If computer games are about the complexity of things, then the arcade was pretty much the opposite. Flashy graphics, tight action, fast gameplay, intoxicating sounds, and most importantly, the audience and the social aspect it brought to the table. Another aspect that they had is that they were made to be picked up and dropped. They would grasp into the game the very moment you drop a coin in. Computer games demand longer periods to be spent with them due to their complex nature, which is pretty much the opposite to arcade games. Arcades were designed to munch your coins down, which doesn’t mean difficult gameplay, just design that puts up a challenge. The best and most famous arcade games were not hard like how the hardcore crowd thinks.
There should be no surprises on this list, you most likely already know the games I’ve picked to represent what an arcade game is.
I’m not sure if I can say anything profound about Pac-Man that isn’t repetition. Essentially, everything it in is iconic, from the waka waka sound to the idea of Power pellets. It’s fast and can get hectic, very easy to learn but mastering the point gain requires time and practice.
But most importantly, it was colourful and abstract. It was this sophisticated kind of abstract approach that allowed games in general to branch off into wide variety of different directions. After this, there is almost an explosion of games that would become more fantastical, as well as huge amounts of Pac-Man clones.
People flocked arcades to play Pac-Man, as it had universal appeal. It had a cartoon, comic series, serials and huge loads of merchandise. For a game about a yellow ball eating pellets and running from ghosts, the Pac-Man is a phenomenal game that embodies arcade games’ nature of appealing to everyone the best.
Space Invaders is few years older than Pac-Man, but it’s just one of the three elements that created the Golden Age of video games alongside the aforementioned and Atari. Pac-Man was popular had a wide appeal, and so did Space Invaders. After Taito had launched Space Invaders in Japan, arcades that had nothing but it began to pop up and the game raked in profits like no other. Something about Space Invaders simply attracted customers, and that something was pure, distilled gameplay.
Seemingly a simple game, Space Invaders speeds up with each destroyed alien. This is a quirk of the hardware, as originally it couldn’t handle all the materials on-screen. Combine the relentless beating from the cabinet and the experience is perfect. Strategy is not only recommended, but required to beat the game, as the shields the player have can be show through. The shots take time to travel through the screen as well, meaning you had to time and aim your shot almost far better than expected. It birthed a genre, and clones like Galaga would pop up very soon after. Just like Pac-Man, Space Invaders is still a phenomenal game that veterans of the industry, like Miyamoto and Kojima, refer as the game that got them interested in games.
Space Invaders attracted people to play it.
Space Invaders and Pac-Man may have been hectic, but their one-screen nature didn’t really lend to feeling of speed. A scrolling screen would be required for that.
There are some conflicting reports whether or not Defender was the first horizontally scrolling game, but it’s popularity gets the spot here. Defender‘s fast, colourful and relentless. Compared to Space Invaders, it is very complex with game with positioning, destroying enemy UFOs and saving civilians. For a game of its time, it was intimidating, and at first its success wasn’t evident. However, much like how Atari’s Missile Command gathered people around it, Defender was a very much like a spectator’s game. If you got good at it, you could play the game longs times on just credit, a feat that people wanted to behold.
Defender is still one of the harder games that came from the arcades that wasn’t designed solely to eat your coins. Much like other great arcade games, players throughout the years have created strategies and methods to play the game as long as possible. Defender didn’t simply require split moment decision-making and eye-hand coordination, also forming the aforementioned strategies and applying them.
Both Space Invaders and Defender have roots in Asteroids and Computer Space, and while those are historical games, Asteroids is the only one that people remember and for a good reason. Computer Space may have been the first modern arcade game released to the public in 1971, but it was a failure. Both of them are largely first steps towards what defined the arcades.
Space Panic and Donkey Kong
I feel that it is necessary to say that Donkey Kong, while the most popular early platformer-type game, Space Panic predates it by one year.
Developed by Chris Crawford of Universal Entertainment Corporation, Space Panic has all the elements that would later appear in both Donkey Kong, Pitfall!! and Lode Runner. While Space Panic is largely forgotten in the annals of game history, it sets up the groundwork for a the whole genre.
To be fair, discussing Donkey Kong would be to echo many of the previous points already mentioned, but it’s a game where you can see how much games could evolve at the time in on year’s time. The Golden Age of video games is not defined one game, but by this evolution Donkey Kong was part of that constant evolution where arcade game developers and manufacturers would be inspired by each other and try to create a more popular product.
Street Fighter II
The 1980’s was the era for arcade games to flourish, and the beginning of the end for arcades began in the early 1990’s when computing technology had advanced to the point where everybody could begin to afford a home computer. Arcades used to be the place were you went to see the latest and most advanced graphics and gameplay compared to consoles, while computers had their own thing going on. While games like International Karate, Yie Ar Kung Fu and other fighting games predated Street Fighter, they all had their own conventions and no real standard was set. SEGA’s Heavyweight Champ from 1976 is probably the first fighting game, but even with that position it is very much a forgotten game
The reason why Street Fighter II, despite being almost two decades younger than its predecessors, gets this spot is due to it essentially taking all that and blowing the whole genre wide open, waking waves of clones in its wake and being copied to some extent by essentially every single 2D fighting game since. Just like Missile Command, Defender and the like Street Fighter II was a spectators’ game, but unlike with its predecessor, now you could challenge the master of the machine with your choice of character.
Street Fighter II embodies all that an arcade game still is; attractive to look at, easy to get into and hard to master, requires forming strategies and split second decision. It’s not slow and methodical like a computer game, and could say it lacks the sophistication of Ultima and Wizardry. However, arcades and computer games were two different kind of beasts, meant to strike completely different nerve, and their catchy style of gameplay is still used to this day despite the death of arcades themselves.