7 Classic Video Games That Are Older Than You Think
As gamers, we mark and honor our milestones like any respectful hobbyist should: If your game does something innovative that shapes the industry, we will remember it forever.
That is, unless somebody else does it later, and throws some more money behind it. Then we'll spit in your eye, toss you in a ditch and erase your game from the annals of history. Just like what happened to these pioneers ...
Multiplayer Asteroids ... in 1962
Asteroids was a 1979 game about a small, triangular ship murdering an innocent society of space rocks. But why are we bothering to explain this?
This was back before sci-fi games were required to include sex with blue-skinned aliens.
It's Asteroids, man. It's that, Pac-Man, Centipede and Space Invaders; those are the arcade games. Statistically speaking, you've either played this game before, or you're an alien doing a piss-poor job trying to pass as human, or you're a surly teenager who won't play anything that doesn't feature texture-mapping and sniper rifles. Either way, you should probably get off our site and make a better effort to act like a person.
Way back in 1962, MIT students, professors and general hanger-outers developed a game called Spacewar! on a PDP-1 computer. And it was not only similar to Asteroids, but superior: Two people played at once (in later editions, up to five), with each one controlling his or her own spaceship. Instead of just destroying asteroids, the two players were encouraged to fight:
Star Wars, as seen from a crappy telescope.
Like in Asteroids, the ships were controlled by rotating them around and then accelerating forward, with the other button shooting missiles. If you drifted off the top of the screen, you'd reappear at the bottom, and if you were really boned, you could hit your hyperspace button and reappear somewhere randomly on the map, exactly the same as in the better-known Atari game. But you really have to see it in motion to get a sense of how close the two games were, so check out this video.
Then there were the elements Spacewar! had that Asteroids did not: The 1962 game upped the stakes with things like limited fuel and missiles, a point in the center of the screen that sucked you in with its gravitational pull and even a star field that corresponded to actual star charts. Hell, we'd rather be playing that right now.
If this thing had been around for Mario Kart, about half of our generation would have suffered traumatic brain injuries.
The Sims: 1984?
In the two years following its release in the year 2000, The Sims went on to sell over 6.3 million copies, making it the best-selling PC game of all time (a record previously held for nine years by Myst). The appeal of The Sims was easy to see: It was just like real life, except that you could lock the doors and burn your entire family when you got bored. That's generally frowned upon in actual society.
Also frowned upon? Telling me our relationship is over when I'm clearly recreating it here, Julie!
A simulated home had already been done waaay back in 1984 with Little Computer People. Like The Sims, you had the ability to directly control your little characters (i.e., telling them to watch TV, play the piano, etc.), and you could also decide how their house was decorated. Sure, you couldn't design your character like in The Sims, but you could be guaranteed that no other owners of LCP had a character exactly like yours, thanks to something called "digital DNA" -- a randomized code that determined your Little Person's behavior and personality. Oh, and you couldn't change this code, either. So if your copy came with a miserable son of a bitch, then you just had to live with the guy, and occasionally steal wistful glances at the book of matches in the junk drawer.
Jesus Christ we're so lonely.
However, LCP also had a few features that The Sims didn't:
To start with, you could actually directly interact with your character. You could challenge your little dude to a game of poker, request that he play songs by certain composers on the piano and directly send messages to him via the little gray text box running across the top of the screen. One anecdote about LCP relates the player taking all of the character's money in a poker game, after which it had thrown a fit and refused to speak to the player or eat anything for an hour.
A less-amusing anecdote involves waking up to find the character staring down at you and holding a wrench.
Maybe that's why The Sims succeeded where LCP failed: Who wants to play a game about living with a guy you have no hand in choosing, and then dealing with his bullshit all the time? We've played that game before: It's called having a dormmate.
Wii Fit: The NES Game
Nintendo threw everyone a major curveball in 2006 when they gave the world the Wii, and in return the world gave them all of the money. 2007 saw the unveiling of the Wii Fit, a video game that made you exercise and feel bad about yourself, which we all considered fun for some reason.
Nintendo's mea culpa for your crippling bedsores.
Even more inexplicably, Wii Fit succeeded despite its high price point of $90. The cost was necessary, however, because of the Wii Balance Board accessory that came bundled with the game. The board was capable of detecting how you were standing via the four scales inside, which made sure that you got the exercises done, instead of just lying on the ground watching Denise Austin bend over and touch her toes while telling you how great you're doing. Wii Fit flew off the shelves and quickly became not only one of the best-selling games of this generation, but of all time. As it turns out, people were really excited about the concept of taking exercise and turning it into a fun game. Why didn't anyone think of this earlier?
Because dignity has been steadily losing its value for the past 20 years?
Well, actually, they did.
Hey, at least the thieves were only ripping themselves off: Nintendo actually had exercise games on their systems over 20 years ago. Bandai released Dance Aerobics on the NES in Japan way back in 1987, and it was on North American shores in 1989. Just like Wii Fit, this game put a virtual trainer on the screen and had you stand in front of the TV while doing aerobic exercises.
Man, Richard Simmons looks pretty hot in 8-bit.
Of course, Wii Fit stood out from the pack by using the Balance Board, which could track your movements. Any workout game would really just be a glorified exercise video if it didn't have ...
Oh wait, there we go.
Yes, Dance Aerobics used the ill-fated Power Pad accessory to track the location of the player's feet, and it penalized them if they did the workout improperly. To top things off, Dance Aerobics also had musical elements to the game, which mostly revolved around tapping buttons with your feet in time with onscreen prompts. That's right: It was both Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution, approximately two decades before either of those terms were anything but hilarious Engrish.
A Better Version of Minesweeper, 10 Years Earlier
Minesweeper is one of the most famous computer games ever created. It is so popular, in fact, that it's come prepacked into every single copy of Windows since 1992. But the game itself predates that, with early versions going back to 1989. The elegant simplicity of Minesweeper was the key to its success: It presented you with a field of gray or blue squares, with mines hidden underneath some and numbers under the rest. The numbers indicated how many mines were touching that square, and if you used the clues well, you could ideally mark all the mines with flags and complete the level.
In practice, you mined yourself into a corner, called the game "retarded," and played Doom instead.
The first "hidden mine" game was a 1973 text-based program simply called Cube, which placed you at one corner of a cube and challenged you to get to the opposite corner without blowing up. Players traveled from vertex to vertex, and five of these vertices had mines hidden underneath. But there was no way of telling which, and so the whole thing was essentially a random number generator that periodically exploded you.
Just like life.
Things got more interesting in 1983, with the release of Mined-Out. Like Cube, your goal was to get from one end of the field to the other without blowing yourself up. This time, however, you were given a mine detector that would tell you how many mines were right next to the space you were standing on -- which, remember, is exactly what the Minesweeper numbers mean.
We prefer the "Click blindly until the Internet comes back" method.
Of course, Mined-Out had a number of features Minesweeper did not: There were nine levels of increasing difficulty to play, you were tasked with finding damsels in distress, you had to avoid rogue mines that followed behind you and you battled devices that patrolled the map, dispensing even more mines. Despite (or possibly because of) Mined-Out having these extra features, Minesweeper managed to take off while Mined-Out did not.
This little guy probably helped, too. Look at him!
It turns out being bundled in with the most popular operating system in the world gives your market share a bit of a nudge. Who knew?
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.
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.
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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