Retro Gaming: Game Reviews and News From the 1980s and 1990s
The NFSA is developing and preserving a growing collection of video games and their source materials dating back to the birth of the Australian industry in the early 1980s.
Video games have long had an impact on the NFSA collection. The clips in this curated collection capture some of the ways that games have intersected with Australian popular culture since the 1970s.
Watch ads from the '80s and game play from the '90s. Listen to pop songs from the '70s and podcasts from the 2010s with more recent takes on gaming history.
Plus there's a range of TV news reports on hot-button gaming controversies from the last few decades – covering everything from addiction, health scares and crime, to debates about classification and violence against women.
Mr T promotes the Atari 800XL home computer in this advertisement from the mid-1980s.
The Atari 800XL was designed to look like a common typewriter and was a follow-up to the hugely successful Atari 2600 video game console. It had an expandable system with two accessible cartridge ports under a front cover. The cartridges could simply be plugged in.
It sold well and provided a solid alternative to the Commodore as a capable low-price computer with superior graphics and sound capabilities.
Mr T was a popular actor and television star of The A Team, known for wearing large amounts of gold jewellery and for the catchphrase, 'I pity the fool'.
He was a good choice to promote Atari, not only because of his popularity at the time, but because in many ways he had a cartoonish public persona that would appeal to teenagers. The A Team itself has had a number of incarnations as a video game.
A nice touch in the ad is creating an Atari computer image of Mr T, thereby demonstrating the computer's graphic potential.
This clip is from The Zone, a magazine-style game review program that was broadcast on Saturday mornings to a youth audience. Here, the team are reviewing the racing game, Skitchin'.
Skitchin' was developed for the Sega Mega Drive console (Sega Genesis in the US). 'Skitching' (skate-hitching) is hitching a ride by holding onto a moving vehicle while riding on a skateboard, rollerblades or bicycle.
In the game, players control an inline skater character who is attacked by computer-controlled opponents while racing to the finish and earning character money.
This clip is an entertaining time capsule from the early 1990s, full of teenage slang and fashion from the period. It's also interesting to see the quality of game graphics from 1994.
This advertisement was submitted by Nintendo in a competition for television ads of over 30 seconds. It shows Tim Ferguson as 'Rick Hazard', an Evil Knievel-style stunt performer, trying unsuccessfully to imitate the action of the gaming character Super Mario as he appears in Super Mario 64.
The game was the first in the Super Mario series to feature three-dimensional gameplay.
Tim Ferguson is better known as one of the performers in the irreverent musical comedy trio, the Doug Anthony All Stars. We are invited to laugh at Tim's repeated failed attempts to emulate the impossible stunts performed by Mario.
With its intentional lo-fi production values, Tim's ridiculous costume and empty proclamations ('Fear is for those who are scared'), the advertisement has a distinctly Australian-underdog sense of humour that would have appealed to local consumers.
Extended cutaways to game play also effectively promote the product that the advertisement is selling.
This clip is from Series 1 Episode 21 of the popular children's game show A*mazing, produced by Southern Star Entertainment and broadcast on the Seven Network on 13 June 1994. The students in this clip are from Warrigal Road and Richlands East primary schools.
A*mazing (1994–98) pitted teams from two different primary schools against each other over five days. Points gained by each contestant were totalled to decide the winning school at the end of each week.
Contestants competed in computer game skills, general knowledge, spelling ability and physical agility. The program was also famous for a large and elaborate maze that was part of the studio set.
This clip is a good example of A*mazing's format. Presenter James Sherry introduces the contestants to Round Five, the video game face-off. The students attempt to score as many points as they can in 60 seconds while playing the Nintendo game Super Mario Bros 3 in front of a live studio audience.
The clip effectively utilises the split-screen technique to show the concentration of the contestant and their progress in the game. Sherry's narration usefully tracks progress for viewers who are unfamiliar with the game they are playing.
In this clip from The Zone, host Adam Riley reviews the Star Trek 25th Anniversary Enhanced CD-Rom game.
A science-fiction adventure game based on the Star Trek universe as depicted in the 1960s television show and subsequent movies, it features the voices of original cast members William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley.
Much of the action revolved around the starship USS Enterprise but the game allowed players to land on planets to solve puzzles, collect items, and interact with alien 'lifeforms'. Nevertheless, Riley was unimpressed.
The Zone was a magazine-style game review program that was broadcast on Saturday mornings to a youth audience.
Nintendo released the first Game Boy in 1989. It benefited from durable construction and a long battery life and outsold many of its competitors.
Game Boy was sold with a bundle of games that included Tetris, which quickly became popular and has since become iconic. It was also the platform that boosted gaming among females, with almost half of Game Boy users being girls and women by the mid-90s.
Young women are underrepresented in this TV advertisement, which explicitly targets teenage boys. The Game Boy is featured in a world of skateboards, basketball, BMX bikes and baseball caps. The editing is fast paced and effectively implies action and excitement.
This TEN Eyewitness News item announces the winner of the Sega Mega Drive giveaway. The news team delivers the prize to a lucky young man who is still in his pyjamas!
The Sega Mega Drive (known as Sega Genesis in the US) was the third gaming console released by Sega in Japan in 1988.
It was a success in the US, Europe and elsewhere with Sega's popular Sonic the Hedgehog series of games a major contributing factor.
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was released in the 1990s; its predecessor, the Nintendo Entertainment System launched in 1983.
It was a huge success and become the best-selling console of its type despite facing intense competition from the Sega Genesis console. It continues to be popular among collectors and retro gamers.
This advertisment implies that the g-forces of the game affect the player's physiology, with the young man's face increasingly stretched. At the end of the ad, when he stands, he's been so flattened by the game's g-forces that he looks two-dimensional!
It's an advertisement that you can imagine every kid at the time would have connected with.
This item from 4ZZZfm reports on a 1983 women's protest at Bondi Junction in Sydney against the public sale of a video game called Custer's Revenge.
Custer's Revenge was an unlicensed adult video game produced by Mystique and released in 1982. The game was controversial for its depiction of sexual violence against a Native American woman.
As described here in an evocative recount, the protest held by approximately 50 women was vocal and effective in drawing attention to their concerns.
Bob Hains, TEN Eyewitness News Brisbane's Games Guru from Games 'r' us, reviews some of the 'hottest new games in town' in 1993.
Including a regular games review segment in a news bulletin shows just how significant the gaming industry had become by the early 1990s.
Among the titles he reviews here are: Day of the Tentacle, Mortal Kombat, Jungle Strike and General Chaos.
In Episode 38 of the podcast Do Go On, hosts and comedians Matt Stewart, Jess Perkins and Dave Warneke discuss the video game crash of 1983–85. They also talk about the various generations of gaming consoles.
Mainly affecting America, the video game recession was the result of a saturation of gaming consoles in the market and consumers moving towards personal computers.
In the space of only a few years the dramatic plummet in sales brought to an end what has been called the second generation of gaming consoles and a number of companies went bankrupt.
The industry's fortunes turned around after the success of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, followed by huge players like Playstation and XBox.
Do Go On is a fact-based comedy podcast. The premise is that Melbourne comedians Matt Stewart, Jess Perkins and Dave Warneke take it in turns to research a topic and report back on what they discovered.
In this episode of Simon Townsend's Wonder World!, reporter Adam Bowen talks about pinball machines and video games with kids at an amusement parlour and the arcade's owner.
Video games really took off in the late 1970s and dominated amusement parlours with the arrival of Space Invaders in 1978, the first blockbuster arcade video game.
Space Invaders was responsible for kicking off a golden age of arcade games and is considered one of the most influential video games of all time.
This TEN Eyewitness News examines concerns expressed by parents when a pinball parlour is planned to open opposite their local school.
The reporter claims that amusement parlours have always been 'meeting places for the more unruly elements of society' and that continues to be true for 'the Space Invader generation'.
The Penrith High School principal is worried that the parlour will attract criminals peddling drugs.
This is an ad for the ColecoVision video game console that was released in 1982.
You played games on it by using cartridges, with approximately 145 titles created as ROM cartridges between 1982 and 1984.
CBS Electronics distributed the console outside of the US, hence the addition of CBS to the branding in this advertisement.
Despite its success, Coleco withdrew from the video game market in 1985.
In Episode 59 of The Weekly Planet podcast, hosts James Clement and Nick Mason discuss superhero film franchises that have been turned into video games.
In this clip they banter about Batman: The Video Game, released for the Sega Mega Drive console system (Sega Genesis in the US) in the early 1990s and based on the 1989 film directed by Tim Burton.
They joke about the seeming sameness of the game play in many of these film-inspired games, regardless of the type of action in the original film.
The Weekly Planet was the popular vote winner at the 2018 Australian Podcast Awards. It offers a lighthearted look at all things related to movies, TV shows and comics.
This is a short clip from a community documentary called Space Games – Rage or Rip Off?
The filmmakers interview an amusement parlour operator about the negative impact of games on children. Not surprisingly he rejects the claim that video games are addictive.
Instead he argues that games and game arcades are simply the latest scapegoat for school principals and parents to blame when finding fault with children's behaviour.
In the last 40 years games have largely moved out of the arcades and into homes. With the advent of online gaming, players are socialising through the internet with other gamers all over the world in ways that were mostly inconceivable in 1980.
In this episode of Insert Coin (Series 1 Episode 20) from 2016, Jordan Raskopoulos confesses her addiction to the online game World of Warcraft.
World of Warcraft, released by Blizzard Entertainment in 2004, is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game.
In 2015, Activision Blizzard reported that the game had an estimated 5.5 million global subscribers.
Insert Coin is a sketch comedy website for gamers created by the Axis of Awesome’s Jordan Raskopoulos and Lee Naimo.
In this 'Game On' segment from 3RRR's Byte Into IT, the hosts discuss the planned release of the handheld Sega Nomad gaming device in 1995.
Sega Nomad, also known as Genesis Nomad, was a portable variation of the Sega Mega Drive console. An earlier version called the Mega Jet was released in Japan and is also referenced here.
Neither the Nomad nor the Mega Jet were particularly long-lived or successful. Pre-release magazine and online hype for new game software and hardware does not always translate into big sales.
This QTV Eyewitness News item from 1992 reports on an 11-year-old Sydney boy who suffered an epileptic fit while playing a video game at a friend's party.
More recent research has identified a condition known as photosensitive epilepsy. It can affect a small number of people, mostly children or adolescents, when exposed to flashing lights at certain intensities or to certain visual patterns that might be found in video games.
In this episode of Critical Hit on JOY FM, Luke, Kev and Phil discuss popular movies that were turned into bad video games. Films mentioned include Wayne's World (Penelope Spheeris, USA, 1992), Total Recall (Paul Verhoeven, USA, 1990) and Home Alone (Chris Columbus, USA, 1990).
Phil then recounts the story behind the notorious Atari cartridge game based on ET the Extra-Terrestrial (Steven Spielberg, USA, 1982).
Faced with millions of unsold cartridges of the unsuccessful ET game, Atari was said to have arranged for truckloads of the cartridges and game systems to be buried in a landfill site in New Mexico.
Over 30 years later, the site was excavated for the documentary Atari: Game Over (Zak Penn, USA, 2014). While more than 1,000 game cartridges were recovered, of various titles including ET, Atari later verified they had buried around 700,000 cartridges in 1983.
Critical Hit was a regular gaming segment on JOY 94.9, Australia's first LGBTQI+ community radio station.
The news item from the Seven Network on 26 May 1993 reports on growing calls for a video game classification system in Australia and examines the controversy around the game Night Trap.
Night Trap was an interactive movie video game released for Sega CD in 1992. It generated controversy in Australia and the US for featuring violence against women.
The game was withdrawn from sale in the US but later re-released. A 25th anniversary edition came out in 2017.
In this item from community radio station 2SER's weekly Media Magazine program, Richard Harris speaks to David Haynes, Deputy Chief Censor from the Office of Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), about violence and sexual violence in video games.
They also discuss the fear generated by new technology. At the time the standing committee of Attorneys-General was considering a range of new measures for classifying games and potentially restricting their sale.
This item of national importance provides an excellent insight into the OFLC's thinking around game classifications. The interview is styled as a conversation which makes it more of a personal experience for the listener.
This clip is an excerpt from a longer interview that runs for over eight minutes. A classification system for video games came into force in 1994, although the R18+ adult rating was not introduced until 2012 and has been in operation since 2013.
This TEN Eyewitness News item from 1993 announces that, following community concerns, video games with explicit violence and sex are to be banned.
State and federal governments have joined to ban 'extreme' games for sale in Australia while the remainder will be classified in a similar manner to films.
The new classification system came into force in 1994, though the R18+ adult rating was not added until 2012 and began operation from 1 January 2013.
Until then, games that would have been classified R18+ were refused classification and effectively banned in Australia.
This is a poster for Tron, a 1982 science-fiction film directed by Steven Lisberger. The film is about a computer hacker and arcade owner who is 'kidnapped' inside the 3D world of a mainframe computer. His only chance to escape is to participate in gladiatorial-style games.
Tron was groundbreaking for its combination of live actors and computer-generated, neon visuals. It took CGI (computer-generated imagery) to the next level, creating whole CGI-rendered scenes.
The tagline on this poster is effectively simple and direct. Coupled with the bold, central, neon-haloed figure, it is an engaging and striking design that immediately attracts your attention and sets the tone and genre of the film.
Tron was aimed directly at video game fans and became something of a cult film with an eventual sequel, Tron: Legacy (directed by Joseph Kosinski) released in 2010.
'Space Invaders' is a novelty song by Australians Russell Dunlop and Bruce Brown, recorded under the name Player One.
The song is based on the hugely successful video game Space Invaders, released by Japanese company Taito in 1978.
The lyrics hints at the game's addictive properties, as well as its popularity, with lines like: 'Through dark sunken eyes / I see another pale sunrise / Surrounded by soldiers / Glued to the screens'.
'Computer Games' was a No. 1 single in Australia by New Zealand band Mi-Sex, taken from their album Graffiti Crimes (1979).
While the song was released when home-gaming consoles were gaining in popularity, the lyrics have a darker tone.
Lead singer Steve Gilpin's vocal imitates the blips and hiccups of a computer over the top of an unvarying electronic rhythm and the song is particularly memorable for his stuttering, catchy repetition of 'Com-pu-pu-pu-ter Games' in the chorus.
The official video for the song included gameplay from the 1979 arcade games Speed Freak, Basketball and Star Fire.