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Classics and Clones: Retro-gaming for the iPhone: 1977

It’s hard to explain how momentous 1977 was for the world of gaming.  For the first time average consumers began to believe that these quirky little games could become more than a passing fad.  Instead of blockbuster titles, this year witnessed major industry changes that altered the course of video game history forever.  Nevertheless, there were a few great games that came out that year, and you can get them for your iPhone.

Hardware/Software- While Nintendo was proudly promoting Light Tennis– another Pong clone– as the world’s first multicolor video game, the U.S. outfit Atari was set to revolutionize distribution.  Before this, a handful of games found individual success both at home and in arcades, but that began to change with the Atari 2600.  The first system to feature a hub microprocessor (AKA hardware) and interchangeable cartridges (AKA software), this machine quickly became the industry kingpin.  Up and coming game developers could now skip the critical step of creating of an entire machine that would play their game; instead they could redirect their resources on game development alone.  This meant gamers enjoyed more titles more quickly; it also solidified Atari as the first titan of the industry.

The Atari: the first titan in home gaming

Industry Trends- Home gaming wasn’t the only avenue the industry was pursuing.  After selling Atari for a very nice profit earlier that year, Nolan Bushnell– its founder– created a new arcade model that centered around kids.  When the first Pizza Time Theater (later Chuck E. Cheese’s and Showbiz Pizza) opened, it practically guaranteed a new generation of obsessive gamers.  LED technology even allowed handheld gaming to take a big leap forward.  Not only was Missile Attack (a tower defense game where players defended NYC from a barrage of incoming missiles) the first pint-sized game, it was also the first game to suffer from media backlash.  Advertisements were pulled from television fearing kids would think NYC was really under attack.  Note: This concept did eventually find its way into consumers’ hands in 1980 when Missile Command finally made its way into arcades; Atari has since released a new version of the classic game for the iPhone.  Although this game features both an update and a classic mode, the $4.99 price tag may be asking a bit much.  For those looking a for similar experience for free, check out Guardian Missile Commander.

Left: Banned Missile Attack Center: 1980's Missile Command Right: iPhone Missile Command

The Best in Gaming- Ironically, the two biggest titles of the year didn’t come from the arcade or the Atari.  Mattel’s portable electronic football game simply titled Football enjoyed great success.  This red-dot run and dodge classic has been re-marketed several times over the years.  Most recently, touchGrove has meticulously cloned this early handheld with great care for the iPhone.  LED Football and it’s green sequel LED Football 2 are both available in the app store for $0.99, but for those wanting to recapture some of this early excitement with a more modern experience, Backbreaker Football is a dynamite successor.  Home computer gamers weren’t slighted either; Zork: The Underground Empire, a tongue-in-cheek homage to Dungeons and Dragons, would go on to become the home computer’s first mega-hit.

LED Football over the years

In many respects, 1977 was the year video games came home.  The release of the Atari 2600 boxed many arcade game makers into a corner, even despite the budding kiddie pizza parlor business.  Arcades needed to strike back with a blockbuster title that would re-establish its stronghold on hardcore on gamers.  It would take a year before that title would arrive.

Check back with us every week for a more gaming history with our continuing series Classics and Clones: Retro-gaming for the iPhone.  For more in this series, click here.

Note: Zork: The Underground Empire is available in the app store with the Frotz interactive fiction app.




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