Standing on the shoulders of giant nerds

A selection of games to clone (not the best games ever list!) and games that expanded their core gameplay with a “twist” or more.

Lunar lander (1969-73-79)

Almost educational, sciencey sim.

The original lunar lander from 1969 looked like this. Good luck.

Site specific, custom controllers, multiplayer co-op
Free Download

Pong (Video Olympics for Atari 2600) (1972)

Or maybe a pong-like?

First arcade game by Atari, ripped off from Magnavox, followed a lawsuit.

Although Atari and Magnavox were making “official” versions of Pong various clones began to flood the market made by a whole slew of manufacturers. Eventually the demand for the simple paddle game dwindled and companies that had invested large sums of money were seeing a staggering drop in sales as the bubble burst. Some refer to this as the “video game crash of 1977″, a clear foreshadow to the eventual crash of 1983.

Fluid simulation, less direct control, 2 extra actions, rich functional aesthetics

Also check Painstation, what happens when the act of playing is less consequence free?

Breakout (1976)

Programmed by Steve Wozniak and Jobs. An attempt to innovate on the pong concept.

Browser Play

Gun fight/outlaw (1975)

First human vs human violence. Same creator as Space Invaders.

Platform specific gameplay and port, interesting tactical negotiations and resource management

Indy 500 (1977)

That’s exactly how it looks

Adaptation of Indy 800, obscure 8 player arcade by Atari.

Early top down racing game. Similar to Deathrace, the first “controversial” game created the year before.

Moral Panic!

Play online
Bonus for not hitting obstacles reinforcing the alternative theme

Space invaders (1978)

Image results for: space invaders etsy

Massive hit both arcade and on Atari (killer app). Iconic. What are the design choices that make it good?

Not my best but interesting case study

Play Online
Event/campaign specific, twists to convey a political message (some notes here)

Asteroids (1979)

Inspired by the first video game Spacewar! – paddle + button. Vector screen, try the real deal at Games’n at

2 player Co-op, navigation subsystem

Luftrausers is also kind of asteroid derived

Frogger (1981)

First avoidance/stealth/nonviolent/empathy/environmentalist game?

Gesture based delayed control, similar theme

Robotron: 2084 (1982)

Perfecting Berzerk (top down dungeon crawler). Dual controls, still influential (geometry wars, binding of isaac). Precursor of WASD + mouse
Chain reactions, sound effect blended with music, levels with different feels and strategies, enemies following a complex organic behavior

ET (1982)

“Worst video game EVAR”. Along with the terrible Pacman port was blamed for the video game industry crash of 1983, saturation/overproduction crisis. Terrible tie-in result of the loss of control of designer and growing influence of publishers.

The legendary Alamogordo, NM landfill

BUT Some interesting features: opening screen, disempowered protagonist, open world-ish.

I couldn’t find a contemporary E.T. derived game BUT non violent, top down, open world games are quite popular:

Super Mario Bros. (1985)

Teaching without tutorials.

NES saving the industry marketing it as toy. That’s why we associate games with kids. Boy toy.

Time warping mechanic transforming the puzzle-platformer genre

Canabalt (2009)

indie hit. Retro graphics. Flixel. One button game genre, procedural generation, environmental storytelling.


First person changes everything, press and hold, bonus, added vertigo/ilinx

Flappy bird (2013)

Random viral hit. Prankishly difficult? Masocore goes mainstream?

Play Flappy MMO online
Doesn’t change the mechanic or dynamic but aesthetically it does change the experience.


Adventure (first dungeon crawler, Zelda, rogue like), Centipede (Ed Logg & Dona Baley), Custer’s Revenge, Beat ‘Em & Eat ‘Em, Donkey Kong Atari crappy port and Donkey Kong Atari homebrew.

Leave a Reply