Video Games - The Coin Op Era
I first encountered coin operated games in my youth, when we would go play miniature golf. The Golfland place had pinball games (think early 1970’s) and after a round of putt-putt golf, we would play a game or two of pinball.
Coin-Op video games came in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. In 1981 I got a job at the local Chuck E. Cheese franchise, and one of the benefits was that they had a massive arcade area, stocked with gobs of cabinets of video games.
I need not say that I took advantage of my position, to play as many games as I could. I even was entrusted with the pulling of tokens from the games and counting them, so we could track the revenue these coin eaters generated. A great fringe benefit, so to speak.
At the time, I had several favorites, Donkey Kong, Robotron, Defender, Galaxian, and many many others.
But my all time favorite was Tempest. An Atari game, it was the first color vector graphics games I remember (vector graphics were unique, that instead of raster were the screen is drawn row by row, only the actual lines needed to render the graphics are drawn. Asteroids is the prime example) it was progressive to play, and with 99 levels, it provided ample challenge, to keep players dumping quarters or tokens into it.
However, this era of video had one overriding goal. To get you to put more quarters into the machine. Thus, it balanced difficulty, and addictiveness to ensure that you would burn all the available cash.
And it worked. This recipe was rock solid. While the games evolved, over the coming decades, becoming more complex, visually stimulating, even more addictive. While I drifted away from the arcades of the early 80’s, I still brushed against this genre when we would do a Dave and Buster’s evening or team building. Combat flight games that used laserdiscs, the whole “Mortal Kombat” series, and the immensely successful NBA Jam franchise to name a few come to mind.
But the cost of the cabinets ($3K plus), the space required, meant that unless you were stupid rich, you didn’t buy the games for your house. Thus, the market needed quarter eaters, and many companies filled that gap.
In the background, there were home consoles (the Atari 2600 and later the 5200, Colecovision, Intellivision, and others) vying for the attention of the gamer, but that market became crowded, quality, uh, sucked, and by 1984 the market was crashing. Out of the ashes of this bonfire that was the first wave of consoles was born the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) that will be the subject of the next post.
To this day, I long to have a fully restored and functional Tempest arcade cabinet. They can be had, but I never seem to be ready to pull the trigger.
Yes, I do play it on M.A.M.E. but without the spinner control, and I have Tempest 3000 on my Xbox. But it is a majorly inferior experience to the original.
Arcades were dimly lit (so as to not distract the players), smoky (back then they all allowed smoking), and I spent pretty much every afternoon in one after school.