I, Robot arcade game

What crash?: 9 influential and groundbreaking games from 1983

High points of game art from a low point of game commerce.

By Matt Gerardi and John Teti • August 22, 2013

1. Mario Bros.

The year 1983 is often portrayed as the onset of a brief dark age in video games—especially in the United States—and with good reason. A glut of shoddy games, including high-profile failures like E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, combined with a mess of competing consoles to bring about the collapse of Atari’s overextended console empire. That had ripple effects throughout the industry, sending it into a two-year depression, but that’s not the entire story. While many studios were hit hard, industrious creators did continue to make games and advance the contours of the art form. Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto, for instance, spent 1983 refining the character that would soon become a global icon. Mario Bros. marks a transition between the humble Mario who dodges rolling barrels in Donkey Kong and the more fantastical fireball-spewing dynamo who stars in Super Mario Bros. It’s also the debut of Mario as a plumber—prior to Mario Bros., he was a carpenter—a change prompted by the fact that the game involves fighting mutant creatures in the depths of the New York sewer. It might seem odd that Mario’s first starring role is not so widely remembered today (compared to the Super follow-up), but while Mario Bros. establishes details of the character, the game lacks the fantastical spirit and variety of future entries. Mario Bros.’ legacy has also been hampered by the fact that whenever Nintendo re-releases the game, it uses the NES port instead of the original, superior arcade version.

2. Ultima III: Exodus

No 1983 game left more of a mark than Ultima III, whose innovations are still reverberating in games made today. Tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons had provided a model for a number of video games before this one (including the previous two entries in the Ultima series), and while many of those works broke their own ground, their battles and character development lacked the intricacy of their cardboard forebears. Ultima III marked a moment when it became clear that fantasy games on the computer had the potential to develop a complexity of their own. Rather than playing as a single hero, in Ultima III you commanded a party of four, each with their own talents (determined by your choice of 11 character “classes”). More importantly, Ultima III introduced turn-based combat, in which you select a command—you might “Attack” or “Cast” a spell—and then the enemy fighters get their turn. Because this approach became ubiquitous and has only recently begun to fall out of style, this may not seem like such a genius innovation in retrospect. But it was a major break from past computer role-playing games, in which battles were comparatively crude affairs consisting mostly of “HIT!” or “MISS!” binaries, and it laid the groundwork for more sophisticated battlefield strategy in series like Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and countless others.

3. M.U.L.E.

M.U.L.E. is one of the earliest examples of a multiplayer game that was more complex than its brutish reflex-testing arcade contemporaries. Heavily influenced by Monopoly’s transformation of dry subject matter into a dynamic, social competition, M.U.L.E. is a competitive economic strategy game. Four players take turns buying up land and worker drones called “multiple use labor elements” (M.U.L.E.s) to harvest resources from their new property. The real action takes place in the auction house. At the end of every turn, players with a surplus of resources can sell to a store that acts a lot like Monopoly’s bank. If you don’t have enough food or energy to make your next turn effective, you have to buy some. If the store doesn’t have what you need in stock, you’re at the mercy of the players with resources to spare. Naturally, this can lead to all sorts of conniving, with greedy players driving up food and energy prices. M.U.L.E. is a predecessor to empire-building strategy games like Civilization, and Shigeru Miyamoto considered it an inspiration for Nintendo’s Pikmin series. But the most outspoken M.U.L.E. fan has to be Will Wright, the creator of SimCity, which has a number of holdovers from the earlier game, like random disasters that could doom your people. Despite the acclaim, M.U.L.E. is a largely forgotten game, overshadowed by the story of its designer, Dan Bunten, who later underwent sex-change surgery and went by the name Danielle Bunten Berry. Berry died in 1998.

4. Pinball Construction Set

Pinball and video games could be considered opposing forces in 1980, competing for space in arcades and representing a larger philosophical divide between the appeal of the physical and the allure of the virtual. There were moments, however, when they came together. The product of these unions was often strange and misbegotten, like Atari’s 1978 arcade cabinet Video Pinball. But in 1983, designer Bill Budge took a different tack by inviting users to build their own pinball games in Pinball Construction Set. The game simply gave players a toolkit of flippers, pop bumpers, and the like; then it set them loose on the blank canvas of an empty pinball playfield. The designs could be saved to a floppy disk and shared, which makes Construction Set a sort of proto-Little Big Planet. But the game’s influence extends beyond mere construction games—even Will Wright, the aforementioned designer of SimCity, cites Budge’s work as an influence.

5. Crystal Castles

Many early 1980s arcade games were influenced by the hallucinatory kids’ entertainment of the previous decade—think Sid and Marty Krofft—and Crystal Castles is among the stranger fare. Not only does it cast you as a crystal-obsessed bear tormented by sentient trees and hovering bowling balls, but the game also featured trippy color schemes, intricate pseudo-3D mazes (a far cry from Pac-Man), and a trackball in lieu of a joystick. Crystal Castles’ most enduring innovation, though, is its most prosaic: It ends. Plenty of text adventures before Crystal Castles had endings to their stories, of course, but for arcade-style games, it was anathema. If players completed all of a game’s levels, the machine would either loop back to the first level or glitch out with an unwinnable “kill screen.” (Donkey Kong was among the games that famously ended with the latter.) But when you complete the 37th level of Crystal Castles, the machine cries uncle. “I GIVE UP: YOU WIN,” it says on a spartan ending screen, “YOU MUST BE A VIDEO WHIZ.” Okay, it’s no BioShock Infinite, but it did introduce the idea that arcade games could be self-contained narratives rather than infinite loops.

6. Star Wars

The enormous success of Atari’s Star Wars adaptation was a short-term win for the industry, but it helped give rise to the endless parade of film-to-game conversions that continues to disappoint players to this day. Still, taken alone, the 1983 Star Wars game holds up. The designers’ masterstroke was to recognize the part of the movie that translated best to the technology of the time—the outer-space dogfights—and completely ignore everything else. Using wireframe 3D graphics, Star Wars essentially runs the climax of the film over and over again, casting the player as Luke Skywalker and inviting you to blow up as many Death Stars as you can before dying. Unlike so many half-assed film adaptations that followed, Atari treated Star Wars with reverence, packaging the game in lavishly designed cabinets that were awash in art—the faux-cockpit style is especially hard for a would-be Skywalker to resist. The game’s programming features little touches that show an appreciation for the source material, too: If you hold your fire until you reach the exhaust port in the Death Star trench (following Obi-Wan Kenobi’s advice to “use the force”) you get a 100,000-point bonus.

7. Dragon’s Lair

If arcade games exist to siphon money from players, then Dragon’s Lair is the form’s peak. Fresh off The Secret Of NIMH, animator Don Bluth and his studio lent their cartoon chops to Lair and put together what is essentially a short animated film. The story follows Dirk The Daring, a gallant knight who is on a quest to save Princess Daphne from an evil dragon. The arcade cabinet contained a laserdisc player, which spat out the individual scenes from Dirk’s adventure. During each scene, the player has to pick the right direction or push the sword button at the right time to get through one of the castle’s traps. Make one mistake, and Dirk suffers some (usually) humorous death. Imagine seeing a game that looked like this tucked away amid the sea of traditional arcade games. How could you not play it? Dragon’s Lair’s eye-catching visuals and strict trial-and-error nature ensured its success, but its sequel and Bluth’s follow-up, Space Ace, fared worse. That didn’t stop Dragon’s Lair from finding its way onto nearly every video-displaying medium ever created. Nor did that stop its more infamous design trope of quick-time events—those moments where a game tells you to PRESS THIS BUTTON NOW or suffer the consequences—from bleeding into many games over the past decade. The true legacy of Dragon’s Lair falls to works that have sought to meld movies and games with an emphasis on the movie part, like those of Quantic Dream, the studio behind Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy.

8. I, Robot

Atari’s maze/shooter hybrid I, Robot was the product of an intense development process that aimed to give players their first-ever taste of true 3D polygon graphics in a mass-market game—as opposed to the hollow 3D wireframe graphics that Atari and other developers had dabbled in before. (Star Wars, above, is an example of the latter.) Lead designer Dave Theurer and his team succeeded in their ambitious goal, and their reward was near-total apathy when the game reached arcades. But game historians have revived interest in I, Robot (which is not associated with the Isaac Asimov story), and not just because it’s a technical milestone. The colorful design is beautiful in its own right. There’s whimsy in the form of your character, a plucky little servant robot who rebels against its master, and there’s intimidation in the form of the all-seeing eye. The terrifying outer-space head who appears in some shooter levels is an aesthetic ancestor of the fight with Andross that would conclude Nintendo’s Star Fox 10 years later. But even if players at the time didn’t appreciate I, Robot, the designers knew their visual effects were special. They even included a mode called “Doodle City” in which players can use the game’s polygons to sketch trippy patterns on the screen.

9. The Portopia Serial Murder Case

Japanese designer Yuji Horii would later gain his greatest fame as the creator and impresario of the Dragon Quest games, but in 1983, Enix published his second commercial work, a murder mystery that cast players as the investigating detective. Though popular in Japan (especially when it was released for the Famicom console in 1985), The Portopia Serial Murder Case wasn’t released in the United States, in part because its themes didn’t fit the family-friendly vibe of the American game industry at the time. Although the game’s edgy material seems quaint now, it is definitely written for grown-ups. For instance, one suspect in your investigation ends up hanging himself, and there’s an off-screen visit to a strip club, complete with moans of ecstasy. Portopia’s willingness to incorporate adult themes into a callow art form has echoes of Japan’s gekiga alternative comics movement of the ’50s and ’60s. Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima has repeatedly called the game an inspiration for his own career, saying that Portopia helped him understand how a game could create drama. Regrettably, Portopia still hasn’t seen an official English-language release, but there is a bootleg translation of the Famicom version.

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144 Responses to “What crash?: 9 influential and groundbreaking games from 1983”

  1. Matt Koester says:

    I feel the whole “1983” crash is more of a piece of ‘gamer’ mythology than actual truth. Perhaps for those higher up whose entire livelihoods were gaming, and the many extraneous side companies, yes, there was a serious turn econimcally, but most people I’ve talked to who ‘lived through’ it can’t really note any point where there was some sort of huge conscious decline. There was enough bloat in the industry that a lot of companies were bound to go under, but demand itself was constant if anything while supply skyrocketed. 

    I don’t really have any primary sources here except for my relatives, but then, I feel a lot of ‘crash’ articles are similarly misinformed, written by people who grew up with NESes and eventually built up a mythos that perhaps dwarfs what actually happened. 

    Please correct me.

    • Soredomia says:

      Were I to venture in making a quick response to this topic, I’d say the most influential effect of the video game crash was the fearfulness in releasing games/consoles in a post crash world.  So much so we had the emergence of Entertainment Systems (“It’s not a CONSOLE!  NOPE NOPE– It’s uhhhh it’s uhhh LIKE your VCR!  It just goes with the TV and plays games, but it’s NOT A CONSOLE!”).  Famicom as a family computer, the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Sega Master System, etc.  

      The rise of quality seals of approvals, video game magazine criticism to the mainstream, and spacing out releases more conservatively throughout the year also comes to mind (though obviously not remotely as down to a science as today with the PRE-CALL OF DUTY RELEASE PERIOD, CALL OF DUTY RELEASE PERIOD, AND POST CALL OF DUTY RELEASE PERIOD we have, j/k ^^).  

      Was all of this bound to be created/developed this way regardless of the crash as a catalyst? Definitely likely.  But the crash is the main push for acceptance of these changes during this transition, all the same.  Still, good point on the mythologizing.  

      The only What If Scenario that comes to my mind here is– did the Video Game Crash and the Famicom Era bind Japan to being primarily a console nation (where PC games really are a niche market to end all niche markets)?  I’m guessing most definitely no, it didn’t influence anything overseas remotely as much as it did here, but it’s interesting to think about, all the same.

      • The_Helmaroc_King says:

        As I recall, the whole crash and rebranding of their consoles was one of the reasons Nintendo made R.O.B.; not interested in a new video game console? How about a novelty toy (sold with one Nintendo Entertainment System)? Maybe it only fooled a few parents into buying it for their kids, but once you lost interest in the two (!) games R.O.B. worked with, you could pick up any number of eventual classics, or whatever other games caught your eye.

      • GhaleonQ says:

        I cosign almost all of this, with the biggest factor being Nintendo becoming SUPER-douchey about quality control, and this affecting the entire Famicom era.  Even if 1983 didn’t make life difficult for the “good” or prosperous developers/publishers, it did scare Nintendo enough that they made life miserable for those survivors from 1984 to 1993.

      • Unexpected Dave says:

        I’m told that one of the main reasons that the PC didn’t take off so well in Japan is the inconvenient keyboard.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      Jeremy Parish has a similar view, though for the life of me I can’t find a podcast reference point.  Here’s hoping that the next Retronauts is their xxx3 retrospective that they usually do.

      However, it definitely affected the way video game software and hardware were licensed, produced, and marketed.  But THAT’s a story for another time.

    • Tyrannorabbit says:

       My experience was that suddenly everything that was coming out for the Atari 2600 was shit, and we had this primitive PC that ran this cool little moon-landing game and fucking Zork.

      I didn’t own a console again until the PS2.

    • Mr. Glitch says:

      The crash was very real. So many game consoles and so many developer studios folded in such a short time that pundits really thought the home video game industry was dead. The Astrocade, Atari 5200, Intellivision, ColecoVision, Vectrex, Emerson Arcadia, Fairchild Channel F and Odyssey2 were all discontinued or had production seriously scaled back in 1983 & 1984. Smaller game developers, like Xonox & Imagic disappeared entirely, while larger ones, like Activision, focused more heavily on developing games for home computers, a market that was much more healthy at the time.

      I have a humble collection of Atari 2600 games; 89 in total. Granted that’s only a small fraction of the 2600’s total library, but it’s big enough to be a fairly representative sample. Of those 89 games, 36 were released in 1982, six in 1983, and a big fat goose egg in 1984. And this is for the one game console that managed to survive the crash!

      • The_Misanthrope says:

        Activision is quite the motherfuckin’ survivor, eh?  While most companies from that era have seen their profile diminish (including the company they started out making games for, Atari), have been swallowed whole by bigger companies or have just outright folded, they have just gotten bigger, leaner, and meaner.  The company that now sits on one of the most lucrative contemporary franchises was once just a couple of dudes who got sick of being treated like second-class citizens by Atari.

        I will never forgive them for killing off Infocom, though.  Granted, evidence suggests that Infocom was well on its way to doing itself in, but still, they didn’t have to put a shell in its brainpan.

    • TheKins says:

      The crash is primarily talked up as reaching further than it really did. It affected the console market in the US. If you were on the computers of the time, or an arcade developer, or not in the US, you probably didn’t notice.

      (During one of Nintendo’s “Iwata Asks” columns, one of the creators of the NES called the crash the “Atari Debacle”, if this gives you any idea.)

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       I don’t remember the Atari crash all that keenly–the Commodore Vic-20 and 128 filled that void so well that I skipped an entire console generation–but the loss of arcade  machines was sharply felt.  They were no longer the money-making space-filler in local stores/malls and the handful of arcades in my area closed up with little warning.

      • Bad Horse says:

        “the Commodore Vic-20 and 128 filled that void so well that I skipped an entire console generation”

        Sounds like you remember the crash just fine.

    • AnonymousBosch says:

      It happened in Australian, and I was there.  I was 12.  There was a bunch of monthly magazines like “Electronic And Video Games” that I’d buy with my pocket money that suddenly ceased to exist, and the Colecovision, which was just starting to show up here, vanished entirely.   Our town’s video Arcade went out of business and they were nowhere near as culturally-dominant.  I’ve got a few giant hand-held models of Galaxian and Pacman from back in the day:  those things vanished.  The video board adaptations stopped coming – I had Popeye, Frogger and Donkey Kong.

      All I remember persisting for the next few years was the Commodore 64, and Nintendo’s Game And Watch line.  Everything else was completely wiped away.

      All these things are probably in boxes somewhere at my parents house.

  2. Soredomia says:

    Wow, what a great list and a pleasant surprise for the Week of 1983.  Thank you for the wonderful trip down memory lane.

    Other items from that year or surrounding it that might apply here:  

    King’s Quest I (Quest for the Crown Raiders-style retroactively re-titled but to me it’s just plain KQ1 raaaawr) was released in 1983 in demonstration model form for the PC Jr.  

    The immortal Spy Hunter hit the scene /cheer.  Bond-esque action well before the era of Goldeneye, albeit in car form. And who can forget the way that ingame music was applied so effectively?  

    Wizardry III: Legacy of Llylgamyn- while the first had the most influence on the industry, the third in this series is no slouch and had acclaim equal to Ultima for overseas designers (see recently released Dragon’s Crown).  

    Donkey Kong Jr. Math:  Sure, we had Face Maker and Oregon Trail and things of the sort, but years before Donald Duck’s Playground and Mickey going into space there’s this main stream property trying to teach kids simple mathematics in a fun way.  Was it effective?  Very debatable.  But hey, it certainly was memorable, and at least we didn’t get a new era of QTE headaches from its development (/comfort the legacy of Dragon’s Lair all the same).

    There was also a Doctor Who adaptation game, a Sierra adaptation of The Dark Crystal (before recently departed LucasFilm/LucasArts hit the scene with Labyrinth!), and of course, the Broderbund CLASSIC- Lode Runner /cheer.  

    My favorite of all these is definitely King’s Quest I (feeding the goat, fighting the dragon, the backward name gnome’s puzzle?  Love ’em), but hats off to M.U.L.E. and Ultima III– video games are definitively better for you having existed. Here’s to you /salute.

    • GhaleonQ says:

      For once, I won’t complain about the lack of Japanese games.  Before 1984, it’s really stunning how lopsided the quality divide was.  In my “games of the year” spreadsheet, this is the only year with more North American ones than Asian and European ones.

      People think Rare showed up in the 16-bit days, but they actually have always been inconsistent.  They killed on the ZX Spectrum, fell apart on the NES, blew up expecations on the SNES, faltered on the Nintendo 64, made neat stuff on the Xbox, and then imploded totally on the Xbox 360.  Jetpac is probably more influential and better than any game on the list except Mario Brothers and Ultima III: Exodus.  Atic Atac is good, as is Lunar Jetman.

      Another huge error is Door Door, which is as good as anything but Mario Brothers, created Enix and Chunsoft, is VERY influential for puzzle platformers, has 1 of the best box arts of the era, and is generally a cultural touchstone in Japan.
      On the influential list, I think Enchanter is a big milestone.  It’s a Zork game, but was after the core trilogy (the 1st ever, since it beat Wizardry and Ultima?) and was super-advanced.  Donkey Kong 1, 2/Junior, and Q*bert 1 also got their 1st great ports.

      However, I need to point out that the BEST Infocom game with the BEST ending is Infidel.  It wasn’t influential, but it’s totally groundbreaking.  It’s not even a religion thing, just a “playing with the player’s identity” thing.  (That’s not a plot revelation.)

      I wouldn’t argue that the following are influential, but they’re fricking amazing and that’s good enough for me.  Pole Position 2 has to be 1 of the best sequels of the day, a “more is better” approach Namco would follow until the present day.  And…that’s it for Japan!  Like I said, the West was awesome.  Before Sierra did King’s Quest I: Quest For The Crown, they did 2 super-fun games, a clever platformer called Apple Cider Spider and a great ripoff of The Electric Yo-Yo (by Taito) called Oil’s Well.

      Archon: The Light And The Dark deserves special mention.  It is of a piece of nonsense, arcane puzzle games that appeal directly to me.  It’s like combat chess, but not.  The sequel is completely different but similarly fantastic.

      • GhaleonQ says:

        Bonus: here is Arino on Game Center CX playing Door Door and getting super gross and sweaty.  Apparently, he was the friend who borrowed your controller and brought it back greasy and with Fritos dust on it.

      • Soredomia says:

        OOOOO!  Infidel and Enchanter– good call!  My favorite Infocom game will always be A Mind Forever Voyaging, but there’s no doubt they were in prime form with those releases in 1983.  

        And no argument from me on Rare’s importance even back in the ’80s as a developer.  Wizards and Warriors, R.C.Pro-Am, Slalom.  All classics (though we also had that weird-ass Taboo game, oh well).  Their timeline certainly wasn’t just Battletoads–>Donkey Kong Country–>Goldeneye 007–>Kinect Sports.  

        And thanks for the GameCenter Cx video link.  Gotta love a good moment with the Kacho /cheer.  I wish they did more ChunSoft game releases here.  I want to play that Night of the Sickel Weasel-esque/Shin Kamaitachi no Yoru game for the Vita (even if digital download only with subtitles)! I’ll even buy the over-frickin’ priced memory card, guys! Give me a chance!

        **EDIT**- Arino playing Night of the Sickle Weasel (LONG VIDEO- full episode):

        • Aurora Boreanaz says:

          A Mind Forever Voyaging was amazing!  I got into it during my sophomore year of high school (91-92).  I photocopied the map in the game and updated it with room diagrams for every time period you visit.  I got stuck near the end and set it aside for a long time (not sure if it was months or years), and when I came back to it found out that I’d stopped exactly ONE scene from the ending.

          My personal favorite Infocom game was Planetfall.  I not only drew a full map of the abandoned base, I drew several pictures of it from the outside, all white tubes and domes surrounded by water.

      • NakedSnake says:

        You made your own year by year GOY list? Can you link to it?

        • GhaleonQ says:

          Um, this is a terrible idea on my part, but, yeah, sure!  I’ll just post the top 5.  Here are some caveats:

          I changed the titles to their most commonly known English ones so I don’t look like a douche.  I still need to play more games from the last generation on (I like to get up to 60 per year before comitting).  Bangaio Spirits, Castlevania: Order Of Ecclesia, and Panel Pon Gamecube are 3 of my favorite games ever , but I’ll just post through 2002.  I picked them on the year in which they were released in their home territory.  I picked the last version if there were “iterations” of a game (so, Street Fighter Alpha is 1999).  I picked the home version of a game unless there was no quality release outside of an arcade.  Remakes don’t count.

          Since I have 124 separate series’ worth of video game music saved, I basically took those franchises, slotted them into years, and then went through GameFAQs year-by-year to fill in others.  Ask John: it’s hard to pass the time in college in rural New Hampshire weather when you can’t afford to go home for the month-long breaks or summers. It was this or hiking Mount Moosilauke alone for the _th time.

          It’s for personal use, so it is SUPER-subjective, and, therefore, SUPER-embarrassing.  I’m thinking less of early Sierra dominance and more of my 1995.  IT’S SO GOOD.  I do have obscure (your Ring Of Reds) or consensus picks (your Half-Lifes), but they tend to come around spots 8-19.  So, be gentle!

        • i and 1 says:

          Thanks for the Crazy Climber reminder.  Great-looking list.

        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          @GhaleonQ:disqus FLAGGED FOR NOT LOVING JUMPING FLASH 2 ENOUGH. …sorry, I just played Jumping Flash 2 yesterday.

          More seriously: Would you recommend Shin Onigashima to someone who’s predisposed to enjoy the fairytale aspect, but is only lukewarm on Famicom Detective Club? Also, I’m surprised by the Three Wonders love. It’s in one of those Capcom Classics collections but I never really gave it an honest try.

        • Bad Horse says:

          My entire worldview was shattered around the panda boss in the disco ball. This will drive you to madness. It is seriously like looking at the face of the Old Ones. 

          Looks fun though.

        • Sarapen says:

          @GhaleonQ:disqus I have a spreadsheet listing every piece of fiction I’ve consumed for this year (movie, book, and TV show) which I started because I wanted to know exactly how many books and whatnot I was reading. At times I’ve thought I was being anal but you’ve got me beat. There’s something strangely compelling about list-making, though, isn’t there?

          In case anyone was wondering, my count is 81 fiction books, 54 movies, 910 comic books, and 414 episodes of TV

          And I don’t have a video game section because I doubt I’ve played 60 games in the last 5 years, let alone just in one year.

        • GhaleonQ says:

          @iand1:disqus and : Thanks!  The later ones in the series aren’t that great, but I do enjoy that one.

          @DestroyHimMyRobots:disqus  : I can only beg that you forgive me by letting you know the existence of a 3rd Jumping Flash game.  I get that small developers try weird stuff before they die, but a mobile version of Jumping Flash…but on the Playstation 1?  You’re weird, Exact.

  They did 4 games like this.  Don’t play Yuyuki (good, funnier, but less heartwarming), Time Twist (their worst game, an Infocom ripoff, even if you get awesome scenarios like 8-bit crucifixion ), or The Forest Of Memories (a very good, heartwarming Miyazaki-type Ghibli game).  I WOULD definitely recommend playing it, as it’s less Gabriel Knight and more King’s Quest.  I mean that in terms of the fairy tale parody, the difficulty, and the great emotional moments.  And, hey, if you hate it, listen to Kondo’s soundtrack, anyway.

          3 Wonders is a big subjective one.  I love block puzzles like Kickle Cubicle and Eggerland, I love slow-moving shoot-’em-ups like R-Type and Parodius, and I love action platformers like Metal Slug and Ghouls ‘N’ Ghosts.  It also is in this weird period of Capcom arcade history where they ripped music and art from eastern European fantasy, and it looks grim and cool.  I do think it’s objectively superb, though, and well-worth playing.

          @Bad_Horse:disqus : It’s amazing when CatBusTrain and flying breasts aren’t your weirdest enemy, right?  Even if it wasn’t Goemon-but-a-shoot-’em-up, it still has rock-solid gameplay. The series is like a wonderful carnival ride.

          @sarapen:disqus  : Ooh, I can’t match you on individual television episodes, but, yes, listmaking is the main thing that I identifies me as a nerd.  I do data and policy analysis for education reform, so it’s branded into me permanently now.  Like, I play a lot of fighting games and I forget which characters I’m good, mediocre, and bad with, so I have a spreadsheet of every series I’ve played, with each ordered.  If I play my younger brother, I can go down to character 30.  If I play random internet tough guy, I can pick character 1…and still lose.  I’m looking at my “Of The Year” Notepad right now.  By the end of the year, _ video games, 490 music releases, 80 television shows, 35 stand-up/sketch releases, 100 movies, 35 2013 books, and 55 comics will have been ordered and then added to the master list.


        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          @GhaleonQ:disqus Ha, yes, I read about that. It seems there’s also a “real” Jumping Flash 3, Robbit Mon Dieu. I just got into the series because Kaz Ayabe talked it up in the latest Scroll and I have this crazy luck where things I read about in Scroll that interest me get thrown on PS+ Game Archives swiflty. So I hope the next issue will be great! Thanks for the rest of your post. I’ll definitely give Three Wonders a spin once my PSP time is free from Boku no Natsuyasumi 4, which will be on the 31st because I’m playing in quasi-real time because I thought that would be nice.

          And, uhm, 63 games so far and counting. I learned how to do PivotTables for my list because I wanted pie charts.

        • NakedSnake says:

          @GhaleonQ:disqus This is awesome. I personnally have kind of an impulse to render whole areas of knowledge “conquered”, where I can speak authoritatively about them without having huge blind spots. I also find that lists/reviews help render these areas more comprehensible and reduce an infinite sea of titles into a finite and knowable bunch. My latest project has been to try to create an emulator-friendly “cannon” of games for all the consoles between the NES and the PSOne, where I break out the best games in the best categories for each console (the categories vary depending on what the console is good at). It just feels good seeing it all written out.

          Having never had a game console growing up, I have been trying to slowly fill my experience of the cannon of games from yesteryear. I thought I was doing pretty good, but looking at your list I realize that I still have a lot of work to do. I don’t recognize half of the games on the list. So is moon playable as a ROM or how did you play it? This list definitely reinforced how I need to check out Klonoa, which I have been interested in ever since it was highlighted (I think) by GLOG. Anyhow, thanks for sharing – this will be a resource as I try to play backwards for sure.

        • GhaleonQ says:

          @DestroyHimMyRobots:disqus Oh, Ray Barnholt is probably 1 of the best guides out there.  Did you go on an Artdink kick?  I forgot.  No comment on your database addiction.

          I TOTALLY forgot that existed.  I knew it did and played it, but I don’t think I beat it.  To PSN?

          @baneofpigs:disqus Send me an e-mail.  I’ll send my spreadsheet where I just rank my series by genre and respond to your other stuff.  At Hotmail, I’m theUNDERSCOREqUNDERSCORE66     .

        • Sarapen says:

          @GhaleonQ:disqus I think half of those episodes were me blasting through Bleach. My interest had petered out years earlier but then I discovered a list of filler episodes (and therefore to be avoided) so I quickly finished the Winter War arc.
          I also tend to binge watch when I discover a new-old TV show (The Borgias, Bodacious Space Pirates, Veep, House of Cards, TMNT, Da Vinci’s Demons, Les Revenants). I kind of wish I’d watched more movies but for some reason I’m more likely to watch two 1 hour long TV episodes than one 2 hour long movie. I know it’s irrational but somehow the time needed to watch one movie seems like such a large chunk of my free time for some reason so I get put off at the whole idea.

        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          @baneofpigs:disqus Oh, that sounds familiar. My first console was a PS2. Before that it was Commodore home computers and a Game Boy and later IBM-PC. I swear I’m putting in effort, but in terms of having seen the credits roll, I’m still stuck at 4 Super Marios, 3 Legend of Zeldas, 2 Mega Mans, 2 Castlevanias and 0 Metroids.

        • NakedSnake says:

          @DestroyHimMyRobots:disqus @sarapen:disqus Off the top of my head, here’s a list of bone-fide classics that I’ve never played: Super Mario Bros. 3, FFVII, Ocarina of Time, Ico, Silent Hill 2, Metroid, MGS3, Final Fantasy Tactics, Castlevania IV.

          And yet for some reason I have beaten virtually every Resident Evil game.

      • i and 1 says:

        I was a big fan of Archon as well.  Interesting how M.U.L.E (Which I also loved) had that same combination of strategy and regular-old joystick-directed movement, albeit to a lesser extent.  With M.U.L.E. the balance was WAY more to strategy, of course, but you did have a clock running and tasks the Mule had to be drug around to do sometimes.

        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          Yeah, both are (or were, it’s been ages) great. I’d love it if that style of game design (easily understood board game fundamentals but with some stuff board games just can’t do) made an occasional comeback.

        • GhaleonQ says:

          @DestroyHimMyRobots:disqus Well put, both of you.

          I am SO surprised that a play on Settlers Of Catan has not appeared.  That’s a huge missed opportunity on consoles/handhelds, and a similar play on simpler games could make a play for the casual mobile market.  People like trendy games, but not learning entire new games.

      • The_Misanthrope says:

        Enchanter and its sequels are dear favorites of mine, but I’m not a fan of the RPGish elements–also present in the Zork games–that do nothing but waste your time and kill pacing.  Inventory and spell management I could deal with, but the sheer tedium of continually having to make sure you were well-fed, hydrated, rested, and safe from thieving malevolent presenses was a pain. 

        The peak in Infocom games for me will always be Suspended.  Sure, actually finishing the game is an exercise in frustration, but the unique game mechanic of having to solve puzzles through the different perceptions and abilities of the robots was solid.  It would be interesting to see a current-gen take on the idea.

        • Girard says:

          I have such a hard time picking a best Infocom game. You’ve got a couple of hilarious, amazingly written ones by Douglas Adams, but which aren’t super-ambitious design-wise. Then you have practically open-world virtual novels/spaces like a Mind Forever Voyaging, or really inventive mechanics like those in Suspended… 

          Man, so many good games.

        • duwease says:

          Mechanic-wise I feel you, but story-wise Trinity will always take it for me.

        • GhaleonQ says:

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus @duwease:disqus @The_Misanthrope:disqus That’s 1 of my favorite things about Infocom.  I don’t think there’s a definitive best game.  There’s a panoply of styles for everyone to enjoy.  I love it when market leaders remain ambitious and creative with their increased resources.

      • Marozeph says:

        They killed on the ZX Spectrum, fell apart on the NES, blew up expecations on the SNES, faltered on the Nintendo 64, made neat stuff on the Xbox, and then imploded totally on the Xbox 360.

        So if they follow the trend, they will make really good games on the XBox One?

        • OldeFortran77 says:

          Or the Ouya?

        • GhaleonQ says:

          *pets @Marozeph:disqus *  Yes, you poor, little child.  Everything will be okay for Rare.  I sent them to the Xbox One development megalopolis in the north country, but they will return more glorious and motivated than ever before.

          *pats your head*  *begins deleting Kinect Sports Wikipedia entries*

      • Sini_Star says:

        Archon was fun. So was the sequel.

      • TheGameroomBlitz says:

        “Fell apart on the NES?” You bite your tongue! Games like Cobra Triangle and the first Wizards and Warriors were brilliant! RARE also has the distinction of being the only Western developer that made quality games for the NES. Granted, they weren’t always extremely fun to play (case in point: Taboo), but the amount of work put into them was obvious. When the Wheel of Fortune license was handed off to some other developer in the early 1990s, the quality of the games fell off a cliff.

      • stepped_pyramids says:

        I’m surprised by the claim that Rare “faltered” on the N64, considering that they were pretty much the only company other than Nintendo itself to be very successful on the platform. GoldenEye, Diddy Kong Racing, and Donkey Kong 64 were all top 10 sellers. GoldenEye is held in very high esteem even today. Perfect Dark was #11 and also very well-remembered.

        And that’s without getting into the Banjo series, Conker’s Bad Fur Day… I’m not a huge fan of 3D platformers, but I thought Rare’s N64-era platformers were considered excellent examples of the genre.

        From over here, it looks like the N64 was Rare’s golden age.

    • Destroy Him My Robots says:

      Amazing games all up in this article and thread! And we’re still missing some pretty big hits.

      Both The Activion Decathlon and Track & Field came out. Yeah, they’re not so hot now, but I’m sure everyone still has their favorite button-mashing tricks memorized (nowadays I’m a simple two finger tap man, but there used to be some wilder ideas too).

      1983 also marks the birth of two huge series: Nobunaga’s Ambition (which I think also marks the beginning of Koei’s reign over Japanese strategy titles) and Bomberman, one of the rare series that simply everyone loves and that has never aged one bit.

      Jumpman was my first platform game love. Excellent controls, high skill ceiling, and some fantastic ideas (those slowly flying balls that would accelerate towards you when you were on the same x- or y-plane are just perfect).

      Finally, Andrew Spencer’s International Soccer was pure bliss. It’s been completely surpassed by others (Emlyn Hughes International Soccer y’all), but at the time this was the big one that every other series (except maybe for the Dino Dini and Jon Hare ones) owes some debt to. You could take the ball into the net just by playing keepie uppie with your head, that’s how great it was.

      • Soredomia says:

        WHOA!  Nobunaga’s Ambition came out originally in Japan in 1983?  Wow.  I had no idea.  Great catch!  
        And here I thought The Ancient Art of War in 1984 by Evryware was the trendsetter.  Serves me right.   I love Nobunaga’s Ambition.  

        Never played Jumpman but I am acquainted with Epyx’s Impossible Mission and Olympic game series, to be sure.  Looks like fun for its era /cheer.  And yep, everyone loves Bomberman.  Mega Man/Rockman meets Pac Man and just add bombs.  What’s not to love?

        And THE ruler trick for Track & Field!  That takes me back!  And yet I still needed both Lucky Star and Arino to remind me of that secret weapon for success.  

        We didn’t have those fancy turbo controllers back in MY day!  And they didn’t work for combo-tap requirements! And we had blisters on our thumbs on our snow treks to school!  And we were GLAD!  

        • Destroy Him My Robots says:

          “Don’t even think about using auto-fire, or I’ll know!”

          I never played Ancient Art of War, but man did I ever latch onto Ancient Art of War in the Skies a decade later. Even then I knew it was overall a fairly mediocre title, but I still loved it so much. I can pin it down to seeing the trenches move back and forth under frequent air strikes. That was some really clever visualization for a real-time strategy title.

        • Sini_Star says:

          Ancient Art of War! I forgot that game! That was awesome! I had a few of them. They were tough.

      • Copywight says:

        Goddamn I love Koei strategy games, I had no idea the original Nobunaga’s Ambition came out in ’83. I only knew it from the SNES version that came out in ’94, which I have spent way too much time playing over the years. 

        I’m not kidding, I just started a round of P.T.O. (the KOEI WW2 strategy game) on my SNES emulator earlier this week. Genghis Khan II is on there too, somewhere. I know these games are a decade off topic here, but that was my personal golden age, SNES Koei strategy games in the mid 90s.

        • GhaleonQ says:

          For real, a primer on that or Romance Of The 3 Kingdoms would be amazing in the Weekend thread someday.  I’ve played copies by other companies that weren’t on Japanese computers, but they seemed like pale imitations.

    • Sini_Star says:

      I played most of those back then. My buddy had Wizardry on his Apple II. We’d stay up all night in the summer playing. That, and Choplifter. And some Rescue Raiders game where you shot missles at balloons or something. 

      I played Kings Quest 1 and 2, maybe 3, on my shitty IBM PcJr.

    • Kevin Irmiter says:

      Maybe I’m pedantic, but it bugs me to no end that this article is saying Ultima III invented “turn-based combat, in which you select a command–you might ‘Attack’ or ‘Cast’ a spell–and then the enemy fighters get their turn.” This describes the combat series that the the Wizardry series (mentioned by  @soredomia:disqus ) had been using for years, and was already very popular! Extra annoying because there are so many other innovations that you genuinely could credit this game with. Laying the template of gameplay for RPGs like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, and having tactical movement-based combat, for starters.

      • stepped_pyramids says:

        Yeah, I love Ultima (and hold it in higher regard than Wizardry, especially for where each series went in the long term) but Wizardry had party-based and turn-based gameplay in 1981.

        Wizardry is a lot more influential in what we’d consider to be traditional RPGs — all of the major JRPG series were directly influenced by it, and there are still games being released which follow the conventions Wizardry laid down. (Like you say, though, Dragon’s Quest takes the overhead town/world map view from Ultima, and Final Fantasy borrowed it from Dragon’s Quest.)

        On the other hand, Ultima was generally more inventive — instead of sophisticated party-based dungeon crawling, the first games had spaceflight and time travel. Ultima IV is deservedly legendary for its central focus on the player character’s ethical development (although the core mechanic of the game was still exploring dungeons and collecting loot). V and VI are still two of the best stories ever told by RPGs, and VI was one of the earliest RPGs to have persistent objects in the environment you could manipulate, pick up, drop other places, etc.

        The grid-based combat in the mid-series Ultimas was influential on some RPGs, including tactical RPGs. VII introduced an early version of the semi-realtime combat that Baldur’s Gate later made popular and which eventually became standard for computer RPGs.

  3. Enkidum says:

    Fuck yeah Star Wars! I spent many, many hours in that cabinet, and probably never got past the second round.

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      The great thing about Star Wars is, like the best all-ages entertainment, it’s been fun at every stage in my life.
         It was super fun as a kid, all jacked up on soda.
         It was super-fun as a teenager, baked and at the mall in the neighboring city.
         It’s super fun as an adult, after a few beers in some shitty basement bar.
         I have chemical dependency issues is what I’m saying. 

      • Enkidum says:

        Do you mean the films, the game, or just the entire universe of products in general?

        Not that it really matters, I just wanted to contextualize your substance abuse.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          Me drugs, and Star Wars have spent plenty of time together in general, but I’m speaking specifically of the vector game here.
             Not so the Return of the Jedi arcade game, however.  There is not a substance in nature or by man that makes that game fun.

        • TheGameroomBlitz says:

          The same thing applies to the not-at-all-related-but-still-crappy Super NES game, too.

          LucasArts released a GameCube demo of some Star Wars game, and included the original arcade game as a bonus. Awfully kind of Lucasfilm to bring it home at little to no cost, especially when you consider that earlier ports were (to put it kindly) a train wreck.

    • The_Helmaroc_King says:

      That video reminds me a lot of Star Wars Trilogy, which popped up in arcades at some point in my youth. On-rail shooting! Dogfighting above Yavin! Trench runs! Something about targeting computers and the force? Not the most original Star Wars game, but still pretty awesome.

      The older one still looks pretty good, too. I think vector graphics tend to age fairly well, actually.

      There was also Star Wars: Racer, which was at least as impressive for the “pod” you sat in as anything else.

      • Enkidum says:

        Oh yeah, I played the Trilogy game too. Not nearly as much as the original, and somehow it felt less “pure”, though of course the graphics were hot as shit at the time. Think it cost 50 cents too, which was, like, wow.

      • Mr. Glitch says:

        I love vector graphics! I love those perfectly smooth and slightly flickery lines, and the brighter bits where those lines intersect. I love the amazing scaling & rotation effects that vector games could pull off with such limited hardware. I love that vector games looked like this in 1977, when the state of the art in raster graphics was, maybe, Space Invaders.

        • Enkidum says:

          ” the brighter bits where those lines intersect”

          Oh yeah, I had totally forgotten about that! Thanks for reminding me. 

          The scaling and nice linear perspective were such a huge advantage vector graphics had, which was probably one of the reasons why a game like Star Wars was able to compete with all the more colourful and cartoony games out there, all those years later.

          And now you’ve got me thinking of Battlezone. Good times, good times.

        • Ixbalum says:

           My big intro to vector graphics was Tempest. That was, at the time, the coolest thing ever, at least to 12-year-old me. It is interesting that vector offered a way to do things that raster couldn’t. Battlezone was another fine example of the form.

        • Dripping yellow madness says:

          Perhaps you may be interested in the Vectrex Regeneration app for iOS (and, maybe, just maybe, soon available for Android), which includes its adaptations of Starhawk, Ripoff, Armor Attack and Star Castle.  Not quite the arcade versions, but pretty darn close.

          As for early arcade vector machines, the sit-down version of Tail Gunner, and of course, Space War, were big consumers of young DYM’s quarters.

        • Mr. Glitch says:

          @drippingyellowmadness:disqus Star Wars, Tempest & Tac-Scan routinely bankrupted young little me. 

          About 10 years ago, I found an actual, working Vectrex at a Goodwill. If I recall correctly, it was bathed in ethereal light and it had little cherubs & shit dancing around it.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        Star Wars Trilogy blew my mind when I first found it.  It was the sit-down version with surround sound speakers built in.  The lightsaber levels were inspired…with the force feedback/vibration in the joystick, and being able to block strikes (Boba Fett’s wrist lasers and Darth Vader’s saber strikes) then retaliate, it was the first time I felt like I was actually wielding the Jedi weapon.

        Most of the other levels were fun, too.  I hated the Endor speeder bike run though, because it took so many damn shots to take down another bike it hurt my fingers.

    • Destroy Him My Robots says:

      Star Wars was so cool, even Gremlins played it.

  4. Soredomia says:

    My apologies for the rookie posting I AM ERROR on this fine thread.

    A video game cat pic for your troubles in skimming over this dud post. Thank you for your time.

  5. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    Man, fuck Dragon’s Lair a thousand times.  Given the limits of technology at the time, no game that looked so impossibly gorgeous could result in anything but the most disappointing experience.
       I think I blew four whole dollars on that game and never made it past the drawbridge.
       I mean sure, that doesn’t sound like a lot. But as a percentage of my eight-year-old self’s annual income and adjusted for inflation, that’s the equivalent today of like… $130,000.

    • Soredomia says:

      That’s rough /comfort.  

      If played in 1985, think of how far one could get through Gauntlet on four bucks (now I’m imagining Gauntlet in this analogy of inflated budget and annual income as a vacation nation, hahaha- the Cancun of video games!).  With four bucks and Gauntlet, we could live like KINGs for hours, I tells yah!  Or at least last quite a while on Pole Position and Space Harrier.   

    • The_Helmaroc_King says:

      Dragon’s Lair came out a bit before my time, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of experience I would want to pay for by the error. I’d be willing to try it at home, but games today have made substantial leaps in EMOTION.

      Dragon’s Lair does, however, have an interestingly dressed princess, so I guess that’s something?

      • MintBerry_Crunch says:

        Good Lord, are those pointies in one of the images? 


      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        Yeah, it makes Samus in her end-credits bikini look like the scrambled soft-core channel you strained your eyes to decipher when staying in a hotel room by comparison.

      • Effigy_Power says:

        I remember that very specifically, but not as much as being sick to death with the dude turning into a skeleton.

      • Girard says:

        I never had the chance to play it, but I saw it a few times (and saw pics in magazines). As a kid I was entranced by the imagery but even then realized there was, like, zero way those visuals could be attached to compelling gameplay. Like, it was clear you couldn’t be directly controlling the guy or anything like that.

      • Aurora Boreanaz says:

        It took me several trips to the arcade, combined with standing and staring at it and/or watching others play, before I got up the courage to try Dragon’s Lair.  I think I played it twice, dying almost instantly three times in a row, before I gave up on that piece of shit.

        I bought it again for the PC years later, and still hated it and quit playing in five minutes.

        • Flying_Turtle says:

          My family did a lot of bowling in my youth, and my father, of all people, tried Dragon’s Lair (50 cents a play!) when the bowling alley brought it in. He did exactly what you did and walked away. As far as I know, he’s never touched another video/computer game since. Way to ruin video games for my father for all time, Dragon’s Lair.

          I watched him play, thought, “well, that looks pointless,” and went right back to Q*bert, Elevator Action, or Gauntlet, probably.

      • Arex says:

        I’m pretty sure I remember reading that the princess’s poses were mostly just swipes from Playboy pictorials.

        Edit Yeah, here it is:

        ‘I asked Bluth if Daphne was in fact animated based on women found in a Playboy magazine. That, as it turns out, is true. “I, who had never looked at a Playboy magazine before, was introduced to one by Gary Goldman who pointed out there were several provocative pictures within, and that they may inspire us,” Bluth told me. So they opened the magazine, and their eyes were met with dozens of suggestive poses for their heroine. These were used to create Daphne’s movements, and if you watch the scenes she’s in, you’ll clearly see how she moves from pose to pose, showing off her… well, assets.’

      • Kevin Irmiter says:

        I like how Princess Daphne looks soooo white trash.

    • Nudeviking says:

      It was in arcades forever too.  Our arcade still had a Dragon’s Lair machine well into the Mortal Kombat/NBA Jam/Time Killers 90s.

    • i and 1 says:

      I was so careful with quarters.  I just watched a couple other guys who knew what they were doing and simultaneously got to A) watch “the cartoon story” play out for a decent amount of “narrative”, with some occasional glimpses of dramatic death-by-fuck-up, and B) learn just how little these guys actually got to do, relative to the action on screen.  Joystick left, wait, joystick straight, joystick straight, wait, joystick back…

    • TheGameroomBlitz says:

      I despise full-motion video games. You can’t tape a joystick to a movie and call that a game, yet so many people were willing to believe otherwise in 1983 (and ten years later, when the Sega CD launched). About the only FMV game from that era that was worth a damn was MACH 3, and that was because the video clips were used as a backdrop for an actual game… not a great one, mind you, but at least it was a game.

      • Marozeph says:

        The FMV-Hype in the early 90 still baffles me. How could so many people think that “C-List Actors + Bluescreen + Some gameplay thrown in at the last minute = Awesome Games”? Even as an easily impressible 12-year-old i couldn’t really imagine it working.

        Although the probably weirdest example happend some years before in form of the Action Max, a console that used VHS tapes – meaning the player had absolutely no impact on what happend onscreen. The only thing variable was the score.
        Oh, and it apparently had a cameo in the legendary turkey Leonard Part 6. Go figure.

        • TheGameroomBlitz says:

          My understanding is that Worlds of Wonder was responsible for distributing the Nintendo Entertainment System during its shaky first couple of years. However, when the machine found its footing and its success was guaranteed, Nintendo abandoned WOW and handled the distribution themselves. I think the Action Max was Worlds of Wonder’s attempt to maintain a presence in the video game industry. Why they thought that was the right approach I’ll never know, but I guess it was cheaper than designing hardware for a new game console.

  6. Dr. Clint Handsome says:

    I had the distinct “honor” to get to play E. T.  on an actual Atari last week. It was just as bad as I imagined.

    • Girard says:

      I remember trying my damnedest to play and understand it as a little 4/5-year-old in the basement of a family friend in Scotland. It was so baffling and frustrating. I DID see the Thriller video for the first time during that visit, though, so I still think I came out ahead in terms of 80s pop culture absorbed…

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        “Ach!  Nay, yea dinnae unnerstand, Girard!  Yer ‘sposed tae fall doon thae well tae get pieces of his telefoon!
           Fook it.  Let’s watch thae video with yur strange American elf-man prancing aboot with ghosts an’ ghoolies an’ what-not.”

        • Girard says:

          Weirdly, the people we were visiting with were a Southern US family with roots in Louisiana and Texas, so the talk was more “Aw, bless his li’l ol’ heart tryin’ to get that alien out of that hole!”

    • You should feel lucky that prior to this your experience was just imagination. I actually owned and played it in ’83. 5-6 year-old me enjoyed it enough, but looking back now… (shudder)

    • Zack Handlen says:

      My best friend had a copy when we were kids. It introduced me to the “five seconds of excitement, followed by an hour of growing misery” that is the hallmark of most licensed games.

  7. Mr. Glitch says:

    Great article! My butt was planted squarely in the cockpit of the Star Wars arcade machine at Fargo’s Pizza for a sizable portion of my formative years. It’s hands-down my favorite video game experience of all time.

  8. AlwaysBeenTim says:

    I remember the Summer of ’83 pretty much being the height of the arcades. Going into an arcade, lit up by nothing but it’s machines, a horde of people standing around Dragon’s Lair, oohing and ahhing over each new scene. By winter, the arcade was empty and by the next year, it was gone.

    I knew this guy in the 90’s who had been the manager of a chain of local arcades during that time. He gave me all the lowdown of the highs, the politics, the backstabbing, the fuckups, everything. I’ll never forget him talking about how it all crashed down and how he had closed up each arcade in the chain until he was down to just one. This lone outpost in this tiny town out in ‘Bumfuck Egypt’

    He drove out there in the late morning, walked in and found nobody there. No customers, no employees, nobody. Nothing but untouched video games talking to each other. The employees had just opened the arcade, turned everything on and left to get high or drunk or watch TV or whatever. I’ll never forget him describing how he methodically turned each machine off, made sure everything was secure, turned the lights off and flipped the sign to CLOSE, locked the door and taped a note for his employees that just simply read ‘you’re fired’

    • Ixbalum says:

       Well, to be fair, the employees weer more laid off than fired :-) if there were no customers or anything. He probably saved himself some money, though I s’pose he could have written losses of on his taxes.

      • AlwaysBeenTim says:

        Not really. The arcades were just a part of a larger company that had all the video games and pinballs in pizza joints and bars. The company survived and it wanted to keep that arcade open as it was betting that arcades were going to come back into fashion. By closing it down and firing everybody and refusing to reopen it, Dave was putting his own head in the noose and trying to kick the chair. Despite being livid, the company kept him and bumped him down to salesman at their computer store where he refused to sell Amigas. He was a colorful, willful man.

        • TheGameroomBlitz says:

          Refused to sell Amigas?! The monster!

        • AlwaysBeenTim says:

          Yeah. He was was an Atari man back when Commodore and Atari people had their beef (which was just as intense but seemed far less petty than the Android/Apple war of today). Anyhoo, his place was the only place that sold Amigas. Technically, he had to sell Amigas. He wasn’t allowed not to but he wouldn’t let anybody see an Amiga unless they proved that they had enough money to buy one. So, unless you showed up with a bank account statement or $1000 in cash, you couldn’t even look at one and so he was constantly (and gleefully) turning away all this Commodore kids such as myself who just wanted to check one out. It was kind of amazing how often our paths collided and how much we kinda hated each other before we actually met.

        • Arex says:

          I still remember the Creative Computing article in which a columnist recommended that Atari buy what was then the Amiga Lorraine and rebrand it as the successor to the 400/800 series.  (Edit: Oh, of course it’s available on our magic future Internetwork: )

          In the end, of course, Commodore made the purchase instead, Atari came out with the ST series… and both were ultimately steamrolled by the IBM PC and its clones.  (And to a lesser extent the Mac.)

          I suspect one reason I’ve never been able to get into technology holy wars in later life (from DOS vs. Macintosh in the 80s to iOS/Android today) is because nothing can match the pure single-mindedness that the rivalries of the 8-bit era produced.  No two of my friends seemed to have the same computer, and we all knew ours was the best.

          (I was right, of course.  Atari 800 forever!)

        • AlwaysBeenTim says:

          Commodore 64 4 LYF!

    • Marozeph says:

      Sounds like the premise for a sequel to Wreck-It Ralph.

      • Sarapen says:

        Shouldn’t that have been the opening of the movie? I think Clinton was prez the last time I was in an arcade.

        • AlwaysBeenTim says:

          Fortunately, I live just five blocks from an arcade. Ground Kontrol in Portland (holla!) It’s pretty neat (and shockingly popular)

    • duwease says:

      Highs?  Politics?  Backstabbing?  Where are they, you tease??

      • AlwaysBeenTim says:

        I don’t know, I’m not the best storyteller.

        Before the crash, when times were flush, a new arcade opened in town. It was an ice cream parlor and it was going to be have about 20 games and cater more to younger kids. They approached my friend, Dave, and asked if everything was cool (you see, Dave’s company wasn’t exactly “mob affiliated” but they were what I would call “mob adjacent” ) and Dave said everything was fine (their starting games were older while Dave’s were bleeding-edge) as long as they just did one thing, had different size tokens. It was easy, everybody got their tokens from the same place and there were hundreds of sizes, just make sure it was something else, right? So, the ice cream parlor opens up and guess what? Their tokens were the same size! Not only that but they were practically giving them away! 8 for a dollar and during special hours they were 16 for a buck so kids would load up at the ice cream place and then go over Dave’s place and drop their token in Dave’s machine. Dave was seeing no profit from this and was livid. Heck, his bosses, who were these cousins of big city mobsters, were holding him back! He really wanted to burn the place down. In the end, they just cut off the supply of new machines to the ice cream place with the thinking that while people were still willing to play Pac Man in ’81, they would be less inclined in ’82 and by ’83, they would demand something new. It kinda worked, the ice cream place’s business did drop but it also saved them. By being forced to stick to old machines they never lost money by buying new ones. Sure, Dave made a fortune on Dragon’s Lair but he lost a fortune on Space Ace.

        The thing that gets me about this story (and really all of Dave’s stories) was that I was one of those kids. I was this arcade rat that would ride my bike into town on Saturdays. I would spend my allowance on cheap tokens at the ice cream place, play a few favorites (Crazy Climber for life, yo!) and then ride my bike up the hill, to Dave’s place, and stuff his new, shiny machines with garbage tokens that he would have gladly crammed down my frickin’ throat. For a brief period in time, I was the bane of this man’s existence.

  9. i and 1 says:

    M.U.L.E. was a game that really spoke to me, I was in awe of it immediately.  Such a great idea, and I got completely enveloped in it.  Unfortunately, I think it was probably a pretty tedious game.  At the time, it didn’t matter on a certain level–a brilliant game was a brilliant game, and waiting for stuff to happen (e.g. an auction that no one is interested in to play out its full allotted time) felt like real life or something–sometimes you just have to wait–and made other parts all the more crucial.  But I think that it’s probably the case that I ended up not playing it much after the first week or so, because it was kind of a slog maybe.  I’m not sure, all I know is that i fucking LOVED it, but definitely didn’t play it a lot.

    • Marozeph says:

      Considering todays obsession with multiplayer, i’m kinda surprised we haven’t got a remake/reimagining/rewhatever yet. With some tweaks, the tedium could probably be reduced to a minimum, and the core mechanic would probably still be enjoyable today.

    • Destroy Him My Robots says:

      Did you have someone else to play with? Because as someone with an older brother, I both loved it AND played it a lot. Auction fakeouts were too much fun.

      • i and 1 says:

        Yeah, I might’ve played against someone else once or twice, but even then, they would’ve been behind me in understanding the game.  Long time ago, but single-player is what I remember.  I was thinking here tonight that the downtime would’ve been fine for joking around with other people, at least.  I bet the fakeouts were fun.

        • Choochester says:

          M.U.L.E. was great multiplayer!  I played this a lot on the C64 with my older brothers.  (If I mentioned mischievous glac-elves to them today, there wouldn’t be a moment of hesitation before recognition.)

          It was supremely satisfying to buy out the store’s full supply of food or energy at the right moment.  Sure, you’d end up with spoilage but it was well worth it to see your opponent crippled next round with empty plots they can’t reach or mines sitting idle.  Or if a smithore shortage limited the M.U.L.E. supply, sometimes it was worth it to buy the last one just to let it run free.  Hmm . . . this does sound like a game to play with your brothers, doesn’t it?

          Then again, we’d also sometimes play co-op to try to reach the best possible overall colony score, which earned you a different summary at the end of the game.  (More than once, I played all four players myself to do this.)

          Apart from the game’s charming style, it was also very smart in its design.  I loved that the auction timer was reactive, slowing down if buyers and sellers came together.  (That design choice is what let me play all four players at once, although it still got a little confusing.)

          Plus M.U.L.E. ranks among the all-time greats for theme song.

  10. Girard says:

    Oh, dayum, that I, Robot screen is gorgeous. It’s like an interactive Paper Rad animation. I need to play that thing, pronto.

    Also: Seeing how very old all of the games that are as old as I am are makes me feel pretty damn old.

    • Marozeph says:

      I honestly never heard of I, Robot and Portopia. I can use the “Japan only” excuse for the latter, but the first mass-market game to use proper polygons? No idea how i missed that.

      And yeah, it does make one feel old to realise that milestones that happened during your lifetime have already been forgotten by many people.

      • TheGameroomBlitz says:

        Everyone missed that. They didn’t make many of those I Robot cabinets, and you were extremely lucky if you managed to find one in an arcade. It’s a pretty surreal experience, by the way, with flight and Orwell references and even a drawing mode if you wanted to waste a quarter on just making squiggles.

    • boardgameguy says:

      hooray for being born in 1983!

    • George_Liquor says:

      It’s well worth playing, and it runs quite well in MAME. 

      And dammit, I was six years old when these games out, you young’n!

    • trakball says:

      I, Robot is without a doubt in my top three arcade games of all time (the other two, well, they change quite a bit). I’m not surprised that so few people have played one in an arcade – the one and only place I ever saw an actual unit was at this local mom and pop grocery store in Napa, CA. Ahh the good old days of a random arcade machine in a grocery store, or a Sevvy, or even a Sears.

      Like George_Liquor says, it runs lovely in MAME and every one of you should check it out ASAP.

      Oh yeah? Why?
      THAT’S WHY

      • choppernewt says:

        North Bay talk: There was an I, Robot machine somewhere in Rohnert Park too, although I don’t remember if it was Straw Hat, the Zone, or up at Chuck E. Cheese’s in Santa Rosa. It looked fantastic and I was terrible at it, as I was with pretty much everything, TBH.

  11. Thomas Crane says:

    The dentist my mom took me to as a kid had a Crystal Castles arcade cabinet. I think it’d be fun to play that game while listening to Crystal Castles.

    The trackball is a long lost peripheral for games. I think Golden Tee is the only “modern” game that currently uses it. I had no idea that game existed until I saw a MTV True Life about a guy who competed professionally.

  12. doyourealize says:

    Except for Mario Bros., I don’t really know anything about the games on this list. I was four, so that might have something to do with it, but we did have an Apple IIe at some point, and an Atari 2600, so I had opportunities to play them considering we never actually bought new games.

    1983, though, was the birth year of (probably) my first true gaming obsession in Lode Runner (mentioned earlier by @soredomia:disqus ). While I doubt I racked up the same amount of hours there as I have on Demon’s Souls, I spent a good part of my youth playing a white guy on the run from brown guys…on a computer screen that is. According to Wikipedia, there were 150 levels, and I think I made it to 41.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      I had Lode Runner on C64, and was very proud when I finally made it to level 100.  I never made it through all 150 though.

      Several levels had me stuck for WEEKS.  It took a lot of thought for 8- or 9-year old me to figure out how to create the multi-level floor holes required on some levels.

      • doyourealize says:

        At that age, it’s some pretty intense stuff. I actually recall finally understanding that I needed to dig enough space across to make steps. I also recall the revelation that, on ladders, you could dig a straight line down.

    • Marozeph says:

      I never played the original Lode Runner, but i enjoyed Lode Runner: The Legend Returns (which was basically a HD Remake before HD Remakes were a thing) a lot.

      I was never any good at it, but the game gave you the option to instantly skip to any level – you didn’t get to see the cutscenes that way though. Later levels had gold hidden in the ground, which i always found kinda unfair – trial and error was the only way to solve them.

  13. Beast_of_man says:

    I was ten in 1983 and Dragon’s Lair frustrated me. I was never really good at videogames and I guess that’s why I’m not much of a gamer today..
    I can’t believe I didn’t know that was Don Bluth though

  14. Sini_Star says:

    I had Ultima 3 for my shitty IBM PCJr. That game was awesome. Had a cloth map, multiple disks, and made sound. I would hunch over it at night, tappign away on the keys. This was gasp 30 years ago. Man I am old.

    One of my Top 5 gaming experiences of all time (formative years ya know)

  15. Sini_Star says:


    Please consider this a formal request for an article (or series of articles) on Infocom!!!

    • The_Misanthrope says:

       It does feel like there should have been an article at some point about it by now.  Granted, I may be biased; I’m pretty sure half the comments about Infocom were posted by me.  It feels like a piece of history drifting away from the collective consciousness, but I suppose it does live on in the IF community.

  16. TheGameroomBlitz says:

    So is it official that the video game crash happened in 1983? When I was growing up, I always thought it was 1984, since that’s when Warner Bros. dumped Atari and stores were pushing what software they had left out the door at clearance prices.

    Anyway! Nice article. It bears mentioning that the video game crash that’s spoken of in hushed tones here in the United States didn’t happen anywhere else. In Japan, the industry was only growing thanks to the launch of the Famicom, and in Europe, gamers satisfied their cravings with the ultra-cheap, ultra-crappy ZX Spectrum. The fact that the crash was an American invention is an ugly reflection of our short-sighted corporate culture (see also: the bank crash of 2008).

    Crystal Castles is a great little game… frustratingly hard to play at home because of its demand for a trackball, but it’s hard to think of a game from its time with a more dynamic perspective, or more charming characters, or a more lovingly crafted mythology. I’d love to see Franz Lanzinger’s early sketches and notes for the game, because I get the feeling there’s a lot more going on in Bentley’s world than the game lets on.

    I also dig the side and marquee art, which gives all the characters sharp-edged outlines that seemed to predict polygonal graphics and especially the cel-shading craze of the early 2000s.

  17. Flying_Turtle says:

    Nintendo’s insistence on re-releasing NES ports instead of the arcade versions of their classic arcade games is so frustrating. I was so excited to find Mario Bros. on the Wii Virtual Console, only to see it was the NES version. Same thing with Donkey Kong, which is missing the cement factory level in the NES port…so you’re only getting 75% of the original arcade version.

    Blast it, Nintendo! I wanted to buy the arcade versions of these games! I’m reasonably sure the Wii could have run it! Why wouldn’t you take my money?

    • George_Liquor says:

      My guess is it’s a legal problem at least as much as it is a technical one. For example, a lot of arcade cabinets have ROM BIOSs that bootstrap the machine prior to loading the game. These BIOSs are generally copyrighted, which Nintendo would have to secure in addition to the games themselves. It’s much easier & cheaper for Nintendo to just build an NES emulator into the Virtual Console & sell those NES arcade ports.

  18. The liquor store down the street had MAPPY (released in 1983, I just looked it up) and I poured probably a year’s worth of allowance into that thing.

    Looking back, I realize that my parents let me spend hours hanging out at a liquor store.

  19. Joey.blowey says:

    I fucking OWNED Dragon’s Lair back in the day
    One quarter and one Dirk is all it took for me to slay that bitch.
    Always had a crowd gathered around me by the time I got to saving Princess Daphnie. And I can still beat the game today on my iPad.

  20. Y8 says:

    For instance, one suspect in your investigation ends up hanging himself, and there’s an off-screen visit to a strip club?