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The top ten retro gaming secrets

Posted on 1 Oct 2010 at 14:34

Davey Winder delves to his own extensive personal collection of vintage video games to reveal a few gaming surprises

If you thought modern games hardware had the monopoly on inventions such as motion controllers and 3D effects, think again.

Davey Winder has dug out his vintage gaming collection to reveal the surprising secrets of yesteryear's consoles.

1. The Wii didn't invent motion controls

The Nintendo Wii might have revolutionised and revitalised the video gaming industry when it was released in 2006, but it certainly didn't invent the 'swing it to win it' style of gaming for which it has become so famous.

Smartland SL6401 Golf club

The Wii Remote wireless controller which detects movement in three dimensions is brilliant, especially when playing Wii Sports. But Nintendo was beaten to the punch, or should I say the swing, by some 20 years (the exact date is lost in time, unless you know better) by the Smartland SL6401.

This electronic golf game has a screen in the head of a miniature golf club, and is played by swinging the club itself. It has a very basic accelerometer (you can feel and hear a weight moving inside the club as you swing it) and the game uses the movement of the club to plot the course and distance of your ball as you play.

2. 3D gaming isn't new

3D may well be the new black, what with 3D movies at the cinema and the Nintendo 3DS handheld on the horizon, but 3D gaming is old news.

TomyTronic 3D

The first game to simulate 3D was 3D Monster Maze for the Sinclair ZX81, a first-person perspective, maze-exploring title. However, skip forward to 1983 and the first dedicated home video 3D hardware appeared. The Tomytronic Thundering Turbo 3D handheld was a binocular-style device providing realistic 3D effects courtesy of the two LED panels lit by external light - as your car sped along you had to avoid the LED-generated obstacles coming at you.

3. Gamers had guns 38 years ago

The gun as a game controller didn't start with the Wii Remote/Nunchuk wrapped in a Wii Zapper in 2007, or even the infamous NES Zapper light gun that Nintendo introduced with huge success in 1984. Nope, you need to reach right back to the very first home video games console for the first gun accessory and shooting game you didn't need to visit an arcade to play with: the Magnavox Odyssey.

Magnavox Odyssey Shooting Gallery

Developed by video game hero and pioneer Ralph Baer, the Odyssey was launched in 1972 and sold more than 300,000 units (almost entirely in the USA) before it was discontinued in 1975. Slightly less successful, but nonetheless just as important in historical terms, was the 'Shooting Gallery' pack for the Odyssey which sold no more than 20,000 in total.

Along with a bunch of simple shooting games including a dinosaur safari and haunted house, the accessory pack came complete with what remains the most realistic 'gun' game controller ever produced. This full size, and weighty, pump action shotgun simply detected light - so a 'target' would light up on-screen and you would have to shoot it to score. Or you could shoot a light bulb instead for the same effect.

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User comments

The top ten retro gaming secrets

Monty scrabble was supposed to be played with a proper board & letters.

My recollection from having owned one was that monty showed you his word and where it was to be placed.

People in turn had to enter their word on the console. There where paper scrabble boards in the box

No different to a driver having a satnav

By invalidscreenname on 1 Oct 2010

PC Engine GT

The stuff dreams were made of when I was but a child.

By heimdallsaga on 1 Oct 2010


my Blip is still working strong providing hours of retro fun. It's out lasted a dozen PCs & survived our 6 kids. Can't think of a single piece of PC hardware or software the evokes such emotion as the Blip.

By ardow on 1 Oct 2010

The truth about Monty

Monty could be played with a 'real' Scrabble board and tiles, but it was designed to be a standalone games unit.

I played it the other day, funnily enough, and it mostly shows you your letters and ask you for your word and then the next player and the next and then Monty has a go. Monty also pops up with encouragement or derision throughout the game.

If satnavs were this big they would never have taken off :)

By happygeek on 2 Oct 2010

Gaming dreams

>stuff dreams were made of when I was but a child

When I was a child we had to make do with clockwork trainsets and roller skates made of tin mostly.

I do recall, however, my delight when we got our first Atari 2600 - not the original release but the famous 'woody' a year or two later. It was a family purchase, and the decision to buy was down largely to it "looking nice next to the music centre and TV" both of which had the same faux-wood effect finish :)

By happygeek on 2 Oct 2010


I actually rather like the noise that toys such as Blip and Demon Driver make, to be honest. Just one hint of that sound and it brings tons of childhood memories flooding back.

The Tomy Turnin' Turbo driving simulator (used as the main illustration for this feature) was actually ploayed with by my own kids right up until they got old enough to discover the delights of shooting alien hoardes to pieces in delightful realism...

By happygeek on 2 Oct 2010

It was cutting edge back then

I recently dusted off my Tandy TRS80 which I bought in 1979 after saving up for it off my paper-round as a kid,and subsequently upgraded the ROM to level 2 and RAM to 16K (Yes...16 whole K !)and a green screen. It was actually a black & white monitor with a green perspex cover over it. Eventually, I managed to load 'space invaders' from the 30 year old cassette tape and was that excited that it was working I shouted my 17 year old step son to come and have a look at what I was playing with when I was his age. One he had managed to drag himself away from his Xbox, Playstation, COD, MOH etc he took one look and said..." That's f*&^%$ s£%^& that is..." and turned and walked out!

By Smudge_Smith on 3 Oct 2010

Pretty much the same reaction I get from my 12 year old (as I type this he's killing his mates on Halo Reach) whenever I get enthusiastic about some retro kit. Although he does think the Magnavox pump-action shotgun from 1972 is 'awesome' and quite seriously suggested we should go into business together making a modern version that works with Halo, CoD etc.

Mind you, it's also the same reaction I got when I insisted on proving the original version of Clash of the Titans was better than the recent Hollywood remake by making him watch it. I think he last 20 minutes before literally crawling out of the room, nearly wetting his pants with laughter at the 'totally lame effects'...

By happygeek on 3 Oct 2010

20 years pah !!!! 25 years

The Stick by lightwave leisure was a baseless joystick with tilt switches though it lacked force detection

By irturner on 3 Oct 2010

But could you play golf with it? >;-)

By happygeek on 4 Oct 2010

Barcode Battler

I had one of those!! I thought it was amazing at the time, although no one else had one so I had to fight the computer... who seemed impossible to beat.
I do remember finding a barcode on a tube of tomato puree which was a perticularly good weapon though.

By Moorezo on 6 Oct 2010

oh dear... Excuse my appalling spelling mistake - how embarrassing.

By Moorezo on 6 Oct 2010

I can imagine a version of Barcode Battler for the Wii which involves waving a tube of toothpaste and a tin of soup at the screen to fight off the invading hoardes...

By happygeek on 6 Oct 2010

Old but not forgotten, well almost

What a blast from the past, I remember many of these devices from my youth. Hell, I even had several still sitting in the attic up until I moved house two years ago. They did incredibly well on ebay. So much so that they enriched my current gaming environment with an all singing and dancing ATi card a 22 inch screen.

Though admittedly, I doubt I will fueling my gaming demons in another 25 years by selling these items on ebay!

By Autodine on 21 Oct 2010

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