When last we left the historie of the consoleflict, two houses arose in the land of gaming.
One, house Magnavox, entering into the untamed wilderness with their host of Odysseys, the other, house Atari, had stolen the fire of tennis and ignited the imagination with Pong, the progenitor of gaming nobility. The first battles over who would control this new land raged between these houses and others joining the hurly burly, until a great flood of Pong clones swept the market clean, leaving few standing.
Invaders from the East
Atari, now sworn to their lords Warner, was a troubled house. There was no reason after the flood of ’77 to continue on as they had, Pong was dead from exposure and gaming was proving an inhospitable place. They released their 2600 with the shiniest of new armor and it’s great host of games to duel with house Fairchild, only to find the battleground a field of apathy and consumer doubt.
Then they came from the east, and none were prepared.
Space Invaders, a native of the Arcade wildlands of Japan, quickly found dominance in similar surroundings to the west. A brutal combatant that struck down all contenders and riding on a zeitgeist fueled by Star Wars, its legend of a nation running out of currency to pay it homage ensured the survival of the Arcade warrior ethos in its native land. A legacy that continues even in the modern era.
Such success caused the lands of gaming to remain fertile. It was more than just endless Pong, and the people rejoiced in the fresh novelty of alien blasting. It also caused the Western Lords to take notice.
Winning its duel with Fairchild, Atari realized they needed a champion to rally the populace to their cause. Space Invaders had unseated their own Arcade warriors, Asteroids and Missile Command, claiming this potential title in direct combat. Lords of House Atari, ever cunning, made a pact withSpace Invaders‘ Clan Taito; their champion would fight for them as part of their 2600 host!
With this leader at the front, the 2600 reached dominance and it’s goal; as the age turned, Atari occupied the throne of the gaming king, lord over both console and arcade!
Yet as the king is crowned, so too are rival blades unsheathed. Other claimants to this throne arose, from houses old and new, ready to strike back.
Rivals Emerge as the Golden Arcade Age Dawns
House Magnavox returned with the Odyssey², House Coleco with their ColecoVision, and House Mattel – new to the land of video – with the Intellivision. All pursued Atari’s crown.
It would not be a rule of peace, but one filled with battle and combat (which was a game actually).
These houses sought their own heroes to aid them in their campaigns or used magics to entice men to their cause. Odyssey² enthralled with its voice. ColecoVision rode atop the great beast Donkey Kong, itself an Arcade giant from Clan Nintendo. Intellivision had overflowing coffers provided by house Mattel, and was the fairest of them all with the best graphics and sound of the time.
Atari retained the throne against such contenders, but did so with an iron fist. Proclaiming their liege cruel, unkind, and unjust (and unable to properly retain them), several knights broke away from house Atari to form the mercenary band Activision. Working for no one but themselves, these sellswords let their adventurous explorer Ser Harry roam amongst all houses that would pay them coin.
Meanwhile, the wild arcades grew unchecked. Men came from far and wide to witness the wonders contained within.
Beasts roamed this country, from the great Centipede to the smallest toad. Knights errant fought for the hands of ladies and committed to the noble Joust. Creatures from beyond the stars brought their sinister foes with them, and the mythical sprite Q*bert could be seen hopping along, merrily warbling his hopping song.
To wander into the arcade was to be assaulted with noise and glamor, all with the aim of plucking the quarters from your purse. Every sight seen was a novelty, and to make a game strong was to make a game new. The only law was survival, and this brought forth great innovation along every conceivable path from gamesmiths hoping to test their mettle in this bazaar.
It was in this wilderness that the eastern clans found their home. Clan Sega flew in with Zaxxon from the stars, Clan Konami had their Frogger leap and Time Pilot soar. Some struck out alone whilst others, like Clan Taito, formed pacts with western hedge knights such as Midway in order to guide them along the shores of the foreign west. As with Clan Nintendo, many served the noble western houses in the console war for the home as retainers.
Yet there was one rough beast borne from this house of flash that slouched amongst them all, devouring quarters and spirits alike. It’s coming brought a pestilence with it and it foretold of both bounty and doom. It became the center, a golden idol to the masses, but it could not hold; things fell apart.
The Plague of Pac-Man Fever
Clan Namco’s finest wizard, Toru Iwatani, conjured and formed his ravenous beast, Pac-Man, releasing it with the turn of the age into 1980. No sooner had it been born than it was cast out and alone in its native Japan, where the Invaders from Space held the populace’s imagination captive. Thus it was that Clan Namco, through Ser Midway, unleashed this misshapen orphan upon the west, and with it, disease.
“Pac-Man fever” swept throughout the land. No constitution was strong enough to resist it, no potion or tincture could cure it. The only hope was to feed this horror your silver even as he fed on the spirits of the damned.
Such virulence claimed many as the creature flew everywhere. He appeared on the televised scrying screens as an animated puppet, and parents were quick to ward their children against such a beast by flying the Pac-Man sigil on their children’s shirts and pails. Confused and terrified bards sung of this blight, hoping they too would not be consumed.
Yet it was also a formidable beast. If it could be tamed, brought to battle in the war for the console? Pac-Man would surely make a powerful ally.
But it would take a madman to stare such a creature in the unending maw it called a mouth, and try to ride it. It would take even greater influence to convince Clan Namco to leash their coin gobbling terror.
There was only one who fit both bills.
The Madness of King Atari
Seeking to use this horrible beast against its foes, Atari drained vast reserves of its treasury to spawn a legion of Pac-Men. However, these were ugly, horrid, little nibblers unable to match their sire’s menace with the populace, who remained drawn to their golden idol in its arcade home. It was a great loss of coin to the Atari monarchy, yet it was just the first in a string of ill fortunes and mad edicts.
The tool of the gamesmith, the home computer, had been too costly at the start of the gaming age, but as time wore on the steel of these forges, the microprocessor, grew cheap and plentiful. Thus did House Commodore, House Apple, and House Tandy seeking their own glory, enter their own war to allow knowledge of computer crafting into the halls of men. Atari, seeing a potential threat, began warring on this new front by raising yet another division.
House Commodore struck back, announcing a bounty on any of the king’s men and proclaiming its Commodore 64 would do for the common man anything Atari could, but more. In this rebuke, their criers even went so far as to target the children:
Twas was no mere jest, for as Turing had foreseen, the computer was to become the tool of men in a great age to come. This magic was now at the fingertips of the common man, and as all first year wizards learn to summon homunculi from the netherrealms, so to did the common man summon games in numbers uncountable.
Worse still, the renegades that had formed Activision had inadvertently sparked revolution. Gamesmiths from across the newly built kingdom fled to new lords or turned to mercenary work to sustain themselves. Thus arose another flood in the market as with the Pong clones before, but of cheap games bearing no allegiance to King Atari, and paying no tithes to the crown.
Beset by all sides by enemies real or imagined, King Atari poured the treasury into one last gambit. Allying itself with the gentle creature from space, E.T., Atari attempted their previous folly. As with Pac-Man, they bred and raised a host of ill considered hell-spawn so vast they could overrun any foe, and yet so disgusting, vile, and horrible that no one would dare approach.
The E.T. horde died in the field from starvation, having conquered no foes. With the last of their coin spent, Atari saw to the grim task of funeral rites for their pitiful creatures even as their kingdom crumbled to dust. The mass grave in the wastes still exists to this day, a testament to Atari’s hubris.
It was the final blow, and as E.T. went the way of Fairchild and perished without honor, so too did Atari. Worse, when Atari buckled under, so too did console gaming as a whole. Such was the grip of their mighty empire: it controlled the fate of the land itself.
The console market flooded with the carcasses of dead Atari games, and the blight stretched on to ruin the land. House Magnavox fell soon after, followed swiftly after by House Coleco. House Mattel retreated back to it’s native Toyland, abandoning their Intellivison host to this plague. The criers and sloganeers removed gaming sigils and words from their heraldry, the merchants and traders would not barter or allow gaming wares to be sold within their shops, declaring again that it had all been a passing fad.
The console was dead. The war had turned to plague and none dared enter these lands video. It was vile. Cursed. Haunted.
Some crones still that on a moonlit night you can see these former giants of gaming greatness rise up as ghosts and dance to their oblivion song.
This age of console gaming entered darkness with a crash heard ’round the world, but a few managed to survive.
The Activision Mercenaries fled to find work in the lands of the PC, where House Commodore fought its own battles. Gaming was but a small front in this land, but would sustain this band and encourage others to join in. Including Activision’s eventual arch-rival, Electronic Arts.
The Arcade Clans, owing no allegiance during the consoleflict, returned to their wild lands where they thrived and fought amongst themselves. There was no King, there were no thrones, and all were free to rise and fall where they stood. For them, the Golden Age was just beginning.
It was out of this wild, untamed wilderness that the next House would rise to fill the vacant throne.
They would come from the East, as the Space Invaders had before.
They would come with a champion, as they had learned from Atari’s example.
They would forge a Kingdom that could not fall to floods and would build a wall against such a scourge.
It would be a Kingdom of merriment. A Kingdom of absolute power. A Kingdom of heroes.
It would be . . .
To Be Continued in Volume 3
As one of the unfortunate few born with three first names, Adam endured years of taunting on the mean streets of Los Angeles in order to become the cynical malcontent he is today. A gamer since the age of four, he has attempted to remain diverse in his awareness of the arts, and remain active in current theater, film, literary and musical trends when not otherwise writing or acting himself. He now offers his knowledge in these areas up to the “California Literary Review,” who still haven’t decided what exactly they want to do with him yet. He prefers to be disagreed with in a traditional “Missile Command” high score contest, and can be challenged this way via his Xbox LIVE Gamertag of AtomGone, and if you want to “follow” him on twitter, look for Adam Robert Thomas