Bespoke Arcades

Month: October 2016


The 1980s were a decade where the video game market flourished. In 1980 itself, one of the most iconic video game characters was created – Pac-Man! The first platformer was also created in this year, and the market began to progress into new technologies.


Launched in 1980 and becoming the highest-grossing game of all time, Pac-Man (known as Puck-man in Japan) is arguably one of the most iconic franchises in gaming history. The game is estimated to have generated more than $2.5 billion in quarters alone by the 1990s. Up to the modern day, Pac-man has appeared in over 30 officially licensed games, among countless unauthorised games in the midst of these also. Moreover, the popularity of the Pac-Man franchise can be seen through it being part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., as well as being a feature of New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

This ground-breaking game introduced the first gaming mascot (Pac-Man himself) and power ups in the gameplay. Furthermore, Pac-Man was the first of its kind, establishing the maze chase genre, which broke away from the monotony of the ever-popular space-shooters and sports game craze of the mid to late 70s.

Another original aspect of Pac-Man, is the behaviour of the ghosts. One chases the player, two attack from the front whilst the fourth will chase and abruptly change course, seeming unpredictable. The four ghosts, Blinky (red), Inky (light blue), Pinky (pink) and Clyde (orange) use these methods to try and chase the player around the maze. The player controls Pac-Man by a joystick, and the aim is to eat all of the 240 dots on screen before the ghosts catch you. However, if the character eats a power pellet, all of the ghosts turn dark blue, enabling Pac-Man to eat the ghosts. Furthermore, fruit will often appear on the screen; when eaten by Pac-Man, bonus points are achieved.

Toru Iwatani, creator of Pac-Man, developed the game over the course of a year with a small team of nine people. Iwatani claims that the intention of Pac-Man was, in-fact, to attract girls to play arcades, as he felt that the market at the time seriously lacked games aimed at females. To make the game more suited for girls, Iwatani decided on the addition of a maze-based game. The Ghosts were likewise designed to appeal to girls, as he designed them to look ‘cute’.

Pac-Man was originally called ‘Puck-Man’, as the character is branded in Japan, due to the character looking like a hockey puck. However, Midway (US manufacturer of Pac-man) was concerned that the cabinets may be vandalised to form a more inappropriate word and alas, Puck-Man’s name was changed subsequently to Pac-Man.

At first sight, it did not look as if Pac-Man would become as famous as it is now. In-fact, the game was originally overlooked by critics and big players in the gaming industry, in favour of space-shooter games. Additionally, this was also the case for the general release in Japan. The game only gaining mediocre attention amongst the Japanese audience. Pac-man didn’t appear to be such a best-selling phenomenon until the general release in America.

Pac-Man grew to more popular heights than anything the game industry had ever seen, and was now the best-selling arcade game in North America. As well as this, the game was grossing over $1 billion in quarters within a year of release; and at the end of 1980 it even surpassed the revenues of the, then, highest grossing film – Star Wars! Furthermore, by 1982 400,000 Pac-Man arcade machines had been sold world-wide and it is believed that 7 billion coins had been inserted in these machines. The game was estimated to have had at least 30 million active players across the USA in 1982.


The Intellivision is an early games console developed by Mattel Electronics, and is seen as the main competitor to the Atari 2600. The console sold 3 million units in its lifespan with 125 games being released, as well as add-ons for the system. In 2009, the Intellivision was named the ‘14th Best Video Console of All Time’ by IGN.

The system was initially test-marketed in California, 1979. With four games being developed for this. Due to the appraisal and attention the console obtained, the Intellivision was released nationwide in 1980, at the retail price of $299 (around $1000 in 2016). Mattel then went on to produce a series of advertisements featuring George Plimpton which used side-by-side comparisons of the Intellivision and Atari 2600, as the system boasted innovative, 16 Bit graphics and a superior sounds. These were made directly to challenge their main competitor to help drive sales of their new system.

As with the Atari 2600, the Intellivision was marketed to outside retailers. These retailers would then re-badge the unit and sell it under their own company name. Some of these systems are: the Radio Shack, Tandyvision and Sears Super Video Arcade.

Within the first year, the console sold 175,000 units with an additional 35 games on the market for the system. Moreover, by the end of 1982, the 2 million consoles had been sold. Earning a whopping $100,000,000 profit for the business. Around this time, outsourced companies such as Activision and Coleco started producing games for the console to increase both quality, quantity and range of games available to play.

However, the Intellivision is shrouded with controversy. Because of this the company was paying $10,000 a day in fines to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  This was sparked from the highly-anticipated keyboard component that the company had promised customers.Through early advertisements, the company boasted the capabilities of the console doubling-up as a home computer system. Yet, Mattel found it difficult to ensure the reliability of these keyboards. They also hit another bump in the road when they found how expensive the components were to produce.

Throughout this development stage, the company continued to advertise the keyboard which enraged customers who has purchased the console for the sole purpose of it doubling up as a computer. Soon enough, the component and the company were under investigation from the FTC and ordered to pay a daily fine until the promised computer upgrade was in full retail distribution. Due to the loss of funds due to the fines, and the slow development process of the keyboard, the project was scrapped in autumn 1982. During this time, some models were in fact available in the market and up to four-thousand known upgrades were manufactured. These were all recalled and refunded to customers, although some are still available today.

The next development made to the Intellivision, was the Entertainment Computer System (or ECS). It was produced as an inexpensive add-on in which sought to teach children the basics of coding. During development of the product, the system was dubbed ‘L.U.C.K.I’ or ‘Low User Cost Keyboard Interface’. This device fulfilled Mattel’s previously promised computer upgrade, as it made it possible to write programmes and store them via tape which could interface with a computer. This add-on could also transform the console into a multi-voice synthesiser that could be used to play or learn music. Due to the production of this, the FTC ceased to fine Mattel over false advertisements.

In addition to this, the Intellivision was further innovated upon the creation of the ‘Intellivoice’. The Intellivoice was a new peripheral introduced in 1982. It produced speech throughout gameplay, which was the forefront of technology of the time. However, the addition to the console only worked with few games and did not sell well within the market and was faded out of the market in 1983. Four games are still available for this component, which include: Space Spartans, Bomb Squad, B-17 Bomber and Tron: Solar Sailor.

Even after the disastrous history of Intellivision’s additional components, Mattel didn’t stop there. The Intellivision was redesigned in a new, sleek model. This came with a system changer so that Atari 2600 games could be played on the console as well as a music keyboard add on for the ECS. In addition to these, the controllers also showcased a new design, now being detachable and with a flat-membrane keyboard. Though, this system did need an additional AC adaptor with a different voltage from the mains supply, making it difficult to replace when broken. The Intellivision II was a success, so Mattel decided to release an Intellivision III for Christmas 1983. However, this was scrapped at the last minute due to the release of the Colecovision and Atari 5200.

Mattel suffered over the next few years, due to high saturation in the market and the infamous Video Games Crash of 1983. Subsequently, the price of the Intellivision II was reduced to $69 from the $150 price tag the system first sold for. Mattel lost over $300 million over this period. Due to this, the division was closed and it became the first major victim of the ’83 crash.

Although the console was no longer being developed, a large company called INTV bought out what Mattel had left and sold rebranded original consoles. They also continued development and sales of games for the system. Finally, the system was discontinued in 1991.

The console brought about many original innovations in the gaming world. Firstly, the system was the earliest 16-bit console. Also, the Intellivision was the first system to feature downloadable content and it was the first console to have the ability to produce real time human/robot voices in gameplay. Lastly, it was the first console and home computer system to offer a music synthesiser.

Early Arcade History – 1979

Radar Scope (1979)

Nintendo’s Radar Scope was thought of as a huge commercial failure across America. However, in Japan was ever-popular. The game could be thought of as a cross between Space Invaders (Taito) and Galaxian (Namco). The game was released as upright, cockpit and cocktail cabinets. Donkey Kong (1981) was built on conversions of Radar Scope cabinets that did not sell. It is thought that out of the 3,000 cabinets produced for Radar Scope, a majority of 2,000 were converted into Donkey Kong machines for 1981.

Players controlled the captain of the Sonic Spaceport and defended the ship from enemies, of which included Gamma Raiders (represented as spaceships). The overall aim of Radar Scope was to destroy 48 enemy Gamma Raiders. The controls of the game were flexible when considering controlling the difficulty of levels. The player is rewarded at 7,000, 10,000, 15,000 and 20,000 points with extra Spaceports.

Tail Gunner (1979)

Vectorbeam created Tail Gunner in 1979. The basis of the game was that the player controls a tail gunner of a large ship in Space. The enemy ships are programmed to attack in groups of three, and the player had to shoot them down. Tail Gunner is seen as more of a technical game more than most other arcade cabinet games that were being produced at the time. This can be seen in the gameplay as, to shoot the enemy ships, the player had to aim through a set of crosshairs. Due to the viewpoint in the game, the developers had to think of a new way to adapt how the background was to move. This was finally settled on making the stars appear to be moving into the centre of the screen.

An addition which can make Tail Gunner seem more modern is the addition of a shield, which the player could temporarily use. This would block enemy ships from passing the player. After 10 ships had slipped past the player, the game ended. The game was further sold as a sit-down cabinet and re-branded ‘Tail Gunner II’. Additionally, the controls entailed a singular metal joystick with a button to shoot from at the tip of this.

Warrior (1979)

Warrior is considered as one of the first fighting simulator games available. Published under Vectorbeam, the look and style of the game show similarities to the company’s other works such as Tail Gunner (of the same year). The fighter game had an overhead view of two knights, in which two players fought head to head. The controls for Warrior were simply a joystick and button. Originally, Vectorbeam designed Warrior to have two joysticks per player, but due to budget requirements had to cut this out. Additionally, due to Vectorbeam’s budget requirements the cabinets were not made to a decent standard, especially when they are compared with other game cabinets of the time.

Nintendo Game and Watch

The Nintendo Game and Watch refers to a series of handheld electronic games which were released between 1980 and 1991. Each miniature system held a singular game and either a clock or an alarm (on some models, both). Over 11 years the Game and Watch sold around 43.4 million units across the world, and inspired products such as the Game Boy, and even the NES controller! The games are often prided as Nintendo’s first hugely significant success in consoles, and is also known for making handheld game systems popular.

There have been 59 games made for the G+W series for public release, with an addition game that was only won through a competition, making it 60 in total. These titles range from Zelda, Donkey Kong and Mickey Mouse over 10 series of the handhelds. The 10 series were as titled:

  • Silver (1980)
  • Gold (1981)
  • Wide Screen (1981 – 1982)
  • Multiscreen (1982 – 1989)
  • New Wide Screen (1982 – 1991)
  • Table-top (1983)
  • Panorama (1983 – 1984)
  • Super Colour (1984)
  • Micro Vs System (1984)
  • Crystal Screen (1986)

Within these series, a Game A and Game B were optional buttons on the game. Game B is usually the faster, more difficult version of Game A. However, this is not always the case, as in certain games and models Game B could be an entirely different game or even a two-player of the original game.

The last official game released under the Game and Watch series was Mario the Juggler in 1991. However, Nintendo did not stop there. Between 1995 and 2002 the Game and Watch gallery series was released, celebrating the most popular titles within the collection. With this, five Game and Watch collections were released for the Game Boy, Game Boy colour and Game Boy Advance systems.

Moreover, in July 2006 and March 2010, Game and Watch re-emerged amongst the Nintendo universe. Two limited edition G+W cartridges were produced for the Nintendo DS, however this was only exclusive to Club Nintendo members of the time. The first in the collection compiled three games from the multiscreen series, which were Oil Panic, Donkey Kong and Green House. Whereas, the second included the titles Parachute, Octopus and the third was an amalgamation of the two games. With Parachute appearing on the top screen and Octopus appearing on the bottom.

The G+W series does not stop there. In fact, a special edition of the classic ‘Ball’ was released in 2010 as Nintendo were celebrating the games 30 year anniversary. This collector’s edition also featured a mute switch on the system which was the only differing feature of the game. This product was shipped to Platinum members in Japan and was given to American Club Nintendo members for 1,200 coins and for European members for 7500 stars.

A big star to come out of the G+W series was Mr Game and Watch himself. The character is a generic combination of all the characters in the G+W series. The character made his debut appearance in Super Smash Bros Melee, and was created as a homage to the pivotal series. Within the Smash Bros game, the character’s skill-set is varied across a variety of games. Examples of these being Chef and Octopus. This was not the last of Mr Game and Watch, however. He has appeared in many Super Smash Bros games as well as Game and Watch Gallery 4, in which he appeared alongside Mario as manager of classic games. In the Smash Bros series of games, Mr Game and Watch is also known to not use any real speech, only beeping sounds which replicate the sounds made by the original consoles.