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Reflecting Back on Video Games of Yesteryear

By Edited Jul 13, 2016 3 10

Video game history goes back several decades now. Growing up and getting the first introduction to the magic of video games in the 1970s was great. Granted the live action games that we have on our PlayStations, Wii, and XBox systems in recent years are quite different than what we were graced with in previous decades. There was a certain charm to those old video games of yesteryear.

True, the graphics were simple and the color was severely limited but, to us, these games were mystical and felt pretty amazing. They game out during an age where there were no mobile phones, tablets or widespread computer use. Even microwaves were in their infancy, so to see video game tech unfold was pretty cool.

Remember Pong?

The earliest video game I can recall is "Pong" by General Instruments and the clone version by CollecoVision. This game consisted of players using two virtual sticks to bat a dot back and forth across the black and white screen. The fact that we could either play solo or with a friend using our TV to play a "live" game (which wasn't on a board and tossing dice) was, to me, astonishing! In "Pong" the object was to get your opponent to miss the dot. The game options were very limited, but there was a speed factor. I remember the fun we had speeding up the game and watching the white dots splat all over the screen as we desperately tried to keep up with the pace and try to outwit one another.

Pong video game
Credit: Bill Bradford via Flickr/CC by 2.0

Pong anyone? One of the earliest video games, this was pretty high-tech for its time.

Shooter games also were introduced in this decade and, compared to what's out on the market today, were quite primitive. A cousin to "pong", some shooter games came bundled in the same rectangular box, with a long wire connecting a toy "cowboy" gun that somehow magically knew how to hit a moving target on your TV screen (I couldn't remember what company manufactured it, but a web search indicates this one was a Telestar). It also came with a steering wheel for a driving game.

There were no downloads or CDs and, for the most part, no cartridges either. We moved a lever if we wanted to change games.

Atari Emerges

Atari had been in the gaming industry for a few years, but it wasn't until the ultra-cool Atari 2600 game system was introduced in 1977 that it took gaming market by storm. This system also hooked up to our television sets and displayed blobs of color instead of the black and white graphics. It also used cartridges, which would ultimately birth an entirely new market (eventually third parties would start designing compatible games with game consoles).

The Atari 2600 could do all sorts of wondrous things and to stay competitive the company came out with some new games in 1980. "Space Invaders" allowed us to shoot at alien space creatures that crept down towards our space ship and the object was to kill them before they landed on us. "Asteroids" left us in the middle of space where our triangle (spaceship) had to shoot all the shapes representing space matter that were flying at us from every direction.

The still-popular "Pac-Man" was also introduced during this era. It was pretty simplistic, but nonetheless grabbed our attention.  I can recall going over my best friend's house to play her Atari 2600 while our square-shaped "guy" gobbled all the dots across the screen. The early version did not have much variety, in fact it was the same screen over and over and did not compare with the arcade version, but for kids who were too young to hang out in arcades and didn't know any better, it was too cool to play.

Atari 2600
Credit: Leigh Goessl

Once the hottest thing in tech, today the Atari 2600 is pretty old. This photo is one I took at the National Museum of American History in 2012 when a traveling exhibit called "The Art of Video Games" came into the area. An interesting exhibit overall looking at the various aspects of gaming over the decades, but it felt weird to see games, such as the Atari, viewed upon as (in tech years) as ancient history. Time does fly, especially as technology moves forward at such a rapid speed these days.

The Next Generation

Magnavox had originally delved into the market back in 1972 with its Odessey system, but didn't make much of a dent, selling less than 200,000 systems. Back again in 1978, the company released its Odessey2 which was a part of the next generation of video games. This one was great fun, but my memory of it is sparse because the system was so short-lived because in 1982 Collecovision quickly overshadowed any hope the Odessey2 had of longevity, even surpassing the Atari 2600 in terms of graphics. Intellivision fit in here somewhere too, but this is a console I did not play and only vaguely remember.

The day Collecovision vision entered our lives was pretty cool; the age of Donkey Kong and Mr. Do (similar to "Dig-Dug") was born. "Carnival" and "Mouse Trap" were also two of the earlier popular games that didn't exactly make it center stage like some of their counterparts, but many from that decade may still remember. 

Atari would later release its 5200 model in 1982, adding a keypad to the joystick. [3] The upgraded machinery was necessary to remain competitive in a quickly growing market. The battle was on! The lifespan of the 5200 was short-lived due to the game-crash of 1983 with a saturated market. [2]

Donkey Kong
Credit: Ana Petree Garcia via Flickr/CC by 2.0

During these years video game arcades cropped up and eventually exploded in popularity. While there are still arcades out there, the access of games has dramatically changed since the 1970s and 1980s and most people play them on consoles or online.

Clones and other progressive games created during the Colleco years are still popular today in revolutionized, updated versions. How many kids are still playing Mario Brothers, Pac-Man or Donkey Kong Country today? It's kind of cool to see the life span of some of these games still going. Others, such as all those low-quality commercialized games that helped contribute to the game crash, are long forgotten.

Old-World Charm

OK, so not really old-world, but in the world of tech, this stuff is pretty antiquated.  There is no comparison because today's tech is so progressed. Even the still-popular, but now archaic 1985 NES system was far superior (the year this console was brought to the American market). Nintendo revamped a struggling industry and put serious limitations on licensing rights, unlike their predecessors, to ensure high quality games were released.

Nonetheless, even those simple graphics void of any variation in sound and color did hold their charm and were simply mind-boggling during their heyday because technology was nowhere near developed as it is today.

Credit: Perlinator via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain https://pixabay.com/en/video-game-1980-s-eating-hunger-1332694/

Video games of today are, hands down, a mass improvement over the games that were developed in early gaming history. The graphics, sound and other features are mind-blowing in comparison, especially as the line between human and tech continues to blur. It's amazing to think where gaming will be even a few years from now.

While I still think some of those new gadgets are pretty cool, I'm no longer a gamer and the technology has far exceeded my preferences for simplicity. However, I'll always remember those pre "high-tech" video games of yesteryear pretty fondly.



Jan 29, 2016 5:37pm
This was quite a trip down memory lane. I definitely remember "Pong". It was quite fun until I figured out that the trick was just to keep your paddle level with the dot, then it got kind of boring. I also remember we paid $99 for it, a fortune in those days.

Our kids had an Atari 400, which was one of the first home computers, but it was pretty much just a gaming machine. Some of those games were pretty cool. We also bought games on tape which took forever to load, but I don't remember what unit that was for.
Jan 31, 2016 3:46am
I'm going to have to look up the Atari 400, I don't remember that one?
Thanks for commenting!
Feb 11, 2016 9:23pm
I remember Pong from an Atari collection gaming disc for the PSone; even played the first Tempest. Even though we're in the age of modern/advanced games, I still find myself at times hooking up the old Super NES to knock out a couple of rounds of Yoshi's Island, Killer Instinct and TMNT 4.

Games have come a long way since they were first introduced and there are some game series that act as pinpoints in a timeline of how far graphics have come. Super Mario Bros. are a good example of this; the classic is still better.

Ah the memories. Thanks for sharing this amazing article.
Feb 12, 2016 6:25am
I never could get the hang of Tempest, one of my friends was great at it. I do remember Yoshi's Island :)
Thank you for reading and for your kind words
Feb 12, 2016 8:02pm
It was difficult at first but picked up a trick from the 2000 version that worked pretty well. Simple tactic: keep moving around the ground while firing.
Feb 14, 2016 3:58am
I didn't realize they continued making versions of that one, that's cool to hear. (The one I'm remembering best was in the arcade).
Feb 16, 2016 12:45pm
I had a Magnavox Odyssey 2 or, as they were called in Europe, a G7000. Actually, I still have it in a drawer.
Feb 17, 2016 1:19am
How fun that you still have it. I never owned this one, but my friend did. Do you ever pull it out and play? (we have a NES that I'd given away a decade ago when we moved, but another one was given to the kids and we pull it out sometimes).
Thanks for reading!
Feb 17, 2016 1:55am
I haven't used it in years - I don't even know if it still works!
May 2, 2016 4:16am
This comment has been deleted.
Jun 10, 2016 4:55am
spam removed
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  1. "Atari 2600 History." Atari Age. 29/01/2016 <Web >
  2. "Ten Facts About the Great Video Game Crash of '83." IGN. 21/03/2011. 29/01/2016 <Web >
  3. "Atari 5200 History." Atari Age. 29/01/2016 <Web >
  4. "Magnavox Odyssey Video Game Unit, 1972." National Museum of American History. 29/01/2016 <Web >
  5. "Telestar Arcade." PongStory.com. 29/01/2016 <Web >

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