Sunday, 28 February 2016

Space Invaders - The Early Days of Computer Games

I have already written a post about the good old days of the Commodore 64 so I thought that I might go back and have a look at the original computer games. Sure enough, it didn't take me long to find a Youtube video of the very first computer game - Pong:

In fact, that was the first computer game that we ever owned, and the version we had my Dad had built himself (it was one of his hobbies), though it didn't work all that well. However, while I was lucky enough to have an electronics engineer as a father, many of us didn't, but we didn't miss out because you could purchase the machine, which looked a little like this:

Atari Pong Machine
The original X-box
Pong wasn't actually the earliest of games namely because it has graphics and graphical games have, and always will be, some of the most difficult games to develop. The earliest games were actually a style of game known as the Adventure Game, or as they are known today, Interactive Fiction. However I won't say anymore about them because since the humble adventure game was a significant part of my childhood I will leave it for another post. Oh, you also have chess games, though the earliest ones simply had the computer tell you what moves they wanted to make and you would move the piece on a chess board.

In fact, chess is one of those games that people seem to be determined to have computers play, possibly because it is one of those indicators of artificial intelligence. Mind you, computers are actually really, really good at playing chess to the point that they will have chess champions go into competition with them. I suspect the main reason is that computers can predict a huge amount of moves based upon the current layout on the board and then calculate, all within the split second, what would be the most strategic move to make.

I should mention that the dream of creating a robot that could beat a human goes back to the beginning of the 19th century with the creation of a machine known as The Turk. However, that turned out to be one whopping great big con because the Turk wasn't a machine but rather a sophisticated puppet.

Anyway, once again I seem to have gone off onto a tangent because I wanted to talk about video games, as opposed to chess or adventure games. Well, the first, and most popular, of the video games has to be by a long shot space invaders. Okay, the game itself is pretty basic - you have rows of space ships descending from the sky while you, in your little tank, duck in and out of cover in an attempt to shoot the lot of them down (and for some reason you are all on your lonesome). Every so often a mothership would fly across the top of the screen, and if you manage to shoot that down, you receive extra points. Anyway, I've managed to embed a version of this famous game that I found somewhere on the internet so you can give it a go yourself.

More arcade games to play online!

I have to say that as a kid I spent hours playing this game, namely because it was one of the few arcade games that we had on our computer. Actually, this was back in the days before the home computer was ubiquitous. That didn't mean that people didn't have game machines in their own home - the Atari 2600, which was the ancient version of the X-Box and the Nintendo, was quite popular, however being a gaming console you were limited in what you go get for the machine, and the cartridges tended to be pretty expensive (not that computer games have come down in price mind you - you are still paying around $80.00 for a latest release game - which is one of the reasons why I never purchased latest release games).

Atari 2600
Yep, that's right, that controller only has ONE button
Okay, some of the lucky families owned their own consoles, and even had multiple games, however due to the limited power of home computers and the consoles, if you wanted to play the latest release games with the best sound and graphics you had to go to the video arcade. This is a place that you simply don't see anymore, namely because as computing power grew, the need to have all of the best games located in one place diminished. Okay, you still see a few of them around the place, usually adjoined to cinema complexes, however the games you find there tend to be games (such as racing car games where the game is played inside a racing car) that can't really fit in your average suburban home.

Old Fashioned Video Arcade
The good old fashioned video arcade.
Modern Video Arcade
This is what you get now a days
Mind you, they are making a bit of a come back, especially since in some of the pubs that I've visited I've found a video game table which literally has a huge collection of games that you can play on it, as well as a bar in Melbourne called Pixel Alley, which has a collection of old fashioned games and pinball machines (and they even give you a free token with every beer you buy - choice). I still remember going to lockups at the video arcades back in the 80s where you would be given free games all night for a set price - and I would spend ages trying to beat my favourite games.

Anyway, as I have suggested, as time moved on games became more complex, and the machines more powerful. While Space Invaders remained an all time favourite (and in many ways still is), the game developed where other things would happen, such as Galaxia where the ships would dive bomb you instead of just moving down the screen (and they also dispensed with the barriers).

Of course, we can't forget another all time favourite - Pacman

As for me, I'd have to say that I had a soft spot for Frogger:

Creative Commons License

Space Invaders - The Early Days of Computer Games by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If use wish to use the creative commons part for commercial purposes, please contact me directly.

Atari Pong Machine source: Evan-Amos use permitted under creative commons attribution-share alike 3.0 unported

1 comment:

  1. The venerable 2600 was our first - and only - console. (I was hopelessly bad at video games, and my brother was content to play on a desktop computer or play against a friend at their homes.) We kept our Atari joysticks for years, though, because they were compatible with the Commodore 64.