Understanding Video Games text-book

Date posted: May 11, 2003
Updated: Jan 2, 2007

Action games formed the first genre and to many have epitomized computer games as such. These games place fast reflexes and coordination ability as criteria of success. More complex specimen like Counter Strike also place high demands on tactical reasoning.

Spacewar (Russel, 1962) was the first real computer game. The game had profound influence on nightlife around computer facilities at American universities for an entire decade. But computers were still anything but ordinary toys. This, however, was changed dramatically by Nolan Bushnell’s Pong.

Pong Pong (Bushnell, 1972) was the first successful arcade game. Bushnell had realized that smoke-filled bars were best suited for games with simple instructions and obvious rules. The result was two balls and a bat. In Pong two players competed against each other on-screen in a game of virtual table tennis.
The success of Pong paved the way for the astounding success of arcade games in the next 10-15 years.

On a list of archetypical action games Space Invaders (Bally/Midway, 1978) would rank highly. As the player you must defend the Earth against an invasion from outer space. This is done by moving the little green spaceship horizontally while firing missiles at the white alien space ships (hence the sub-genre label ’slide-shooter’). The enemy moves quickly towards the bottom of the screen and if the player is too slow he will get hit and ‘die’.

In the following years this succes was followed up by Asteroids (Atari, 1979) not to mention Pac-man (Bally/Midway, 1981). During the 1980’s action games were synonymous with car and motorcycle games but missile firing space ships have been a mainstay of the genre. Notably the platform game sub genre experienced a string of victories, following in the footprints of the highly successful Donkey Kong (Nintendo, 1981).

Platform games are (or were) abstract jumping games, where the player typically had to reach the top of the screen without getting shot, eaten or struck by rolling barrels.

The one-on-one fighting games made popular by Spacewar inspired fighting games like Yi-Ar-Kung-Fu (Konami, 1985) and International Karate. The popularity of these games motivated the development of concepts focusing on more ”cinematic’ narratives and the possibility of cooperation. Examples of this development are Gauntlet (Atari, 1985) and Double Dragon (Technos-Mapefer, 1986).

In 1992, game developers id Software practically cleared the table. In only a short time Wolfenstein 3D achieved overwhelming popularity. The game (a so-called 3D-shooter) was intense and rehabilitated the first person perspective as a forceful way of creating intensity.

The success sparked a number of half-hearted imitations but also a range of more consistent and ambitious updates like Doom (ID Soft, 1993), Quake II (ID Soft, 1996), Unreal (Epic, 1998), Half-Life (Sierra, 1999) and Max Payne (2001).

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