Video Games in movies that I totally thought were fake…but aren’t
So, the other day, I was watching one of my favorite movies, Midnight Madness.
In case you didn’t know, it’s about a group of college kids that take part in a city-wide game of chase. They are given clues that lead to specific destinations which eventually end up at the finish line. It’s a great movie and is one of Michael J Fox’s earliest roles. Anyway, about 3/4 of the way through the movie there is a great scene that takes place in a video arcade. It’s always been one of my favorite scenes, especially now, because you can see a bunch of old school video games as the camera changes perspective.
So, after arriving at the video arcade (which is run by a young Paul Reubens in a cowboy costume), the players discover they must play the game Star Fire, and beat it, in order to get the final clue. They gather around the machine with like a million quarters and start playing.
For years, I thought this game was a creation of the movie. The logo was obviously a rip off of Star Wars and the game play was disjointed and just looked manufactured. You could even see images of TIE Fighters in the game.
How could this crappy ass game be real? Am I right? However, just recently, while searching around the Internet I discovered that Star Fire was an actual video game. It was manufactured in 1980 by a company called Exidy. The graphics, game play and cabinet were slightly altered in the movie for the purposes of the script (which explains why it felt fake), but the game was most definitely real. Not only that, it is considered a ground breaking shoot ‘em up. It was the first arcade game to use the sit down cockpit (however the movie used the stand up version) and was also the first game to keep track of player initials and high scores. Here’s a flyer from 1979 advertising the Star Fire arcade game.
(Via the Arcade Flyer Archive)
I was blown away. I couldn’t believe this was real. I’d seen Midnight Madness thousands of times and I just assumed Star Fire was fake. For me, this is nearly akin to finding out Mattel actually made hoverboards back in 1989. Earth. Shattering. I’ll have to see if I can download an emulator ROM for it.
This got me thinking about other movies with awesome video game machines that I assumed were fake but are, in fact, real.
The next movie that popped into my head, of course, was The Last Starfighter. You can’t not think of this movie when thinking about movies and video games.
However, after some research, what I believed to be true with that game is, in fact, true. The Starfighter video game in the movie was created specifically for the movie, however, Atari had simultaneously developed the game to be released as a promotional tie-in after the movie’s release. Unfortunately, the cost of the 3D graphics, game cabinet and controls turned out to be cost prohibitive (that cabinet does look HUGE). Several years later the Starfighter game software was modified slightly and released as Star Raiders II.
The next movie I thought of was 1984′s Cloak & Dagger. Starring Dabney Coleman and ET’s Henry Thomas, the movie revolved around an Atari 5200 cartridge of the game Cloak & Dagger that has stolen government secrets stashed away in its memory. Somehow Henry Thomas’ character winds up with the cartridge and must go on the run to escape everyone that wants the secrets for themselves.
I knew the Atari 5200 was real, but I assumed the game was made up for the movie. Maybe even in a similar situation to The Last Starfighter. And that’s somewhat what happened. Atari was developing a spy game called Agent X. They discovered that Universal Pictures was making a movie about a boy caught up in some government intrigue involving his favorite video game. The two decided to combine their efforts and Atari modified the game play of Agent X to more closely match the movie and then changed the name to Cloak & Dagger which they released in 1983. The movie was released in 1984 and Atari planned to release the home versions of Cloak & Dagger (just like the movie) the same year. Unfortunately, it never happened. The 1983-84 collapse of the home video game market and the selling of Atari squelched all of that.
So, obviously, next, is the movie Jaws. Wait, wha-?! Yeah, I know. This one seems random at first, but it’s one I’ve always noticed. Early in the movie you get a quick glimpse of a few arcade machines on the boardwalk. Front and center is a machine called Killer Shark.
I totally thought this was a redressed rifle game cabinet as a nod to the events that are about to happen. Nope. Killer Shark is an actual game manufactured by Sega in 1972. How about that? You can also see a Computer Space cabinet right behind the Killer Shark machine. Computer Space is considered the very first coin operated arcade video game. It predates Atari Pong by nearly a year. Computer Space would also make an appearance in Soylent Green.
So, what did I learn from this exercise? That I assume too much. And the Internet knows everything. EVERYTHING.