Ever since computers were invented, people used them to play games. Barely 10 years after the invention of the programmable computer, people had learned how to code a primitive form of tennis. But it was arcades that brought computer games to the masses and kick-started the modern games industry.
The last of our three-part series (Top 10 computer games of all time and Top 10 computer console games) examines the lost art of the arcade game. Back before powerful graphics processors and high-density storage brought high performance technology to the computer and console space, video arcades were the only place you could play the coolest new games.
Arcades have largely died out thanks to consoles and home computers, but the legacy of many of those franchises lives on in spirit and, in some cases, in name.
Honourable Mention: Galaxy Game
Shaun Nichols: Most people know of Spacewar as the first true computer game. We placed it at number nine on our list of the top computer games of all time. But it turns out that the earliest of all shoot-em-ups is also connected to the first ever arcade game.
Ten years after the first version of Spacewar arrived, a pair of Stanford University researchers created a variation known as Galaxy Game. Based on the PDP-11/20 (itself a successor to Spacewar's PDP-1 platform) Galaxy Game included a mechanism which required the user to insert a coin in order to begin a new game.
The system was placed in Stanford's Tressidor Union student area and, while it may not have made its creators millionaires (or even covered the cost of the PDP system it ran on) the experiment did prove that coin-operated video games could be feasible from a technology and business standpoint.
Iain Thomson: There's the rub, Shaun: Galaxy Game was the first coin-operated game and as such deserves a spot on the list.
As it turns out, the game is still surprisingly playable. Sure, the graphics are laughable but the basic concept is a good one and I can well understand why students were willing to part with their beer money in order to play.
The concept of the coin-operated game began with Galaxy Game and all arcades owe it a debt. Without it we wouldn't have had any of the millions of arcades that sprouted in the 1970s and 1980s, providing entrepreneurs with cash and the papers with moral panics over the years.
Mention: Spy Hunter
Iain Thomson: Spy Hunter was the first popular driving game to incorporate weapons. For people brought up playing CarWars it was a dream come true.
True, the 2D scrolling engine was a bit primitive and the choice of high or low gear was a choice between turbo crash speed and sluggish cannon fodder crawl, but the game was entrancing, not least for its highly advanced graphics for the time.
The car could change into a boat, came equipped with a variety of weapons and could be upgraded by driving into a truck, a clear nod to Knight Rider.
Spy Hunter never really transitioned well into the PC era. The feel of the game was too tied up in the arcade version's steering wheel, gear stick and accelerator pedal. But I'm willing to bet a lot of people remember it with fondness.
Shaun Nichols: Being a newborn at the time Spy Hunter came out, I wasn't too familiar with the game. I am, however, quite familiar with its legacy.
I spent many an hour playing driving combat games such as Road Rash and Grand Theft Auto that can trace a lineage directly back to Spy Hunter.
I'm not sure that failing to transition from an arcade format to the console or PC market was necessarily a bad sign. As we've noted before, up until the late 1990s the screen and enclosure size of arcade machines allowed for the development of games that simply weren't feasible on consoles.
Even the games that could be ported successfully to consoles often had to be stripped down from their arcade format.
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