Video Games in Academia – a ‘Brief’ History of the Video Game, Part One

With an increasing understanding and acceptance of ‘nerd’ culture, and incredible leaps and bounds being taken each year in technology, it has come as no surprise that video games have really taken off as one of the most popular ways for young adults to spend their time. And though this was once an opportunity to either obsess over an online account, your virtual football team or how many n00bs you could kill off in one sitting, the time that this generation has spent in front of the screen has now given them the opportunity to experience art, music, history, politics, economics, morality and many more sections of the average news paper. As a convert from avid hater of games to part-time game lover, my journey through games during the past 4 years has been both hilarious for my roommate to watch as I amble around the maps of Oblivion and incredibly humbling as I wonder across the rooftops of Florence, taking out important figures in Italian nobility during the Renaissance. In this post, I intend to explore what I believe to be the most important video games of the past half century, judging them by how influential they have been to the franchise and on the advancements of animation, game mechanics and plot for their time.

  1. Space Wars! (1962) By the time 1960 rolled around, there had already been 2 decades of experiments with computerised entertainment. MIT in the 60s started to explore improving the code of previous games like Mouse in a Maze and Tic-Tac-Toe. Steve Russell, Martin Graetz and Wayne Wiitanen, inspired by the sci-fi novels by E.E. Smith, created a game where two spaceships are controlled by two players trying to destroy the others’ ship. Though these were not released for the home, they were found in many university computer labs, inspiring the next step.640px-Spacewar!-PDP-1-20070512
  2. Almost a decade after Space Wars! was released, the operating system needed to run a computer game was still very sophisticated, and the thought of home entertainment seemed miles away. In the wake of electro-mechanical driving or target shooting games, arcades began to develop more visual and audible experiences for their customers, and in this way of thinking, the student engineer Nolan Bushnell (remember that name!) created a coin operated version of the game called Computer Space, a 1 player game where the gamer uses a spaceship to destroy flying saucers. It was the first of our computer/arcade games but was doomed to fail after it became apparent that the physics behind it was too complicated to run in arcades around the country. Coupled with an unsuccessful marketing scheme, the game never came to pass but is hailed as the first of it’s kind.
  3. The next step in video games came all at once as the first official home console and video game was created in one move. Ralph Baer developed the Magnavox Odyssey, a console that held 12 games with the box and several others that could be bought separately. Technically this doesn’t count as a single game but was such a leap in the history that I thought it important to include.
  4. Nolan Bushnell (remember that guy from earlier? Well here he is again) and colleague Dabney founded Atari not long after Baer’s console, and the first arcade video with success was released: the infamous Pong. If you’re reading this article you’ve probably heard of it, but to give it a quick summary, it is based on ping pong and there are points racked up on either side of the black and white screen. Created by Allan Alcorn, it is also one of the most important games for game sound design and music as it is one of the first with sounds and different tones for hitting, serving or missing the ball.tsp-pong
  5. Next on my list is Gun fight. Released by Taito, this game lists here as the first video game to use a microprocessor (a computer processor that uses the main functions of a computers central processing unit or CPU on a single ‘integrated circuit’). An on foot, multidirectional shooter, this game released in 1975 earns its seat here as a pretty cool first for games.
  6. During this time, the first ever first person role playing game was developed. Inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, Dungeon Was the first game to use ‘line of sight graphics’. However this was only on PDP mainframes…
  7. For people using PLATO system CDC computers they will remember the ever so similar dnd game. So depending on what computer system you had, or most likely played on at college, your idea of the first one of these babies will be different. But still, you doesn’t like choice?
  8. With the golden age of the arcade being born during this time in the late 70s, we take our story to Japan with their release of the legendary Space Invaders in 1978 by Taito. Addictivley fun, hugely entertaining and annoying as hell, this game ate so many quarters and stole so many hours, you can still find it on many computers and phone apps today. In retaliation, Namco released Galaxion and Atari gave us the better known Asteroids. Its safe to say that Taito ‘wanna be starting something’ right about now.  Space_Invaders_by_joeadonis
  9. Pac-Man, from the Maze Game genre and released in 1980, became the next step in arcade games. Though similar in style and sound to Space Invaders the sounds and colours at a new dimension to the growing industry. (Apparently, Pac-Man was originally called Puc Man after his hockey puck like shape, but Namco were worried about how the western mind might add a little graffiti to change the meaning…)
  10. Next on my list is Space Panic (1980). Though not extremely well known, it stands as one of the first platform games where the player can move in a different way to previous games, by climbing ladders between floors.
  11. This takes us nicely to Donkey Kong: released by Nintendo in 1981, it was the first to include the option to jump over obstacles. It is also heralded as one of the games that led the way to 2-player coop platformers, and also brought to the world the lovable Mario.
  12. As part of the racing game genre, Sega released Turbo in 1981, the first of its kind to include ‘third person perspective, rear-view format’. Though I’m not a ‘racing gamer’, I understand this and the early 3D graphics to be of much importance to the progression of the genre.
  13. In 1983, the beginning of an era began in the wake of the successful Donkey Kong: Mario Bros. was released, offering to its eager clients a 2-player, simultaneous coop game play. Though I’m sure the importance of Mario even now speaks for itself, it is important to mention that it has been so successful a series, it has had several rebrands, remakes, rereleases and remodels on so many different console and computers as it still so much a part of the gaming world today that we continue to see Nintendo releasing new games with new characters, worlds, stories, game mechanics and gameplays.
  14. Moving alone to 1984, we see the beginning of the awfully named ‘beat ‘em up’ genre with the release of two games: Karateka and Kung-Fu Master. I include the latter here as my next entry for its Hong Kong cinema style story and cinematography, clearing the way for future ‘side scrolling beat ‘em up’ games. Though they often have a simple gameplay and a small variation of enemies, it stays on my list as a first that acted as the inspiration for rest of the genre.
  15. Now for one of my all-time favourite series: the action-adventure game, The Legend of Zelda. Released in 1986, TLOZ stands apart from many other games from the time with its establishment of itself into the action-adventure genre and its many different elements that it’s customers had seen before in other games, presented here all in one. Using transport puzzles, inventory puzzles and exploration with the action side to it, a compelling monetary system (starting to arrive more in games) and an RPG inspired leveling system without XP, it is no surprise this game was so successful. It is also one of the first open world games with non-linear gameplay, laying the way for games of the future such as Skyrim and World of Warcraft, the MMORPG. Understanding the pains of losing progress, Nintendo kindly included battery backup saving.
  16. We go forward to 1987, the that Capcom released what is now a world renown fighting game – Street Fighter. This game gave birth to the idea of special moves that the player could only discover by experimenting with their controller and the combination of buttons. So when you’re button mashing on Bayonetta, know that this is where is all started.
  17. In the same year, Metal Gear became the first stealth game within the setting and structure of an action-adventure game. Released by Konami, Metal Gear was the first successful stealth game in the commercial world, leading the way for the series that became ever popular during the 90s.
  18. Final Fantasy. This is a fantasy role-playing game developed by Square (later known as Square Enix) and is the first in the long series of games. Originally released for NES, this games has an interesting story to tell with four young warriors each represented one of the four elements. I include here as the first of an epic series of games.
  19. In 1988-89, Sega released Golden Axe, a game of the budding Hack and Slash genre. This game became well known for its intuitive ’hack and slash game mechanics, its working and appealing coop mode, and added to the growing list of games that offered several protagonists, each with their own individual fighting styles and special moves. This side-scrolling game has elements of ‘beat ‘em up’ and action games of the past, and has remained a popular cult classic.
  20. 1989 bring us both to the end of the 80s and to the world’s first cinematic platformer – a subgenre of platformers that stand apart from others of its kind due to their emphasis on realism: Prince of Persia .The creators have focused on movement, the laws of physics and artwork, using rotoscoped animation to create the effect. (Rotoscoping has been employed by many animators throughout film history, where the animator draws the image frame by frame over preexisting live-action footage)

Hope you enjoyed this post, stay tuned for part two – coming soon 🙂

For those of you who are game aficionados, please feel free to comment so I can improve and make amendments to my article!


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