Early Arcade History – 1976 Part 2

Road Race / Moto-Cross / Fonz (1976)

As we move into the late 70s, racing became big news in the arcade. Road Race was developed by arcade legends Sega and published by Gremlin Industries. Within a year, the game was re-branded twice, first as Moto-Cross (Man T.T.) and then as Fonz, named after the crazily-popular character on Happy Days, a TV phenomenon of the time. The game is a racer that focused on motorbike racing. When originally released under Road Race, it introduced graphics ahead of their time. Boasting pseudo-3D, forward scrolling, and third-person graphics. When re-released under Moto-Cross, Sega featured haptic feedback in the game, triggering the handlebar controls to vibrate during collisions with objects in the game.

The aim of the game was to race the character, using the handlebars on the machine to steer, accelerate and corner. The game encouraged you to travel as fast as possible, although you may have skidded off road or collided with the other bikers, if you were not careful! The games controls were simple and user friendly. Through turning the handlebar the bike would corner, and twisting the handlebar would result in acceleration.

Cabinet for Fonz game
Fonz Arcade Cabinet

Breakout (1976)

Breakout was originally designed by Nolan Bushnell (founder of Atari), and was created to be a single player version of their 1972 game Pong. It was thought that, although using the same concept, the game would break away from the many variations and clones of Pong. The concept of the game was that the player controls a paddle, which slid horizontally along the bottom of the screen, for a ball to bounce off of and to hit multi-coloured layers of bricks along the top of the screen. The player was given three balls to try and break as many bricks as possible.

Within the development of the game, complications arose, causing Bushnell to call out to anyone who could reduce the number of chips used in the game, offering a $100 reward per chip removed. Steve Jobs (later founder of Apple) working as a low paid technician at Atari at the time, took up this challenge. Jobs struggled to work on reducing the chips in the design himself, so drafted in his friend Steve Wozniak (later co-founder of Apple) to aid this process. Wozniak worked hard on the design and within four days had the count, down to 44 chips. Jobs then received a $5,000 bonus for the game design, although only telling Wozniak it was $700 dollars, therefore only giving him a split of $350.

cabinet for breakout
Breakout cabinet

Death Race (1976)

Death Race was another example of a controversial game, causing upset over the violence portrayed in the game and ultimately causing it to be banned in many areas. The racing game itself was based off of the film of the same year ‘Death Race 2000’, although it is an unofficial film-game tie-in.

The game-play consisted of the player controlling a car running over ‘Gremlins’. When the Gremlin was run over, a gravestone would appear. Due to the nature of the graphics of the time, it was said that the Gremlins looked like humans, therefore making it highly controversial. Before this, video games had been seen almost as children’s toys, and the reception to the adult game was mixed. As the controversy of the game grew, it has been said that sales tripled!

Cabinet for death race
Death Race Cabinet