Before I launch into uncharted waters, reviewing games beyond those I had originally planned, I’d like to take this moment to pull together some interesting numbers from all the games I’ve reviewed (and thus all the Atari games I had growing up) and see what trends develop (excluding the L.E.A.P. Disks and my old BASIC games):
Total Number of Games I’ve Reviewed So Far: 106
Games with spaceships (usually shooting
aliens things): 25 (24%)
Asteroids, Atari Invaders, Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom, Caverns of Mars II, Cosmic Tunnels, Crossfire, Defender, Embargo, Galaxian, Gorf, Journey to the Planets, The Last Starfighter, Missile Command (kinda), Onslaught, Quarxon, Race in Space, Rescue Mission (Rescue on Fractalus), Star Raiders, Star Wars, Stargate Courier, Starion, Survivor, Turmoil, Vanguard, Zaxxon
Games where you control vehicles other than spaceships: 18 (17%)
Baja Bug, Ballblaster (Ballblazer), Blue Max, Encounter, Flying Ace, Fort Apocalypse, Joust (they’re birds you’re riding, but I’ll count it), Jumbo Jet Pilot, Nautilus, Night Mission (pinball) Pinhead, PitStop, Pogoman, Pole Position, Protector II, Speedway Blast, Submarine Commander, Super Cobra
Games where you control a guy/animal who jumps around or climbs ladders (or trees or whatever), usually viewed from the side: 25 (24%)
Amphibian, Apple Panic, BC’s Quest for Tires, Bruce Lee, Canyon Climber II, Congo Bongo, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Fast Eddie, Firebird, Frogger 2, H.E.R.O., Hard Hat Mack, Journey to the Planets, Jumpman Junior, Kangaroo, Lode Runner, Mario Bros., Miner 2049er, Mr. Robot and His Robot Factory, Necromancer, Pharaoh’s Curse, Pitfall II, Popeye, Preppie
Games where you explore or navigate a maze (usually top-down, sometimes 3D): 15 (14%)
(note: this doesn’t count games like Bruce Lee or Pitfall II where you’re freely exploring a game world with multiple ways to go: these are similar to Pacman mazes.)
Berzerk, Centipede (-ish), Dig Dug (you make your own!), Drelbs, Kid Grid, King Tut’s Tomb, Monster Maze, Mouse, Ms. Pacman, Pacman, Serpentine, Snake Byte, Tumble Bugs, Wayout, Wizard of Wor
Games based on pre-existing games, usually either sports or board games: 14 (13%)
Ballblaster (Ballblazer), Gamestar Baseball, Knockout!, Night Mission (pinball) One on One, PitStop, Pole Position, Pool, Preppie, Professor IQ, Reversi, Shooting Arcade, Starbowl Football, Track and Field
Games based on/clones of/sequels to other video games: 23 (22%)
(I may miss some of these if they’re based on games I haven’t played/am not familiar with. I’m also not counting ports from arcade games with the same name, like Asteroids or Pacman.)
- Space Invaders: Atari Invaders, Gorf
- Pacman: Monster Maze, Mouse, Ms. Pacman, Tumble Bugs
- Breakout: Super Breakout, Clowns & Balloons
- Frogger: Frogger 2, Froggie, Pacific Coast Highway, Preppie
- Donkey Kong: Canyon Climber II, Congo Bongo, Donkey Kong Jr., Kangaroo, Popeye*
- Other: Caverns of Mars II (sequel to Caverns of Mars), Jumpman Junior (sequel to Jumpman), Pharoah’s Pyramid (clone of Q*Bert), Pitfall II (sequel to Pitfall!), Protector II (sequel to Protector), Snake Byte (clone of Snake)
*Popeye was actually what Donkey Kong was supposed to be until Nintendo couldn’t get the rights to the characters, so I’m putting it here for that reason.
Games that don’t fit into any of the above categories: 10 (9%)
Claim Jumper, Dog Daze, Eastern Front 1941, Java Jim, Kaboom!, Monster Smash, Picnic Paranoia, Qix, Salmon Run, Slime
These don’t add up to 100% exactly, since some games fit in multiple categories. And now: charts!
So what can we extrapolate from all this? Here are some of my conclusions:
- Spaceship games! Boy, were these all the rage! Virtually a quarter of all the games I had were space-based in some way; I’m guessing it was due to games like Space Invaders or even the first video game ever (Spacewar!) being so influential at the time. Plus, the early 80’s was the era of the space shuttle, and I’d probably still consider it part of the Space Age (as opposed to the Information Age in which we are currently living). Space!
- Platformers existed and were a hefty chunk of the market even back before Super Mario Bros. came out, and while almost none of them I would call sidescrollers in the Mario vein (unlike the glut of platformers that came in the decade or so after SMB’s release), the basic elements that would shape the most common game genre of the 20th century (platforming) were already present in a fair amount of games.
- Clones! This isn’t a surprise, really, as one of the causes of the Game Crash of ’83 were tons of badly-done clones of, like, five or six games. The best clones added some new spin that transformed the old game completely, whereas the lesser ones just updated (or, in some cases, downgraded) the graphics or sound, or the new gameplay twists either added nothing or made the game worse. In either case, this kind of thing is still alive and well, from the glut of platformers in the 90’s to the sea of Call of Duty in which we find ourselves today, clones have always been a part of gaming.
- More than 90% of games at the time fit neatly into the four categories I mentioned: space, vehicle, platformer, or maze games (if they weren’t based on a pre-existing game). Sure, there were a few original ideas, but they were few and far between.
- The genre had little to do with quality, however; all of these categories contain both really great and really terrible games. It’s what you do in the genre that counts, not just the genre itself. You couldn’t just make a spaceship game back then and expect it to be a success. Just like you can’t nowadays just make an FPS and expect it to do well on those merits alone. But people hadn’t learned that lesson yet, which is why the Game Crash of ’83 occurred in the first place. Let’s learn from this. Support indie games and all that!
- That’s all I can think of right now. Does anything stand out to you? Post a comment or whatever.