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While exact dates are debated, the golden age of arcade video games is usually defined as a period beginning sometime in the late 1970s and ending sometime in the mid-1980s. Excluding a brief resurgence in the early 1990s, the arcade industry subsequently declined in the Western hemisphere as competing home-based video game consoles such as Playstation and Xbox increased in their graphics and game-play capability and decreased in cost.
The first popular “arcade games” included early amusement-park midway games such as shooting galleries, ball-toss games, and the earliest coin-operated machines, such as those that claimed to tell a person’s fortune or that played mechanical music. The old Midways of 1920s-era amusement parks (such as Coney Island in New York) provided the inspiration and atmosphere for later arcade games. In the 1930s the first coin-operated pinball machines emerged. These early amusement machines differed from their later electronic cousins in that they were made of wood. They lacked plungers or lit-up bonus surfaces on the playing field, and used mechanical instead of electronic scoring-readouts. By around 1977 most pinball machines in production switched to using solid-state electronics both for operation and for scoring.
In 1966 Sega introduced an electro-mechanical game called Periscope – an early submarine simulator and light gun shooter which used lights and plastic waves to simulate sinking ships from a submarine. It became an instant success in Japan, Europe, and North America, where it was the first arcade game to cost a quarter per play, which would remain the standard price for arcade games for many years to come. In 1967 Taito released an electro-mechanical arcade game of their own, Crown Soccer Special, a two-player sports game that simulated association football, using various electronic components, including electronic versions of pinball flippers.
Sega later produced gun games which resemble first-person shooter video games, but which were in fact electro-mechanical games that used rear image projection in a manner similar to the ancient zoetrope to produce moving animations on a screen. The first of these, the light-gun game Duck Hunt, appeared in 1969; it featured animated moving targets on a screen, printed out the player’s score on a ticket, and had volume-controllable sound-effects. That same year, Sega released an electro-mechanical arcade racing game, Grand Prix, which had a first-person view, electronic sound, a dashboard with a racing wheel and accelerator, and a forward-scrolling road projected on a screen. Another Sega 1969 release, Missile, a shooter and vehicle-combat simulation, featured electronic sound and a moving film strip to represent the targets on a projection screen.
It was the earliest known arcade game to feature a joystick with a fire button, which formed part of an early dual-control scheme, where two directional buttons are used to move the player’s tank and a two-way joystick is used to shoot and steer the missile onto oncoming planes displayed on the screen; when a plane is hit, an animated explosion appears on screen, accompanied by the sound of an explosion. In 1970 Midway released the game in North America as S.A.M.I.. In the same year, Sega released Jet Rocket, a combat flight-simulator featuring cockpit controls that could move the player aircraft around a landscape displayed on a screen and shoot missiles onto targets that explode when hit.
In the course of the 1970s, following the release of Pong in 1972, electronic video-games gradually replaced electro-mechanical arcade games. In 1972, Sega released an electro-mechanical game called Killer Shark, a first-person light-gun shooter known for appearing in the 1975 film Jaws. In 1974, Nintendo released Wild Gunman, a light-gun shooter that used full-motion video-projection from 16 mm film to display live-action cowboy opponents on the screen. One of the last successful electro-mechanical arcade games was F-1, a racing game developed by Namco and distributed by Atari in 1976; this game appeared in the films Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Midnight Madness (1980), as did Sega’s Jet Rocket in the latter film. The 1978 video game Space Invaders, however, dealt a yet more powerful blow to the popularity of electro-mechanical games.