The 1970s no doubt marked the first prominent decade of the video game industry’s history. This decade practically saw most of the earliest video games’ development, mostly in arcade versions. As far as video games were concerned in the early ‘70s, you would have to go to the arcade for the good old games. It also saw the development of the PC and earliest video game consoles.
In looking at the brilliant video games that graced the 1970s decade, one would seem lost as there is quite a lot to consider. However, some were notably outstanding, as they made a significant impact both on popular culture as well as the video gaming medium. All, which in the long run, influenced bigger and better games in subsequent years.
Let’s get right to the top 10 1970s video games!
10. Sea Wolf (1976)
Number 10 on the list, Sea Wolf, is a videogame popular for its periscope attachment. It’s a game that involves shooting enemy ships above. Here, players would have to look through the periscope to blast enemy ships located in underwater mines, which are destructive. Gamers know it as one of the first few games with the ‘highest score’ challenge. This same feature became prevalent in several arcade games in subsequent years and even in most games today.
Sea Wolf was first released in arcades in 1976. It will interest you to know that it’s an updated video game of Sea Devil. Sea Devil is an earlier coin-operated electro-mechanical Midway game that is based on Sega’s 1966 arcade submarine simulator, Periscope. Dave Nutting creatively designed the game and made its way to sell 10,000 arcade cabinets eventually. A color arcade sequel followed two years later – in 1978 – and it sold another 4,000 units. One of the outstanding video games of the ‘70s, no doubt!
9. Lunar Lander (1979)
In this 9th placed game, players get to pilot a lunar landing module and then land it safely on the Moon. A further interesting feature is that players can rotate the module and burn fuel to fire a thruster, thereby landing safely on marked areas. After every successful landing or crashing, the scenario resets itself with a new terrain till one’s fuel is exhausted. When that happens, players may insert coins at any time to purchase more fuel!
This game was vastly popular in the ’70s! It’s a single-player arcade game that existed in the Lunar Lander subgenre. Atari, Inc developed it. At the time of its release, Lunar Lander did not gain wide recognition. However, despite its little popularity, it profoundly influenced the video-gaming world as it brought out new characteristics – the most popular being the insertion of extra coins to get extra lives and carry on with the game! The world of video gaming has retained this feature ever since.
Lunar Lander was the most popular version of the ‘Lunar Lander’ concept. It surpassed the prior Moonlander as well as numerous text-based games. Although Lunar Lander sold a whopping 4,830 units, which was a reasonably moderate success, it still became one of the first two games proudly registered with the US Copyright Office. This game was also included in an art installation at the Dublin Science Gallery.
8. Death Race (1976)
The number 8 spot on this list goes to Death Race. This game was quite revolutionary at the time. In order to control the car, it had a steering wheel and acceleration pedal. This was quite brilliant as what would naturally suffice then was the typical joysticks and buttons. Here, players navigate a car across white stick figures, which the developers noted as “gremlins,” that run back and forth. Each kill earned the player points, and many enjoyed the game.
This game was a modification of Exidy’s Destruction Derby (1975), where players crashed into cars to earn points. However, Death Race became the video game that was perhaps the first arcade game that sparked national controversy regarding violence in video games. Many considered it to have a possible psychological impact that could result from the gameplay. Despite all this, no one can deny that the rarity of the brilliant console that the game provided, coupled with the ‘violence’ narrative that followed it, makes Death Race a valuable piece of cultural history that graced the ’70s! And, of course, many enjoyed playing the game back then!
7. Breakout (1976)
Number 7 of this epic list is Breakout! This game is not only interesting but also one of a kind. Unlike many other video games that involve fighting off enemies, Breakout centered around the player and their effort to break out of the enclosure. Here, the player took control of a paddle, which he/she employed to continually bounce a ball that would hit bricks at the top until destroying all of the bricks to pave the way for a breakout.
Breakout is a video game built by Steve Wozniak, published and developed by Atari, Inc. It is highly relatable, simple, and interesting. Nolan Bushnell and Steve Bristow further conceptualized it, who found inspiration from Pong. The idea and concept behind this game caught the eye of copiers, who, in turn, created similar games. Gamers are still very much playing games with the ‘break out’ concept.
6. Tank (1974)
Sitting on the number 6 spot, you will find the phenomenal arcade video game Tank. It’s a vastly popular and brilliant game where two players drive tanks through a maze-like structure while trying to shoot each other. Also, players are to avoid other mines vividly represented by ‘X marks’ in a central minefield. Gamers controlled tanks with a joystick pair and a button that fires shells to destroy the opponent’s tank. With each tank destruction from a mine or shell comes the earning of points, and the tanks resurface after opponents destroy them. When the time runs out (with the time limit of a minute or two), the player with more points emerges the winner.
This brilliant game was developed by Lyle Rains and designed by Steve Bristow. It’s a game that was commercially successful, as it sold over 10,000 units. It was so successful that it spurred four subsequent sequels, namely Tank II (1974), Tank III (1975), Tank 8 (1976), and Ultra Tank (1978). Gamers noted that the joystick controls felt very realistic and engaging at the time. More interesting, six years later, the arcade game Battlezone still employed these controls. This game ended up being so popular that it was transported to the future with “Combat” as its new name.
5. Computer Space (1971)
The 5th place video game taking the spot for this list is Computer Space. This game is universally recognized to be the world’s first commercial coin-operated video game! In this game, the player controls a rocket and ensues in a missile battle with flying saucers that attack with fire. Here, the player is to have more hit points than the enemy spaceships within a specified duration.
Partnering as Syzygy Engineering, Nolan Bushnell along with Ted Dabney dutifully created Computer Space. Although, due to the steep learning curve associated with this game, it did not make the runaway success that other games on this list gained. However, Computer Space deserves to be on this list. It is stamped in history as the first commercialized game available and the first arcade video game! What’s more, no one can ignore that even though it debuted in the early ’70s, it did well to feature an enclosed outlook in a custom fiberglass cabinet, and that sure made the design look futuristic!
4. Galaxian (1979)
The 3rd runner up video game of the ‘70s is Galaxian! It is a brilliant shooter arcade game.It practically engrosses the player in an adventurous task of controlling a spaceship to protect Earth while fighting off aliens and other kamikaze enemies (enemies who happen to be pretty fast!). Here, players have to destroy each formation of aliens as they dive down towards the player with intent to hit them.
Namco’s engineer, Kazunori Sawano, creatively designed this game. He made the game pretty simplistic while using cinematic space combat scenes in Star Wars as his inspiration. It is often considered the foundation that surrounds the success of many other video games after it. Galaxian was the first of many games to introduce enemies with special characteristics. It also redefined the dynamics of color graphics in video gaming. It was one of the first video games that employed RGB color graphics.
What’s more, Galaxian did well also to introduce more prominent background music. It was one of the best-selling arcade games of all time to have emerged from North America, having sold over 40,000 arcade units as of 1982. This game further gained fame for its technological accomplishments and historical importance. In no time, it was ported to many home systems.
3. Asteroids (1979)
Number 3 on this list is no other but Asteroids, which is undoubtedly one of the most popular videogames of the ’70s! It is a space-themed multidirectional shooter arcade game. This game is simply complex and complexly simple. It centers around a mission that involves the player controlling a spaceship, and at the same time, shooting at enemy asteroids while avoiding the ruins that occurred from them. As the number of asteroids increases, the game proceeds to get even harder. It was, no doubt, addictive and fun-filled!
This 3rd placed game was one of the first major hits of the ‘70s! Asteroids was a phenomenal game that raked in hundreds of millions of dollars for arcade operators, selling over 70,000 arcade cabinets. Lyle Rains, Ed Logg, and Dominic Walsh brilliantly designed it. Meanwhile, Atari, Inc. released the game. Asteroids received special accolades and ovations for its brilliant game title, as well as for its spectacular graphics. The industry widely imitated this game in later years, influencing other video games like Defender, Gravitar, and many more.
2. Pong (1972)
Number 2 on this list goes to no other but Pong! This ‘game-changer’ game simply changed the world of games. This brilliant table tennis-themed arcade video game features 2-dimensional graphics. It’s pretty simple and straight forward as two players simply compete against each other in a simulated table tennis match.
Notably, the industry widely regards Pong as the first commercially successful video game ever. Atari manufactured the game while Allan Alcorn created it. It successfully helped establish the video game industry. After its release, there were several Pong clones as several companies started mimicking Pong’s gameplay. It will also interest you to know that due to Pong’s cultural impact, it has become part of the Smithsonian Institution’s eternal collection in Washington, D.C. It is safe to say that without Pong, there would arguably be no video games today.
1. Space Invaders (1978)
Standing tall as number 1 on this list is Space Invaders! The first fixed shooter video game served as a quintessential template for subsequent ‘shooting enemies above’ genre. This game features a common goal. Here, players simply have to defeat descending aliens that come in several waves. These aliens are defeated with a horizontally moving laser, and as aliens are shot, points are earned!
Space Invaders is a brilliant arcade game that was created by Tomohiro Nishikado. It was sold and manufactured by Taito and then licensed in the US by the Midway division of Bally. It almost singlehandedly launched the videogame industry from just a mere niche of entertainment product into an amazing worldwide phenomenon. When it came out, it became an immediate commercial success in no time, grossing a whopping $3.8 billion by 1982, and with a net profit of $450 million! This easily made it the best-selling video game and the highest-grossing ‘entertainment product’ at that time.
It is also considered one of the most influential video games, serving as inspiration for numerous video games and designers across genres. After adjusting for inflation, several versions that came from the game have a rough estimate of over $13 billion in total revenue as of 2016, making it sit boldly as the highest-grossing video game of all time. Tomohiro Nishikado has drawn inspiration from sci-fi narratives like Star Wars and Space Battleship Yamato. He also drew inspiration from 1976’s ball-bouncing game Breakout and the 1975 shooter game Gun Fight. No wonder it was brilliant in all ways!
In the end…
…you would agree with me that the 1970s was mind-blowing with exceptional video games back in the days. It marked the period when video games gained firm recognition in the industry’s franchise – bringing memorable games that spurred creativity and innovation. In this list, these video games have no doubt helped define video games in the public eye from then up until now.
Author: Chris Ingledue
Bio: I am the founder and owner of Wheeljack’s Lab pop Culture and Toy Shop. My vision has always been to reunite customers with their favorite childhood toys and pop culture, triggering fond memories, and reigniting their imaginations. Every day, I work in the “lab” where it’s Christmas 365 days a year. I scour the internet, like when we had the Sears Catalog of yesteryear, for the next great treasure. Then, I await the arrival of the postman as if he were Santa Claus himself and helping collectors worldwide with their own versions of Christmas. Every day as a vintage toy buyer is an absolute joy!