As you may or may not know, Star Trek is about to return to the silver screen in a big way on May 8th and to commemorate early, I thought it would be appropriate to take a look at the history of Trek in arcades. Now I am big a fan of Star Trek – I was five years old when Star Trek: the Next Generation came around and I was hooked on the show immediately. So far there is not a Trek series I haven’t liked and I am quite excited about the new film. Of course where I am also an arcade fan, I figured that this history of Trek in arcades would be a good way to celebrate Trek’s return so let’s take a look at how Star Trek has been involved in the coin-op arcade industry (including pinball machines and games that didn’t carry the title of Star Trek but were obviously heavily influenced by the series).
UPDATE: I had forgot to add Space Wars and Orbit to the list.
1: Star Trek by For-Play (1972) -Shortly before Pong made waves around the country, a small company decided to try their hand at making video games and for their first project they made a clone of the first but not-so-successful coin-op game Computer Space. That clone was named Star Trek, by For-Play. The Star Trek name was not licensed to the company but in the early and mid-70’s it wasn’t uncommon to see game companies doing this (for example, Atari would create a Jaws game a couple of years later without any license). For-Play’s Star Trek did change one thing from Computer Space though – it simplified the controls from several buttons down to a joystick. Otherwise it was the same game but it didn’t really capture anyone’s attention at the time and it would not be long after that that Atari would release Pong which then started the video game craze. It is interesting to note that this Star Trek game was technically the second coin-op video game and not Pong but it probably would have done a little better had they not just decided to rip-off Computer Space pixel for pixel.
2: Starship 1 by Atari (1976) – While this does not carry the name Star Trek anywhere on the game, when you play it is quite obvious that Starship 1 was heavily influenced by the show. One might say that Starship 1 takes place in an alternate ST universe with you piloting the “Starship Atari” to save the Federation. At your disposal is a yoke controller with a button to fire your phasers, a button on the control panel to fire your “proton” torpedoes (note: this was released prior to the Star Wars arcade game) and a throttle control for speed. In the game you pilot the starship, shooting down enemy ships that appear on the screen while trying to avoid crashing into planets that constantly appear in your path. It is from the enemies where the game takes on even more from Star Trek – some ships appear like Miranda class ships (in fact this pre-dates Star Trek II and while the story of how the USS Reliant was designed makes no mention of a Starship 1 influence as the design came out of a mistake of the prints being seen upside down, it is interesting to see how the designs are similar), others like a weird version of the Doomsday Machine (which have a huge face with a tongue sticking out) and Klingon BattleCruisers. I actually happen to have this game at my new arcade which should be open by the time the new movie comes out.
3: Space Wars by Cinematronics (1977) – I nearly forgot about this one – the very first game to use a vector monitor happened to be the best selling game that year and it also happened to have some Star Trek influence to it. The space war concept was not anything new – students had been creating a game like this for computers at universities for some time already but this would mark the first time that the concept would come to the public. The idea was enhanced by space battles people had seen in Star Trek with the Entreprise engaging alien space craft and Space Wars let you play out that scenario as the second player ship is actually a Constitution-class starship. The game came in a huge cabinet and featured a control set that would be copied in later games like Asteroids and it also featured a number of variations that players could choose from, such as a sun or black hole at the center and more. I have read that this actually came out in 1976 but many sources say 1977. Either way, here’s a short video of the game in action.
4: Orbit by Atari (1978) – Orbit was Atari’s answer to Cinematronics Space Wars but instead of using a vector monitor, they opted for a raster (standard) monitor. This took the Star Trek influence up a notch however as you could play as either the starship Enterprise or a Klingon Battle Cruiser. This game also included many game variations like Space Wars did and it also was among the first Atari games to use professional, comic book style side art but the game did not do as well as the aforementioned title. Atari would later make up for this with their color vector game, Space Duel.
5: Star Trek Pinball by Bally (1979) – Often overlooked when it comes to gaming, Star Trek also has appeared more than once in the pinball arena. The first Star Trek pinball game, created by Bally features artwork that ties it to Star Trek: The Motion Picture (as you can tell by the uniforms and the design of the Enterprise on the backglass) although the game itself had more to do with Star Trek as a whole at the time than just the Motion Picture itself (as you can see from the playfield artwork where they use the older Enterprise). The game was actually released prior to ST:TMP by several months which is probably why it didn’t carry a stronger TMP theme. This was a solid state game that could handle up to four players but as it was made prior to the use of speech in pinball machines, it would seem bland to many players these days. As a side note, pinball maker Gottlieb did release a Star Trek pinball in 1971 but the game had nothing to do with the TV show; Bally also had developed a pinball game in 1976 called Star Ship which had the Enterprise drawn on it’s backglass and side although there is only one Star Ship pin known to have been made, according to the Internet Pinball Machine Database.
I did find one short video of the ’79 ST Pinball game in action, although it was modified to play pinball by itself, which is a pretty cool project in it’s own right.
6: Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator by Sega (1982) – The first official Star Trek video game also happens to be one of the best if you ask me, this coin-op game by Sega. Based upon the Kobayashi Maru scenario from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, you command the Enterprise through various levels taking on Klingon ships who are attacking the starbase in each sector. The screen is split into three sections, one for stats, one for a top down view of the area and the other the main view screen. The player can fire either phasers or photon torpedos (which have quite a large blast radius) or jump into warp speed quite easily to complete each scenario. You also will face Nomad and other obstacles as you progress thorughout the game and thanks to it’s color vector monitor, the game still looks amazing today. The only problem was that this vector monitor type was prone to catching fire and so it didn’t fare too well with arcade operators who saw it as a big risk once that became known. The cabinet was released in two versions, a standard upright version and a far cooler sit-down version which included a Captain’s chair, with the game controls built into the arm rests. This game also featured great synthesized speech, all put together to make you feel like you were in a Federation simulator. Sega ported this game to several home game consoles including the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, ColecoVision and the TI 99/4A (the TI having the best port out of all the versions).
7: Star Trek 25th Anniversary Pinball by Data East (1991) – Star Trek returned to pinball to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the show and with it, a more modern and exciting design than the previous effort in 1979. All of the artwork on this game is dedicated to the original series TV show and several popular characters and objects make an appearance in some manner in the game, such as the Klingons, Orion Slave Girls, the Gorn, the Talosians, Tribbles, the Guardian of Forever, the Doomsday Machine, the Space Amoeba and even alternate evil universe Uhura. Part of the fun in this game is finding all of these things on the playfield and to top it off the game is a lot fun (which is the most important part, right?). Even the backglass features a cool transporter effect which is placed prominently in the center of the marquee and if you get a chance to play this game, it is most impressive to witness in a dark environment. This is among the first games that featured an orange dot-matrix display, although it is smaller than other dot-matrix displays that would be used later. I could not find a decent video of this online but the link above has a plethora of pictures of the game you can enjoy.
8: Star Trek: The Next Generation Pinball by Williams (1993) – As popular as Star Trek : The Next Generation was, it is strange that the only place it can ever be found in an arcade is in the form of a pinball machine. But that is no reason to overlook it, as it is quite a fun game to play with some very interesting features and in some cases it still fetches a high price among collectors. First off the game is a wide-body, so the playfield is larger than your standard pin and they managed to cram quite a bit into the game. There are model toys of a Romulan D’deridex-class Warbird, a Klingon Bird of Prey, a standard Federation shuttlecraft and most prominently, the Borg ship seen in the Season 6/7 episodes “Descent“. The game also includes some cool ball launchers which can take a captured pinball and with the right timing you can aim it to hit certain targets. Thanks to the dot-matrix display and the software featured on the unit, this game is quite fun to play and features a lot more depth than many pinball games to keep players coming back for it again and again. The promo video made by Williams below explains it better since it shows the game in action.
9: Star Trek: Voyager by Team Play (2002) – the last Star Trek game to grace the presence of arcades would be Star Trek Voyager, a light-gun shooter where you must take on the Borg who have assaulted Voyager once again. As a light-gun game it was fairly simple but as a Trekkie I found myself being slightly irritated by the fact that they decided to use fairly standard gun cases instead of creating some molds that actually looked like phasers. The game itself is OK fun but I only played it once and came away not quite impressed. If you are really curious about it, you can still find it at some arcades today in both standard and deluxe (sit-down) configurations. The deluxe style cabinet is certainly impressive due to it’s large screen and footprint where players can sit-down inside to enjoy blasting the Borg but when it comes to graphics, the game has not aged very well (like many older 3D games). I could only find one video online really showing this game in detail, a review on Youtube by Arcade Guts, which you can watch below.
What is next for Trek in arcades?: Admittedly Star Trek has not been as prominent in arcades as series like Star Wars has been, but it has had a presence there nonetheless and thanks to the re-boot of the series we will hopefully see some more Star Trek-related arcade games in the future. The possibilities of what could be done are many; Sega could create a remake of their old Star Trek game from 1982 which in my humble opinion is one the best Star Trek video games out there. As a purist though I’d still want it to have a vector monitor but that might be asking a little too much. 😉 Stern could easily create a new pinball machine based upon the new movie but such a game would have had to be in the works for a while already to be released in time for May. While a new light-gun shooter could work out better than Voyager did, they could do also something along the lines of you piloting a Defiant-class warship in the Dominion Wars (DS9 got no love in both arcades and pinball; the same for ST: Enterprise) or a first-person shooter like Elite Force or something entirely new that is based in the ST universe ( no 1-on-1 fighters, that just wouldn’t fit Trek although it could make for an interesting joke). Surprisingly, it appears that no one has ever made a ticket redemption ST game but I do know of a casino gambling ST game which I saw at the Las Vegas Hilton a while ago, and I am sure that there have been others.
Until next time, Live Long and Prosper!
[Discuss on the Forum]