Midway classics

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AT&T divides into 22 separate companies; The Weather Channel airs for the first time; and three-quarters of a million protest nuclear weapons in New York's Central Park while rocking and rolling to Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Linda Rondstat, and James Taylor.

It was 1982, the year of Rio, H2O, 1999, Steppin' Out and Thriller. It was also an excellent year for video games with the classics Robotron: 2084, Joust, Q*bert and Mr. Do all being released to arcades. If you were living back in the day it is likely you are already familiar with these popular favorites. If not, then get prepared for a blast with fast action fun from the past, and all delivered within the convenience of Internet Explorer on your PC. (Requires the automatic downloading of an arcade emulator Xtra that does not support Macs, nor does it run in Firefox.)

JoustFirst up is Joust, a game designed by John Newcomer and introduced to the arcades by Williams Electronics. The medieval jousting game is played as a knight donning a lance and mounting a flying ostrich(!) to engage in battle against waves of computer controlled enemies, or even against a friend.

In Joust, battles occur by collision with the higher lance winning the bout. By winning a joust against the computer, an egg will be left behind; grab it to score points, or catch it in midair for even more pointage. Collisions with lances at exactly the same level will cause both players to bounce backward and away from each other, so continue jousting until all enemies are cleared or a player is eliminated.

Controls are very simple to pick-up and require two hands: one to control horizontal movement left and right, and the other to press the "flap" button repeatedly to make the bird fly. A joystick was used in the original arcade version for horizontal movement, and this Web version also supports a USB gamepad if one is connected. I used a Logitech Dual Action controller with excellent results. If you don't have a gamepad, no worries; the keyboard is all you really need to have a great time with this game.

Robotron: 2084And then there is the blast back into the retro future of Robotron: 2084, a frenetically paced action arcade shooter designed by Eugene Jarvis and produced by Williams Electronics. It was the very first video game to feature two joysticks for control: one was used to move the player character around on the screen, and the other controlled the direction of the laser shots fired at enemies.

Robotron transports you to a time in which all humans are endangered by the robots of their own creation, and enlists you for a rescue mission to save the last human family from extinction. Use your infinite laser power to dismiss wave after wave of the relentless robots of increasing number bent on your destruction. Save the other humanoids by simply touching them for huge point gains. You will need lightning fast coordination and reflexes to survive very long in this game of run amok automatons and brutal high-speed gameplay.

Like Joust, Robotron also supports the use of a gamepad analog stick for the game's joystick control of movement. Unfortunately, the other hand must use the keyboard for firing the laser and may take some getting used to. For example, pressing two keys simultaneously to fire, either by design or by mistake, will fire in neither direction. Alternatively, the keyboard may be used for both hands with this game.

Whether you prefer the intensity of play from the future or the more chivalrous battle of a duel, these early video game classics continue to offer addictive and highly enjoyable game play that has withstood the test of time. Now available to play within the convenience of a browser, these retro classics are yours to play free thanks to a licensing agreement between Midway and Macromedia to demonstrate the power of Shockwave for the Web. The arcade emulator applet that drives these games was developed by Digital Eclipse Software.

Update: Unfortunately, these games are no longer available to play free in your browser. :(


The "click" link is not a link for Joust. Thought you should know. However, great games both!


Cheers, grant0. Fixed. ;)


The same Joust has been on Shockwave.com for yeaars.. don't think the other one(s) are/have been though.


Yep, same games. Midway licensed the rights to several of their games to Macromedia back in 2000 to show-off what Shockwave could do in a browser.

And you're right, the availability of these games is not new. This review was written for MTV per their request, and so I thought I'd post it here as well. More for the Classic games section. =)


hey, neither joust or robotron work, i just get linked to a blank black page, anyone know what wrong and how to fix it? ive tried a bunch of things but nothing works


chris, are you using IE on a PC? These games wouldn't work with anything else that I tried.


thanks jay, i tried it in IE and it worked fine - these are great games, i like the original ones

ps. great site jay, ive been coming here for a few months now and its my daily stop to get away from the troubles of life


I love these games. These (along with a few other classic titles) have served as inspiration for me when I create games. Its incredible how much these guys got out of the hardware they were using in the day. Those were truly the days of creative coding.

Brent Silby.


Who would use keys "ijkl" for moving around? Being classic or not, dont they understand that now the game is played on keyboards? With really ugly graphics and difficult to control those are good examples to show how much better games have become. I do understand how 20 years ago when all games looked similarly bad and were similarly unplayable someone might of been interested to spend money and time on them, but really, you can play so much better games today.

No, still dont see why would anyone want to play those.


I agree wholeheartedly, Brent. =)

And Tonypa, sorry, but I couldn't disagree with you more. There are many reasons why people would want to play these very playable classics:

(1) They are video game history, and they blazed a trail that brings us to where we are today. Many of the gameplay ideas being rehashed today have their roots in these classic games of yesterday. To ignore them would be a great disservice to our industry.

(2) Games don't necessarily have to look great to have great gameplay. Many of the classics are indeed classics because of how much fun they are to play. Robotron 2084 is a very highly addictive game to play, AND it looks pretty good considering its age, IMHO. It remains one of my favorites, even today.

(3) As Brent pointed out, the designers and developers who created these games back in the day did so without a Flash authoring environment to help them along. Instead they tweaked hardware video displays, microprocessors, and circuit boards to create their dazzling displays and innovative gameplay ideas. Again, a huge disservice to the industry to ignore the contributions of these classic games and the developers behind them.

(4) There are many people who remember playing these games back when they were released to the arcades over 20 years ago (yes, I am one of them). The nostalgia they offer those who remember playing them is priceless and therefore shouldn't be ignored.

These classic games were *not* designed to be played on a keyboard, and therefore a joystick controller is highly recommended.

Furthermore, I'd even argue that a keyboard is not even a gaming device: it's for typing text. It is simply not an intuitive means of controlling gameplay, and games that rely on the keyboard border on the unusable.

And yet, everyone has a keyboard today, and that's why we see games that use it. So we play. =)

I was actually quite surprised to see that comment coming from you.


Jay's right on many counts. Possibly my main query with Tonypa is that none of his games are at all graphically advanced. Indeed, a number of his games, ShoOot in particular, would feel right at home next these classics, without a particularly great advance in graphics.


I totally DISAGREE with everything in Tonypa's post.

1) The games were made for joysticks--large consoles. Games feel better with joysticks and buttons and it is only a quirk of computer design that the ports of these games are forced to use keyboards. I personally would never play a game with a keyboard, given the option. Even if it was Arrow keys (which, incidentally, are identical layout to IJKL)

2) Graphics are unimportant. Its gameplay that is important. Polygon counts should never even be mentioned in a review of a game. If that's all a developer can count on to sell a game, then he has little gameplay imagination. Look at Collapse (and similar games). They are the most popular games in the world--played millions of times more than Quake 3 etc. And the graphics are simple squares. People go out and buy Doom 3, play it for a while, then they put it away and continue playing casual games like Collapse, which they've been playing for years. The simple arcade style games are timeless.

3) Modern games are on a decline. There is little innovation and sales are dropping. The only way companies can maintain profits is by releasing higher spec consoles and re-releasing all the same games again. Its boring. Many games are boring. I played a game once, where I had to walk around for 30 minutes looking for something to do. Where's the fun in that? I like action.

Arcade games broke new grounds. Each of the games featured in Miday's classics were the FIRST OF THEIR KIND. They were not copies. They were brand new concepts. I only wish modern producers could have the imagination to come up with a brand new concept. Modern games are unoriginal and banal in comparison. They are all based on the ideas from the creative people who created the arcade games.

As someone who has spent many years watching the videogame industry, I am pleased to see vintage games receiving this much attention. I wonder if Quake 3 will be played in 25 years. I doubt it.

Brent Silby.


I've just looked at your games Tonypa. I really don't understand your comments now, since many of your games are copies of games I used to play 25 years ago in the arcades. Similar graphics too. Strange...

Brent Silby


Jay, I was not arguing about the games being great in their own time and even looking good in those old screens. But I fail to see "great gameplay" you keep mentioning. Maybe its because I dont have gamepad, but they are almost uncontrollable. Did you try to use keyboard to play them? How long did you last when playing with keyboard. My idea of great gameplay is not being dead in 3 seconds.

I dont even understand how the play them :)

In Joust you keep pressing the "flap" key to rise higher and avoid the enemies. But whats the point in that? Enemies wont die, when they touch you, you die and game ends. Plus the hero has so much acceleration that it keeps going in wrong direction.

In Robotron, if lets say you avoid movement because of keys being foolishly set into place where you cant reach them not to mention control anything with them, you can shoot the enemies. So, some of them die, but most of them wont die and they catch you and then you die.

Both games are too fast and they do not provide any real control over the characters.

Their pixel graphics are zoomed up by 200% which makes everything ugly. If they were presented in original size of (what 300x250 px?) I agree that the graphics might of looked ok, but in this overzoomed way there is not much to look at. Of course the real size would of been too small to allow any gaming happening at all :)

Nostalgia is all nice and maybe its because I never played such games in my teenage years, but over time memory does some tricks to you, like you tend to forget bad things and it all seems to have been much better then it actually was.

If you say those are examples of game history, then good, I can see the point, it shows how much games have evolved, not only in graphics thanks to all the new and shiny hardware, bigger screens and gigahertzes of cpu power we have today. But also, more importantly, in the controls, the level design, enemy AI and all other areas.

Yet, if you want to say these are the games anyone should play with their browsers today (no Mac, IE only, Shockwave bug-filled plugin), then sorry, I am not able to see any fun in them.

oo, my post has got already other replies too :)

Wulfo, I do not consider myself much of the artist anyway, but much of the graphics are matter of taste. In my eyes simple graphics (lets say in Shooot) are pretty. I cant help of looking at the simple geometrical shapes and thinking "this looks beautiful, replacing them with alien spaceships, cars, fire spitting monsters or face of Bush would only make the game less pleasing". Plus, like I said, I am not too good with drawing alien spaceships, cars, fire spitting monsters or Bush.

1. I already said above that because of I do not have joystick I can only judge the games on how they play with keyboard. I also can not judge how they would look or play with large arcade cabinet, all I have are those online ports. So as with every other browser based game if it does not play well on my computer then it doesnt play well.

2. I could not agree with you more :) But these games are look ugly to me. I guess if they would actually use simple squares then I would not complain at all.

3. Again, good points and yes, most modern games are bad. So were, btw, most games 20-25 years back, you just dont remember those bad games same way 20 years from now you wont remember any of todays games about "new-and-improved-3D-engine". As I see the games reviewed here, those are also re-releases, remade to be played on modern computer in the browsers. For me there is not anything new or groundbreaking.

In their own days they might of been much more refreshing, but (and please dont get offended) even in old days no game was completely original. They all borrowed some parts from other games, changed and improved rules and gameplay.

Sorry to hear you did not like my games :(


I did not say that I didn't like your games. I actually do like them. They remind me of classic arcade games.

I understand what you are saying, and I appreciate your reply. I still disagree with some points. For example, the point that *all* games borrow from another. This is true for many, but remember that many of the original arcade games had nothing to borrow from because nothing existed beforehand. For example, Donkey Kong was original. There were no such platformers before it appeared. Similarly with Pacman. Defender was the the first of its kind too. About the only thing it borrowed was the fact that you can shoot at aliens. The rest was completely original.

You are correct in saying that it is hard to last longer than a minute or two in an arcade game. They were designed that way. The average player was only meant to last a couple of minutes before inserting more money. I read an article about the development of a game called 'Sinistar'. After a trial in an arcade, the programmers had to go back and boost its difficulty because players were lasting too long--meaning it wasn't making enough money. The developers actually said the original was better, but they had to do what the company dictate and make it more difficult.

Practice means people can last longer on these games. I can go for quite a while in Robotron because I have practice. I sometimes joke with my students (I teach at a highschool) that modern games have made me soft and I need a regular dose of arcade to keep my skills up.

Incidentally, my students love arcade games. I've collected a few upright machines over the years, and they are at my school for kids to play at lunch time. They really enjoy games like Gyruss, Bombjack, Galaga etc. They like pinball too. I actually think Pinball should make a comeback, because its pretty cool with all the bright flashing lights etc.

Joust is definitely easier to control with joystick and buttons. I agree with you there.

Interesting discussion...
Brent Silby.


Oh yeah, these are great. I used to play them on Atari when I was a very small person. That and frogger. Joust and Defender II, spyhunter, rampage...great stuff before moving onto Nintendo and the legend of zelda. I still like the background tunes for all these old games. They all sound equally alike. Robotron was mentioned in a song by The Beastie Boys, now that I think of it.


Hey, I love this site, and find myself growing dangerously addicted to it.

God knows how many quarters I wasted on Joust back when I was twelve or so. Loved it back then, and this was still worth a half hour of play. Incidentally, a year or so back, I found an old Joust machine in a shopping mall and played it. The game mechanics/feel of this emulator seem right on, even with just a keyboard.

I don't think the game's clunky in any way except graphics, and really, who cares? We still play chess and card games, and they have "low quality graphics". It's all about gameplay.

Basic Joust tips- notice that the enemies wobble in arcs. Try to get above them by timing it so they are on a downward wobble and you're on an outward. Obviously, it's better to start higher than lower. The difficulty in controlling your beast (acceleration lag, flapping technique) means that you have to plan ahead a second or so, which in my opinion adds to the game.

Don't forget to pick up the eggs, or they'll hatch and come after you.

And watch for the hand in the lava!

I recall that in the original, to kill the dragon, you had to get it just so in the mouth with your lance. Me, I just avoid them.


Ah, Joust. Brings me back to my Atari 2600 days. I just wanted to say thanks for putting this up.

To be honest, I never liked the game. But it was one of the first video games I ever played with my older brother.

And that...I liked. :-)


Hmm.. as for my $0.02...

1. Graphics are most assuredly the least important detail in my consideration of how much I like a game. As long as I can tell what I'm doing and what I'm doing is fun for the time being, it could be the ugliest game on the planet and I wouldn't care one bit. I know of a couple games that fit this description rather well that I enjoyed when I first got them and which I'm confident that I'd enjoy now. Sure, *good* graphics ought to be noted and rewarded, but I'm not looking at art, I'm playing a *game*, and if the game is sub-par, the graphics won't make me think better of it.

2. There's a very good reason that different markets developed on the PC and the consoles, and that is the keyboard & mouse/analog stick control scheme battle. My feelings on the subject are simple. First, mice are much more accurate than analog sticks with aiming. Second, analog sticks are much better with movement in more than 8 directions (aka 3-D platformers and such). However, when you have only 8 directions, the advantage that an analog stick has over a D-Pad or a keyboard is almost none, and in fact (this may be just a sign of my upbringing on DOS and Sega Genesis, but oh well) can be less helpful in some cases (fighting games come to mind readily). So when it comes to games like this, I have no problems with using the keyboard. Unless I need really good timing with movement in more than 8 directions, analog sticks are not necessary. Joust, being a side view type of game, only requires movement planning in 4 directions (left, right, up, and down), and Robotron only works with movement in 8 directions (and has no gravity messing with movement or shooting). However, I will say that Robotron's placement of the shooting and movement buttons was a bit odd. WASD tends to consist of the movement keys, while IJKL could have served as shooting keys, or WASD could have been shooting and the arrow keys could have been movement keys, but instead they made IJKL the movement keys and the arrow keys the shooting keys. Definitely a break from normal PC gaming tradition (though none of these games were designed originally for PC anyway...).

Now that I've finished writing a book on the subject, I'll just wander off to my reading for junior level English Comp....


Hey... has it really been 20 years since Joust? It adds up, I just don't want to believe it.

Great nostalgia, though!

Tonypa, sometimes I have to get those Little Debbie "star crunch" cookies. From my adult perspective, they're really awful, gooey and an unclassy way to serve chocolate--Miles from the death-by-chocolate cake or the truffle. Still... I adore eating them. They take me back to a happy place. I feel the same way about these games... they might not have competing class with other things I play today, but they take me to that happy place anyways. (By the way, I've always enjoyed your games, as well as your comments here, even if I can't always agree.)


i cannot seem to get the game to work! which depresses me...because i recently went looking for a version of joust that i could play, because i missed it so much! this was one of my favorite games as a child......

but you mentioned that it would only work for you on IE on a PC. and im neither using IE or a PC. as a mac user...this might be the first time i say this but... "i wish i had a PC."

is there any way to get it to work?


Sorry, Cara, I am afraid you are out of luck with a Mac. I, too, have a Mac... but I also have a PC for those times when you just can't get by without one.

I do my best to highlight the best games that run on a variety of platforms, though sometimes I have to make an exception. My apologies. =/


Is it just me, or do none of these work?


Thanks Weirdguy. Updated. :)


I'm having trouble with the ArcadeEmulator2 and the Xtra stuff. It doesn't download automatically and i can't play the game with any browser.
Could you please help me? :)

Help please!! November 18, 2008 1:55 PM

I have the same problem as the guy above, i use windows vista and the darn Arcade Emulator won't install so I can't play these games. Help please?


All of the games have moved to www.midwayarcade.com and are now sadly no longer free.

DarthMeow504 October 25, 2010 5:58 PM


Wow. You've never played or even seen these games in their proper format (full screen proportioned correctly, played with joysticks) and yet you feel free to bash them. Come on, are you serious? You openly declare your ignorance, but you loudly declare your uninformed opinion.

I'm going to speak primarily about Robotron, as I'm not a fan of Joust and have only played it a spare handful of times and didn't get very far. It wasn't my kind of game, so I don't have the knowledge of it a fan would have. (See how that not speaking from ignorance thing works?)

The graphics on Robotron were designed for a CRT monitor of standard definition (more than likely 640x480, interlaced, at a 4:3 aspect ratio) and a screen size of 19 inches. That means that the pixel art was inevitably going to have blurred edges between pixels, and very high brightness against a true black background adding to that blurring effect. Combine that with the fast, constant movement of the sprites and their small physical size on screen, and their details would never have been visible the way they are now blown up to large resolutions on an LCD screen with vastly sharper resolution. Instead, they were designed to work with the limitations of the CRT screen to give a visual impression through the way the screen blurred the pixels.

Moreover, the graphics on Robotron literally weren't designed to be looked at. They were designed to be readily and indeed instantly recognizable while tracking them and a dozen or more other sprites plus incoming blaster bolts from multiple angles simultaneously while ALSO keeping visual track of where the human rescue targets were. They were symbols, visual shorthand more akin to a chess token than a realistic image. If you took the time to look at them, you were screwed. To successfully play the game, it was necessary to unfocus and take in the whole screen at once, relying on peripheral vision. If you concentrated on just one or two things on screen, you were doomed.

Add to this the joysticks, which while much easier to control than buttons still required you to move and fire at the same time, ambidextrously.

All of this was by design, meant to create a high-pressure panic environment with multiple conflicting goals and threats. It was by definition the opposite of a casual game, and it sucked you in and got your heart racing as you desperately tried to keep up with it. It was a genuine challenge and required skill and practice to excel at, much like a sport. Robotron was an adrenaline game that showed no mercy. To successfully weather it's challenge was an accomplishment.

In other words, there's a bloody reason it's a classic that's still influential and remembered decades later.



If you've not played it on an arcade machine you just can't appreciate the excitement of Robotron. That said, a PC will give you a similar rush when you get to levels 20+.

When I played it in the 80's, despite what people have said about it being designed to get regular cash in the payment slot, my top score after 4 hours continuous play was 26 million+. With around 100 lives in reserve, I had to leave the game to go for a pee! Yet with a pc, and it's poor key-control, I've still managed to score around 3/4 million in around 15 minutes play. The biggest problem is that my keyboard wouldn't allow 4-key control ie up-left movement whilst shooting down-right. Bit of a problem. Not sure how much my age (50) has slowed my ability too, quite a lot I suspect bearing in mind it takes me 50% longer now to complete 'expert'-level Minesweeper! But given some joysticks like the original game, I'm sure I'd still be able to rack up some serious points; it's all about understanding that you 1) can't stand still, 2) you shouldn't hug the screen edges, and 3) you need to 'collect' as many humans as possible. The game seems to just keep getting harder and faster but in reality I think it can only go so far because the machines can't keep up (arcade machines) - don't know if a pc would just keep adding more robots?


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