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I was lucky enough to have grown up with computers, writing my first program in 1977, and then entertaining myself with the Arcades of the 80's as they released title after title .. while also having access to the internals of the cabinets, through friends of my Dad who owned an Arcade rental business .. without those halcyon days of burned fingers and EEPROM copiers I don't think I'd have gained the insight I then later used to get into systems software development... For me, it was a joy indeed to walk into the local Arcade ("Time Zone", in Australia) and see the new - almost monthly - releases from around the world, spend a few bucks on a game or two, then walk back into the employee-only area and inspect the games, chip for chip, on the workbench.

I think a lot of serious value came from that experience, and I really wish it were possible for youngsters to have a similar kind of environment, in this day and age .. alas, with the appstore/walled-gardens, its not so easy to get inside the boxes and have a look, although I do think that my kids are going to gain a great deal of experience from the independent gaming community, the Open Pandora/Pyra and emu-scene .. once they get enough of an interest in how things are working in order to stop playing the games of the zeitgeist.

I remember when Scramble came out, how revolutionary it was to have a side-scroller .. and then when R-type/Gradius hit the scene, WOW! It was an evolutionary progression that I don't think many see, these days, in the modern arena. Does the Nintendo Switch provide such inspirations? I guess I'll have to dig deeper to see if there is an indie scene on that platform .. for the sake of my kids.

I recall the first time I encountered a 'Defender' machine. Up until then the machines had basically all been Space Invader or PacMan derivatives. I must have been 11 or 12 years old and it totally blew me away both virtually - it repeatedly kicked my arse as it took 10p after 10p (British btw) and I was only lasting about 20 seconds each game as I grappled with the controls - and also physically - the noise of the thing was epic! Also getting the high score on Phoenix ranks close to the birth of my children as a life moment. (Obviously I'll deny that if they ask).

As a computer nerd the 1980's was a great time to come of age - ignoring the twin threats of imminent nuclear war and AIDS. A generation saw the home computer become a reality. Particularly in the UK where, thanks to people like Sir Clive, Curry, Furber, Wilson, Hauser as well as the good old BBC, for a couple of years it seemed all to be happening on the doorstep. I felt a similar thrill years later at University when I got into BBS's and using fidonet to send electronic messages that got anywhere in the world within 24 hours.

OK, you kids get off my lawn.

Ok god. Yes!

The sound was single channel, procedural, driven by a priority system.

Supreme example of how to make a compelling player experience.

I reached good mastery of that game. Took a while, but man! Oh, so worth it.

I will to this day, drop everything and play that one on sight.

Defender was great! Played it for hours, rolled over the high score where you got something like 25 free ships. A quarter could last 30-45 minutes.

Defender is the all time king of video games IMO. Even though I sucked at it.

Youngsters have access to those kinds of experiences but they will never be the same as your experiences. For you those experiences were in access to hardware internals but for youngsters perhaps these experiences are more in software internals. For people older than you, they probably lament VLSI and youngsters not having to access to lower scale integration chips and being able to actually "see" the transistors.

I can go online and see the source code of fully working games and even some older AAA games by just right clicking and "View Source" for html5 games or code dumps of older AAA games. Being able to access the source code for Super Mario Bros. was something of a dream to me when I was little! If you want to see what a full scale production 3D modeling/rendering package looks like you can go and look Blender's. I had to learn my 3D game programming concepts from books full of code that never linked or even compiled and hacked copies of POV Ray that never compiled or ran. Forget about even seeing the source for commercial packages like 3D Studio or Lightwave. For database stuff there is PostgreSQL and together with NodeJS, NginX can be set up in an evening to play with. I learned database stuff in a computer lab and some academic version of Oracle. Unfortunately I can imagine a future where software is much less accessible than it is now.

Even in hardware there are things like Arduino and Pi that make prototyping a lot more accessible than before.

We had a 'Time Zone' in Mountain View, CA - It went on to be Aladdin Arcade and then at some point, They knocked down the San Antonio Shopping center and did not replace the arcade. Or The Hobby Shop. That was a bad day. I really miss arcades though.

If you are ever near Cincinnati, visit "Arcade Legacy".

Holy crap. I live an hour from Cincinnati and had no idea this was here. Thanks for hooking me up with this!

Honestly, I couldn't be more envious. There's nothing left here.

Those of us who lived through those years have a priceless benefit of having witnessed technology history unfold in real time. We saw the evolution of technology beyond just a bigger screen size of slightly faster processor. We had actual leaps and breakthroughs. My kids today will never have that unless some sort of huge technological miracle happens that changes everything.

VR is pretty legit right now.

lots of fiddling for the current best experience but totally can blow you away. you can't imagine what it's like - you have to experience it to understand.

also... tesla/spacex... and tons of other things. tech is evolving very quickly. Tech history is being made much faster than it was back then

This will certainly happen again. AR/VR, AI, and drone proliferation, and (fully) self driving cars are a handful that immediately come to mind without really thinking, which are due to really mature in the next 5-10 years.

All true. It will take years to materialise into commodities and I am patient. However, I think my kids will experience those as adults though, which will take a bit of the magic out. I guess what I'm saying is that my children will take this for granted. I still remember my total shock when I saw my first Amiga. Compared to the 8bits it was mind blowing. Then I had a chance to fly on a military F16 simulator powered by an SGI. That was mind blowing. I did not take it for granted. It was pure magic. Then we saw the internet rise through flaming skulls centred on crazy backgrounds and from that to something like Google maps and all that. And now, the same giants, year after year, announce a different screen size or more megapixels in a camera. I want my flying car damn it. I want to see a SpaceX launch become just a routine launch to Mars, or call my driverless Uber to pick me up while i'm mind-jacked into some multiverse... I'm ready... They are not.

Thanks for reading. We'll never see anything like the technology leap we had back in the late 70's early 80's ever again. I mean, even the internet wasn't that great a leap. Simply connecting PCs.

The internet was a "bigger screen" of the lets-connect-two-computers-together breakthrough. Still mind blowing though. Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I'm a huge fan of side/top scroller shootemups (R-Type being up there at the top as one of the hardest games ever made).

I like the old machines. I enjoy reading about those brave collectors that buy these machines and try to keep them running.

For me I think the arcade experience is now more about the controls map to the games. (track ball/ nob/ flight yoke) for games like missile command/centipede , tempest, star wars).

The have "shows" now were people haul their machines to a hall and let the public play. For example the "california extreme expo"


I find this blog about restoring and finding old machines fun : https://arcadeblogger.com/

I have a Joust, keeping one classic machine in running condition is enough for me. I don't know how these big arcades do it.

Keeping video machines running is child's play - it's just discrete electronics. The worst part is connectors and power supplies, what with the capacitors that dry out over 20 years.

It's keeping pinball machines running that is a true challenge. I only have five of my nine games playable right now, and two of those have small problems that don't effect game play but the games themselves aren't 100%. Something about a steel ball hurling around and coils firing seems to cause all kinds of breakage on 20-30 year old games only designed to last 5 years.

Yes, my issues have been power supplies, wiring, old Molex connectors, burnt header pins, and worn out controllers and switches. The computer parts have stayed original and functioning, even the RAM so far.

For my money it was the 90s explosion of fighting games or else the rhythm games of the turn of the century. But hey I'm biased by my actual experiences just like everyone else is.

Same, but by that time malls - and therefore arcades - began to decline rapidly in popularity. Great games with nobody to play them.

That plus consoles and PCs began to have the same graphics capabilities as arcade games at a reasonable price. No sense in pumping endless quarters into a machine you have to beg your parents to take you to when they can just as easily buy the console version to play at home.

At least around here, arcades still had a strong social aspect. You could certainly play excellent games at home with similar graphics to an arcade, but you were limited to playing against your friends, where at the arcade you had all sorts of new potential challengers. I personally made a lot of new friends in the mid 90s fighting game arcade scene.

Rhythm games like DDR, Para Para, or Bemani are something else entirely. There's still no great way to play those at home without a bunch of special hardware.

Sigh...your comment reminded me of the broken hearts my girlfriend and I endured when she bought me a brand new Xbox One for us to play Halo 5 together, only to discover that split screen multiplayer has been effectively smothered to death by the games industry (sans Nintendo).

Although I'm not sure I agree 100% with your last comment. Many of my friends bought DDR home versions and Guitar Hero/Rock Band accessories aplenty when they were popular. A lot of folks were certainly willing to shell out for the extra hardware.

Oh absolutely, I was certainly willing to shell out the money for a Cobalt Flux dance pad as well, but without the arcade version of DDR selling me on the game I wouldn't have been willing to do so. The soft pads aren't even close to the same experience, honestly.

I was sad to learn those guys went out of business. But DDR also got me into hardware modification hobbyism, which was cool.

Fighting games remain something with offline multiplayer games and in many cities there's a scene with people regularly getting together to play... so that's pretty cool.

You can play Perfect Dark with improved graphics and modern controls on a 360 or XBone. It's still one of the best console FPS games around, and includes some really cool and unusual multiplayer modes (campaign co-op and campaign versus!) and bots (to fill out those 2-player matches).

I feel your pain. Call of Duty still implements split screen though

Definitely. That's when the 3d revolution happened. Sega's Yu Suzuki was putting out hit after hit of course staring in the mid to late 80's with Space Harrier and OutRun and peaked in the 90's with Virtua Racing, Virtua Fighter, Daytona USA.

I absolutely loved Virtua Fighter and Virtua Racing. I want to get a Sega Saturn just for those two games (but can't actually justify the cost).

Yes Sega was ridiculous with the Saturn's price and its surprise launch. You can pick up a Saturn for pretty cheap(~$60) now if you are still interested and those games are dirt cheap. If you do get a Saturn then also get yourself the scart RBG cables and a scart to HDMI converter if your screen doesn't support scart(if you're in the US then it doesn't). This would give you the best picture.

I know it is cheap now but I just can't justify keeping it around (and I know my wife would hate it). I would love to get all the old Sega consoles such as Sega CD, Saturn and Dreamcast.

I hear you. The only Sega home console I dont own is the Genesis. I had an opportunity to own one with a box load of games for it and the Sega CD but I took it for granted that it would always be available. It was in a relatives basement. Unfortunately mother nature taught me a less on sitting on things too long and the basement got flooded when a storm hit a few years ago.

Saturn and Dreamcast emulation are pretty good these days, so you can relive all these games if you are so inclined.

Interesting. I would love to get that as well as a dreamcast and saturn controller to play the games as they were intended.

Yeah SSF is the only great Saturn emulator but I guess all you need it one.

By the time the 90's came along, the Arcade scene was on it's final breathe in my home.

I'm a little too young to remember the previous era, hence my bias. :)

It was also the golden age of pinball in my opinion. Addams Family, Attack from Mars, Twilight Zone.

We're in a new golden age now, with the popularity of pinball causing a resurgence in manufacturers and competition forcing innovation.

Check out Jersey Jack Pinball, Spooky Pinball and American Pinball.

I have yet to play any Jersey Jack games.

have you checked out the new(ish) Lord of the Rings pinball machine? It got me back in to pinballing, as I find the depth of the game greater than any other pinball game I have ever experienced.

Double Dragon -> Final Fight -> Street Fighter 2.

1991 seems to have been another super year in the legend of videogaming.


I'd beg to differ for that progression. Double Dragon and Final Fight are brawl games. A better progression might be Karateka -> International Karate -> Street Fighter

Yie Ar Kung Fu played more like Street Fighter than those two.

Change Street Fighter 2 to Streets of Rage 2

Street Fighter 1 had no impact whatsoever, and I could never understand street Fighter 2's popularity.

Well, it invented the genre of the fighting game, which is basically endlessly complex

The fighting game genre was invented years before Street Fighter 1. Like I say they were underwhelming.

There's a world of difference between SFII and its successors on one hand and all the efforts that came before on the other.

I agree, but SFII was incremental improvement. It wasn't like it created the fighter genre. There were load of fighting games around before and during SFII hit the scene. Of course it was the most popular but the point i'm making is that, historically, it was nothing new.

But... it was. It's like trying to argue that Super Mario Brothers was nothing special because there were already a bunch of games where you controlled a guy and jumped on enemies. While it may have been derivative in some sense it was such a huge leap in sophistication that it turned a marginal genre into a huge craze.

I felt the same about Super Mario Bros. At the time it was just nothing new.

Well I don't know what to tell you man. No work of art is entirely original.

Yeah my main time with them was early 90's when I spent two summers working in arcades at the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk.

We often got to play after hours for free, and Street fighter and mortal combat were favourites.

1996-1997 was just a huge time for arcades because of the fighting games. Street Fighter Alpha 2, Street Fighter 3, Tekken... crowds would form around those machines.

Heh yeah, I remember saying back then (and getting agreement from friends) "it aint a real arcade unless it has SF2".

Ugh. For me, that's when arcades were no longer fun. Every game was a fighting game, and there was no skill involved - only memorizing combinations of buttons to press. (How is that fun?) Furthermore, no levels to explore, no secrets to find. Just non-stop mindless punching and kicking.

If you think fighting games don't involve skill try beating an experienced Street Fighter 2 player having never played the game. When you lose, and lament that you 'simply haven't memorized the combos' go home and look them up. After you've realized that there's only one or two major combos to learn for each character in that game, come back and I promise you'll still lose. There's much more to it than that.

Most importantly, arcade games by their nature are finite. The limits of whatever storage medium used as well as the inability to rewrite or update them easily means that they exist in a vacuum. Once you've 'explored' the levels or found the 'secrets' they cease to be new. There are no more secrets. The strategy to beat single-player games never changes.

However the person you're playing against in a fighting game is always going to be different. Even if they play the same character as another person they will play them differently. They will have different skill levels and unique weak points to attack. No round of a fighting game is ever exactly the same. This is why fighting games are beautiful. They turn a static game into something timeless. There are still weekly Street Fighter 2 tournaments all over the world. When was the last time you competed with tens of other friends in say, Qbert 25+ years later?

I doubt you played Street Fighter 2 in the arcades when it first came out, then. This was a game where it was possible to redizzy people simply by spamming jab, or one where moves often did insane damage. SF really only became balanced around Super Street Fighter Turbo in the arcades, and a lot of people who play fighting games now don't realize how bad or frustrating a lot of that generation was.

World Warrior is a bad competitive game. No doubt. Champion Edition is only slightly better. But that doesn't really take away from my point - a random person walking up to the game is not going to know how to do the CE Dictator dizzy/redizzies for example, nor know how to play lockdown defense with CE Guile to prevent them.

And it's not as simple as just 'memorizing' the combos if you never play well enough to get yourself in a position to land them. There's still a journey there both outside the game to learn and inside the game to break down the patterns in your opponent's play that will never be present in a single-player game. That's what keeps fighting games interesting and new 20+ years later for me.

I agree with the thrust of your post, but you're underselling how much time and energy people can devote to discovering absolutely perfect runs of single-player games.

That's fair - although I was mainly referring to the era of arcade games referred to in the original blog post, and not to console speedruns and so forth that came later and cater more towards the 'perfect run' style of play. In the late 1970s/early 1980s there really weren't a lot of games that have 'perfect' runs. You simply can play the majority of them forever once you learn to play well enough since they repeat the same levels over and over. There are some exceptions like Donkey Kong and Pac-man that have killscreens, sure, but personally I don't find that 'beating the system' to play the same levels over and over to be very enjoyable. Since I'm not spending my allowance on the game, I want the game itself to be interesting rather than just long.

I do enjoy some games of this type like Robotron that have enough variation in the random patterns of the enemies to still feel fresh. I also love games like Pole Position or Outrun that have well-defined endings and force you to play 'perfectly' like you describe. However most games of this earlier time period are unfortunately just not designed that way.

I mean, you can not like fighting games if you want, but the skill ceiling in fighting games is actually insanely high -- much higher than the majority of games.

...during the arcade era it wasn't. The skill ceiling actually is pretty low for most arcade fighters. The ones that were high skill ceiling games didn't do all that well in arcades; Street Fighter 3 or Virtua Fighter for example.

The skill ceiling rising was mostly due to consoles, and I'd put it during the dreamcast/psone era when fighters started becoming really intricate.

Have you watched people talking about option selects and stuff in Super Turbo? There's a reason people still play that stuff. It seems to me you're talking more about game with a high skill floor, if you will.

I should also say that it seems like a stretch to say Virtua Fighter didn't do well in arcades, but that had more to do with the graphics.

I was very excited when the first black & white video games came out in the arcades. I felt they were more "fair" than pinball and other mechanical games.

Then the first color game I saw was Cosmic Alien. I dropped a lot of quarters down that hole.

Obligatory movie recommendation: The King of Kong http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0923752/

I usually recommend A Brief History of Graphics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzN2pgL0zeg&list=PLOQZmjD6P2... (Despite the name, it focuses on video games.)

Also, The Video Game Years is an excellent series on console gaming which highlights the broader atmosphere (mostly in the US) around each device, spanning the late 70s to late 80s: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLC2468FB35ED2DAC2 (edit: Forgot to mention, skip to 1980 for less babbling and more info. It's one of those series that gets better in later episodes.)

There's actually a ton of other good retro-gaming channels on YouTube that I've found to be on par with or better than the more well known gaming documentaries.

MAME allows us to relive those moments. Biggest issue is controls, unless you invest in a proper control console.


There are plenty of pretty good controllers to buy. I recommend something with a real stick, just like in the old arcade. I've wasted a lot of money buying gamepads over the years and not even the recent NES30 pads are good enough to play R-Type and my other favorites with precision.

I recently got a HORI Real Arcade Pro and it's excellent.

The other thing that makes MAME feel off is the screen. 27" iMac may be a very good screen, but it's not a good CRT with the glowing pixels of the past.

Play them online in your browser. https://archive.org/details/internetarcade

I spent more money on arcade/video games in 1981 than any year before or since. Definitely was the golden age. The following year I stopped playing video games with the statement "I'll start playing again when they become interesting again". I am still waiting.

Well let me tell ya, in some towns arcades are back in full force as bars. My girlfriend and I have spent thousands at my local barcade (Up Down Minneapolis) on games and drinks over the past year. While we are some of their most regular customers, it's the arcade exclusive games that keep us coming back.

...Particularly Killer Queen.

It's not them, it's you.

(Me too, but only recently)

A large number of games released in 1981 defined new genres, which I don't think is very true now. It feels like there were a lot more arcade releases going on in that time too (but perhaps I'm just not seeing new things very often, I don't visit many dedicated arcades). The latest trend I've seen is popular smartphone games in the arcade with enormous screens and ticket spitters; these are pretty fun (the angry birds one with a cannon is definitely worth putting in a few credits), but not terribly exciting.

New genres constantly get "created", MOBA, MMORPG or to the name the most recent one being on the verge of becoming its own thing: Battlegrounds

Sure one could argue these are just different game modes of established genres, but where to draw that line, how to define a "genre"? Imhho it's the same as with music, there are no clear-cut lines, concepts just bleed into each other, adopt each other, creating entirely new concepts in the process.

Our modern gaming landscape is amazingly diverse, people who think games had been more "original back then" are usually remembering things through the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia.

MOBA and MMORPG never showed up in arcades, afaik. I had latched onto the arcade part of the thread, but I now see it had included video games in general. In which case, I agree, there's a lot of interesting content to be found (some years, you have to dig deep).

They are mostly games played with mouse+kb, so an arcade cabinet ain't the first choice for genres like that.

Tho I wouldn't be too surprised to see an arcade like this in the Asian region. Online Multiplayer (not massive but with quite a few players) also made it's way to the arcade, complete with your own profile on a storage device so you can take it along to different arcade venues.

At shows like PAX there's usually a special section/event just for arcades, which has also become a rather experimental sector showing off arcade games like Killer Queen. It's a really diverse space, the issue being that only very little of it bubbles up to the "mainstream".

I played mostly through 1983 with Mario Bros.....then Nintendo came out and gave Mario Bros as good of a home experience, but without the arcade.

I think Mario Bros was the last of the arcade style games I was really into. Though I remember a skateboard game called 720 Air that was pretty good....oh, and pinball.

The main difference between games then and now, I feel, is that they didn't have the crutch of excellent graphics to fall back on to wow people, they had to make their games fun and worry about the nonsensical story lines later. Gameplay distilled down into its most pure form.

A lot of these games are extremely difficult and require twitch reflexes, which is something a game burdened with pushing a lot of pixels has trouble replicating.

I have a Retropie loaded with tons of games all the way up into the 90's and my 3-year-old son mostly plays the older stuff - it seems to resonate with him more than the newer games.

> A lot of these games are extremely difficult and require twitch reflexes, which is something a game burdened with pushing a lot of pixels has trouble replicating.

It's not that they have trouble replicating it, they are intentionally avoiding it. With higher fidelity comes higher development costs, so they have to sell more copies to make a profit. One way to do that is to make games easier. People in general want games that can be completed with the least amount of effort on their part.

I would love to pick up some of the older arcade machines - they were never cheap and they still aren't. There are a few I would spend for; for technology they were a cornerstone of why I do what I do.

I remember street fighter 2 and mortal kombat 2 arcade games took a lot of my time and money.. that was early 1990s. It felt like a very golden age at the time

I highly recommend anyone interested in this era, with an eye toward the future, read Ready Player One. Amazing book you won't be able to put down.

Eh, it was a lot of name dropping and mish-mash-memorials.

I wish arcades were still a thing. And I don't mean a place with all the old cabinets like Barcade in NYC but a place with new games/experiences that are not easily accessible via a console or gaming pc. VR/AR seems to be a good fit even though you'd have to come up with a way to keep the goggles clean.

I don't think they're always called "arcades", but there seem to be quite a few places to play VR games popping up. I've seen multiple in a few different cities now.

Here's an example of one in Redmond WA, I think there are at least a couple more in Seattle: http://odyssey-vr.com/

Another Seattle one, in my 'hood, still haven't bothered to go.


Wow, didn't realize all those were from 1981. I loved growing up in the 70s/80s. Begged for a computer for 3 years and finally got an Apple //e in 1983. Still have it today :-)

Star Castle

This looks more like a personal favorite list and less of a retrospective on 1980s arcades.

Man writes blog post on personal website about his personal experience in the golden era of arcades. HN complains it is too personal.

Its is my personal favourites, but also I'm hoping to not miss out anything important. It's also a trip down memory lane to, its not just about the games. it's a about the era too. Thanks for spending the time to read it, and more to follow soon!

He is going year by year. If you think he missed some important titles you should check the earlier article about 1980 releases.


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