SHMUPS - Third Person Perspective Shooting Games - Part 1

Mark Vergeer's picture

What is it about these physics-defying games that makes them one of the most long lasting genres around?

Introduction
Shoot‘em ups (SHMUPS) are a very specific kind of videogame that everybody will recognize, a type of game where you control a maneuverable weapon – often in the form of a spaceship – stopping enemies from destroying you or your bases. Control is often fairly limited, four- or eight-way control, but sometimes only sideways, combined with one or more fire-buttons. One of the most well known incarnations of the game is Space Invaders and a lot of later games all seem to be inspired by this old granddaddy of SHMUPS from the late 1970’s. Even non-gamers know what Space Invaders is about, often describing a modern day SHMUP as ‘being like Space Invaders’.
One of the first true SHMUPS is Spacewar – a game that was inspired by E.Lensman’s Science Fiction books – which was created around 1962 by three fellows working at the Hingham institute. Spacewar was a simulation were two spaceships fight a duel in space – it ran on an old mainframe computer system that clearly was not designed for playing videogames. It wasn’t until the 1970’s when computers specially designed for playing videogames appeared in arcades and in people’s living rooms.

Philips 1982 Videopac 39 - Freedom Fighters' boxPhilips 1982 Videopac 39 - Freedom Fighters' box
I was first introduced to the SHMUP type of game on my Odyssey2 (aka Videopac G7000). The night before my birthday I woke up startled by strange noises coming from downstairs. As a boy about to turn twelve, my heart was racing as I approached my bedroom door and slowly opened it--afraid to make a noise. There was a weird glow coming from the living room and as I slowly descended the stairs I could make out a huge shadow on one of the walls. At the same time a strange hypnotizing sequence of droning high pitched sounds filled the air. Growing up with Blake's 7, Dr Who, Buck Rogers, Battlestar Galactica and being very into Star Trek and Star Wars my first thoughts were that aliens were invading our home. I continued downstairs – fully prepared to make first contact - and there finally I could make out a figure sitting in front of a glowing light box very much like a color TV. I approached the figure, touched its shoulder and made the Vulcan ‘live long and prosper’ sign. The figure turned around looking surprisingly similar to my mom. My heart raced – BODY SNATCHERS (!) - but then it spoke and it turned out to just be my mom. She said she was sorry that now I knew what I was going to get for my birthday in advance. She’d hooked up the machine to see if it was working properly and had totally lost track of time, still playing the game at 3:00 AM. The sounds woke me up. It was the night my mom – who’d been opposed to videogames for the longest time – discovered the magic of videogames. This incident remained our secret – and later my mom’s stance on videogames quickly changed and she became quite an avid gamer. That Freedom Fighters game (Videopac 39) still holds a special place in my heart and it made me feel like I was flying one of the Vipers from Battlestar Galactica destroying Cylon star bases and rescuing prisoners.

So what’s the fuss?
What is it about these games that draws so many gamers to it? Why is it still such a popular genre in Japan? This begs an explanation--one that may not be very obvious. The graphics of the early games were very crude and rudimentary, often sprite or character based. The newer games feature better graphics, sound and more elaborate bitmap art. The big colorful graphics, explosions and alien ships, as well as fluent animation might have a big appeal to today’s gamers.
The simple game mechanics and reflex based game played a key factor--people can just pick up a game and enjoy it like a lot of other popular arcade games. The game play is very obvious and practice makes perfect. This type of game usually gets its player in ‘the zone’ where thought seems to be very focused and the gamer basically becomes one with the game’s avatar. But it’s not all brainless reflexes; the use of your memory is vital--remembering attack patterns and safe zones where your spaceship can rest a little dodging bullets and laser fire.
Or are there more deeper psychological aspects of the SHMUP debate to its continued appeal? Is it because it puts the gamer in the seat of daring astronauts fighting off alien invaders? Do these games take the gamer away to their own little Star Trek universe where they are allowed to play the leading role?
A lot of questions are still unanswered and to get more insight into this genre perhaps it pays to take a look at the various arcade-based games in a historical perspective, paying attention to the various early types of SHMUP and the way their game play evolved.

Gameplay evolution
The bulk of the first generation of shooters is a simple fixed single screen shooter game where the game avatar is only able to move left and right. Later games allowed movement up and down as well with use of a trackball or joystick. A trackball or a dial allows more precise analog control of the game avatar, whereas a stick often uses microswitches or membranes resulting in more crude on/off movement control. Enemies are usually in gallery formation, flying down alone or in formation dropping their ammo on the gamer's avatar. The games are usually played in rounds or levels where the enemies remain the same shape and the only thing changing is the speed of the game and often the pitch of the noises.

Space Invaders 1978 TaitoSpace Invaders 1978 TaitoSpace Invaders
Main CPU : 8080 (@ 2 Mhz)
Sound Chips : Samples, SN76477 (@ 2 Mhz)
Screen orientation : Vertical
Video resolution : 224 x 240 pixels
Aspect ratio : 3/4
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette colors : 2
Players : 2
Control : 2-way Joystick
Buttons : 1 (FIRE)

The game features 55 invaders per screen and 11 different in-game sounds.
The player moves his ‘ship’ left to right with a two-way joystick and is able to shoot one ‘bullet’ at a time at the descending rows of aliens. The octopus-like aliens were inspired by H.G. Well’s ‘War of the Worlds’. A lot of bootlegs of this game were to be found in the arcades at the time.

Galaxian 1979 NamcoGalaxian 1979 NamcoGalaxian
Main CPU : Z80 (@ 3.072 Mhz)
Sound Chips : Tone generator and discrete circuits
Screen orientation : Vertical
Video resolution : 224 x 256 pixels

Aspect ratio : 3/4
Screen refresh : 60.61 Hz
Palette colors : 16
Players : 2
Control : 2-way joystick (LEFT and RIGHT)
Buttons : 1 (FIRE)
The first videogame with all of its graphics displayed in true RGB color (digital data that appears to the human eye as "real" colors, i.e. a combination of the additive primary colors of red, green, and blue) instead of using dyed b&w tubes or overlays to produce colors. Hordes of aliens come flying down in formation, diving at the player’s ship. Levels consisted of forever faster flying swarms of aliens. The player could only fire one bullet at a time, the moment the bullet disappeared off the screen the player could fire another. Hitting an alien would rearm the spaceship immediately. The background consisted of a scrolling multicolor starfield. This game also featured a lot of bootleg versions in the arcades.

Galaga 1981 NamcoGalaga 1981 NamcoGalaga
Main CPU : Z80 (@ 3.072 Mhz)
Sub CPU : Z80 (@ 3.072 Mhz)
Sound CPU : Z80 (@ 3.072 Mhz)
Sound Chips : Namco 3-channel WSG, discrete circuitry (for the ship explosion sound)
Screen orientation : Vertical
Video resolution : 224 x 288 pixels
Aspect ratio : 3/4
Screen refresh : 60.61 Hz
Palette colors : 32 (16 colors for tiles + 16 colors for sprites)
Players : 2
Control : 2-way joystick
Buttons : 1 (FIRE)
One of the first games featuring a bonus stage. The sequel to Galaxian, with more of an ‘organic’ feel to the way the aliens swooped down at the spaceship. Game play was less frustrating because the ship could fire more rapidly than the Galaxian one. The firepower could be doubled by letting your space ship be caught in one of the alien's tractor-beams and set it free later by attacking it with the laser power of your replacement ship. The recovered ship will be positioned next to your replacement ship. It'll cost you a life though.

Centipede 1980 AtariCentipede 1980 AtariCentipede
Main CPU : M6502 (@ 1.512 Mhz)
Sound Chips : POKEY (@ 1.512 Mhz)
Screen orientation : Vertical
Video resolution : 240 x 256 pixels
Aspect ratio : 3/4
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette colors : 8
Players : 2
Control : trackball

Buttons : 1 = > Fire
Leaving the spacerealm for more earthly matters we find ourselves in the insect world. This game allows the player more degrees of freedom as the ‘ship’ can be moved into all directions with help of a trackball – albeit only on the bottom part of the screen. A frantic game where the gamer has to shoot all the insects, spiders and descending centipedes. Centipedes will split into multiple parts when shot. Destroying mushrooms will allow the centipedes to slow down a little. Later more games will enable the player to ‘fly’ around the whole screen with help of either trackball or joystick instead of only being able to move sideways on the bottom or use just the lower portion of the game screen.

The late 1970’s and early 80’s saw a whole spree of new techniques being introduced to enhance the looks, sounds and game play. Other variants of game play were discovered using different ways of displaying the area where all the action takes place. A sort of 3D environment was created with help of sprite-scaling techniques and wrapping the game-area in a cylinder-like configuration. Movement of the spaceship is basically the same as the previous type of game restricted to left and right. Another technique is the use of multiple screens to expand the playing field.

Gyruss 1983 KonamiGyruss 1983 KonamiGyruss
Main CPU : Z80 (@ 3.072 Mhz), M6809 (@ 2 Mhz)
Sound CPU : Z80 (@ 3.579545 Mhz), I8039 (@ 533.333 Khz)
Sound Chips : (5x) AY8910 (@ 1.789772 Mhz), DAC, (6x) RC (@ 1.789772 Mhz)
Screen orientation : Vertical
Video resolution : 224 x 256 pixels
Aspect ratio : 3/4
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette colors : 32
Players : 2
Control : 8-way joystick
Buttons : 1 (FIRE)
The game runs on the same hardware as Time Pilot, and was created by the same programmer. In this game you fly through our SOL-solar system with final destination Earth, destroying aliens in the process. Each round (or warp) takes you one step closer to earth and upon reaching each of the planets the spaceship neatly flies towards it. Bonus stages are included. The background music is a frantic version of Bach's 'Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor'. The poor man will probably twist and turn in his grave from agony. This game takes the game play up a whole new level, while still looking very much like Galaga or Galaxian.

Vector graphics allowed the arcade machines of the time to display something that can be considered ‘wireframe 3D’. The arcade-hardware of the time still was not capable of producing real 3D scaling graphics so this was the closest thing to real 3D.

Tempest 1980 AtariTempest 1980 AtariTempest
Main CPU : M6502 (@ 1.512 Mhz)
Sound Chips : (2x) POKEY (@ 1.512 Mhz)
Screen orientation : Vertical
Video resolution : 256 x 231 pixels
Aspect ratio : 3/4
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette colors : 256
Players : 1
Control : dial

Buttons : 2 (FIRE, SUPERZAP)
One of the first games featuring a selectable level of difficulty. This game has similar features to Gyruss but is a little older. It is clear that the creators of Gyruss were inspired by this game. The player controls a yellow spaceship that moves around different space grids. All sorts of enemies try to climb up the grid and the player simply has to shoot everything that comes up towards him.

As the game progresses, the player is presented with a new uniquely shaped space grid while the enemies get more numerous and move faster and faster. After all enemies are shot off the grid the player warps to a new grid. This game uses a dial (spinner) and it allows precise control of the ship in an analog way.
Tempest is a vector based game, the first to use ‘Color Quadrascan’ allowing the vector games to feature color on the CRT tube itself. Originally this game was designed to be a ’true 3D Space Invaders’ first person perspective game, but the game designers just didn’t feel like playing it when using this view so the team ended up doing something very different, resulting in this gem of a game.
The prototypes of this game had the blue grid spinning around and the yellow zapper remaining stationary. This caused a lot of motion sickness so they ended up switching it around with the yellow zapper moving around the front part of the grid.

The use of physics was introduced to create more realism. The flying spaceship would actually have its own momentum. Shooting enemies would create debris flying around. An excellent landmark of a game using thrust-physics is Asteroids.

Asteroids 1979 AtariAsteroids 1979 AtariAsteroids
Main CPU : M6502 (@ 1.5 Mhz)
Sound Chips : Discrete
Screen orientation : Horizontal
Video resolution : 256 x 231 pixels
Aspect ratio : 4/3
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette colors : 32768
Players : 2
Buttons : 5 = > RIGHT, LEFT, FIRE, THRUST, HYPERSPACE
Originally designed to be a new version of one of the first videogames ever – Space Wars (yes a shmup) . The first incarnation of the game features a glitch that allowed the player to be virtually invincible.

The gamer’s ship is trapped within an asteroid field and the main task is to survive and destroy the asteroids that drift in and out of the wrapping screen. The game universe is unique, wrapping around on all sides, a clever way to actually make the game interesting and somewhat predictable. The ship can rotate and is flown around with help of a thruster and has it’s own momentum. When shot the asteroids will break into smaller pieces, making it even harder for the gamer to stay in one piece. Asteroids is the first game using real-world physics. Every now and again a flying saucer will appear firing at the gamer’s spaceship. When all is destroyed a new even faster level begins.

What else could be created to capture the player’s attention? A huge playing area. So the playing field was expanded by scrolling. One of the earliest examples of a vertical scrolling shooter is Atari’s Sky Raider.

Sky Raider 1978 AtariSky Raider 1978 AtariSky Raider
Main CPU : M6502 (@ 1.008 Mhz)
Screen orientation : Horizontal
Video resolution : 512 x 240 pixels
Aspect ratio : 4/3
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette colors : 20
Players : 1
Control : stick
Buttons : 7 !
Space Invaders was so popular at the time that this game actually was overlooked in a lot of arcades. This is the first vertical shooter. Technically it was more advanced and uses an incredibly sophisticated scrolling technique with a bitmapped background. Piloting a bomber destroying as many targets as possible in a limited amount of time. There are no enemy ships and a lot of targets to shoot. Very simple game mechanics. But I must say Space Invaders does give the gamer more of a challenge.

Xevious 1982 NamcoXevious 1982 NamcoXevious
Master CPU : Z80 (@ 3.072 Mhz)
Motion CPU : Z80 (@ 3.072 Mhz)
Sound CPU : Z80 (@ 3.072 Mhz)
Sound Chips : Namco 3-channel WSG, discrete circuitry (for the explosion sounds)
Screen orientation : Vertical
Video resolution : 224 x 288 pixels
Aspect ratio : 3/4
Screen refresh : 60.61 Hz
Palette colors : 256
Players : 2
Control : 8-way joystick
Buttons : 2 (FIRE, BOMB)
The first vertically scrolling SHMUP featuring accurate targeting of both airborn AND ground-based enemies. For most people this is the first vertical shooter. It’s a genre-defining game with revolutionary use of colors. Metallic grays were never seen before in this splendor and the arcade machine itself is very complex, featuring a dual CPU and special sound-chips. The gamer flies a ship named ‘Solvalou’ and this ship features two types of weapons – bullets and ground missiles. Fly through all the 16 levels and destroy all you encounter is what the game is all about. This is of the first games to feature something similar to an ‘end boss’ in the shape of a big fortress – Andor Genesis - hanging in the air. The gamer has to destroy it by shooting at it’s core.
The game's 16 different play areas must have made it huge in its day. Apart from the scrolling background and ground targeting missiles, this game still has many similarities to Galaga and Centipede.

While early vertical scrolling SHMUPS remained fairly close to the original Galaga and Xevious type of game, the horizontal scrolling type of SHMUP introduced something else--in a lot of the horizontal games people could choose the direction in which they flew. Defender was a prime example of that.

Defender 1980 WilliamsDefender 1980 Williams
Defender
Main CPU : M6809 (@ 1 Mhz)
Sound CPU : M6808 (@ 894.75 Khz)
Sound Chips : DAC
Screen orientation : Horizontal
Video resolution : 294 x 239 pixels
Aspect ratio : 4/3
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette colors : 16
Players : 2
Control : 2-way joystick (vertical)
Buttons : 5 = > THRUST, FIRE, REVERSE, SMART BOMB, HYPERSPACE
Defender is the first video game to feature events occurring outside the main game screen with the ability to observe it with a radar and anticipate the position of enemy ships. The game features incredibly realistic sound effects, especially for a game of that time.
The gamer has to protect humans that are stranded on the surface of a planet. Aliens are trying to abduct the humans and try to destroy the gamer’s craft. Captured humans will join the aliens in their quest to attack and destroy the gamer. Captured non-changed humans can still be saved and have to be brought back to the surface. For some weird reason the planet will be blown up if all the humans are captured. Two innovations – smart bombs and hyperspace (the latter also to be found in Asteroids) - make up the weapon arsenal next to the ever present laser.

Another type of horizontal scroller is defined by early games like Scramble. Movement seems more limited in this type of game that has a horizontal scrolling game-world that just keeps on scrolling very much like with many vertical shooters. The gamer is forced to destroy obstacles, enemies and take the right path in time or crash/explode. Movement is often free in all directions but the screen moves right to left at an unforgiving pace.

Scramble 1981 KonamiScramble 1981 KonamiScramble
Main CPU : Z80 (@ 3.072 Mhz)
Sound CPU : Z80 (@ 1.78975 Mhz)
Sound Chips : (2x) AY8910 (@ 1.78975 Mhz), (6x) RC (@ 1.78975 Mhz)
Screen orientation : Vertical
Video resolution : 224 x 256 pixels
Aspect ratio : 3/4
Screen refresh : 60.61 Hz
Palette colors : 99
Players : 2
Control : 4-way joystick
Buttons : 2 (LASER, BOMB)
The first 'multi-level' SHMUP and the first game to feature a re-fueling system. Six levels scroll relentlessly by while the gamer has to try to stay alive shooting enemy spacecrafts, missiles and comets. The gamer has to dodge enemies, navigate his craft through narrow passageways and at the same time make sure that his fuel tank is full enough to remain airborne. As the game progresses the fuel consumption increases until it totally outweighs the intake, making the game impossible. Scramble is considered the first in the "Gradius" series, take a look at the Nintendo Game Boy Advance "Gradius Galaxies" or "Gradius Advance" -intro sequence.

Innovation was booming, the industry was fighting for the gamer’s attention and yet another way of displaying a simulated 3D scrolling game field was created using isometric graphics.

Zaxxon 1982 segaZaxxon 1982 segaZaxxon
Main CPU : Z80 (@ 3.04125 Mhz)
Sound Chips : Samples (@ 3.04125 Mhz)
Screen orientation : Vertical
Video resolution : 224 x 256 pixels
Aspect Ratio : 3/4
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette Colors : 256
Players : 2
Control : 8-way joystick
Buttons : 1 (FIRE)
This is the first game ever to use isometric graphics. This classic videogame features a fuel system similar to Scramble and is in fact an isometric Scramble in my opinion. Still a great game though--revolutionary graphics at the time. The gamer pilots his ship around bases and through space, fighting off aliens while avoiding running in to laser grids, missiles and spaceships. At the end you have to take on a boss – Zaxxon. The stick controls like a true plane where forward movement of the stick makes the plane descend and pulling the stick towards you will make the plane rise. The sense of flying the little plane on screen is very well done.

Games where you were flying inside your own ship – using the first person perspective with or without a true 3D perspective - was something the game industry introduced as early as 1977.

Starship One 1977 AtariStarship One 1977 AtariStarship 1
Main CPU : M6502 (@ 750 Khz)
Screen orientation : Horizontal
Video resolution : 512 x 240 pixels
Aspect Ratio : 4/3
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette Colors : 8
Players : 1
Control : stick
Buttons : 3
Using a partly see through mirror, the game was displayed on a backlit space background with crosshairs taped to the monitor. This is one of the first shooters that allows the gamer to actually be inside the spaceship that flies through space and destroys the enemy ships. This game features alien ships that look rather like Starfleet Academy spaceships captained by Kirk and the rest of the Star Trek lot. The game features spaceships zooming in and big balls of fire/asteroids moving in that have to be avoided by the gamer. Incredibly sophisticated for its time, it's hard to believe it’s from 1977!

Most games stuck to the familiar third person view combined with a 3D perspective to create a sense of realism. However, later games were comfortable using the first person perspective when hardware became more powerful.

Buck Rogers 1982 SegaBuck Rogers 1982 SegaBuck Rogers - Planet of Zoom
Main CPU : (2x) Z80 (@ 5 Mhz)
Sound Chips : Samples (@ 5 Mhz)
Screen orientation : Horizontal
Video resolution : 256 x 224 pixels
Aspect Ratio : 4/3
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette Colors : 1792
Players : 1
Control : 8-way joystick
Buttons : 3
Sega introduces something that it becomes very good at in later games – sprite scaling. Here using the well known third person perspective. This also adds to the 3D feeling of the game. This eight level game wasn’t that popular with the highscore gamers due to its unlimited continue feature, which made the highscores pretty much useless.

Space Harrier 1982 SegaSpace Harrier 1982 SegaSpace Harrier
Main CPU : (2x) 68000 (@ 10 Mhz), Z80 (@ 4 Mhz), I8751 (@ 8 Mhz)
Sound Chips : YM2203 (@ 4 Mhz), Sega (@ 8 Mhz)
Screen orientation : Horizontal
Video resolution : 304 x 224 pixels
Aspect ratio : 4/3
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette colors : 6144
Players : 1
Control : stick
Buttons : 3 (FIRE, FIRE, FIRE)
The first full-color (a whopping 6144 colors) computer generated graphics in Japan and an FM sound system capable of producing more realistic sounds that had a huge impact, featuring Sega’s sprite-scaling mania. This is a classic shooter featuring shadows and 3D perspective, as well as free movement and a real 3D feel. The enemies look like they’ve been created by someone eating hallucinogenic mushrooms. The gamer’s avatar wears a jetsuit, enabling him to fly around dodging the aliens. The laser can destroy scenery as well as the enemies. A true original with frantic game play.

SHMUPS also featured other types of game play, quite distinct from the flying-around-in-a-spaceship theme, in the shape of games that allowed the avatar to walk around and shoot opponents. The early games featured the third person perspective and I believe these games are the true precursors to today’s First Person Shooters (FPS) like Doom, Quake and Half-Life. Variants of this type of gameplay allow free movement in all directions in a game arena or game universe--walls, platforms, doors and other objects from the real world provide interaction with the avatar.

Gun Fight 1975 MidwayGun Fight 1975 MidwayGun Fight
Main CPU : 8080 (@ 2 Mhz)
Screen orientation : Horizontal
Video resolution : 256 x 224 pixels
Aspect ratio : 4/3
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette colors : 2
Players : 2
Control : joystick 2-way, spinner
First US release of a Japanese video game. This is in fact the first CPU-based videogame ever and it happens to be a SHMUP! The game features limited up and down movement and the avatar is a humanoid interacting with other on-screen objects. It is also the first video game where two players control two humanoids in battle, and, with this in mind, one could also view this game as the granddaddy of the ‘fighter games’ found in today’s arcades.

Berzerk 1982 Stern ElectronicsBerzerk 1982 Stern ElectronicsBerzerk
Main CPU : Z80 (@ 2.5 Mhz)
Sound Chips : Samples
Screen orientation : Horizontal
Video resolution : 256 x 224 pixels
Aspect ratio : 4/3
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette colors : 16
Players : 2
Control : 8-way joystick
Buttons : 1 (FIRE)
This is the first game featuring talking enemies. The game features a more elaborate control scheme and gameplay – eight way movement and firing with CPU-powered opponents. The green human avatar must survive walking around a robot-infested blue maze. The robots fire laser rifles at the gamer and the objective is to leave the room without getting killed by the robots or ‘Evil Otto’ who appears on screen after the gamer remains in the same room too long. Walking into a blue wall will kill the avatar as well. The game is huge with around 64,000 different rooms to navigate. Each new room is more difficult to navigate than the previous.

Commando 1985 CapcomCommando 1985 CapcomCommando
Main CPU : Z80 (@ 4 Mhz)
Sound CPU : Z80 (@ 3 Mhz)
Sound Chips : (2x) YM2203 (@ 1.5 Mhz)
Screen orientation : Vertical
Video resolution : 224 x 256 pixels
Aspect ratio : 3/4
Screen refresh : 60.00 Hz
Palette colors : 256
Players : 2
Control : 8-way joystick
Buttons : 2
In this vertical scrolling multi-level SHMUP, the avatar is a commando the needs to rescue POW's and destroy the enemy bases. It’s a kill or be killed game where the gamer has an unlimited supply of bullets and a limited amount of powerful hand grenades. This game has an isometric sequel called Mercs (Capcom 1990). This game is a good example of a third person SHMUP that is a precursor to many later FPS games; this type of game play seems to have been replaced completely with the first person perspective in modern games, whereas the spaceship-theme still persists.

The evolution of SHMUPS on the home consoles and home computers of the time runs parallel to the above mentioned developments in the arcade. Most of the games I used here as an example have arcade ports on home machines like the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Nintendo Famicom, MSX, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 (C-64), Amstrad CPC, Atari 400/800/800XL and Apple II. In fact almost every system had SHMUPS created for – or ported to - it.

Third person shooters today
Throughout the 1980’s the genre continued to be popular. The hardware of the arcades, consoles and home computer systems advanced and 16- and 32-bit machines came on the market. Systems like the the Sega Genesis/Megadrive, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and NEC’s Turbo-Grafx/16 – which is actually part 8-bit – got a huge number of SHMUPS added to their catalogs. A lot of these games were produced in Japan and never saw US or European releases.
The move to 16- and 32-bit arcade machines and home systems even started a ‘golden era’ for the genre in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. It’s obvious that the bright colors, pre-rendered graphics, parallax scrolling, huge explosions and digitized stereo music make the games very attractive to the casual gamer visiting the arcade, but that surely cannot account for its lasting success. Apart from fancy – strangely universal - power up systems and selectable weapons, the game play basically remained the same.

Over time, the SHMUP as a third person perspective shooter genre has become as distinct as the first person perspective shooter.

What is it about the games that makes them so durable? Is there an explanation for this ‘golden age’? What is needed to gain some more insight into the genre’s appeal?

Part two of my article will feature some prime examples of that time. I will take a look at what defines a good shooter and what makes a bad one in order to gain more insight into the genre’s lasting appeal.

Sources
Articles
The origin of spacewar - J.M.Greatz

Websites
http://wikipedia.org
http://google.com
http://www.mame.net
http://www.arcade-history.com/
http://www.solstation.com/stars/sol-sum.htm

Books
Game on® - the history and culture of video games – Lucien King
ISBN 1-85669-304-X http://www.laurenceking.co.uk
Supercade – a visual history of the videogame age 1971-1984 – Van Burnham
ISBN 0-262-02492-6 http://www.supercade.com

Magazines
Edge http://www.edge-online.co.uk/
Games-tm http://www.gamestm.co.uk/

Comments

Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Thanks!

Thanks OldSchool, I am working on a 'part 2' concentrating on the 'golden era' of Shmups.

-= Mark Vergeer - Armchair Arcade editor =-

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Rob Daviau
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Joined: 05/19/2006
WOW! Great

WOW! Great article!

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Oldschool games, some people just don't "get it"...

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