Recently, whilst doing research for something completely different, I dusted off my old copy of ‘An Index of Possibilities: Energy and Power’- an irreverently brilliant counter-culture book about our (then) understanding of things such as the birth of the Universe, relativity, quantum theory, gravity etc, written from both a scientific and philosophical perspective.
Inside, I rediscovered the above picture of an amazing looking arcade machine. Bearing in mind that the Index of Possibilities was published in 1974, around the start of the Video Arcade revolution, I was intrigued as to what this machine was. So I fired up my old desktop and did an internet search. The futuristic looking Video Game cabinet in the picture belongs to a Computer Space machine which was first manufactured by Nutting Associates in the USA in 1971.
Computer Space was the first Coin-Op arcade machine produced for the general public. The game involved controlling a rocket ship using a pair of rotation buttons, a thruster button and a fire button in order to shoot down flying saucers on screen. The object of the game was to obtain a higher score than the saucers, which gained you an extra 90 seconds of play per round. However, the game was not very successful due to the complexity of play and so, when other more user friendly arcade games started to appear, the general public lost interest in these beautiful looking machines.
Check out http://www.computerspacefan.com/ for more info on Computer Space and also a brief history of the computer game. Fascinating stuff!
I didn’t catch sight of a video arcade game until around winter 1979 when Space Invaders machines started to appear in the UK. By spring 1980 they were everywhere; in arcades (obviously), pubs, cafes, Taxi Offices, shopping precincts and anywhere else where people wanted to earn a tidy income with minimal effort. Games such as Pacman, Asteroids, Galaxians and Missile Command joined the ranks of the classic Space Invaders machines and began consuming the nations coins at an alarming rate – so much so that questions were asked in Parliament with a view to having the machines banned.
One of the first machines I ever played on was a Space Invaders game located in one of the roughest pubs on the planet, the infamous ‘Straw Hat’ pub located in Runcorn Shopping City in Runcorn New Town. The pub was nicknamed ‘The Star Wars bar’ because it really was ‘a wretched hive of scum and villainy’. It was certainly not a place where a nerd like myself should ever venture into, but the lure of the technology made me throw caution to the wind. I mean, this was the future, man! By an amazing stroke of luck I was so rubbish at the game that I was in and out of the pub in mere minutes before I ever attracted the attention of the pubs more ‘unhinged’ patrons.
Here is a clipping from a local newspaper in 1978 announcing its arrival at the pub. Hardly a newsworthy story nowadays, but back then it was a big thing! Such was the impact of Video games on the public’s consciousness in the Golden Age of gaming.
Luckily for me a less violent watering hole in the town later acquired a tabletop Galaxians machine, which I fell instantly in love with. I spent many a happy hour in there saving the Galaxy from being annihilated by swarms of 8-Bit baddies. Thus was my youth, and my money, well and truly misspent. Hey ho.