As you’ve probably noticed, walking into Ground Kontrol Classic Arcade is like entering a timewarp back to the heyday of arcades, the early 80s. The owners of Ground Kontrol have a lot of fond memories of those days, and GK is our way of keeping those memories alive.
The first arcade that really made an impression on me was the one at The World of Sid and Marty Krofft, the strangest amusement park ever. This was in 1976. This may have been the first arcade I went to that had video games. Video games were still in their infancy, all crude black & white games such as Pong, Tank, and Sprint 2. Electro-mechanical (EM) games still ruled, though their days were numbered.
About a year later, around the same time that Star Wars was released, an arcade opened in the local mall. It started out with a mix of EM and video games. Over time, the EM games were replaced with video games and solid state pinball machines.
Arcades started popping up in more and more places. Prior to this, I don’t remember arcades outside of beach towns, amusement parks, and other touristy locations. I have to think the increase in the number of arcades was because the new video games were more profitable and more addictive than EM games.
I got my driver’s license in 1979, and pretty soon my brother and I were heading to the mall every time we could scrape up a few quarters. It was great time to frequent arcades, because it seemed like the arcade had a new video game every week. Some of the early black & white games I remember:
- Death Race (Exidy, 1976) – loosely based on the movie Death Race 2000, this was a black & white 2 player driving game with an overhead view. The point was to run over pedestrians! When you did, a tombstone would pop up. This was the first video game banned for violence. I was lucky my local arcade had one!
- Starship 1 (Atari, 1976) – This was the first space game that really felt like flying through space. It had a great cabinet design, and the enemy ships looked vaguely like the ones in Star Trek, but it was too hard.
- Night Driver (Atari, 1976) – I think this was the first first-person video driving game. I remember getting really excited when it came out, because unlike the EM driving games, it was possible to suspend disbelief and feel like you really were driving at night.
- Space Wars (Cinematronics, 1977) – The first vector game, and an adaptation of Spacewar!, the original video game. Atari released their own adaptation as a 2600 cartridge, called Space War, of course. I spent an unhealthy amount of time flying really fast in wraparound mode, trying to avoid crashing into the star in the middle of the screen.
- Super Bug (Kee Games, 1977) – Perhaps the first scrolling overhead-view driving game, it seemed like Super Bug had more variability than other video games from that era, which were mostly static, boring affairs, probably due to how expensive and limited microprocessors and memory were at the time.
- Fire Truck (Atari, 1978) – A fun update of the Super Bug concept, in that there was one fire truck and two steering wheels – one for the front of the truck, and one for the back of the truck. A lot more fun than it sounds. Really, the world needs more cooperative-play video games!
- Space Invaders (Bally/Midway/Taito, 1978) – This is the first video game that people talked about outside of the arcade. Hugely popular.
- Lunar Lander (Atari, 1979) – Atari’s first vector game, the object of which was to land a lunar module on the moon. I was nerdy enough to already be familiar with the math behind this game, having played the totally numerical lunar lander game on the programmable HP-65 calculator in calculus class many, many times.
- Asteroids (Atari, 1979) – Asteroids seemed like such a simple game, yet it was very difficult to master. Another wildly popular game.
- Tail Gunner (Cinematronics, 1979) – Another early vector game, and one of the first sitdown cockpit cabinets. I loved any game that simulated flying through space!
- Football (Atari, 1979) – The first game I can remember with a trackball (one per player, actually). Moving your player involved a crazy amount of trackball spinning. Sometimes we played until our hands got blistered!
- Star Castle (Cinematronics, 1980) – A simple but challenging vector game. It came out just as color games were getting more prevalent, which definitely hurt its popularity.
- Battlezone (Atari, 1980) – It’s hard to imagine how impressive a simulated 3D game was in 1980, even if the environment was constructed with only a few vectors. A great description of how Atari managed 3D on low-cost hardware can be found here.
The black & white era was about to end, though. More on this in a future post!