This story was originally published on Invisible Gamer on June 24, 2014.
On a stupid, insane, and misguided quest to understand more about my favorite hobby and the industry I want to be a part of, I’m playing some games from the past. Like, thirty-five years in the past. It may take me thirty-five years or more (or, more likely, I’ll never see this plan through to fruition because it’s insane), but I want to see how video games have evolved over the years, and play some of the more spectacular releases lauded with high praise even today. So I’m starting in 1979. Why 1979? Well, before that, game releases were so sparse that it was hard for me to find more than one game per year that I was interested in or could easily access. 1979 was the year that changed, so here we are. I still only played four games, and I could easily distinguish quality among them, but nevertheless, here are my games of the year 1979 (that is, those released in North America in 1979).
Note: Due to the increasingly complicated nature of this idea, it’s going to be pretty difficult to write at any sort of length about every game I played. So I won’t. Every game will get some sort of blurb or opinion statement, but only the Game of the Year will get a thorough treatment.
#3 — Lunar Lander
Lunar Lander is an incredibly hard and impressively complex game. That being said, its difficulty somewhat undermines its early, sim-like attention to detail and aesthetically pleasing, minimalist vector graphics. There’s no way it’s that hard to land a space craft on the moon.
#2 — Asteroids
Asteroids is timeless in every sense of the word. The vector-based graphics (adapted from Lunar Lander), the sharp controls, and the basic premise define the very experience of playing a game. Asteroids is one of those very special games that defined so much of what was to come in the industry. But even to this day, what other game lets you play as the letter A?
#1 — Galaxian
Publisher: Midway (North America)
Galaxian is the lesser-known predecessor to Galaga, but it should not be forgotten. Despite the fact that it was almost certainly created in order to cash in on the infatuation with the release of Space Invaders the year before, Namco’s treatment of Galaxian indicated that it was, paradoxically, more than a cash-in. Galaxian wasn’t the first colored game, but even thirty-five years later, the sprites, animation, and music still look and sound good. Galaxian did a lot for the arcade game, such as introducing scrolling backgrounds and enemies with individual AI. And despite all the historic and contextual significance of Galaxian, the fact of the matter (or the opinion of this matter) is that it just plays so well. Galaga obviously took and refined the formula, but Galaxian introduced it, and it did it so well. Control is tight and satisfying, and the difficulty is not so insane that it lessens the addictive nature of the design. Don’t get me wrong, the game’s really hard and I’m bad at it, but I love Galaxian nevertheless, making it my Game of the Year 1979.
These early years of gaming are so interesting and so bizarre, in many ways. Hopefully you’ve had some experience with these games and/or this year and time period. What would your Game of the Year 1979 be? Have you played any of these games? Did I leave something obvious out of my consideration? Let us know in the comments!