Control & movement

Let’s go back in time. What’s the first videogame ever?

Right Answer #1

1962 Steve Russell & al. Bastard child of the military industrial complex. Based on a virtual planetarium. Rand on PDP-1 an early digital computer. Open source-ish collaborative creation (modding). Progenitor of Asteroids and all shooters.
Screen was a WWII radar – its roundness possibly affected the design of the game.
The interface was a bunch of awkwardly positioned switches. So they had to invent the joystick. Its mapping still dictates much of the movements in game spaces.

Screen Shot 2017-10-12 at 9.43.27 AM

Right Answer #2

1958 William Higinbotham, Robert Dvorak. Analog computer, oscilloscope screen. Pacifist/scientific sibling of Spacewar. Progenitor of pong and all sports games.
Control system based on knobs which spawn a the commercial pong style controllers years later, now out of fashion (but somewhat closer to the analog stick than switches).

In 1977 a million of pong clones flooded the market crashing the young industry
In 1977 a million of pong clones flooded the market crashing the nascent industry

Control interfaces mostly stabilized until the advent of mouse and GUI in the early 90s (fostering less action oriented genres like RTS, puzzles, point and click adventures, and externalizing the look and aim to the mouse).

Game genres developed incrementally mainly by reimagining the relationship between the standard cartesian control system and player/avatar.

Asteroids (1979) – building upon Spacewar!

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

Lunar lander (1969-73-79) as sideway/sciencey spacewar?

Almost educational, a simulator.

The original lunar lander from 1969 looked like this. Good luck.
A contemporary variation:

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

Breakout (1976) as single player pong

Programmed by Steve Wozniak and Jobs for Atari (building upon pong).

Gun fight/outlaw (1975) as pong retheming but also as early shooter

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

Indy 500 (1977) – as application of the spacewars/asteroids relative control system
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!

Space invaders (1978) – a combination of breakout and spacewar?

Image results for: space invaders etsy

Massive hit both arcade and on Atari (killer app). Iconic.

Adventure (1980)

First action-adventure and fantasy game – conceived as a graphical version of Colossal Cave Adventure (the first narrative/text game) and progenitor of Zelda and open world games. Introduced/popularized inventory and expanded the 4 direction spatial movement beyond the screen i.e. the concept of exploration.

Robotron: 2084 (1982) 

Perfecting Berzerk (top down dungeon crawler). Dual controls, still influential (geometry wars, binding of isaac). Precursor of WASD + mouse and twin stick shooters.

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.

Super Mario Bros. (1985) – builds upon previous single screen platformers Donkey Kong and Mario Bros

Teaching without tutorials.

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


Canabalt (2009) – platformer via reduction

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


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

Sonic – too fast?, but good “feel” and personality

Innovative control systems today

Some of these examples add new twists to established conventions, most of them determine the features of the worlds as levels are often designed around the player’s movement capabilities.

Katamary Damacy – twin analog manouvring

Noby Noby Boy – more twin stick analog weirdness

Osmos – movement as resource

QWOP – walking simulator

Envirobear – awkward micromanaging driving game

Luftrauser – reinventing shmups

Flywrench – multi-modal masocore

VVVVVV – reinventing jump

Mushroom 11 – biological physics

Super Hot – FPS as resource management

Hohokum – semi-useless but aesthetically crucial trail

Flower – flight sim without plane

Grow Home – floaty drunk robot


Crayon Physics – indirect control

World of Goo – physics toys

Braid – rethinking time

Thumper – reinventing rhythm games