Movies and TV like “Ready Player One” and “Stranger Things” are giving nostalgia a fresh look.
Video games today might seem like they’ve come a long way from the 1980s. Graphics are certainly better, storylines are more complicated and there are even games to play in virtual reality instead of at your local arcade. However, those games from the ’80s, back when companies were first starting to come out with lots of different options, represent a golden age worth revisiting, according to Rob Schmuck, senior operations manager at Living Computers Museum + Labs and executive vice president of the Seattle Retro Gaming Expo.
“Atari had a mentality about games at the time that really makes retro games different,” says Schmuck. “They thought games should be easy to learn but hard to master. So anyone could really pick them up, but to get really good and deep into the game you had to really work hard at it.”
Today, Schmuck says, there are indie games that are trying to get back to that same mentality Atari had back in the ’80s. “Especially in Seattle, you’re seeing a resurgence of these types of games. Of course you don’t play them in the arcade or a big console anymore, now you can run them on a smartphone or a tablet, but you’ll see a similar experience in games today like ‘Shovel Knight,’ ” he says.
With movies and TV like “Ready Player One” and “Stranger Things” giving nostalgia a fresh look, revisiting these blasts from the past is trendy. If your memory of video games from the ’80s is a little fuzzy, get a refresher (and play some old favorites) at the “Totally 80s Rewind” exhibit at Living Computers Museum + Labs.
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When it comes to ’80s video games, Schmuck came up with a top five that influenced video gaming as we know it today, and that are worth playing again, whether you’re a gamer or a novice.
OK, so officially, “Space Invaders” was released in 1978 in Japan, but most American gamers probably didn’t come across the game until the 1980s when it started coming to the U.S. in the arcade version as well as a version for the Atari 2600.
“This was one of those games that just had a huge impact while the game industry was just getting started,” says Schmuck. The player controls a laser cannon at the bottom of the screen and fires it at rows of aliens that come toward you. It may seem simplistic compared to shooting games today that tend to have much more complicated narratives and more realistic weapons and enemies, but there’s something quaint about going back to play a game with such a simple goal: destroy the aliens before they get you!
“When ‘Pac-Man’ came out, people went crazy,” says Schmuck. “And when ‘Ms. Pac-Man’ came out they went even more crazy. It was almost more influential because it attracted a lot of people who probably never wanted to play a video game before. For a lot of folks this game was their first impetus to want to go to an arcade to play a game.”
The arcade game “Pac-Man” hit North America in 1980; its sequel, featuring a female main character and more complicated mazes, came out in 1982. That red-bowed little yellow circle munching white dots and avoiding ghosts certainly caught the attention of the country in a way no game had before: it was the most successful American-produced arcade game of the year.
This 1981 Atari arcade game is one that’s considered typical of the era, according to Schmuck. You control a spaceship over different segments of the playing surface, defined by simple bright lines that make up a three-dimensional surface, while trying to destroy enemies before they destroy you. “The graphics really pop off the screen with bright colors and it feels hectic, really very frantic, thanks to the music and the visuals of the game,” Schmuck says. “You’re kind of panicked the whole time and it just gets worse as you get to the advanced levels.”
“Joust,” a 1982 arcade and home platform game, is considered the game that popularized two-player cooperative play in later games. It’s also still ridiculously fun, largely due to the totally bizarre premise. “I mean, it’s just a far-fetched idea; it’s ludicrous really,” says Schmuck. “You’re a knight jousting on an ostrich, trying to defeat the opponents: enemy knights riding buzzards.”
If you had a cellphone in the early 2000s, you know how popular “Centipede” was because you probably had a version of it on your phone, even two decades after “Centipede” was first released by Atari in 1980. “ ‘Centipede’ is essentially the game ‘Snake,’ but a little more complicated,” says Schmuck. A centipede winds its way through a mushroom-strewn field of play while you try to destroy one segment of the centipede at a time, completing a level each time you fully destroy the centipede.
The popularity of the game with a diverse audience was intentional, thanks in part to one of the programmers of the game, Dona Bailey, one of the only women game programmers at the time, who hoped her game would attract more women players than some of the other shooting games on the market. She was successful. According to some estimates, half of the players of the game were female.
Living Computers: Museum + Labs provides hands-on experiences with computer technology from the 1960s to the present. From vintage systems and mainframes to the latest robotics and digital tools – discover technology at your fingertips. Come in. Geek out.