1976

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1976
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General Instruments’s AY-3-8500 chip is released, which had all the circuitry necessary for a video game on a single chip. The Fairchild/Zircon Channel F, the first cartridge-based home game system, is released. Atari’s Night Driver is the first game to simulate a first-person perspective, though it did not have true 3-D graphics. Atari’s Breakout is released.

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IN COMPUTER NEWS…
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ADVENTURE is expanded and brought up to the 350 point system that became the starting point for many ports and conversions ever since. So the “real” launch of Adventure is basically 1976. I’ve played a port of this on the IBM-PC. While not the TRUE original, it was the original William Crowther / Don Woods collaboration with 350 points (the generally accepted beginning of the full game.) It is actually quite fun, if you don’t mind text-adventure games (I love them). Some unique puzzles, a twisty underground area to explore, with mystical creatures, magic words, great atmosphere, and finally an interesting ending to the game. Pretty difficult, though, with some obscure references and the challenge to get ALL 350 points. I think in the day & age this was written, games like this were only solved through multiple people playing and sharing ideas and thoughts (and, the examination of the source code to find that last lousy point!). Adventure is heralded as the first text-adventure game, and you can’t consider yourself a true Adventurer until you’ve earned 350 points (just TRY not to cheat!)

– The APPLE I finally goes on sale with an initial order of 50 systems to the Byte Shop in CA. Only a total of around 200 are sold, however, before Wozniak announces the Apple II – a huge step forward in technology at the time. The APPLE II was to have color graphics, sound, expandability and more… and it was about to seieze a sizeable share of the market — beating out much bigger companies Commodore (PET) and Texas Instruments (TRS-80). But… we’re getting ahead of the story — so hang in there.

– the CRAY supercomputer makes it’s debut, and locks in its mythical status by being so amazingly fast for its day & age. I still remember the name almost 40 years later.

NOTE: In general, videogames were the driving factor behind early home computers and console systems. So you can thank our inherrent desire to play for the computer being around today!

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CONSOLE SYSTEMS:
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1st Generation continues…

APF TV Fun Model 401
– Another pong clone by new company diving into home video game market.

ATARI: SUPER-PONG & SUPER-PONG 10
– still cashing in on their name recognition and simply the fact that their designs stood out from the crowd, Atari releases their super-pong arcade game to the home market. This was dedicated to playing that one game, but at least you could stop putting quarters in the machine now!

MAGNAVOX ODYSSEY 300, 400 & 500
– This is getting ridiculous, isn’t it? Another “Odyssey”, another variant on Pong. Seems weird, but since the arcades were quite bland as to their selection, you wouldn’t expect much would be different on the home front! The 400 introduced on-screen scoring, while the 500 was the most technologically superior device at the time. Instead of just blips on the screen, you actually moved a small character representative of the game. ie. A tennis player in “Tennis”, a hockey player in “Hockey” (I know, the originality and creativity is mind-bogling). j/k

WONDER WIZARD 7702
– Basically a Magnavox 300 at it’s core, but mounted onto the old Odyssey 1 chassis with that 70’s retro wood-grain styling on top. I don’t know, but perhaps it was a good idea to differentiate your system on “style” since the actual games were all so similar. I like the name… Wonder Wizard!

COLECO TELSTAR
– One of the best-selling home PONG variants. The first system to use the new AY-3-8500 chip – so the cost came way down. They sold the Telstar at just $50 each, which really appealed to the budget-minded consumer. It was also a nice simple layout with a big knob for each player. There were a total of 14 variations on the Telstar during the course of a couple years, all of them PONG clones and doing about the same thing… but Coleco got itself into the marketplace as a player with this system.

SEARS Tele-Games Super Pong IV:
– Yeah… SEARS had to get in on the Pong craze too. What’s so weird is that SEARS is hardly a name anymore, but at the time they were a big enough name to be product creators, distributors and department store. This was their “Sold only at Sears” version of PONG. Oh…oh… gotta go gets me one.

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– FAIRCHILD CHANNEL F –
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– The “2nd Generation” of console gaming systems begins in 1976 with the release of the Fairchild VES. The Fairchild VES was the world’s first CPU based video game console, which allowed removeable programmable cartridges, instead of dedicated circuits. It was released by Fairchild Semiconductor in August 1976. When Atari released their VCS the next year, Fairchild quickly re-named their system the Fairchild Channel F. (Uh, I think I much preferred the VES… I mean, what shows would you actually be watching on CHANNEL F? ewww)

The 2nd generation is really the starting point for what most of us think of when we hear “Game Console”. With the introduction of microprocessors and a CPU core, cartridges could now contain different instructions which allowed for much greater flexibility and a library of games. It also allows for emulation of these systems if you’re interested in trying out these early games before you take the ebay plunge to own one yourself. 😉

GAMES:
Here’s the list of games that first appeared with the Channel-F in 1976:

HOCKEY & TENNIS – Comes with the system. Decent variations on ball & paddle. TENNIS is pretty much a PONG variant with a “Tennis” theme (a dotted line down the middle representing a net). But HEY! On-screen scoring, nice. HOCKEY has a little more variety, with forward & backward movement, a “player” and a “Goalie” (both of whom you can control)… and the ability to twist your paddle left and right for angle shots. A nice variant!

VIDEOCART 1 – Tic-tac-toe, good computer AI (beat it easily)
* – Shooting Gallery – Fun, seriously… especially on speed 4.
– Doodle / Quadra-doodle… drawing (early photoshop prototype… haha… and screen saver)

VIDEOCART 2 – Desert Fox (Lame tank game. COMBAT on Atari 2600 was so much better)
– Shooting Gallery – FUN (but see above) same game

VIDEOCART 3 – Video Blackjack (Cool for it’s time to play against the computer. Decent attempt at a table)

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ARCADE GAMES of 1976:
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21: Boring Black-Jack game. Glitchy, hardly random.

ACE: Dogfighting with 2 planes… rudimentary but can be fun

*AMAZING MAZE:
Cool maze game! Play the computer. 3 mazes for 25 cents, and then you play until you lose! Cool.

BARRICADE / BRICKYARD:
Like the Tron Light Cycles. Would LOVE to play with 4 people (2-player for Brickyard)… oh well, we take computer AI for granted nowadays.

BIGFOOT BONKERS:
Another like Tron Light Cycles. Only 2-player, but MUST be 2-player, argh.

BLOCKADE:
Another Tron Light Cycles.. geez. However, this was actually the first one which spawned all the copies. This one let you play to a score of 6, others were not so generous.

*BREAKOUT (played DICE simulation)
A paddle game to break through the blocks above. Was a huge seller for Atari, but it also carries a very interesting back-story involving Steve Jobs (of Apple fame) and Steve Wozniak. They worked feverishly for four days, and were paid a bonus of $5,000. Jobs told Woz it was only $700 and paid him his 50% ($350). This caused a lot of tension later when the truth came out. Also remarkable was that Woz reduced the circuitry necessary to such a tight, complex design that nobody knew what he had done and they couldn’t produce it! Fascinating stuff. ** BREAKOUT was one of the last successful hard-circuit games… everything else was moving to the microprocessor.

CANNONBALL (play “Human Cannonball” on Atari 2600)
Really fun, actually. Shoot your guy to safety!

COMOTION:
Just slight improvement on BLOCKADE

* COPS ‘N ROBBERS:
Computer controlled bad guys, cool! Fun game. Accelerate up & down, and shoot the cops. Timed game, so it’s just a race to rack up a score.

DATSUN 280Zzzap:
You could actually win a Datsun? Kind of a cool marketing ploy, but why the heck use three Z’s

DEATH RACE:
A game where your goal is to run over zombies (originally pedestrians). It sparks the first debate over the violence in video games (which will continue to the present day). Marketing Note: controversy helps sell extra units!

FLYBALL:
One of the first arcade baseball games. Fun too. It has a bug that advances ALL runners on a walk.

HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMP:
– A boxing game from SEGA. I love boxing games… I wonder how this one compares… it has to be a pretty limiting – heavy imagination required. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen this anywhere.

HIT ME:
Just like 21… same mechanics, same annoying sounds, same flawed blackjack implementation (with limited options). And most unforgettable… same flawed random generator that gives you the same losing hands over and over again!

INDY 4:
A precursor to the Sprint games. This one, though, didn’t have a microprocessor – so it was more limited. Indy 4 is on a black playing field, and doesn’t have the 12 individual track selections that Sprint 2 added.

* LAZER COMMAND:
A little tank action, a little strategy. Not too bad. Destroy the opponents 15 tanks, or be the leader as time dwindles to a close! (2-player only, though)

* NIGHT DRIVER:
Kickin’ fun game. The little car bezel on the front, the simulated speed that large-dot pixels on each side of the screen can create… just fun & totally retro-cool. Watch a pro play this game on a real arcade machine and it’s impressive! The score and top speed just keep rising as long as you don’t crash. My emulated best is only 261.

OUTLAW (NOT the Atari 2600 ver):
This game had a model of a gun to use to shoot bad guys. It was all about the “Quick Draw”, but was only B&W graphics. Still this would be an interesting game to try sometime (not emulated).

ROAD RACE
– Sega (they’ve always loved their driving games, right?) This is an early racing game that introduced the psuedo 3D type graphics, where things scrolled forward toward you and also in 3rd-person type of view up behind-the-car.

* SEA WOLF:
Shoot down boats with torpedoes. Instantly accessible, and expertly emulated (MAME). Fun game. I played it a number of times and built up a little skill… but my high score of 8300 is much short of a perfect game.

SPEED RACE TWIN
– Sequel to Road Race that brought the game into color, as well as added a second side-by-side screen for a simultaneous two-player mode.

SPRINT 2:
– Fun track racing game. Hard without driving controllers.

STUNT CYCLE:
Cool game where you have to accelerate on your motorcyle so you can clear an ever-increasing amount of school buses. Start at a simple 8-bus jump, and max out (ie. win the game) if you clear 27! One of the first “beatable” games in video gaming.

TANK 8:
Need more than 1 playing, but I hear you can have fun betting on the winning tank in attract mode. 😉

* TORNADO BASEBALL:
Old school… but a pretty playable baseball game. You can even pitch all sorts of different speeds and curves. I like it.

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NEXT
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Stay Tuned as the Atari 2600 is about to hit the markets, and the microprocessor continues to revolutionize videogames. It’s just heating up.

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BEST GAMES of 1976:
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ADVENTURE (mainframe) – if you could play it back then
VIDEOCART-3: Blackjack (Fairchild Channel-F) – a cheap way to scratch the gambling itch. 😉
AMAZING MAZE – Simple, smooth, length of play for a quarter depended on skills
BREAKOUT (arcade) – a much more fun single-player pong type game
NIGHT DRIVER (arcade) – great fun
SEA WOLF (arcade) – really easy to pickup and lots of fun
TORNADO BASEBALL (arcade) – easy to play, good gameplay good value for a quarter