Video Games in the 80s

April 28, 2012

Video Games in the 80s

Three facts about the pre-‘83 Crash video game industry:

  • Everyone knows that the purported first 3D game, Battlezone attracted the interest of the US military and a special version of it was created to use as a training simulator for the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Less well-known is the fact that one of the changes the military required was a redesign of the controller: they wanted something that matched the actual hardware of the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle’s gunner control, and so Atari worked something up. You are probably familiar with this controller; it was used on the Star Wars arcade game.
  • During the craze, many random consumer products companies got in the mix. Quaker Oats started a video game division. Purina released a game called Chase the Chuckwagon where the player is a dog (“Chuckie”) who needs to overcome various obstacles to reach the delicious food at the Purina Chuckwagon. The plot is based on Purina dog food ads of the ’70s and ’80s. Surprisingly, Eggomania is not one of these games: it is a game about trying to catch eggs thrown by a chicken before they hit the floor and break.
  • Many consider the strangest game from the period to be the hotly-sought-after Spectravision rarity, Mangia. Here is Wikipedia’s description of the game:
    The player gets to control a young boy, who must eat plates of pasta placed in front of him by his mother, who will keep feeding him until his stomach explodes on-screen.
    To prevent this, the player can, instead of eating the pasta, throw it to a cat, who occasionally appears at the window, and a dog, who walks across the bottom of the screen. However, if the mother sees the pasta being thrown to the cat or dog, she brings three times as much pasta the next time she returns.
    The joystick is used to control the player: pressing right causes the boy to grab a plate of pasta, pressing left causes him to eat it, and pressing up or down causes him to toss the pasta to the cat (named Frankie in the manual) or the dog (named Sergio) respectively. If the cat and dog are not nearby when the food is thrown to them, the mother returns with extra pasta to “punish” the player. The fire button is not used.
    If, instead of eating the pasta or throwing it to the animals, the player is idle, the pasta will accumulate on the table until it breaks, causing the player to lose a turn. Attempting to eat all the pasta without giving any to the cat or dog will cause the boy’s stomach to swell, changing colors from blue to yellow to red, before finally exploding in a mass of chunky blue pixels.

North American video game revenues peaked in 1982 at $3.2 billion dollars, by 1985 they would fall to a relatively scant $100 million.