Yes, there is an “art to shooting” in video game playing. Essentially, managing your bullets, especially when you are only given, more or less, one bullet at a time. This pertains particularly to the legendary games of the classic arcade era. In this article, I have asked Triforce Johnson to reflect on the overall challenge the gamer faces when they are given a limited number of bullets to ward off enemy assaults. Also, Grant Thienemann chimes in with an analysis of the gameplay strategies he had to resort to in order to survive the bullet limitations he faced in Berzerk. Both TriForce and Grant are seasoned classic arcade veterans who have mastered some of the most challenging games and beat them “one bullet at a time.”
It’s a well-known fact that after the Golden Age of video games gave way to the titles of the late 80s and early 90s, the games were less competitive and less challenging. They were games that flooded the screen with lots of CGI and bullets. The games did not require much gameplay precision, and, in many cases, they didn’t demand that the player execute their moves with a high level of skill. Some of these were shmups (shoot-em-ups), some of them were side-scrollers, and some were just unique creations. They were far less difficult to conquer than the golden age titles that demanded that the gamer survive typically using only one round at a time. The common obstacle that everyone had to face was that the bullet had to either hit an object or leave the top of the screen before the player was awarded another round.
Many of the greatest titles from the 1980s gave the player only one round at a time. And though many other games issued more than a single bullet at a time, the gamer was still faced with the same formidable task of defending against a multitude of enemies while receiving a very, very limited number of rounds in proportion to the number of adversaries converging on the gamer. Some of those titles included Moon Cresta, Phoenix. Moon Patrol, Astro Fighter, Polaris, and Scramble, to name a few.
But in every case, whether the gamer enjoyed a single bullet or multiple rounds, the gamer was challenged to develop these skills: precision, timing, moving in the pocket, and finding the rhythm that avoids the enemies — as seen in Galaxian. The older games were always challenging the gamer to avoid lots of death-dealing objects. Though some games relied on heavier firepower, such as Missile Command, Defender and Robotron, the extra stress of having to save/protect defenseless targets in these games made the challenge at least equal to the games that awarded only a single bullet.
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