4Space Invaders Accidentally Invents Difficulty Curves
When someone says "retro arcade games," there's a pretty good chance that a picture of one of these little blocky aliens pops into your head.
And then Pac-Man eats it or something, right?
Like all retro games, the key is that it's effortless to start playing, and next to impossible to master. At the beginning, the alien ships are just lined stupidly in front of you in rows. You just have to pick them off with your laser, right? Ah, but as you decimate their numbers, something happens: They go faster.
It made for an absolute perfect difficulty curve. Success was rewarded with greater challenge. The more aliens you killed, the harder it got. And when you got down to those last few aliens, you had to have lightning reflexes.
And that's not even taking those freaking UFOs into account.
The thing is, the scaling difficulty was totally unintentional. The entire game was programmed and built by one man: Tomohiro Nishikado. And by built, we mean that he spent an entire year custom developing the hardware for the game because the hardware available in Japan at the time wasn't powerful enough to run it. It was like the Crysis 2 of 1978.
"I built a sweet system to run this shit, bro."
And when it was all finished, Nishikado discovered that the hardware still wasn't powerful enough to run the game how he intended it. He programmed the game to move all the aliens at what he thought would be a pretty steady rate -- but while play-testing it, he found the aliens to be quite a bit slower than he wanted. There were simply too many on the screen for the hardware to handle, so it bogged down.
As he played on, however, he discovered that the game sped up as he brought swift laser-justice to those invading alien bastards -- fewer characters for the processor to keep track of meant it could finally move them at their correct speed. He liked the effect so much, he decided to keep it, saying it "added more thrills to the game."
And if you weren't dead by Level 9, it dispensed a live wolf.
Actually, you could argue it added the only reason to keep playing the game at all. It was the first game that actually got more difficult as you progressed. Before that point, games were pretty much the same all the way through (often repeating the same screens over and over), and it was basically a matter of waiting for your hands to get tired.
This, combined with the fact that it was the first game to implement a high-score system meant that dedicated people put a lot of quarters into Space Invaders -- it actually created a yen shortage in Japan.
And a yen explosion in Shigeru's pants.
3A Disgruntled Employee Invents the Easter Egg
When most people think of the birth of the action RPG genre, they think of The Legend of Zelda. Link had a forebearer, however, in the form of a 1979 Atari 2600 game simply titled Adventure. It worked pretty much the same way as the early Zelda games: Players picked up items to help them move through dungeons, and slew monsters and dragons. It was a pretty straightforward game, and a relatively popular one at that.
It's because it was so orange.
But back in the late 70s and early 80s, Atari was kind of a shitty place to work. Most games were made by just one person, and they didn't even get credit on the box. So when Adventure's creator, Warren Robinett, got to work on the game, he decided to stick it to The Man by hiding his name in the game's code. But instead of just adding "SUCK MY DICK. 8===D SINCERELY, WARREN ROBINETT" he decided to hide it in a really clever fashion.
Robinett, being the sole programmer on Adventure, knew perfectly well that the game had a really bad graphical glitch brought on by the system's limited hardware: When too many objects appeared on the screen, the images would begin rapidly flashing -- a phenomenon typically referred to as sprite flickering (if you've played any of the old Mega Man games, you probably know exactly what we're talking about).
Robinett decided to exploit the glitch by including a secret item in the game: A small 1x1 pixel square that was the same color as the floor, making it effectively invisible. If picked up by the player and brought to another part of the dungeon, players could intentionally trigger the sprite flickering. This would also cause a black bar that served as a dungeon wall to flicker. Players could walk through it, and inside was a plain purple room with "CREATED BY WARREN ROBINETT" written on the floor.
And thus was born the first Easter egg in video game history. By the time Atari found out, it was too late and too costly to recall the cartridges, so they just called it an "added value." (Robinett had luckily already moved on from the company by that point.)
One of the suits at Atari was the guy who, in describing it, coined the term "Easter egg." Today, if a game doesn't have well-hidden levels, items or unlockable sarcastic voiceovers, we feel cheated.