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  • The History of Video Games: 1981

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    1981 is by far the biggest year we’ve covered so far. 1981 saw the release of games like Donkey Kong, Frogger, Galaga, and many more. When you think of classic games, odds are quite a few of them were released in 1981. In this video, i’ll be going over the events that transpired in 1981 in the history of video games. This is… The History of Video Games: 1981.

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    The History of Video Games: 1981 (in text form)

    In February 1981, Williams Electronics releases Defender. In Defender, the player was tasked with protecting astronauts and killing waves of aliens. Williams Electronics hasn’t been mentioned yet. They were founded in in 1974 as Williams Electronics. However, they go back to the early 1940’s when they were created as Williams Manufacturing Company by Harry Williams. Defender is generally considered to be one of the most important video games of the “Golden Age of Arcade Games”, being up there with Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Pac-Man. he game would go on to sell over 55,000 units worldwide.

    On July 9th, 1981, Nintendo released Donkey Kong in Japan. It would be released on July 31, 1981 in North America. Donkey Kong introduced perhaps the two most well known video game characters ever made, Mario and Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi. They had a budget of approximately $100,000 to create a game that would be a success, unlike their previous games like Radar Scope and Sheriff.

    Next up, Galaga. Galaga is a sequel to 1979’s Galaxian. Galaga was released in Japan in September 1981 and December 1981 in North America. From a gameplay perspective, Galaga is very similar to Galaxian. However, some changes were made. You could now fire two shots back-to-back. Your ship could now be captured, though. Once the enemy has control of your ship, you spawn another one and they can use your ship to attack you.

    On June 5, 1981 in Japan, and October 23 1981 in North America. At the time, Konami didn’t have a way to manufacture games in North America, so they licensed the game to Sega to distribute the game in North America. Frogger was developed by Konami and published by SEGA.

    Another Konami game was released in 1981 as well, Scramble. To paraphrase Professor Jim Whitehead, “Scramble established the convention for horizontal side-scrollers, making it possible to have actual level designs, which permits a kind of landscape narrative where the world and story are uncovered by traversing through the level”. As you may have guessed from that, Scramble was the first side scrolling shooter with forced scrolling.

    Scramble had a sequel in 1981, called Super Cobra. In Super Cobra, you control a helicopter instead of a jet. Super Cobra has ten distinct sections, each with their own type of terrain and obstacles.

    Think we’re done with 1981 yet? Think again. I told you, it was a crazy year. What is perhaps the first game based on World War 2 was released in 1981, Castle Wolfenstein. Castle Wolfenstein was developed by Muse Software and first released on the Apple 2. It would later be ported to a wide variety of other computers and home consoles.

    A predecessor to the Commodore 64 was released in 1981, called the Commodore VIC-20. It had a 1.02 MHz processor and 5kb of RAM. The VIC-20 sold for $299.99 and was praised for it’s performance based on that price.

    The first Ultima game was released in 1981, Ultima 1: The First Age of Darkness, as it’s known now, or simply Ultima when it was released. Ultima was an RPG created by Richard Garriot. Ultima’s gameplay is a third person, top down perspective for the overworld, while the dungeons are in first person.

    Lastly, Ms PacMan would be released, in July 1981. While the core gameplay is the same from Pac-Man to Ms Pac-Man, some changes were made. Among the changes are that levels now have extra warp tunnels, the walls have an outline, the four main mazes appear in different colors, and the fruits will appear randomly in the maze, instead of just being at the center. Show less
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