The State Of Computer Games… From 1984

By John Walker on July 26th, 2012 at 10:00 pm.

Why couldn't they just broadcast TV in HD back then?

For no other reason than because I love you, below you can see an American programme – Computer Chronicles – looking at the current state of computer games, almost 30 years ago. Beyond knowingly laughing at how they just don’t know stuff from the future, and their jumpers, it’s a fascinating perspective. Not just to see how gaming was already considered both old by then, and just how much the presentation in the media hasn’t changed. They ask, “Are computer games here to stay?” You can see the half-hour PBS programme below.

American readers are more likely to know that Computer Chronicles ran on PBS from 1981 to 2002, despite being pretty much unknown anywhere else.

I especially love their ho-ho-hoing at how out of date Pong is, before showing things that to my 3D-printed laser-eye look barely any more sophisticated. But again, future-o-smugness aside, it’s also pretty revealing to notice that mainstream presentation of gaming hasn’t changed one bit. If the BBC made a similar programme today, you absolutely know it would begin with two presenters chuckling to each other as they play some Pong, before explaining that things have moved on an awfully long way since then.

Oh, and stick around past the end of the episode, for some fantastic hardware gaming news.

It’s strange just how much could be transplanted to today without needing to change the script. Atari, Activision, EA, etc, all the big players, and even Atari’s Chris Crawford saying he was tired of games that glorify war, but rather show the reality. Sounds familiar, right? And that game – Excalibur – is huge. It has a full 66k of object code. And Trip Hawkins likes it simple, hot and deep.

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64 Comments »

  1. Sigvatr says:

    Suddenly I want to play Lemmings.

    • iniudan says:

      And me I suddenly want one of those modem thing they spoke about, so I can communicate with other computers.

      But I admit I could easily settle for a game a Lemming also, been like 16-18 years since I last play I think.

  2. Sigvatr says:

    Pong in the background is extremely distracting.

  3. Brun says:

    It’s quite interesting that the prevailing view back then was that video games were a fad, although not terribly surprising since the industry had just been through a huge crash in 1982. The NES came out the next year though (1985) and silenced all the naysayers.

    • Ysellian says:

      It’s funny how the great video game crash completely blew over Europe and people continue to ignore that fact. On a Pc gaming site even! Granted the footage is American, but it’s still funny how people continue to view things as America = World

      • Premium User Badge

        Smashbox says:

        I think it might be a bit of a logical leap to complain that the above poster’s passing mention on a games industry crash equates to his belief that “America = world.”

        • alundra says:

          No, it’s not logical leap, apparently many people think, believe and act like if USofA was the center of the universe.

      • Jason Moyer says:

        What consoles were people using in Europe in 1983, when the console videogame crash hit North America?

        That’s an honest question as I’ve always been under the impression that console gaming didn’t really take off in Europe until the Sega Master System.

        • Emeraude says:

          Personally had a Philips Videopac G7000 – a Euro version of the old Magnavox Odyssey² – but I was a bit behind the times.

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          RobF says:

          Not nearly as many as people were using home computers. But the usual suspects for those that were. Intellivisions, VCS, Vectrex etc… what you’d expect to find.

        • Sheng-ji says:

          I had an Atari “Something” and an Intellivision. In those days in my social circles, consoles were certainly secondary to home computers for sure, they were kind of a novelty. We wanted them to be like the arcades, but the Neo Geo was the first to really scratch that itch.

        • Ovno says:

          We used to have an Atari2600 back then in the wood effect case with the metal switches for swapping between monochrome and colour, 2 or 1 player, cheat mode and various other stuff.

          My favourite game was ‘Warfare!” with tank battles, bi-plane battles, invisible tank battles, bi-plane battles with clouds, invisible tank battles with bouncing bullets and many more!!!

          And that’s not forgetting the Speccy of course :)

      • Dinger says:

        Computer Chronicles was produced and broadcast in the SF Bay Area (I think it was even the tiny Silicon Valley PBS station on chan 54 rather than the bigger KQED on chan 9 — edit: checking my facts shows that KCSM is 60 in San Mateo, even smaller than 54). It may have been picked up by other PBS stations, but I doubt it. So they’re not even talking about the US as a whole, but merely the SF-Silicon Valley scene. Why should they care about Europe? Tom Baker and his sidekicks were up next for those who wanted to be Eurogeeks.

        And, I remembet watching it when it first broadcast. I remember it was amazing in content, but cheap in production values, even for the time.

  4. Fumarole says:

    Kildall is the best name for a gamer.

  5. D3xter says:

    Here’s also a rather interesting ABC news report regarding consoles from 1988 (Nintendo rather) and the important question if video games rot childrens brain is being deliberated on near the end too for your viewing pleasure: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt4KG9ib8S4

  6. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    “simple hot and deep”

    that’s the way i like’em. the news i mean. maybe.

    • syndrome says:

      omg that’s why the world couldn’t notice the gayness of george michael.

  7. kibble-n-bullets says:

    Two minutes in and I’m tickled pink. The smirk on Kildall’s face when he describes how much more advanced games had gotten since pong. Priceless. The amount of engineering gone into video games at every turn their history is ridiculous.

  8. mashakos says:

    You might scoff at the blocky pixels John Walker, but from my hazy recollections of playing with an Atari 2600, when frogger was cutting edge, a space shuttle simulator would have blown my mind at the time.

    Seeing that advert at the beginning of the old IBM PC with it’s green text display reminded me of how much I hated computers, till an unassuming Amiga 500 came into my life and I was in love ever since.

    To ge ta sense of what I’m talking about, imagine living in a world where your exposure to the best the PC had to offer moved from this:
    http://www.coprolite.com/zhb/pooldog/grnscn.jpg
    to this:
    http://amiga.lychesis.net/amiga/Ra/Ra_Einstein1.gif
    in a span of 6 months.

    • PostieDoc says:

      The Amiga 500, undoubtedly the greatest gaming machine of all time.
      You can stick your consoles, they had nothing on that baby.

      • rapchee says:

        “gaming machine” :I
        okay i used it mostly to play too, but it was a very good multitasking (wow, at the time), fancy gui-d, scriptable pc as well

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Activision Space Shuttle on the 2600 was pretty mind-blowing.

    • alundra says:

      I tend to agree, what’s the point of posting an entry like this just to be sarcastic about it???

    • tossrStu says:

      GRATUITOUS FRED HARRIS

  9. sublimb says:

    For anyone who is interested, after watching this, I went looking for more video from this show and found what looks like the whole collection!

    http://archive.org/details/computerchronicles/

  10. Blaaaaaaag says:

    Where does one find the vertical hold knob on a Samsung led display?

  11. Tei says:

    He, anyone here want to play a game of M.U.L.E?

  12. serioussgtstu says:

    Please RPS, please, please do a web series in this exact format. Dodgy jumpers, synthesized theme music and all.

    • TheIronSky says:

      The Rock, Paper Shotcast should be done in exactly this format.

    • Stochastic says:

      I second this motion.

  13. Lucretious says:

    Bill Budge and Trip Hawkins are quite good lookin’. I wish their faces and Gabe’s would trade places.

    • Stochastic says:

      They actually wouldn’t look too out of place in the year 2012 unlike the other interviewees.

  14. noom says:

    Old.

  15. Stochastic says:

    3:25: Witness the birth of the QTE.

  16. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    “Atari’s Chris Crawford saying he was tired of games that glorify war”

    On this subject, I love Spec Ops: The Line so hard. If you’re going to set people on fire, do it right.

  17. tossrStu says:

    More genuine computer games from the early 80s here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_TgM0pCDvI

    • cheeley says:

      Beaten to it, dah! “I notice you’ve taken your top off”

  18. MastodonFarm says:

    Woah, get a load of that two-axis pong!

  19. Snuffy the Evil says:

    And yet the thing that weirds me out most is the fact that the shuttle was retired only a year ago.

  20. Karmakaze says:

    God, I used to watch this show all the time growing up! I feel so.. old.

  21. malkav11 says:

    “Are computer games here to stay?”

    Of course not. Don’t be silly. Passing fad.

  22. Abbykins says:

    I had that Shuttle simulator for the Atari 2600 back in the day. It was an amazing accomplishment (as were many of Activision’s games) for a platform that was severely limited hardware-wise!

    • Aardvarkk says:

      pretty amazing these were just retired after 30 years of service (the space shuttle of course, not the Atari 2600)

      • Abbykins says:

        Another amazing thing, is that those 2600 games cost $50 back in the day, which is $110 in today’s money. I feel terribly guilty that I used to hound my parents to shell out such an amount given the limitations in gameplay compared to today’s products.

  23. Skabooga says:

    Watching this made me want to cry; it’s so beautiful, in its own way. The president of EA in a seedy suit demoing a game and losing hard at it; how all the developers interviewed seemed like auteurs in their own right, of a caliber to match those of today; a wide-eyed optimism and search for creativity and originality; and even back then, a demonstrable superiority of computer gaming’s technical abilities over those of video games.

    It’s . . . it’s too much. Thank you, John.

  24. JackMultiple says:

    “Where do you think, Trip, the software games are going to next? What’s the next generation of this kind of stuff? What’s happening next? What’s the next tier?”

    “At a really simplistic level, it’s very easy to extend the realism and the graphics that are in the current products, and I think you’re gonna see more creative possibilities for the player…”

    30 years later, we’re still extending. Thankfully.

  25. baekgom84 says:

    I started playing this video expecting a good laugh, but found myself really surprised at just how informed and intelligent the discussion was. In hindsight it is obviously stupid of me, but I guess I always just assumed that the level of deep analysis applied to video games today just didn’t really exist in video/computer gaming’s formative years.

    We were definitely in good hands back then. It was almost strangely moving to hear the founder of EA speak so passionately about the creative opportunities that can be provided by games. I wonder what he thinks of the direction EA is heading now?

    • Premium User Badge

      Wisq says:

      Honestly, the level of discussion actually seemed a lot better in this program than the majority of gaming discussions today. Nobody trying to sensationalise it, no PR handlers and marketing hype, no tossing out the same old buzzwords again and again (no doubt since the buzzword vocabulary hadn’t been perfected at that point).

  26. Reapy says:

    I totally forgot about this show, though I think I hit it more in the later 80′s. The host though gave me one of those brain jolts though. Awesome.

  27. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    John didn’t mention that this show has a sizeable home on the Internet Archive with dozens of episodes available.

    If I link to specific episodes I’ll get gobbled up by the spam filter, but you can copy + paste the below into the site’s search box to find them.

    - “PC Gaming”, 2001
    - “Online Gaming”, 2001
    - “The Ultimate Gamer’s PC”
    - “Video Game Consoles”, 1990
    - “Virtual Reality”, 1992
    - A Steve Jobs one from 1998 (“Mac Update”, 1988),
    - Bill Gates doing badly in a trivia quiz (“Computer Bowl VI”, 1994, parts 1 and 2)

    And any of the various Comdex, CES or buyer’s guide ones are worth skipping through if you enjoy being bemused by one-time gadgets of the future.

  28. killuminati says:

    My first videogame was played on a Texas Instruments TI-99 it was the 1982 I was 4 YO. Never stopped playing videogames since then :)

  29. Hastur says:

    ” and their jumpers”

    We don’t jump in America, we sweat.

  30. manveruppd says:

    I remember 1-on-1! Another game where the PC version totally crapped over the consoles :)

  31. Premium User Badge

    particlese says:

    Holy cow, I loved the heck out of Music Construction Set as a kid! I couldn’t remember for the life of me what it was called, though — just that it had that old EA logo (which looked more like EOA or ECA with that AT&T logo in the middle). And a friend of mine had Pinball Construction Set, which I also loved but didn’t know the name of.

    Thanks, vintage videos!

  32. Premium User Badge

    MajorManiac says:

    Two things that stand-out to me are;

    The positive way computer games are described at the beginning of the show, as a-posed to today’s demonisation by other media.

    And how the President of EA was saying how important Modding is in computer games. I wish EA still had that attitude.