The golden era of videogames is a hot topic among gamers, mainly because many game enthusiasts don't agree when the gaming utopia took place.
Some feel that it occurred in the mid to late 80s with the introduction and domination of the NES. Others found the 16-bit epoch to be their own personal Shangri-La. Younger gamers feel that this current “next-gen” period we find ourselves in, with its online capabilities and cutting-edge graphics, is the pinnacle of gaming paradise.
Everyone feels differently because everyone has a different collection games that define them and their age bracket. But when bringing up the topic of arcades and the era in which they thrived, there is little room for debate. The golden era took place in the 80s and the king of the cabinets was Namco.
Like many other videogame companies, Namco's early beginnings can be found in business completely unrelated to the gaming industry. Started in the 1950s, the company scraped up its capital by selling mechanical rocking horses and kiddy rides. Namco first started making videogames in 1974 after they snatched the Japanese division of Atari. A few early games followed, but they were all just a preamble to the bomb that would be dropped in 1980.
Apparently inspired by a pizza pie (sans one slice) by Toru Iwatani, Pac-Man would arguably become the most famous videogame in the world. Every respectable arcade would house a Pac-Man machine.
The game would become instantly recognizable to all who heard that opening jingle, felt its battle-worn joystick, and guided that simple little sphere to strategically munch those delicious dots in a quest to tame his paranormal enemies. Pac-Man would do a lot more than build a videogame fan base the world over. It would bring videogames into the mainstream.
Having a background in amusement parks, Namco focused on developing its arcade library, which was the main vehicle to carry a gaming fix to the consumers of the day. If you were to take a stroll through a gallery displaying these works of art you would see an assortment of masterpieces.
There is Galaga, the superior sequel to 1979's Galaxian that would have kids around the world risking alien abduction in order to get a chance at doubling their firepower. Pole Position was a hugely successful racing game for the company. Dig Dug and Xevious (the world's first vertical shooter) would both be released in the same year.
Namco had a lot of “firsts” in the gaming industry, many of which have become clichés within the community. King and Balloon was the first game to use synthesized voices. Rally X was the first game to include the ever-popular bonus round. Dragon Buster introduced the idea of a life bar, and Splatterhouse was the first game to be branded with a parental advisory warning.
Arcades are still Namco's territory. Like their amusement parks, they continue to make fantastic rides for people of all ages and preferences. Tekken, Soul Calibur, and Time Crisis continue to push the envelopes of their respected genres, and Ridge Racer continues its legacy on the PS3.
The transition to consoles came initially with ports of their coin-op successes, but original games like the Ace Combat series and the Xenosaga series offer a nice alternative to the frenzied action of your standard quarter cruncher.
Namco Cybertainment Inc. has become the largest arcade company in the world, with roughly 30,000 games in their inventory. Two years ago Namco merged with the toy manufacturing giant Bandai. They now stand as the 3rd largest videogame entity in Japan.
The merger will deliver Namco's classics to a whole slew of fresh-faced customers. By developing versions of their classics for operation on either cell phones or Xbox Live, they are guaranteeing the longevity of their product.
We will be seeing Namco for generations to come, mainly because their great videogames tap into a digital fountain of youth, preventing them from ever getting old.
Pac-Man Championship Edition (Xbox Live),
Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation (Xbox 360).
Naruto: Uzumaki Chronicles 2 (PS2)
Dead to Rights (Multi)