Years before four-player split screen, online play and MMOs, gamers had a place they could visit to experience multiplayer video excitement for 2 players and beyond: the arcade. For this issue, I’m going to highlight various titles that made social gaming a “thing” well before the term was mainstream. We will mainly focus on games that proffered simultaneous 4-player fun and up to people (as talking about 2-player games will end up becoming a novel).
When arcades really got off the ground with Atari’s PONG, mul- tiplayer was a necessity for the game to work, as the computing power for AI-controlled players just wasn’t available yet. Every Pong clone on the planet was 2-players, so Atari would take the next logical step: make Pong four players with Pong Doubles (September 1973). Pong Doubles was Atari’s fourth game, ironi-
cally enough, and mimicked doubles tennis as best as the technology could manage at the time. As many competi- tors would soon release their own Pong Doubles knock-offs, Atari would quickly follow-up with Quadrapong (March 1974). Quadrapong was the first cocktail arcade game and changed up the formula of Pong just slightly by creating a square tennis court and each player had to defend a large goal that took up most of their entire side. This simple change and the cocktail cabinet led to plenty of shouting and excite-ment at the local bar that would add one of these to their game floor, as captured on the Quadrapong flyer.
Both 2 and 4-player games continued to dominate the industry at this time, but fortunately developers realized that they had to move beyond Pong to keep location operators buying, so along came fresh concepts. 1975 would see two influential creations from Atari that would go beyond the 4 player threshold: Steeplechase and Indy 800.
Steeplechase is a game that could possibly be considered the first “party game,” in that is pits up to six players against each other and the simple gameplay is controlled by only a single button. Your goal: get your jockey & horse to the right side of the screen first, using the button to jump over the gates or get tripped up and lose ground. I came across one of these once and found it to be a great deal of fun – one of those games that you wish you could buy for your own collection. It’s too bad it is very hard to find, as I imagine that many retrocades would love to please their customers with one.
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