Sunday 20 June 2021

Frogger vs Centipede (1981)

Introduced June 1981

Early popular arcade games tended to be space-themed shoot-‘em-ups, which tended to appeal to male customers. However, games such as Pac-Man had a much broader audience and were especially popular with female players.

Fighting for a share of this market - and introduced roughly at the same time as each other – were Frogger (by Konami and Sega) and Atari’s Centipede. Both these games are regarded as classics of the golden age of arcade machines, but both had very different gameplay.

The origin story for Frogger is as cute as the game itself. Konami employee Akira Hashimoto was watching a frog trying to cross the road from his car, and was thinking about the difficulties the poor creature was having… which led to the inspiration for creating the game. Only the poor old frog in Frogger has an even tougher time.

Frogger machine from Seinfeld
Frogger machine from Seinfeld

In the game, the player starts at the bottom of the screen and tries to make it to the frogs’ homes at the top. To do this, the frog has to cross several lanes of traffic, and then cross a river on floating logs and diving turtles while avoiding alligators. There are many ways to die. Colourful graphics and a catchy soundtrack added to the appeal of the game, and it was a huge hit.

Centipede was another animal-themed game, but very different in execution. From a gameplay perspective, this was closer to a traditional shooter game, but here the adversaries were various bugs that you had to defend yourself against, primarily a long centipede which wound its way down the screen and which would split up if you shot it. Fleas, spiders and scorpions appeared with different behaviours, and the playfield was full of mushrooms which changed the course of the centipede when it hit.

Atari Centipede
Atari Centipede

Like Frogger, Centipede was a huge hit particularly with female players. Both games were widely ported – officially and unofficially – to the booming home computer and console markets. Indeed, both arcade machines shared many hardware parts with theses home machines – Frogger ran on a Zilog Z80 with the versatile AY-3-8910 sound chip and Centipede used the MOS Technology 6502 with Atari’s own POKEY sound chips which found their way into every Atari product of the time. This symmetry in hardware capabilities allowed this generation of video games to be a huge hit away from the arcades. Eventually powerful home computers and then consoles would end the golden age of arcades but by 1981 that was still some way off…

Image credits:
Arturo Pardavila III via Wikimedia Commons - CC BY 2.0
Matt M via Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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