Missing in Action is an editorial series that discusses the kinds of games that at one time were prevalent in arcades or the types of games that would make great arcade games but aren’t being made as the industry prefers light-gun, racing, standard fighting titles, etc. Previous articles have taken a look at Space Combat, Puzzle and Scrolling Fighter games. This time we’re taking a look at games that feature huge destructive machines such as tanks, mechs, and planes(the sort of thing that appeals to guys). Why is the arcade a prime place for such things? I think it is simple – these games are best with unique controls that make you feel like you are sitting inside one of these machines and when you sit down in a cockpit along with that, it’s something that a home experience can’t touch. Read on.
A little history…
Games with tanks and planes have been around since the mid 70’s. The Atari-owned company Kee Games created the very popular Tank, which would later inspire the pack-in game for the Atari 2600, Combat. Tank had several sequels through the years and featured a dual joystick control that would become a standard of sorts for such games and it also was the first game to feature solid, contiguous characters. Atari also released one of the first games to feature aerial combat, called Pursuit (1974) and later Jet Fighter (1975). 1976 and 77 saw several games that featured war machines, including the popular Sea Wolf , Destroyer, Subs and M-4 among a few others. After Space Invaders came along, most games that involved shooting something with a vehicle became space based but that didn’t stop developers from creating non-space based machine games. 1980 would be the year where such games really broke out with a number of great games(most of them vector games) that included Armor Attack, Balloon Bomber, N-Sub, Rip Off, Red Baron and of course Atari’s mega-hit BattleZone. In addition to using a dual-joystick setup for tank-like controls, the game featured a first person perspective on the battlefield and proved so good that even the US military commissioned a special edition of the game to train people on using a tank (it was called the Bradley Trainer). The concepts that BattleZone brought to the table would certainly influence other tank games down the road and to an extent, even mech games.