Commercial arcade video games.

Pong

Pong is the first commercially successful video arcade game. Commonly mistaken to also be the first video game, Nolan Bushnell’s new company Atari Inc. released Pong in November 1972, one year to the month after his trailblazing but commercially unsuccessful Computer Space video arcade game was released.

Unlike the multi-button Computer Space, Pong’s success came from its simplicity: “avoid missing ball for high score”, where two players use a dial to volley a ball across the screen in tennis-like fashion. Due to this success, Pong was quickly copied by rival companies hoping to cash in on the new market. Atari itself released several variations of Pong.

There are two cabinet versions in the collection: the first cabinet features a flat lower front panel and a baker’s bread pan as a makeshift coin box. The second version features an angled front, presumably to provide additional foot room when standing in front of the game.

After a several years-long search, I was fortunate to acquire this game from another arcade collector in 2009. Nearly 1600 miles of driving later, this fully functioning and excellent condition Pong was finally in the collection. The game had previously been rescued from storage in the mid-west US. Little else is known about the history of this particular machine other than its circuit board was repaired just prior to acquiring it.

Ironically, after years of unsuccessful searching for this historic yet elusive arcade game, the second one was located and purchased within 20 minutes of home for a fraction of the price not but a month or two later.

Computer Space

Computer Space is the world’s first commercial video arcade game. Based on the early mainframe computer game Spacewar!, this one-player shooting contest pits a player-controlled rocket ship against computer-controlled flying saucers.

The game uses no microprocessor or memory – all game logic and display is achieved by employing a state-machine design consisting of logic gates and diodes. An off-the-shelf GE 15-inch black-and-white television was factory-modified for use as the video display and a metal paint-thinner can serves as the coin bucket. The game was conceived by Nolan Bushnell and designed by Ted Dabney.

Computer Space was manufactured in a futuristic-styled fiberglass cabinet in several colors: red, blue, yellow, and green. A one-of-a-kind white model appears in the 1973 science-fiction film Soylent Green. It is estimated that Nutting Associates produced 1300-1500 units in total, as the game was not a commercial success.

The game in my collection is red and is serial number 10116. It includes the original paint thinner can and was acquired in southern California.

Space Invaders

Space Invaders is an early arcade shooter and arguably the most successful arcade game from video game history’s ‘bronze age’. Designed by Taito designer Tomohiro Nishikado, Space Invaders enjoyed massive success in Japan before Midway licensed it for distribution in the US in the fall of 1978. As of 2016, it remains the highest-grossing video game to date and an urban legend states that the game’s initial popularity led to a shortage of 100-yen coins when first released in Japan.

This is the original Midway-produced standard upright cabinet and includes the Braze multi-game kit featuring other Intel 8080 8-bit processor-based games of the era. Drawing from a display technique used by early coin-operated electro-mechanical rifle games, the cabinet superimposes the game’s black-and-white monitor display over a colorful artistic rendering of a blacklight-reactive moonbase. The result is a visual masterpiece.

Space Invaders is the first arcade video game cabinet I ever owned. My father managed a shoe store during the early-1980s, and when the parent company closed his store, he was tasked with closing the store and liquidating the assets and store fixtures. An owner of a small bakery nearby expressed an interest in some display fixtures, so he and my dad arranged a trade for one of several old arcade video games tucked away in the backroom of the bakery. I can still vividly remember walking back there with my dad and picking out the Space Invaders, the only title I instantly recognized among the other black-and-white arcade games. We hauled it home where it sat, non-working, waiting to be repaired. Unsure how to proceed, my dad soon traded it to my uncle who eventually did get it working. I would play it in his garage whenever we went to visit.

In keeping with the tradition, the game in the collection is one of the first arcade games I acquired – this one from an auction in California, and unlike that first game, this one’s unlikely to ever leave. The game and its cabinet is a true classic.