This Month in Gaming History: July


Although typically known as one of the “drought” months for game news and releases, July has seen some huge events in years past…

July 1974:
Atari’s Gran Trak 10 is released to arcades, widely considered the first racing video game. Steve Wozniak said he played the game so much during the four-day development cycle of Breakout that when a local pizza chain put the game in and offered free pizzas to players who achieved a specific score, they took the game out after he got his second free pizza with ease.

July 1980: One of the biggest hits of the “Golden Age” of arcades, Missile Command is unleashed by Atari. It is the first non-sports arcade machine to use a trackball.

donkeykongJuly 1981: A rising young talent at an up-and-coming game company wanted to make a Popeye game, only the company wasn’t able to secure the rights. Instead, he took the basic themes of a love triangle and a beauty and the beast relationship and turned it into Donkey Kong. To say “the rest is history” somehow doesn’t even do justice to the impact that game, its characters, that company, and that talent would have not only on video games, but on mass media and pop culture in general.

July 1988: 3.6 million copies are published of the first issue of Nintendo Power magazine, including the free copies that were sent to every single member of the Nintendo Fun Club. The cover art, featuring clay sculptures of Mario and Wart, has become one of the most iconic and recognizable images in video game history. Thanks to the magic of the internet, the entire issue is available to read online.

mega-man-fighting-the-dragon_yfbxJuly 11, 1989: I wasn’t expecting to write this much hyperbole in one almanac, but here comes some more: On this date, Capcom brings Mega Man 2 to North America, which – yep, wait for it – is regarded as one of the greatest video games of all time. Just to balance things out with an actual fact, Mega Man 2 still remains the best-selling game in the series.

July 12, 1990: Partially named because it was fledgling company Squaresoft’s final shot to make a successful game before facing financial ruin, Final Fantasy was brought to North America thanks to a publishing deal with Nintendo. This began a mutually fruitful relationship between the two companies that would last for seven very successful years and produce some of the greatest games of all…dammit, it’s just so hard not to do!

July 1994: LucasArts releases the second game in the PC Star Wars: X-Wing space combat series, titled TIE Fighter. The game’s story takes place between episodes V and VI of the films. IGN actually called it the best Star Wars game ever made in 2010 – someone else’s words this time! – especially high praise considering Knights of the Old Republic had already been released (for PC) at that point, which is the game that most commonly gets that distinction.

phantasmagoriaJuly 31, 1995: Renowned game designer Roberta Williams, who had made a name for herself creating the lighthearted and family-friendly adventure series King’s Quest, creates a stir when she releases Phantasmagoria for the PC. The game is extremely dark, featuring nudity, graphic and gory violence, and even a rape scene. Though it was met with largely lukewarm reviews and tepid sales (and spawned only a single sequel – which she had nothing to do with), when asked in a 2006 interview to pick a single game that best represents her entire career, she surprisingly chose Phantasmagoria.

July 23, 2001: Third-person shooter Max Payne is released for PC, featuring the then-groundbreaking gameplay mechanic of “Bullet Time.” When triggered, bullet time allows players to slow down the entire game world with the exception of their targeting reticule, enabling them to fire much more quickly and over a larger area than would be possible during realistic parameters. This was the first video game to feature this mechanic following its popularization in The Matrix, as that movie franchise wouldn’t see a video game of its own until 2003.

July 15, 2003: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic is released for Xbox, building on both developer Bioware’s previous work on Neverwinter Knights and Wizard of the Coast’s Star Wars tabletop RPG. It is pretty much the best Star Wars game ever made…unless you ask IGN.

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