Into a world of Pong clones rolled a pair of tanks, firing artillery shells that rocked the arcade game world. Atari’s Tank – produced under pseudo-subsidiary Kee Games in 1974 – marked another small revolution in the ongoing history of the video arcade, but most importantly for gamers, it was a blast to play.
The concept was as old as tank warfare itself: Two tanks – one black, one white – rolled and turned around a maze of obstacles and land mines, trying to shell each other and not be shelled themselves.
What made Tank so revolutionary was the fact that the tanks actually looked pretty much like tanks.
Thanks to the pioneering use of a ROM (Read-Only Memory) chip to store the game’s graphics, the two overhead-view tanks held much more detail than the simple bars and balls of a Pong game.
Tank also sported a pair of realistic controls. Twin up-and-down joysticks, two for each player, allowed tank drivers to roll forward and backwards or pivot in place.
Using the sticks, players manoeuvred into position, trying to get a shot off at their human opponent (one-player action wasn’t available yet).
The game was timed, with points awarded either for blowing up the other tank or watching your opponent foolishly roll across a landmine.
With its advanced graphics, unique controls and realistic sound effects (treads rolling, bombs bursting, etc), Tank was another arcade smash for Atari.
The company released three sequels over the next four years – Tank II in 1975, the 8-player colour game Tank 8 in 1976, and 1978’s Ultra Tank. The latter game finally allowed one player to take on a computer-controlled opponent, adding a few player-customisable options as well (no barriers or mines, rebounding shells, guided shells, and/or invisible tanks).
Even those who missed the original Tank in arcades got a chance to sample its wartime pleasures, thanks to the Atari 2600’s most common title, Combat.