Tag Archives: Frotz

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.

Classics and Clones: Retro-gaming for the iPhone: 1975-76

Every week for the next couple of months, No D-pad will spotlight key games from the last 40 years of gaming.  Not only will this retrospective give readers a brief history of the industry, we will also point out notable classics and clones from that bygone era that are now available in the app store.  We hope you enjoy.

1975- While home gaming was growing in popularity due to the now infamous device known as Pong, a new type of game was entering the scene for computer gamers who wanted a more cerebral experience.  Graphical limitations and memory constraints confined games to small stories on single screens.  Expansive worlds found in contemporary FPSs and RPGs were simply impossible to create unless the experience came from the mind.  A few techno-savvy computer students decided to take up the challenge of providing bigger worlds and more plots to video games by spawning a new genre of games: text adventures AKA interactive fiction.

Left: screenshot from Advent Right: Frotz for the iPhone
Like an interactive book, players would read a paragraph or two about their surroundings and then proceed to manipulate their virtual world by typing messages back to the mainframe.  In many ways these simple IF-statement games laid the groundwork for inclusion of story development in all video games.  Although these early games were buggy, they evolved quickly into complex puzzler or in-depth character-driven mysteries.  The very first game of this type was a title called Adventure (also Colossal Cave); it is now available for free in the app store under the name Advent.  The app store also has a great collection of 255 other text adventures in one free downloadable package titled Frotz.
Dual stick controls over the years
Midway's Gunfight and the iPhone's Minigore: both are dual stick shooters

Other notable events from 1975 include the first-ever dual joystick shooter called Gun Fight by Midway.  This arcade title wasn’t a big hit at the time, but the idea of utilizing two controls– one for the movement of the player and the other for aim of the gun– had a monumental effect twenty-years later when the concept was shrank down utilized by both Nintendo and Sony in their home systems.  Now the dual stick is just a common to video games as Mario.  For a great dual stick experience on the iPhone check out Minigore or the upcoming Pirate’s Gold.

1976- Lots of exciting things were being developed in 1976, but not much found its way to consumers that year.  Breakout, designed by Apple’s own Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, is the notable exception.  Similar to Pong in design, the purpose of the game is to reflect an ever-bouncing all at a series bricks at the top of the screen.  Once all the blocks were gone, players would advance to the next level.  Super Breakout is now available on the iPhone.  But if you want something closer to the original, try the clone BrickOut.  Like the calm before a great storm, this year was slow for the budding video game industry, but things would quickly change.  The industry would soon experience major shifts that would set the course of video gaming for years to come.

Left: 1976's Break Out Middle: iPhone clone BrickOut Right: Super Breakout

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