#3. The First First-Person Shooter Existed before PCs
The 1992 release of Wolfenstein 3D is widely hailed as the invention of the first-person-shooter genre. It was a game about running through mazes while eating chicken drumsticks and shooting Robot Hitler.
"And that's it for video games. Well done, everyone."
It's basically perfect, in short.
And it's only natural that the game that invented one of the most popular genres ever would be so famous and celebrated. But it's not, because we haven't told you what it is yet.
Say hello to Maze War.
Maze War does not return your greeting. Maze War simply stares.
Maze War was invented in 1973, and so predates not only first-person shooters, but personal computers. The game was originally written on Imlac PDS-1 computers at NASA, since the recent cancellation of the Apollo program had apparently left them with a lot of time on their hands. Originally, the game was just one person wandering around, trying to solve a maze, but that was strangely lacking in bloodshed, so they added another player and had the two fight. Voila! A genre is born!
About two decades before all of the Xbox Live assholes.
Of course, that was hardly Maze War's only contribution: Other innovations included a minimap, a level editor, cheats and network multiplayer. Basically, all the staples of the most popular FPS games in history. If you're not convinced yet, take a look at this video, which shows actual game play of Maze War back when computers worked by placing plastic pizzas in toaster ovens.
Flinging this against the wall in anger takes down your house.
#2. The First Pong Was Played with Missiles
In Pong, you play as the noble paddle, tasked with preventing the evil ball from bouncing past you and presumably destroying the world.
A game featuring the exact same mechanisms (returning a ricocheting ball back to an opponent) was developed in 1958 at the Brookhaven National Laboratory by William Higinbotham.
Higinbotham's thinking about higgin' that botham, gurl.
This precursor, known as Tennis for Two (or TfT for short), had a number of notable features that might have made this a better game than Pong had it actually gone to market. Instead of viewing the game from a bird's-eye perspective like Pong, TfT instead used a sideways perspective, which was a bit more accurate than Pong's "bouncing off the walls" mechanic (that's technically air hockey, guys.)
A later update to the programming also let the player choose the gravitational conditions, ranging from "Moon" (a low-gravity environment that gave the ball a higher curve in the air) to "Jupiter" (a high-gravity environment that dragged the ball's momentum downward).
Pong's one setting: A rainy Tuesday in the 1970s.
The TfT console itself was jury-rigged from an oscilloscope to provide the graphics and a ballistic missile computer to track the trajectory of the ball.
Although this arrow appears to be pointing at the flux capacitor.
That's right: The very first video game was about playing tennis with nuclear missiles. If any property is screaming out for a modern-day remake, we're casting our votes for TfT 2012: Warhead Smackers.
#1. You Could Play Duck Hunt in the 1930s
Duck Hunt is the quintessential light-gun game. It warrants that prestigious honor by being the only one we can remember ever playing. Unsurprisingly, Duck Hunt wasn't too well-received by the critics upon its release in 1984, but the lens of nostalgia colors everything. Today, IGN considers it the 77th Best NES Game of All Time, in spite of its completely broken controls: For some reason, it never registers when you shoot that goddamn dog, no matter how close you get to the screen or how hard you pull the trigger.
Seriously. We stuck the end of a Hoover in the cartridge and everything.
One casual yank and you could hold up the arcade.
This is the Ray-O-Lite Rifle. It was a pretty wooden cabinet that consisted of a conveyor belt moving ducks across a painted background while you attempted to tag them with your light rifle.
The mechanism was surprisingly similar to the Nintendo version we all know and kind of tolerate: When you squeezed the trigger of the rifle, a small beam of light fired out from the end of the barrel, and if it hit the light-sensitive vacuums embedded beneath each duck, the bird would fall down and you'd get a point.
It being the '30s, points were redeemable for either poverty or fascism.
The manufacturer, Seeburg, created a raft of other games using this mechanic, including the rather self-explanatory Shoot the Bear, a game called Chicken Sam, where you shot well-dressed poultry thieves and, as a given, a 1942-issued game where you plugged Hitler.
We love to kill you, Hitler.
So wait, are we saying that the concept of shooting ducks existed before Duck Hunt? Of course it did, it was called "duck hunting." What's surprising about that? Where's the factor that made these light-gun games so damningly similar to their later iterations? Well, how about this dog-shaped accessory that came bundled with Shoot the Bear? Look closely now, and remember what we told you about the game mechanics: You fire into the vacuum bubble to register a kill.
Do you see one of those on this thing?
Son of a bitch.
This immortal bastarding dog has been haunting humanity for the last 100 years.
Jim Avery literally never stops playing video games. During cut scenes, he acts as an editor for NintendoGal.com and occasionally writes game reviews for ABC News Sacramento, despite not actually living in California. When Adam Wears isn't correcting historical mistakes, he writes for his own disgustingly honest website Alert Level Stork! and also recently appeared in The Four Humors, an anthology of short stories published for charity by Wordplague. His friend Kevin Axt also produces the excellent webcomic Donuts for Sharks, and you should definitely go there right now.
For games that we wish were just never made, check out The 10 Most Irritatingly Impossible Old-School Video Games. Or learn about The 10 Most Terrifying Video Game Enemies of All Time.
And stop by LinkSTORM to discover pictures of fossilized joysticks.
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