Despite their chunky graphics and analog sounds, multiplayer sports sims of the 1980s defined a whole era of gaming – can their legacy live on?
The 1984 Los Angeles Olympics are memorable for a lot of things – the jetpack at the opening ceremony, the historic performance by Carl Lewis, the greater focus on female athletes – but for nerds of a certain age, they will always be remembered for something quite different: broken joysticks. This was the first Olympic tournament of the mass video game era and it prompted a whole new genre of sports sims, designed to replicate the physical exertion of actually doing sport. I can just about recall watching the real Los Angeles games on TV, but it was the household tournaments I held with friends that really bring back memories.
There’s some disagreement over where the multi-sport sim originated. At the burgeoning games studio Activision, pioneering designer David Crane had thought for a long time about making a sport game that simulated physical effort and his title The Activision Decathlon, arrived in late 1983, riding the growing hype for the LA Olympics to come. It allowed players to compete in 10 events, waggling the joystick left and right as quickly as possible to run faster and jump higher. At roughly the same time, Japanese company Konami brought the multi-event sports sims to the arcade with its brilliant coin-op Track and Field. This game allowed up to four players to compete in six athletics events, but instead of waggling a joystick, players used a two-button interface, alternatively pressing (or rather “bashing”) each one as quickly as possible.