back to the 80s
Melbourne 1980: a time before mobile phones, the Internet, DVDs and ATMs. In a small game studio in South Melbourne they were about to make videogame history.
Discover the secret history of Australia's role in the rise and rise of the videogame.
Hits of the 80s: Aussie Games that Rocked the World is the new Games Lab exhibition at ACMI, opening 13 December.
Fans of the 80s and game aficionados will be able to try their hand at The Way of the Exploding Fist, on an original Commodore 64 computer, or can pursue a magical adventure in The Hobbit - the classic text-based adventure game.
Hits of the 80s features these and another nine classic games from the 1980s - complete with working joysticks, external tape drives and large pixel images - all of them created by Beam Software, Australia's first electronic games company.
Few people are aware of the extraordinary contribution that this pioneering game studio in South Melbourne made to the global games industry.
The early 1980s is considered the 'golden age' of videogames. It was a time of immense creativity as the medium invented itself.
When Beam Software started, music was still being released on vinyl records (the compact disc didn't arrive until 1982);Tron, the first movie to employ CGI effects, was still two years away; PacMan had just been released (Space Invaders had arrived two years earlier); MIDI was not yet part of the music vernacular; digital watches were still thought of as a pretty neat idea; and floppy discs were, well, floppy.
Many still thought of a computer as the ticker-tape spewing, 'washing-machine look-alike' that stole Graeme Garden's heart in The Goodies. No one could have predicted then that videogames would grow into a multi-billion dollar industry and dramatically change our relationship with the screen.
In just five years Beam Software would go on to become one of the most successful games developers in the world, releasing a series of international bestsellers.
One of many Beam games developed for the Commodore 64 (still the best selling computer model of all time), The Hobbit is considered to be one of the classic text adventure games. Based on stories from Tolkien's best selling novel, the developers were inspired by Scott Adams's text-based Adventure International series that used two-word command logic puzzles. It was the first groundbreaking game produced in Australia - running in real time and allowing players to talk to and direct the other characters. On its release it became a phenomenon in the gaming world.
Selling over a million copies, The Hobbit engendered a devoted fan culture. At the height of its popularity, Beam received 50 to 60 letters a day from obsessed fans! Popular Computing Weekly (the UK-based magazine) ran a regular help column for players. Eventually Melbourne House published a dedicated guide with maps and tips - a then unprecedented development.
The Way of the Exploding Fist
Designed originally for the Commodore 64 in 1985, The Way of the Exploding Fist was the brainchild of Beam programmer Gregg Barnett. He wanted to create a sports simulation game where the moves were both modelled on real actions and intuitive to the joystick controller. With a style and title inspired by Bruce Lee films, it was the first ever 'beat-em-up' for the home PC, launching an entirely new style of game play.
The character was one of the first ever created by graphic artists rather than programmers. The groundbreaking play involved special combination moves and used the joystick intuitively to flow the action. The game was also cutting edge in its realistic graphics and use of sound to dramatise the action. It hit number one in sales throughout Europe, helping Beam Software solidify its position as one of the biggest games developers and publishers of the 1980s.
Published Monday, 11 December 2006