This Month in Gaming History: February

Chicago makes history (again), Nolan Bushnell is shady (again), and LucasArts waits 11 years to make a Star Wars game.

February 1974

Taito’s Basketball is a landmark in video game history for two major reasons. First, it is often considered the first game ever to feature depictions of human figures. And second, Midway bringing the game to the U.S. – as TV Basketball  – marked the first time a Japanese game was licensed for release in North America.

February 1975

The always industrious Nolan Bushnell formed a company called Horror Games in order to release Atari’s unlicensed Jaws-based title Shark Jaws, so that any potential lawsuits brought on by Universal – who he was unable to secure the license from – would be targeted at Horror Games instead of affecting Atari. It was, of course, the only title ever released under the Horror Games brand.

February 1981

In addition to being the birthplace of the gamer and game blogger responsible for this very article on February 14th, Chicago was also the origin point for Defender during this month. One of the biggest titles of gaming’s “Golden Age,” Defender is often credited as being the first horizontally-scrolling shooter as well as one of the earliest video games to feature scrolling period.

February 1991

Lemmings makes its debut on the Amiga, the first stop on its way to the over two dozen platforms it is eventually ported to. It was the first breakthrough title for UK developer DMA Design, six years before they release Grand Theft Auto. Some cite Lemmings as the predecessor to the modern RTS genre, as it is one of the earliest games to feature the “indirect-control” gameplay mechanic that is a staple of RTS games.

February 1993

Though Lucasfilm had a video game division dating back to 1982, they were unable to develop any Star Wars games for an entire decade as the rights had already been sold to other companies prior to the founding of the company that would eventually be known as LucasArts. 11 years later, LucasArts released their first internally-developed Star Wars game, Star Wars: X-Wing, for PC.

February 1996

Blizzard Entertainment acquires a small independent developer named Condor, who they had previously crossed paths by developing the SNES and Genesis versions, respectively, of Justice League: Task Force. At the time of the acquisition, Condor was hard at work on their next title, Diablo. Blizzard renamed the team Blizzard North and suggested changing the direction of the game from a turn-based RPG – as Condor had originally intended – to a real-time one. Blizzard North remained the primary developers of the Diablo series until the studio was closed during Diablo III’s long, troubled development cycle.

February 22, 1999

In a company restructuring so devastating that it earned the nickname “Chainsaw Monday,” Sierra lays off 250 people, closes several key studios, and completely halts development of major sequels to franchises like Leisure Suit Larry and Space Quest (only Gabriel Knight 3 avoided cancellation and was released 9 months later). However, the company remained active as publisher for a time, even putting out Relic Entertainment’s groundbreaking Homeworld later that year.