miner 2049er (Various)
This Atari 800 classic got many ports: the Commodore 64, the Apple II, the Atari 2600, even the Game Boy and recently, smartphones. I ended up playing a bewilderingly inferior DOS port. It might not even have been official.
Anyway, this early example of the platforming genre might somewhat resemble Donkey Kong with its girders and ladders, but it actually takes some cues from Pac-Man. The object of the game is to "paint" all the platforms by walking across them, similar to Pac-Man's goal of covering all ground and eating the dots. On top of that, after collecting certain objects the enemies begin to flash and may be defeated simply by walking into them. Sound familiar?
This one starts out as simple as can be, but adds a few wrinkles as it goes on with slides and teleporters. The jumping here is a big step up from Donkey Kong; it's a lot easier to control and jumping between platforms doesn't seem so delicate. It's exciting for a 90's gamer like me to watch the platforming genre slowly emerge as its glory days approach.
0040. Moon Patrol (Arcade)
Moon Patrol is an interesting game in that it eschews the fast pace typical of 80s arcade games. It's not slow, exactly, but plodding and methodical. Your rover rolls along in a chill fashion, and you have one fire button that sends shots both forward, to take out obstacles, and upward, to fight the UFOs that hover overhead. You can jump to clear pits, and you must keep adjusting your speed so your shots will hit the UFOs and so you won't be going too fast and run into obstacles before you can clear them.
This is the first game to use parallax scrolling, a graphical technique in which different parts of the background scroll at different speeds. This technique would later become very popular on the Genesis and SNES. It's simple here, but still a cool effect. Also, this is the first game on this list to feature that brilliant arcade hook known as "insert coins to continue." You can keep going as long as you want, as long as you have the money. This would later become the standard way to relieve arcade gamers of their change.
Lunar Lander is an unusual kind of fun - you can clearly see the next problem coming, and the fun comes from the triumph of properly executed precision. I'm actually pretty decent at it - the game has checkpoints labeled A through Z, and I got to P without continuing on my first try, scoring nearly 20,000 points (When you get to Z, which takes quite a while, the game moves on to a more challenging course). On my second try, I made it to U without continuing; with another try or two I bet I could one-credit the first course. I wouldn't mind spending a bit of cash on this if I saw it in the wild.
0041. Mr. Do! (Arcade)
At first glance, Mr. Do! looks a lot like Dig Dug; you dig tunnels through colorful dirt in an identical manner, and you can drop apples on enemies the same way you drop rocks on them in Dig Dug. This is a somewhat more complicated game, however. Instead of inflating your enemies, you throw a ball that bounces through the tunnels and destroys one enemy if it contacts them. If you miss, however, your ball will keep bouncing around until you touch it again. Even if you hit an enemy, the ball is temporarily destroyed and you must wait several seconds before it returns to you, so you can't just throw with wild abandon.
There are two ways to beat a level in Mr. Do! You can collect all of the cherries placed without the level, or you can defeat all of the enemies. Put another way, you can play it like Pac-Man or like Dig Dug. You should also make sure to get the dessert in the center of the level for a big bonus. If you ever encounter Mr. Do!, you should get past the "it's a Dig Dug clone" first impression and give it a try. It's a fun arcade game in its own right.
0042. Q*Bert (Arcade)
Q*Bert might be the weirdest megahit in video game history. I mean, everybody's heard of Q*Bert, but what the hell is he? He's this weird fuzzy orange thing with a tube nose who swears with a word balloon filled with punctuation when he runs into an enemy. Just your typical video game protagonist, right? So you've got to jump from block to block in order to change the color of all of the isometric cube boxes while avoiding the many enemies. Things soon get a whole lot weirder, though, as things start using a different side of the boxes as platforms, breaking the isometric effect by making you picture it two ways at once and creating an impossible, Escher-like extradimensional figure. As far as I know, Q*Bert is the only 80s arcade game set on impossible geometry.
It's very difficult to avoid the many enemies that bounce around the level; success involves figuring out efficient paths to color all of the blocks. Oh, and I suck at this game, whatta surprise.
0043. Xevious (Arcade)
Xevious is one of the most important games that few people have played. It marks the emergence of the modern shoot 'em up. Although Space Invaders and Galaga are classics, nobody makes games like that anymore. Xevious is where things get recognizable. Although the text isn't technically correct that this is the first shmup not set in space (what, did they forget about Centipede?), you might say it's the first one with a real setting at all. The space of the prototypical shmup is a featureless void, an excuse to pit you against your enemies in waves. Xevious has real levels that scroll vertically by, containing features like forests, roads, rivers and even a reproduction of Peru's famous Nazca Lines.
This game really set the standard for shmups going forward. Observing that players just fire all the time anyway, Xevious is the first game to allow you to continuously fire by simply holding down the button. With not quite as much focus required for that activity, the game adds complexity by giving you ground targets to hit with a secondary attack, which actually requires aiming. This is a mechanic that would be copied by a great many shooters to come.
Despite having so many firsts, Xevious isn't as bland as you might expect; actually, it has a great variety of enemies and obstacles. It's not only amazing for its time, but a real solid, classic shmup.
0044. Sokoban (Various)
Sokoban is one of the simplest games ever, and one of the most pure. You push boxes around a tiled, confined space in order to get them into the marked spots. That's it - no refinement or enhancement is required. There are no tricks in Sokoban, no gimmicks; there's only you and the boxes.
This simple format has produced some of the most bedeviling puzzles I've ever seen. The hardest levels will have you stumped for hours, wondering "How? How is this one supposed to be possible?" It helps to consider which moves make victory impossible by creating a situation from which boxes may not be extricated, but sometimes this just makes you feel even more stuck. And then you'll stumble upon a series of moves that seem to work, but just when you're getting confident, you'll learn that this path unavoidably puts one box out of reach. "But that means this is impossible - it has to," you'll think, your eyes beginning to water. It isn't, though. If only it were - then you'd be able to quit with your dignity intact. But the solution is out there, mocking you.
In desperation, you'll try the same moves over and over again. You'll wonder how you can get anywhere when you've been over every possible move a hundred times (this will not be an exaggeration). This isn't just your mind playing tricks on you; Sokoban is actually an excellent test of AI theory because it's so resistant to brute force solving. And when you do find the solution, your feeling of victory will be tinged with bewilderment - how was that possible? How did that move hide from you for so long? It's a feeling like that of Alice going through the looking glass, an uneasy feeling that you're standing on the precipice of another side to the world, dark and hidden and seemingly impossible.
Sokoban was originally released for a few 80s Japanese personal computers, but has been endlessly ported and remade. Find a version and play it; it's amazing. This game literally could not be improved.
0045. Tron (Arcade)
Hey, it's a movie license game. I didn't see Jeff Bridges in the VR world of Tron, but as I understand it the games are pretty close to the ones depicted in the movie, and I can imagine how cool that was. When I was a kid, every time I saw some made-up video game in a movie or TV show I immediately wanted to play it. A good example is the computer game from Big, which has been remade online
Tron the arcade game is made up of four minigames; you must beat all of them to advance to the next level, where they all get considerably harder. The games include two where you're one of the oddly-clad guys from the movie, throwing discs, and two set in vehicles. The two non-vehicle games, which require you to enter a circle while dodging cyber spiders and to enter a cone by breaking through a spinning breakout rainbow that's coming toward you, are a bit awkward to be honest. The tank game is serviceable but nothing special. The star of Tron is definitely the cycle game, where you zip around leaving a solid trail and attempt to entrap your enemies while they try to do the same to you; it's kind of like competitive Snake (actually, Nibbler, the game upon which all Snake variants are based, is another 1982 release). It's fun and exciting, and I'd rather play a game consisting solely of it than this one.
0046. Time Pilot (Arcade)
Time Pilot is an unusual shmup in that it doesn't force scrolling vertically or horizontally; instead, you stay centered in the screen and can fly freely in any direction. All around, swarms of enemy planes attack; you must weave between their shots while directing a constant stream of fire at them. You can also score bonus points by picking up parachuters. Each level in Time Pilot represents a time in history - 1910, 1940, 1970 and the far-flung future of 2001. After destroying a quota of enemies, a boss will appear. After defeating this enemy (who is just a bit tougher than the regular enemies, actually), you time travel to the next stage.
This game is unique, fun and I'm actually OK at it. On my second try I got to the third boss and scored over 80,000. This one is worth a try.
0047. Utopia (Intellivision)
The Atari 2600 dominated what everyone for some reason refers to as the "second generation" of game consoles (I'm skeptical that the Odyssey, whose games were hardwired in and whose cartridges contained nothing but jumpers, and company really ought to be regarded as a separate console generation from later 70s consoles), but Mattel's Intellivision was a notable minor success for a few years before being wiped out by the crash of 1983. There were many consoles at that time, more than during any other generation, which is part of the reason why the crash happened, but I digress.
Utopia, developed by Mattel, may be the game that started the "God game" or "Sim" genre, as the text says. It may be. But to me, it's utterly incomprehensible. All I see are a bunch of unattributed numbers, a pair of oddly shaped islands and a pair of rectangular cursors (it's a 2-player game) that I can move around. When I try to do anything, however, including pressing ANY button or following the directions in the manual, which I looked up in desperation, I just get a loud buzzing noise. I'm sure there's a game here, but I can't find it. I know hardware resources limited how much you could explain in game, but some games from this era are just plain indecipherable to somebody like me. It's like a bunch of ancient runes. Then again, maybe realizing that players used to have to have an awful lot of outside-of-screen understanding going on just to play is part of the experience I should have as a gamer. Yeah, that sounds like a good cop-out.
Next time on 1001games: the year it all came crashing down in America, gaming went on in Europe and Japan.