Revolutionary fun: How 1980s video games totally changed our lives

1980s video games and gaming consoles

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1980s video games were a game changer — literally

The 1980s were a golden era for video games, marking a time of rapid growth and innovation that forever changed the way we experience interactive entertainment.

This groundbreaking decade witnessed the birth of iconic characters (Pac Man for heaven’s sake!), revolutionary gameplay mechanics, and the dawn of a thriving global industry. It was a time when the pixelated worlds of arcade games and home consoles captured the hearts and minds of players, uniting them in their shared love for this novel form of amusement.

These classic 1980s video games have left an indelible mark on the history of the medium and continue to inspire developers and gamers alike, serving as a testament to the creative spirit and technological ingenuity of the time.

Everything you always wanted to  know about Atari Games (1982)

Atari games are the forerunner of home computers. And although you may not be ready for the electronic age, your children will have to be.

“Are they good for kids?” Playing ATARI games can be very good for kids (providing they’ve done their homework and cleaned their bedrooms). For one thing, it’s time spent in the home, with the family. Increasing hand-eye coordination and developing a longer attention span.

Learning how to be a good loser — and more importantly, a good winner. And finally, having fun while preparing for the future: ATARI games are the forerunner of home computers. And although you may not be ready for the electronic age, your children will have to be.

“Are they a passing fancy, like Hula Hoops?” They’re exactly the opposite. The ATARI Video Computer System Game is not a toy, to be put in the closet and forgotten. It’s a permanent part of a home entertainment center. And just as there are constantly new records available for your stereo, Atari will constantly offer new Game Program’ cartridges for your system.

“What if something breaks?” Atari manufactures quality products. They’re tested, inspected, and come with a 90-day limited warranty. (See your Atari dealer for the details.) The fact is, the odds are against anything going wrong. But if something does, don’t worry. Atari already has over 500 authorized service centers. And by the end of the year, there will be nearly 2,000 nationwide.

Atari makes more home video games than anyone. Have you played Atari today?

Games shown: Super Breakout, Haunted House, Pac Man, Space Invaders, Asteroids

Everything you always wanted to know about Atari Games (1982)

Atari gaming systems from the 1980s

1980s video games: Frogger video game from Parker Brothers (1982)

We hopped Frogger out of the arcade. Now can you hop him home?

Frogger has just jumped out of the arcades and into your home. Sights, sounds, and all. Do you have the skill to get him to his home?

Frogger’s first challenge is to cross a highway where reckless hot rods hurtle by, and huge trucks go thundering in his path. Every safe jump in this maze of motor and metal is a crucial step home.

Beyond is the raging river where the safety of a slippery log or diving turtle is all Frogger can count on to stay afloat. Frogger‘s last leap to his lily pad home must be perfect, or it’s back to the road to try again. Good luck. Frogger’s counting on you.

For your Atari Video Computer System and the Sears Video Arcade.

1982 Parker Brothers Frogger video game

1980s video games: Reactor video game (1983)

Coming soon! Reactor – It’s one home video game you can really get into.

Inside Reactor, you fry neutrinos! Bounce positron clusters! Knock out control loads! Shrink the reactor core! Drop decoys! Load the bonus chambers! But most of all, avoid the dreaded vortex. It’s one game that demands everything you’ve got. And gets it.

Reactor. Parker Brothers’ version of the intense arcade game. you can’t help but get into it.

1983 game parker brothers reactor

Amidar video game cartridge – Parker Brothers (1982)

Bring home the game that’s way ahead of the pack.

Tired of seeing dots before your eyes? Ready for a video game with some personality? Then make the move to the wacky world of AMIDAR.

First you’re a gorilla, trying to draw boxes inside a maze. It’s not easy, though, because you’re being chased by savage sentries every step of the way. Just like in the arcade game.

Now you’re a paint roller trying to paint squares while being pursued by persistent pigs. No one ever said it was going to be easy.

AMIDAR. One of a kind in a dot-eat-dot world.

Parker Brothers 1982 amidar video game

Tutankhamun 1980s video game (1983)

The home video game you’ve waited 3000 years for

Tutankhamun — the video game where you race through a pyramid to find Tut’s treasure. The game where you’re attacked by the fiendish guardians of the tomb. And you fight back with your laser guns. You capture the keys to the treasure room and then the treasure is yours.

All the action of the hit arcade game is coming to your Atari or Sears home video system. From Parker Brothers, of course. Coming soon for Intellivision.

1983 Parker Brothers King Tut video game

Qbert 1980s video game – Parker Brothers (1983)

It’s not easy being Q*bert, but it’s fun

No one ever said it was going to be easy hopping the irresistible Q*bert from cube to cube and staying out of harm’s way. Especially when he’s trying to avoid creeps like Colly and Ugg.

But, there are times Q*bert can’t escape. And just like in the popular arcade game, he doesn’t take it quietly. Q*bert mutters a few choice words, puts his nose to the grindstone, and comes back for more.

You’ll grow so attached to Q*bert, you won’t want to stop playing. He’s one little character who’s good to the last hop.

1983 Parker Brothers Qbert video game

MORE: After arcade video games like Pac Man & Space Invaders hit the scene in the ’80s, weekends were never the same again

1980s video games: Atari games & consoles at Toys R Us (1983)

Toys R Us 80s electronics (1983)

YouTube video


1980s Star Wars Empire Strikes Back video game cartridge (1982)

The Imperial Walkers are moving toward the Rebel base on the Ice Planet Hoth. Can you destroy them before they blow up the power generators?

Quick, into your Snow-speeders! Launch your attack! You can stop the Walkers with a perfect shot at the flashing bomb hatch. Take careful aim! Fire! KAPOW!

But more Walkers are coming. They attack with deadly missiles and smart bombs. Shoot them down or be destroyed! May The Force Be With You!

Parker Brothers – For your Atari Video Computer System and Sears Video Arcade

1982 Star Wars Empire Strikes Back video game cartridge

Vintage Star Wars Jedi Arena video game cartridge (1983)

Become a Jedi without ever leaving home.

In the STAR WARS JEDI ARENA, perfecting the skills needed to become a JEDI MASTER takes concentration and practice.

Use your LIGHTSABER to direct the attack of the whirling SEEKER. But stay alert, your adversary can attack at any time.

So follow your instincts. In no time at all, you’ll be a JEDI MASTER, ready to go saber to saber against any opponent who dares to do battle with you. Play the STAR WARS JEDI ARENA home video game. Alone or head-to-head. The challenge awaits you.

Star Wars Jedi Arena video game cartridge 1983

Return of the Jedi Death Star Battle video game (1983)

Situation desperate powerful new death star reported under construction. Must be destroyed before its deadly completion or all will be lost.

Mission involves split-second skill. Must fly Millennium Falcon through enemy force field… penetrate death star defenses… and neutralize center core.

Warning! Expect heavy resistance from Empire’s The Interceptors. Also note…Be on alert for tracking death ray. Time running out. All rebel pilots report immediately for Return of the Jedi Death Star Battle, the thrilling home video game from Parker Brothers.

For the Atari 2600 and soon available for Intellivision – Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) 1982 – Trademarks owned by Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL) and used by Parker Brothers under authorization. Sears Video Arcade is a trademark of Sears Roebuck and Co. Atari and Atari Video Computer System are trademarks of Atari, Inc.

Return of the Jedi - Star Wars video game 1983

In 1977, the movie Star Wars took off, and broke records all across the galaxy

Broderbund 80s computer video games Choplifter and A.E. (1983)

Broderbund Software - 1980s computer video games (1983)

Activision video game designers from the 80s (1983)

By Phil Wiswell – Arcade supplement to Dynamite magazine (April 1983)

Fantasy: Your alarm rings. You wake up, shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, and leave your house to go to work. You arrive at your place of employment, open the door, and are greeted by the sounds of bleeps, blasts, blurps, and hums spilling happily from the video game screens that surround you.

This is your office, and your job is to play games until you feel inspired enough to create a new one. Maybe it will be the next Pac-Man or Donkey Kong. This is work? Well, it may be just a fantasy for you, but for some people this fantasy is a reality. These people are video game designers, who have become the superstars of the ’80s.

To find out more about these new celebrities, ARCADE sent games expert Phil Wiswell to the gamers’ fantasyland — an area in Northern California so filled with video game companies it’s called Silicon Valley! Here’s his report.

Barnstorming - Activision video games from the 80s (1983)

Behind the scenes of the screens

How does a designer go about creating a video game? Where do the ideas come from? How does a designer make something interesting happen on screen? To answer these and other questions, I started my trip with a visit to Activision.

Activision was the first company other than Atari to produce software for the VCS. Although they are not as large a corporation as Atari, Activision did very well last year. They had $65 million in sales! Representatives of Activision showed me around the place then said “Sure, you can talk to our game designers. Wait right here.”

Moments later, David Crane (a founding designer who has created Dragster, Fishing Derby, Laser Blast, Grand Prix, and Pitfall) and Steve Cartwright (a new designer whose first game, Barnstorming, had just been released) met me in a conference room and talked openly about how they themselves design games.

Steve Cartwright went into detail. What follows is part of my interview with him.

Fishing Derby - Activision video games from the 80s (1983)

ARCADE: How do you get the idea for a video game? What comes first? Let’s take Barnstorming as an example.

Cartwright: Out of 1,000 ideas you have, maybe one can be done on the home system you’re programming for. Or maybe you can come up with a new technique to make one possible. A lot of people say “I can think of game ideas,” but that’s not the point. You have to come up with something that can be put in the form of a game on the home system, which is pretty limited in what it can do. So a lot of it has to do with coming up with ideas that are possible.

ARCADE: But where did the idea for Barnstorming come from?

Cartwright: In the case of Barnstorming, I looked at a game that already existed [Crane’s Grand Prix]. That game had a proven playability. I then tried to use parts of that playability with different graphics. Barnstorming is similar to Grand Prix in that you’re going through a course that changes depending on how you play the game.

ARCADE: So you had the mechanics of the game worked out first?

Cartwright: Yes.

ARCADE: Now the idea is still up in your head. What do you do?

Cartwright: I learned the “Dave Crane method of Game Design,” which is to spend most of your time trying to come up with a pretty picture. I spent a month on the static display trying to come up with the right combination of colors, the right graphics.

ARCADE: Static display? That’s a non-moving picture?

Cartwright: That’s right.

ARCADE: You said that Barnstorming was a first in that no one had made an airplane like it before – that it wasn’t considered possible. Why did you pursue it?

Cartwright: Since I wasn’t familiar with the system [Atari’s VCS], I didn’t know what it could or couldn’t do. So I was not holding my ideas to just what I thought the system could do. Whereas somebody at Atari is trained that this is what it can do and this is what it can’t do. So they automatically don’t think beyond certain limitations.

ARCADE: Okay, the static display is ready. Now what?

Cartwright: I already had the idea of flying through a pattern of barns and windmills, so I put them up on the screen.

Steve explained further about how he got his game to be exactly what he wanted it to be. He told me that he fine-tuned the game by adding hazards such as geese. Then he tried different amounts of geese until he settled on a number that would make the game fun.

But all the while he was talking, I wondered what kind of machinery made it possible to get all that fast action stuff up on the screen. I wished we could sit down where he actually worked, but that was not possible. Some things had to remain secret, and Steve had to get back to work. We said good-bye, and I headed for my next stop, Atari, with the hope that maybe I would see equipment there.

Activision video game designers from the 1980s (1983)

On tour at Atari

Everyone I met at Atari, Inc. was friendly, and I was provided with a very helpful tour guide. As it turned out, a tour guide is definitely a must there, because Atari owns 40 large buildings in the area!

On my tour I saw how Atari develops its own custom silicon chips for use in their video games and home computers. I watched chips take an acid bath. I saw them snapped into place. I saw them tested.

We looked in on the production line that was putting together VCSs. That’s where I was told that the nickname for the VCS machine, Stella, came from a secretary at Atari. Next, I was shown the room full of Atari coin-op games – the kind that are usually found in arcades. The one difference here was that the coin slots had been taken off so that visitors, like myself, could play the games for free. Guess what I did for the next few minutes!

I played the games and did see a lot of interesting things, but unfortunately, I was not allowed to see the design lab here, either. For that I had to make one more stop – Imagic, Inc.

Imagic reveals the tricks

Dennis Koble, VP in charge of software development and a programmer himself (Trick Shot, Atlantic), took me right into the design lab at Imagic and talked at length about game design. There were Atari 800s and other computers hooked up to monitors. Sheets of computer code were everywhere, and half a dozen programmers were busy typing computer code into their terminals. Rob Fulop was playing his soon-to-be-released Cosmic Ark, checking for bugs in the program. But, as Koble explained, he doesn’t check it alone.

“Things sometimes happen so fast on screen that the human eye cannot detect exactly what happened. You’re kind of lost. Where do you go at that point? There are a couple of ways. You can go back and look at the code you wrote, and sometimes you find the problem.

“A lot of times it’s not that simple, in fact it’s so complicated that you have equipment costing thousands of dollars that helps you find out what you did wrong, and that’s what a development system is really. In its simplest sense, a development system is a device that allows you to translate your images and ideas into a reality the machine can understand.”

Dennis Koble’s explanations completed the game designers’ job picture for me. All that I had seen and heard made one thing very clear: It’s a pretty complex procedure from game concept to finished game product. But, as game fans will agree, all the work is worth it when the end result is fun and games.

Creative Software games for Commodore 64 & VIC-20 (1983)

Games shown: Moondust, Save New York, Astroblitz & Trashman (joystick controller required)

Creative Software games for Commodore 64 (1983)

Escape: Rock band Journey gets their own video game (1983)

The Journey video game, Journey Escape, was released in 1982 with a multi-million dollar advertising campaign. So how come you don’t remember it?

Whether it was because the “rock band in a video game” concept was weak, the quality was low (one newspaper called it a “deadening bore”) or the video game market and Journey’s fans didn’t have enough crossover to make it a hit — or all of the above — the game failed. Badly.

So badly, in fact, that the company, Data Age, reportedly couldn’t recoup their promotional investment or the music licensing fees. By 1984, the 80s gaming company had stopped believin’ and filed for bankruptcy. That was a real escape.

Introducing “JOURNEY ESCAPE,” the challenging new DATA AGE Video Game

You’re on the road with America’s hottest rock group, Journey. And they’re counting on you. You’re the only player who can help Journey make it to their scarab escape vehicle.

Only you can outsmart the promoters, avoid the photographers, and fight off the love-crazed groupies. If you can handle it! It’s a tough game. As Journey says, “Some will win, some will lose…”

Are you hot enough to play with Journey? Don’t stop believin’. Get your JOURNEY ESCAPE video game today!

Journey band video game 1983

Are you ready for the first rock ‘n’ roll video game?

Data Age, a California-based maker of video games, hopes you are. It has entered into an agreement with Journey, one of the top-selling bands in rock music, to make a video game based on the group’s hit album, Escape.

The game, called Journey Escape, is meant for home use and sells for about $35. Data Age is banking on the fact that today’s teens seem to have two top interests — video games and rock music. It’s betting the combination of these two interests will make Journey Escape a sure-fire hit.

Article about Journey video game

The idea of the game is to get each of the musicians of Journey to their Escape module before time and money run out. The player must guide the musicians through a maze of managers, promoters, and groupies. During the game, the machine plays music from two of Journey’s songs, “Escape” and “Don’t Stop Believing.”

The game will definitely be a hit with one group of people: Journey themselves. The band loves to play video games in between concerts. In fact, drummer Steve Smith is reported to have scored 1.5 million on Defender! The group has even had game consoles installed on its tour buses. Now that’s journeying in style! – Dynamite Magazine (1983)

1983 Journey video game cover and screen

Bannercatch & Agent USA computer games from Scholastic (1984)

Show us the face of Max the Master Robot. And you may win your own talking robot – Team up with a friend to defeat Max and his robot raiders in Bannercatch.

Only a handful of people have ever seen the face of the robot leader Max. Defeat Max and his demon robots, and you’ll join this elite group. And you and your teammate can win two walking, talking robots you can program yourself

You’ll battle Max and his robot marauders in a field bigger than any you’ve ever seen. Your team must invade robot territory and grab their flag before they take yours. But be careful; Max has devised a fiendish strategy against you. And, of course, you can’t expect mercy from robots.

To make things even tougher, Max has taken a vow not to reveal his face until you conquer all his robots. Including Zweli the Invisible.

You’ll need to learn binary numbers, map reading and, above all, how to work with your teammate if you want to.

win. But even if you go down to defeat, you may win two tickets to your favorite local sports event. See the package for contest details.

You can pick up Bannercatch where you buy software. Or write to Scholastic Inc… New York, NY 10003.

But please remember, only a handful of people have gone face-to-face against Max and survived.

Scholastic: The Most Trusted Name in Learning – Available for Apple, Atari, Commodore and IBM

Bannercatch 1984 video game Max the Master Robot

Help Agent U.S.A. stop the fuzz plague. And you can win a trip to Washington, D.C.

The FuzzBomb is turning millions of men, women and children into mindless fuzzbodies. And Agent U.S.A. can’t stop the devious plague spreader without your help.

But don’t accept the assignment unless you’re really prepared to stretch your mind. Because sharp eyes and quick reflexes aren’t enough to stop the Hizz plague. You’ll have to outthink and outplan the FuzzBomb as you pursue him around the country in super-fast rocket trains. And you’ll have to remember state capitals, learn the time zones and figure out the quickest routes across the nation. If you don’t, the fuzzbodies will turn you into one of them.

Become one of the few super-agents to defeat the FuzzBomb and you may win a trip to intelligence headquarters in Washington, D.C. What’s more, even if you never catch the evil one, tell us what you like about the game and you can become an instant winner of an Agent U.S.A. knapsack (see package for contest details).

Agent U.S.A. needs you now. So sign up where you usually buy your software. Do it before the fuzz plague comes to your neighborhood!

Agent USA video game 1984

Atari systems and games at Sears (1988)

Atari systems and games at Sears (1988)

Vintage 80s Super Mario Bros 2 (1988)

Mario is back in action. Are you ready to conquer seven worlds with the help of Mario and his three friends? (Luigi, Toad, Princess)

It all started late one night when our hero, Mario, had a very strange dream. In his dream, he climbed up a long winding stairway leading r to a door. When he opened the door, he saw a world unlike anything he had ever seen before.

Vintage 80s Super Mario Bros 2 from 1988 (2)

 As he peered into this wondrous world, he suddenly heard someone say in a faint and distant voice, “Welcome to the World of Dreams, the land of Sub-con. We have been waiting for you, Mario. We want you and your friends to fight against the evil ruler, Wart, and bring peace back to the World of Dreams.”

Vintage 80s Super Mario Bros 2 from 1988 (1)

1980s Super Mario Bros 2: Know your enemies (1988)

In Sub-con, the World of Dreams, you’ll find many different and strange creatures lurking at every turn. They are the “moppets” of Wart who try in every way they can to interfere with and stop the brave Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool and Toad, the Mushroom Retainer.

The key to victory lies in your ability to study and learn the different strengths and weaknesses of each moppet. That way you can plan the best way to tackle him. After you learn how to beat every one of them, you can head for World 7 where Wart awaits you!

du can’t switch your character until you complete the world you are on. Make your selection carefully at the beginning of each world. Some characters work better in certain worlds than in others. Get to know which character plays the best for you in each of the seven worlds.

1980s Super Mario Bros - Know your enemies (1988)

Vintage Super Mario Bros: Items that help Mario & friends (1988)

As you work your way through the dangers of the World of Dreams, you will discover 16 items.

Some of them help you get the best of your enemies. Others are very handy for restoring your character’s life or moving the characters to more advantageous places. The appearance of items might change in each world, but the effectiveness is just the same.

Be sure to check out any unfamiliar item you come across in the course of your adventures. Give it a test run to see what it can do for you.

1980s Super Mario Bros - Items for Mario and friends (1988)

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