Game Design

When we think of virtual reality, we automatically associate it with cutting-edge technology. And even though VR’s promise is now being realized, we still usually think of VR as something involving the future.

But VR technology can do a lot more than just take gamers to stunning and thrilling new realms. This futuristic technology is also being developed as a tool – maybe the strongest tool yet seen – to help people study the past.

Gazing Backwards Through the VR Looking Glass

VR technology is already being used for this purpose, and its fully immersive visuals are a historian’s dream come true.

Up until now, we’ve relied upon other sources to help us see previous times – first by physically touring ancient ruins, then with books and finally through the moving images of film.

Colosseum Lives shows what you’d see – if you were inside the structure 2,000 years ago.

While each of these methods can be a great teacher, they also require a certain amount of imagination on the user’s part.

VR, on the other hand, gives us the ability to tour ancient ruins, see how previous civilizations lived and do it all from the user’s perspective.


Not only does VR let you see history, it lets you experience it first-hand…as if you were actually there, walking around in it.

Don’t believe us? Just check out this amazing virtual tour of the Roman Colosseum, one of the engineering marvels of the ancient world, as rendered for use with the Oculus Rift VR headset:

The Colosseum Lives VR tour offers extras the history books can’t, such as impressive flyovers of the enormous arena, the perspective you would see if you were a gladiator doing battle, plus trivia that shows just how advanced a structure the Colosseum was. Fun fact: It had working elevators and a retractable roof.

With a simulation this complex and complete, you can hear the roar of ancient crowds and feel something of the same spectacle those early viewers had. And when you view it while wearing the Oculus Rift, the whole experience takes on added 3D intensity.


Some historical VR content seeks to entertain as much as illuminate, and these creations live at the intersection of virtual reality and game development. Case in point: a VR Google Cardboard VR game that dazzles you with images of the exterior and (especially) the interior of one of the famous pyramids of Egypt.

But it’s more than that. It’s also a puzzle game that sends you down into a pyramid’s hidden burial chambers and through dark, narrow passageways.

This sim takes you deep inside a typical pyramid. (Let’s hope you can find your way back out…)

The goal is to locate a series of ancient runes. Doing so grants you escape from the pyramid’s semi-spooky clutches. The sim’s audio track features weird music and enough heavy breathing to remind you of Darth Vader. Combine that with the pyramid’s ominous ambience, and you’ve got a game experience that can send you running for your “mummy.”


Virtual reality is a boundless technology that not only shows us the past, but can also restore the past once it’s gone.

Dedicated researchers and historians are now showing how VR can help virtually replace objects and structures lost to the ravages of time or human destruction.

Syria’s ancient Temple of Bel was destroyed in 2015. Its digital reconstruction lives on at #NEWPALMYRA. (Photo: #NEWPALMYRA Project Gallery)

Projects such as Project Mosul and #NEWPALMYRA seek to digitally reproduce, catalog and archive examples of culturally significant works, so they can be enjoyed forever by succeeding generations.

Such restoration projects illustrate the power of virtual reality software and show that VR is a miracle technology that exists in all time zones – past, present and future.

Welcome to DMA Tech Watch, where we review the biggest news and tech trends on our radar. This week, we take an advance look at a massive new Minecraft project.

One of the great things about Minecraft is that there are no limits on what can be built using it. Even huge, complex things can be turned into cool Minecraft projects – including the entire American Airlines Center, where the Dallas Mavericks NBA team holds court.

As you can see, the playing floor is only a small piece of the total American Airlines Center building. (Just look at all those seats…)

That’s the plan for “Mavs World,” an exact Minecraft re-creation of the enormous arena, which occupies 840,000 square feet of Downtown Dallas.

Making a Massive Model

The American Airlines Center is a big building, as proven by its 18,500-seat capacity. Both the Mavericks and the Dallas Stars NHL team call the facility home, and major music acts perform there frequently. (When the American Airlines Center opened in July 2001, it had the largest ribbon-cutting ceremony ever, according to the Guinness Book of Records.)

And now the Mavs are teaming up with Mineplex, LLC. The goal: Create a whole Dallas Mavericks world on the Mineplex server, including a scale model of the Mavs’ home stomping grounds, as rendered in Minecraft’s famously blocky visual style.

Minecraft is not just a game. It’s a way for kids (and adults) to build, explore and learn the fundamentals of computer science.
– Mark Cuban, Dallas Mavericks Owner

This is the first time an NBA team is partnering with Mineplex, which operates one of the largest Minecraft servers in the world.

Mavs World will include a variety of competitions and games, with Minecraft users even being able to virtually sample what it’s like to run the hardwood floor of the American Airlines Center.

Will the Minecraft re-creation of the AAC also include its many luxury suites? We hope so!

Building Great Foundations for Learning

The Mavs World project has received the enthusiastic push of Mavericks owner and colorful billionaire Mark Cuban (now being considered as a potential 2016 vice presidential candidate).

Cuban makes headlines whenever he speaks, and he recently spoke about the educational value of Minecraft. “Minecraft makes you think,” he said. “You have to be creative. Logical. Fun. Those are great foundations for learning.”

“The Dallas Mavericks have always been big supporters of education in our community,” Cuban said. “But now we can truly be a part of it on a global scale. Minecraft is not just a game. It’s a way for kids (and adults) to build, explore and learn the fundamentals of computer science.”

Mavs World is slated for release later this summer, appearing only on Mineplex. For more info, visit the Mavs World and Mineplex sites.

Launch Your Imagination with Minecraft

Minecraft is an amazing product – part game and part game-builder supreme. It’s a game with few creative boundaries and it can help prepare young Minecraft users for more complex adventures in tech.

With a game this freeform, it can be really useful to have a knowledgeable guide who can lead you through Minecraft efficiently and give you a complete idea of what all it has to offer.

Digital Media Academy is gearing up for its 15th fantastic summer camp season, and that means we’re putting our final touches on this year’s Minecraft tech camps. Let our ace instructors show you this summer what bold new worlds you can create with Minecraft!

Your Source for Tech-Trend Info
Check out DMA Tech Watch each week for a look at the major trends shaking and shaping the world of tech.

Your Source for Tech Education
At Digital Media Academy, we keep our finger on the pulse of modern technology. That’s how we can create stunning summer-camp learning experiences in today’s hottest tech…subjects like 3D printing, wearable tech & fashion design, robotics, app development and much more!

Join us this summer at DMA and #CreateTheNext!

Held at San Francisco’s Moscone Center this year, the 2016 Game Developers Conference (GDC) celebrated its 30th anniversary of bringing together gamers and developers alike.

GDC is always a prime place to encounter coming game-design trends.

Around 26,000 gamers and industry professionals from all over the world visited GDC this year, a big jump from the original 27 or so designers who GDC founder Chris Crawford invited to his San Jose living room for the inaugural conference way back in 1988!

Whether conference-goers came to learn, be inspired, network or simply get a jump on the future of video games, incredible fun was enjoyed by all. In case you missed it, here are the top three take-aways from GDC 2016:

Virtual Reality: The Final Frontier

All eyes seemed to be focused on VR at this year’s GDC.

Virtual reality made a huge impact this year at GDC. Here’s what different industry players were doing about it:

  • Quick-on-the-draw Samsung already has an available headset, the Gear VR.
  • The Oculus Rift, which has become synonymous with virtual reality, showcased amazing digital worlds before its official launch later this month.
  • The Valve HTC Vive comes out in April, bringing VR to the myriad gamers who use the open-source game platform Steam.
  • Sony announced that its ready-to-play Playstation VR headset (compatible with the PS4) will arrive in October.
  • Google Glass, which offers the most affordable virtual reality headset and has been out for some time, took it easy and barely made a splash at the event.

Best Interactive Game

“Whether you are young, old, fit, frail or disabled, with Pillo anyone’s an abled gamer!”

Alt.Ctrl.GDC was a GDC booth where nonconventional game design and development got the chance to shine. Games with WWII-inspired crank-wheels and 1930’s-era switchboards as controllers tried to steal the show, but the best interactive game was Pillo.

Pillo is both a series of games and a pillow-based game platform. The pillow serves as a controller, with internal pressure sensors that allow players to hug, squeeze and press instead of tapping game-control buttons with their fingers.

The goal here is to provide a game platform for people who cannot effectively or enjoyably use a traditional controller pad. The Pillo website even boasts, “Whether you are young, old, fit, frail or disabled, with Pillo anyone’s an abled gamer!”

But Pillo is also a series of games made specifically for this new platform. The games, such as Mayayana, are designed to be super inclusive, cooperative and non-violent, but still challenging on an intellectual level.

Best Kid-Friendly Game

There were a lot of cool games previewed at GDC this year, but there was one that really captured our hearts.

Sneaky Ninja, a 2D platform game coming to Steam and the Wii-U, began its life as a Kickstarter dream. After getting financial backing, the game’s creators at Starfall Studios were ecstatic when selected for the Indie MEGABOOTH at GDC this year.

The game is a ton of fun and very kid-friendly, but not overly easy. Watch for Sneaky Ninja later this year!


GDC is great for showcasing what’s coming to the game world. If you love playing video games, maybe you should consider learning how to make them.

You can do it this summer at Digital Media Academy game design tech camps.

With great tech camp locations across the U.S. and Canada, DMA sets incredibly fun and engaging tech camp experiences on some of the best college and university campuses in North America. The result is an unforgettable learning experience mixed with summer camp fun. It’s a combination we’ve been perfecting for 15 years.

This summer will likely be DMA’s biggest yet and course demand is high. Register now to lock in your class reservation…and take advantage of DMA Spring Savings, in effect through March 31st!

Game design remains one of our most popular areas of instruction here at Digital Media Academy. Helping it remain popular and fresh are our curriculum developers, who stay on top of breaking trends in game development.

VR gives you a new way of looking at video games. DMA can introduce you to Unity this summer.

Take virtual reality (VR). This is a technology that’s blowing gamers’ minds, as they see video games come to life in entirely new and unexpected ways.

And thanks to the work of Shane White, DMA Assistant Director of Curriculum & Instruction, it’s a technology you can explore this summer at DMA tech camp locations across the U.S. and Canada.

We wanted to get Shane’s take on VR, the Unity game engine and why it was important enough for DMA to develop a special curriculum for it:


Please tell us why this curriculum was developed. Why Unity? What’s so special about it?
Developing games is one of the best ways to engage students’ creativity and critical thinking ability while teaching them essential skills like coding and the design process. Unity is a professional game development tool that hits the perfect balance of usability and depth of application. Students can learn it quickly and be making games in no time, but the software is powerful enough that they can dive deep into development, using the same techniques professionals use.

Which DMA class will feature the Unity curriculum?
This year DMA has a one-week Unity game design course focused around creating games that can be played on a computer or in virtual reality with the Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard.

We also have a DMA game design academy where students can stay an extra week to get more hands-on experience with Unity, creating a more advanced game that uses more programming skills and design techniques.

What will students actually do in this class?
Students will create 3D or 2D games that can be played on a PC or in virtual reality. By making use of the Unity editor and the C# programming language, they will create environments, levels and puzzles. In the Academy, students can use more advanced techniques to create a bigger 3D game, or learn to make games for mobile devices running Android or iOS.

Unity was originally developed for OS X, but now is used to support more than 15 different platforms.

What was your process for developing this curriculum? Did it differ from your usual development process?
This year DMA is partnering with Unity to adapt its highly esteemed curriculum into something that will mesh with DMA’s standards. The curriculum developer, Dioselin Gonzales, is a virtual reality engineer at Unity and a Made by Girls role model. She will be working directly with DMA to make sure the course is on the cutting edge of game-development and virtual-reality topics. Unity will provide DMA with professionally developed assets and materials to use in the course, so students can have tons of stuff to create with.

What skills will students pick up in this class?
Students will learn to think creatively and solve problems in unique ways. They will learn the basics of programming, narrative storytelling, user interaction design and the design process.

What will students actually make in this class?
Students will make a game for their PC or phone. Students can choose to make the game be a virtual reality experience or a more traditional gaming experience. All games, code and assets that they create can go home with them, so they can keep building!

What else should our readers know about this program?
Every student who takes the virtual reality course will go home with a custom DMA Google Cardboard, so they can bring a virtual reality experience with them anywhere a smartphone can go.

Shane White is Assistant Director of Curriculum & Instruction at Digital Media Academy.


At Digital Media Academy, our expert staff of curriculum developers is always in a state of developing exciting new courses, as well as constantly refining our existing roster of popular tech camps and courses.

It’s no wonder so many of our students choose to come back for several years in a row. They know that each time they spend part of their summer at DMA, they’re going to learn exciting things and become personally enriched by that experience. The quality of instruction is high, and the range of material covered is wide.

Of course, game design is just one of the many tech areas covered by DMA. Check out all our DMA programs online and come experience the DMA difference this summer.

Register now and get summer camp for less. See DMA Winter Savings online.

The game world got more mixed signals from the Nintendo empire this week when the game giant announced at an investors’ meeting that its much-anticipated smartphone game – its first game specifically made to address the exploding mobile game market – would be delayed until Spring 2016 (probably releasing in March).

Miitomo features adorable avatars that you design and which interact with other avatars.

But although a production delay often signifies a problem with the game, in this case the new release date could just be a reflection of Nintendo’s stated goal of making this a global launch. After all, they have released enough pix and info about the new game to show it’s very far along in its production development cycle.


This is what we’ve picked up so far about Miitomo, Nintendo’s first smartphone game:

  • Name: Miitomo
  • Translation: “Mii Friends”
  • Technology Utilized: Mii Interactions
  • Cost to Play: Free Initially/In-app payments possibly?
  • Release Date: Probably March 2016
  • Helping Create Game: Game maker DeNa, which specializes in mobile games
  • Other Planned Apps: Ninetendo says it will launch five game apps on or before March 2017

There’s been some industry speculation that Miitomo bears a resemblance to a 3DS game called Tomodachi Life, which also involved an avatar and involved a heavy social media angle where avatars can meet, become friends…perhaps even fall in love and produce offspring.

Smartphone users are clamoring for a Nintendo game…but they’ll have to wait until early 2016.


It’s fun to play great games like Nintendo creates, but it’s even more fun to learn to make games yourself! This coming summer at Digital Media Academy summer tech camps, that’s exactly what kids (age 8-12) and teens (12-17) will be doing on cool college campuses across North America.

At DMA, we have different game design camps for different interests – whether you’re into modding Minecraft or getting into something even more cutting-edge, like working with VR with Oculus Rift, DMA has you covered.

Next summer’s going to be a great time to learn game design and development…at DMA tech camp locations all over, including newly announced camps for 2016. Check it out at DMA’s website!

The name comes from Sanskrit and refers to the Hindu concept that means illusion.

Maya® is a perfect name for powerful software that literally creates digital magic. In fact, if you’re trying to create cool 3D characters or awesome special effects, Maya should be your first choice, as it is for the video game industry and the film/TV industry.

When filmmakers of Spider-Man 2 needed a way to accurately project the texture of Spidey’s webbed suit, Maya came to the rescue. (Image: Sony Pictures Imageworks)

And because Maya is exceptionally versatile, it’s also the go-to character- and level-design program taught at Digital Media Academy tech camps each summer.

Powerful Performer

Maya has been used not only in hit video games (Halo 4), but also plays an active and key role in the creation of many hit movies and shows.

On TV, you’ve seen Maya’s work in Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead.

In theaters, you’ve seen Maya in blockbusters such as Frozen, Avatar and Monsters, Inc..

Maya is so essential to modern film production that it’s even won Oscar gold, receiving no less than three special Technical Achievement Academy Awards.

Makes Complex Textures Possible

Maya (published by Autodesk®) is used to render photorealistic features (such as clothing, textures and 3D characters) for hit video games. It’s also used for creating stunning special effects and it even breathes life into animated blockbusters.

For anyone who wants to design video games, make computer-animated features or create special effects, learning how to use Maya is a must. That’s why our Maya tech camps are among DMA’s most popular courses.

Maya proved essential, for example, when Sony Pictures Imageworks faced a serious technical challenge during the making of Spider-Man 2. The filmmakers needed a computer graphics technology that could realistically simulate a cloth texture over an animated character, in order to capture the webbed texture of Spider-Man’s famous costume.

So Alias Software, the developer that created Maya, engineered a simulator option in Maya that could handle the nuanced textures of Spidey’s distinctive outfit. The rest is film history.

Always Improving the Program

Alias designed Maya in 1998 and since then the program has received numerous upgrades. For example, a fluid effects simulator (that supports cloud and fire effects) was added to Maya 4.5. Over the years, Maya’s makers have added more effects and additional options to the program, including ways to generate complex textures like fur and hair.

Some other features that have been added:

  • nParticle Simulator: Enhances effects that involve smoke or dust (or any fine-particulate material).
  • Camera Sequencer: Enables smoother layout of animated footage containing multiple camera angles.
  • MatchMover: Helps marry CGI elements to regular film or video footage.
  • Bifrost: Provides better representation of liquids, such as sea foam and ocean waves.

These enhancements have made Maya even more flexible.

You’ll get more out of Maya if you learn it through a qualified program, like at a DMA Maya tech camp.

The Only Software You Need…and Where to Learn It

When it comes to 3D video games, computer-animated feature films or any kind of digital production, Maya meets every need: modeling, lighting, animation and rendering. It’s no wonder that Maya is the world’s leading 3D creation tool.

Learn Maya texturing and lighting next summer from a Maya expert on the campuses of some of America’s most prestigious universities. Let DMA show you how.

If you think the only game players who make a good living are professional athletes, think again. The next great spectator sport may well end up being video games.

eSports Arenas are being planned for large North American cities, to join this one in Santa Ana, Calif.

At one time, a job like “professional game player” sounded like the fantasy occupation of millions of gamers. But the fact is, pro video game player is an actual job, and one that can even be very rewarding, if you’ve got those all-important playing skills.

Video Games: The Spectator Sport
Which brings us to Santa Ana, Calif., to the eSports Arena, a 15,000-square-foot recreation center designed for playing and watching video games. And if its creators have their way, the Santa Ana facility will soon be joined by others throughout the country.

“We’re building dedicated eSports Arenas in major North American markets,” says Paul Ward, CEO of eSports Arena. “We’re creating a network of brick-and-mortar facilities capable of producing national competitions and events on a daily basis.”

They’re not kidding, either. COO Tyler Endres boldly predicts that video games – whether playing them or watching others play them – will soon become, “the 21st Century’s most popular sport.” Some may scoff at such a claim, but then again, nobody expected stock-car racing to become as hugely popular as NASCAR has during recent years.

Upcoming events at eSports Arena include an eSports tourney (worth $5,000 in cash prizes), an open tournament for FIFA ’16, and a League of Legends semi-finals and viewing party…with many, many more tourneys in the offing.

Fingers of Fury: KT FlaSH has earned a half-million dollars playing video games. And he’s not alone.

Earning Potential
Parents are apt to raise an eyebrow at the notion that their child could make a handsome living playing video games, but there are players who have made very good money playing games.

Consider the example of Lee Young Ho, a young South Korean who goes by the game handle “KT FlaSH,” and plays StarCraft: Brood War so well that he’s amassed total game-tournament earnings of approximately $450,000, often taking home $10K per tournament.

FlaSH was one of those kids just naturally gifted at video game technique, which was proven by the fact that he had won half of his total winnings before he turned 18! And it’s said that fellow countryman Jang Min Chul (who plays as “MC”) has won as much or more, also playing StarCraft. He’s now 24.

Wanted: Game Skills
If your child or teen shows exceptional prowess playing video games, they may already be wondering if they have what it takes to compete professionally. Local game tournaments and challenge events can help provide the answer to that question.

But it’s also important to remember that tournaments aren’t “the only game in town” when it comes to making a living from gaming. Pro-level gamers are also needed by game magazines and websites to playtest new games that arrive on the market. They’re also needed and hired by game publishers, who require the services of outstanding gamers who can push their products to the limit.

Game publishers also need excellent gamers to playtest their products.

Come Look Under the Hood
Many top-notch gamers end up working on the other side of the console – helping make video games that the whole world plays.

Start by learning games from the inside out, at one of Digital Media Academy’s summer game design camps.

Twitch TV is the popular live-stream gaming portal – the site had over 100M unique monthly views in 2014 alone. Gamers flock to the website for video game walk-throughs, speed runs and quickly growing eSports competitions. Twitch had virtually no competitors in the space, until now.

After trying to buy Twitch, (but was outbid by rival Amazon) Google has launched its own streaming video game destination, called YouTube Gaming.

Twitch-ing for a Fight
Google (which owns YouTube) will compete with Amazon’s Twitch by taking advantage of all the recorded game video content that exists on YouTube, which encompasses 25,000 different game titles.

The new site will also offer tips to gamers on titles they might enjoy playing, based on their gaming history. It’s also expected to be easier to livestream games on YouTube Gaming.

Press Start
To get started on YouTube Gaming, visit the web site and follow the setup process. YouTube Gaming supports PlayStation 4, the Wii U and the Xbox One, although you will need a video capture device.

Once you’re on, you’ll enjoy both game streaming and live video streaming, as well as the chat feature and video archive, provided by YouTube.

Launches of mobile apps for the portal will follow the release of YouTube Gaming.

Grudge Match
Google is eager to carve out a slice of the pie that Amazon’s been enjoying with Twitch, which recently scored a massive viewership of 2 million users – for the 2015 League of Legends tournament.

Games also have their own channels in YouTube Gaming. (Image: YouTube / Google)

The game industry is massive – worth $93 billion worldwide in 2013 – and getting even bigger because of apps, streaming and competitive gaming. In competitive gaming, anyone can get in on the action.

Get in the Game
Get hands-on experience with various stages of game development at Digital Media Academy, making your own characters and exciting levels in DMA’s game design courses.

There’s a bright future for talented game developers. And that future starts with a week of creative discovery at Digital Media Academy video game camps.

Join in and level up. (Image: YouTube / Google)

It’s possibly the most iconic video game of all time. It’s been featured on lunch boxes, in movies and even had a popular 80s Saturday morning cartoon that ran for two seasons.

According to the USgamer site, when adjusted for inflation, the Pac-Man arcade game has earned $7.6 billion. (Image: Namco)

Pac-Man was the poster child for video games several years before Mario came along. The original Pac-Man game still holds the record for the biggest-grossing arcade game of all time. Adjusted for inflation, the game has earned more than 7 billion dollars.

Video Gaming’s First Mascot
The Pac-Man character was gaming’s first mascot. Released in 1980, the game debuted during a time when space-themed shooters dominated arcades.

The maze-and-chase mechanic was new (and quickly copied) and it also did something other video games of the time didn’t: It appealed to females.

This almost universal attraction helped Pac-Man become a merchandising bonanza, leading to the first video game character to be massively licensed for t-shirts, drink glasses, a Top 40 radio hit, and, of course, Saturday morning cartoons. In the early 80s, everybody caught “Pac-Man Fever” (which was the title of the hit song).

In the movie Pixels, classic video game characters are brought to life. A scene in the film has Pac-Man meeting his creator, Tori Iwatani, played by Denis Akiyama. (© 2015 Sony Pictures)

The Origin of Pac-Man
At the heart of the merchandising engine that was/is Pac-Man is a solid game. With a quick glance, players instantly understand the game mechanic: eat dots and avoid ghosts.

But even a game as simple as Pac-Man takes lots of planning and development. In 1977, when he was just 22, Tori Iwatani joined Namco. He wanted to make video games as a game designer and worked on Pac-Man for a year and half, taking the game from concept to finished product.

The idea for Pac-Man started with the kanji word “taberu,” meaning “to eat.” Then one day while at lunch, Iwatani ordered a whole pizza, removed a slice and as Iwatani put it, “What was left was the idea for the Pac-Man shape.”

Iwatani shows off his original designs for the Pac-Man game for the first time in public.

Animations were drawn on graph paper, so programmers could easily turn the boxes into pixels.

In Iwatani’s initial game design, players gobbled up food that was scattered around the screen. A maze was then added to give the game field structure.

Creating an Icon
In Japanese, there’s a slang expression that describes the opening and closing of one’s mouth (“paku paku”) that was the inspiration for Pac-Man’s name.

Iwatani then decided that the player should fight enemies for the food. These enemies became ghost-shaped monsters, each a different color. He did this “mostly to please woman…I thought they would like the pretty colors,” Iwatani said in an interview.

To add tension and give the gamer a break from the constant chase of ghosts, Iwatani had the monsters attack in waves.

Programming the ghosts actually was the most difficult part of the game. “I wanted each ghost enemy to have a specific character and its own movements, so they just weren’t chasing Pac-Man in single file.” So Iwatani worked with programmers to give each ghost a unique personality. For example, Red (also called “Blinky”) chases Pac-Man head-on, while another ghost may turn and run from Pac-Man if he challenges them.

The ghosts and all stages of their animations were plotted out before development started, as well as Pac-Man’s death animation.

Iwatani and his team tested the game as they went along – a process pivotal to the success of a good game – which helped them find out what was working and what should be scrapped. “If it wasn’t fun or didn’t add anything to the game,” Iwatani states, “We dropped it.”

The final results were the addictive dot-gobbling classic we all know today.

Pac-Man spawned several arcade sequels, including Ms. Pac-Man, Pac-Man Jr. and Super Pac-Man – and Pac-Man games are still being made but now for home consoles like the PlayStation and Xbox.

Game-Design Superstars
Toru Iwatani was a game designer. He did not know how to program video games. Instead, he focused his efforts on creating the concept and look of the game. Now retired, Iwatani is currently a lecturer at Tokyo Polytechnic University, passing on his creative experience to a new generation of digital media creators.

It’s known as the Golden Age of Video Games. From 1978 to 1983, games like Asteroids, Space Invaders and Pac-Man were introduced as coin-operated arcade games.


These video game classics are still around today – some as popular apps, others with new games on new systems, like the Wii U. In the new movie Pixels, aliens use these electronic game icons to attack earth. Everyone from Q-Bert to Donkey Kong gets in on the action and does some pretty serious damage.

In this article we’ll take a look back at the origins of the games and show you where they appear in Pixels. So when you do see the movie, you can impress your friends as an expert on classic arcade games…

Space Invaders
Look for tiny Space Invaders in the sequence when aliens are attacking the Washington Monument. The granddaddy of shooters, Space Invaders practically invented the genre. (Image: Sony Pictures/Taito)

Space Invaders rekindled interest in video arcades when it was released in June 1978. The premise was simple: Keep aliens from landing on earth. Created and developed by Tomohiro Nishikado, who was inspired by the game Breakout (which was developed by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs).

Nishikado worked on the game for years, going so far to create an arcade board that would power it – because, up until that point, the technology didn’t exist to make Space Invaders possible.

Little Known Fact: The invading aliens on upright arcade machines were colored using a film overlay on the video screen.

When it was released in 1981, Galaga ruled arcades. A popular arcade cocktail-table version of the game is still sold. (Image: Sony Pictures/Bally Midway)

As the sequel to the popular Galaxian, Galaga was released in 1981. Galaga took the popular Space Invader mechanic and significantly expanded on it.

In addition to introducing a “Challenging Stage,” the shooter introduced a tractor-beam feature that allowed players to double their firepower if they recovered their tractor-beamed ship from the aliens.

Little Known Fact: The game found new life when it was used to hide the loading time for Tekken, a 1995 PlayStation fighting game.

Accounting for inflation, Pac-Man has generated more revenue than any other arcade game before or since. (Image: Sony Pictures/Namco)

An icon of the Golden Age of Video Games, Pac-Man (introduced in 1980) is the most successful arcade coin-op of all time. Pac-Man has gobbled literally billions of quarters. Midway sold almost half a million of the cabinets to arcades and by 1990, the game had grossed $3.5 billion.

Created by Tori Iwatani (who appears in Pixels), who borrowed the power-up concept from Nintendo’s arcade game Popeye. In an era when most games were violent shooters, Pac-Man did something that was unheard of at the time: It attracted female gamers.

Pac-Man is also considered the very first video game character to be massively licensed with t-shirts, lunch boxes, cartoons and drinking glasses featuring the round yellow icon. A popular sequel called Ms. Pac-Man was introduced in 1982.

Little Known Fact: The game spawned a top-ten single called Pac-Man Fever.

A mind-numbingly difficult game, Centipede took a more down-to-earth approach to shooting games. (Image: Sony Pictures/Atari)

Designed by Ed Logg and Dona Bailey (it was the first arcade game programmed by a woman), Centipede was released in 1981.

Both programmers were focused on how to develop a video game that attracted female players…and they succeeded. Centipede was so popular a sequel called Millipede was released less than a year after.

Little Known Fact: Centipede was the second-most-popular trackball game of its era. Missile Command takes the top spot.

Donkey Kong
Donkey Kong returns to his roots in Pixels. (Image: Sony Pictures/Nintendo)

Created by video game legend Shigeru Miyamoto and released by Nintendo in 1981, Donkey Kong was the start of a game franchise that’s still going strong today.

Miyamoto had been tasked by his bosses to convert the arcade game Radar Scope into something that was more successful and Donkey Kong was the result.

Little Known Fact: This game featured the first appearance of Mario. Super Mario Bros. released four years later.

Blink and you may miss them. The flapping birds featured in Pixel‘s attack on Washington D.C. are from the arcade classic Joust. (Image: Sony Pictures/Williams Ent.)

Released in 1982, Joust combined platform action with co-op gameplay. The game received high praise for its unique gameplay; players rode buzzards that flapped their wings when pressing the action button. By attacking other players or enemies you could unseat other knights.

Little Known Fact: Joust was programmed using Assembly language. It was not the first game to feature two-player cooperative play but because of its success, it helped popularize that concept.

Creating Video Game Classics
When video arcades started to pop up outside of bowling alleys and bars, Americans poured quarters into coin-op machines. Those days may be gone, but they’re certainly not forgotten. Video games are still a thriving industry with people that make video games while earning six figures and more.

Get started with your career in the games business at one of Digital Media Academy’s video game camps.