Why are retro arcade hits so popular?

The latest gadgets and tech toys.
Dec. 17 2003 4:19 PM

Blasts From the Past

What today's game designers can learn from Space Invaders.

(Continued from Page 1)

"Compared to [today], we were working with bubble gum and rubber bands and hot glue," complains John Newcomer, who created Joust, easily one of the oddest games in recorded history. (As you may recall, it involved knights with lances mounted on flying ostriches.) "The memory of the game was 96K, which was just nothing. ... So the real challenge in designing games back then was, how do you do something interesting with some nice animation and how do you do it such a small package?"

But those limitations forced the designers to be more innovative. Spin through that Midway disk and you remember just how hallucinogenically inspired that era was, cranking out demented titles like Paperboy or Marble Madness or Root Beer Tapper. And, OK, maybe Root Beer Tapper isn't the quite the must-play that it seemed like back in 1984, but least the designers were stretching for new ideas. Video games turn out to be just like sonnets and pop songs. Often it's restrictions, not freedoms, that inspire creativity.

Clive Thompson is a longtime contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired. He is the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better.