Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame

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Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame

Those were the days parking the Chopper, leaving the muddy trainers at the back door and discarding my snorkel jacket before setting up camp in front of the TV, trusty ZX Spectrum at my side, as my brother and I focused our energy on completing all 20 stages of Manic Miner.

Such nostalgic reveries came in waves as I flicked through Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age 1971-1984.

This glossy and informative coffee-table delight takes the reader back to a golden age before Nintendo, Sony and Sega dominated the video game battlefield. We are talking the pioneering brands here, the likes of Atari, Odyssey and Commodore 64 - video game systems that shaped our formative years.

From Pong to Pac-Man, Defender to Donkey-Kong, anyone under the age of 35 will vividly remember the early video games, their subconscious forever etched with pixelated images from arcades and TV screens.

Before there was any joy in joystick and at a time when Super Mario was a mere glint in a game developer's eye, the first games were taking shape deep within the educational institutions of the US. The forerunner to Pong, for instance, appeared in 1958 as an interactive demonstration at an open day at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Three years later, Massachusetts Institute of Technology student Steve Russell programmed Spacewar on a DEC PDP-1 and so invented the first software-based computer game.

But it wasn't until 1971 that the founder of Atari, Nolan Bushnell, invented the first coin-operated arcade video game. It was an invention that changed popular culture forever when in 1979 Space Invaders hit the streets like an electronic tsunami. In its homeland Japan, Space Invaders was played so much that the game caused a national coin shortage that momentarily disabled the Japanese economy.
A year later the arcade machine reached its nirvana when Atari's minimalist gem Asteroids sold over 70,000 coin-operated machines.

A child of the gaming generation, Supercade's author Van Burnham was born in 1971, and her enthusiasm for the genre is obvious. The book is full of wonderful screen-shots and images from the period. It is remarkable to think that these once passed as high-tech - it is a bit like comparing Blake's Seven with AI.

Supercade is a book for gamers and pop historians alike and offers a wonderful retro journey back to the days of electronic innocence. But beware the side effects - as I turned the pages I am sure I felt a slight twinge in my elbow from an old Trak-Ball injury.

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This was first published in October 2001

 

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