Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What Was The First "True" Color Arcade Video Game?

What was the first "true color" coin-op video game? The answer to that question obviously depends on what you mean by "true color". I am not asking which coin-op video game was the first to make truly effective use of color. I mean, which coin-op video game was the first to produce actual color images (even ineffective ones) rather than using cellophane overlays to achieve the appearance of color.


Galaxian (Namco, 1979) Bzzt! Not even close. This used to be the standard answer and you can still find plenty of websites and books that say it is, but isn't. Now it may have been one of the first games, or even THE first game to make really effective use of color, but it wasn't the first to use color period.

Car Polo (Exidy, ca March 1977) - Nope. This was Exidy's first true color games and one of the earliest to combine color with a microprocessor, but it wasn't the first in the industry. Factoid: Death Race was actually intended only as a filler until Car Polo was ready.

Indy 800 (Atari/Kee,  April 1975) - Yes, this DID use color (it kind of had to in order for players to be able to tell which car was theirs), but it wasn't the first arcade video game to use color. Heck, it wasn't even ATARI's first video game to use color (well, maybe it was but we'll get to that soon enough).

Pace Car Pro (Electra Games, debuted October 1974) - Wow! Where did you hear about this one?   Electra Games was the coin-op video game division of URL (who later developed for Stern). Pace Car Pro was their first game. Interesting little company, that URL. They made circuit boards for Paddle Battle. Their  Video Action (1974?) may have been the second home system released in the US. And Pace Car Pro was actually similar to a color home game that they ALMOST released in winter of 1975. You see…
but that's a story for another post.

Wimbledon (Nutting Associates, 1974??) - Maybe, just maybe. Yes, it was a ball-and-paddle game that used true color (at least I think it did). Why? Don't ask me. The question is, if it was released and (if so) when. Some sources (including TAFA) say it was released in 1973, others (like KLOV) say 1974. I'm not sure which it is (my library's run of Vending Times starts in March of 1974 or I might be able to confirm). In any event, it likely beat Pace Car Pro to market. But is it the absolute first? It all depends on that unconfirmed release date.
Table Tennis is another Nutting game that might have used color, but it looks like overlays to me.

Color Gotcha (Atari, October 1973) - Ladies and gents we might have a winnah!  Or we might not. No, not Gotcha, I'm talking about COLOR Gotcha. And yes that is a flyer for regular old black-and-white Gotcha, but that's because I don't thik Color Gotcha ever had a flyer since it was (supposedly) a "limited run" game.  
Color Gotcha did use real color and we seem to have a firm release date (from the internal Atari document) but did it come out before  Wimbledon or not? Then there's the issue of whether or not it counts as "released". One person at Atari told me this: " Usually, an ultra-limited production run meant that we sold the pre-production prototypes and hoped nobody got mad at us." Color Gotcha was (I believe) developed at Grass Valley/Cyan Engineering and my guess is that less than 10 were produced (someone might have actually told me that), but until I can confirm Wimbledon's release date or find another contender that I missed (a distinct possibility), it gets my vote.



  1. Great post. You can thank Sam Claiborn at IGN for promoting this article via his Twitter.

  2. I believe Galaxian was the first game to use multi-colored sprites (individual pixels within a sprite can be different colors). All the games you have listed before it, had mono-color sprites (all pixels that make up a sprite object are the same color). That is the principal difference between Galaxian and the others.

    Maybe you could do a little article on the first color vector arcade cabinet. I believe that would either be Atari's Tempest or Sega/Gremlin's Space Fury (both were released in 1981)..

    Then perhaps, other color firsts:

    First B&W Vector Game to use a mono-color overlay = Vectorbeam Barrier, August 1979.

    First B&W Vector Game to use a multi-color overlay = either Cinematronics Star Castle, or Atari Battlezone (both November of 1980? Which of those two was released first?).

    First B&W Raster Game to to use a mono-color overlay?

    First B&W Raster Game to to use a multi-color overlay?

    1. Thanks for the comments. I bet Galaxian WAS the first game to use multi-color sprites (though I'm not sure). As for the first color vector game, Space Fury came out a few months before Tempest and is generally considered the first. Battlezone and Star Castle are harder to sort out. Various sources list the release date for Star Castle as September, October, or November 1980, which would seem to argue for Star Castle. Star Castle also had a "first use in commerce" of 9/20/80, compared to 10/22/80 for Battlezone, but Battlezone had a "first use anywhere" of 9/5/80 (compared to 9/20/80 for Star Castle).

  3. Hi stumbled upon this page, very nice info. During the seventies I worked in a arcade hall in the Netherlands. I recognized the paddle ball game called Wimbledon. I know that it was indeed a game using a color monitor. Technical it was not the best and one of the biggest problems was that the game often went off-color e.g. large pink spots in the corner. Most likely the game just wasn't shielded enough against magnetic forces from other games. But this proved that it was a real color game

    1. Absolutely! I just happend to pick one up. It came from a warehouse auction and was never taken out of the box until just a couple years ago. Beautiful machine. Anyone know anything I could check on it to help confirm the year?

    2. Absolutely! I just happend to pick one up. It came from a warehouse auction and was never taken out of the box until just a couple years ago. Beautiful machine. Anyone know anything I could check on it to help confirm the year?

    3. There should be a label on the back with Nutting's model no. Take a photo of that or write down everything it says.

      Open the cabinet and scrutinize the PCBs. There are probably part nos., mfg. info, possibly a copyright year screen-printed on the PCBs.

      Investigate the PCBs further. Each TTL chip may have a date code printed on it. Write them all down, they may give a clue as to manufacturing date ("7536" might mean 36th week of 1975), however keep in mind that some TTL chip part numbers start with 74- and so on, don't confuse any date codes with part numbers.

      ... that's how.

  4. Wasn't Paddle Derby a color game, using a color monitor? It came out in 1972, and was effectively the PONG game, making information on it hard to come by. But I have seen it, and it has four colors with a black background.

    1. Paddle Derby may have been color, but it probably did not come out in 1972, despite what Wikipedia says.

      Nutting's first game after Computer Space was probably Computer Space Ball, which probably came out in early 1973.
      I think I discussed this more in another post, but some contemporary evidence indicates that Computer Space Ball came out in the first half of 1973, possibly as early as January or February, but that is uncertain (it was certainly out by June).

      Computer Space Ball was black and white. It might have come out in December of 1972 or earlier, but I think that's unlikely. Pong didn't start shipping until November 1972 and went on field test in the summer. OTOH, Nutting may well have known about Pong before anyone else since Nolan Bushnell worked there and even tried to license the game to them but I still doubt that that Computer Space Ball came out before early 1973 and Paddle Derby probably came out after Computer Space Ball.

      I'm not sure where Wikipedia got its dates but it might have come from the The Arcade Flyer Archive website, which is a great site but some of their early game dates are off.

    2. It's starting to look like 1975 is likely release year for Paddle Derby.

      We've slowly discovered Nutting model nos. for each game and they're lining up with what's been surmised for release date. Given Paddle Derby's model no. (#752), it has to be after Table Tennis (unknown model no.) (I've seen 1973, 06/1974, and 04/1975 as dates for this) and Table Tennis II (#751) (I have a release year of 1975 for this)

  5. Thank you! This is super helpful.