Retro Coin Op Synopsis
Atari’s Football was the first American football video game, but this arcade classic’s list of accomplishments stretches well beyond that. One of the most physically demanding games of the arcade’s early years, Football featured the revolutionary Trak-Ball control system, allowing players to move smoothly across the scrolling playing field in any direction. Determined competitors worked with the two-hand technique, spinning that ball until blisters developed on the palms of their hands. This was not a game for sissies.
Patterned after a coach’s chalkboard, Football pitted X’s against O’s (seven on each side), trading off on offense and defense. The unique cocktail-style cabinet design allowed competing players to stand on opposite sides, each watching the action unfold from above. Each player controlled one X or O, while the computer handled the rest.
After selecting a play (there were four to choose from on each side), the teams broke up from their huddles and lined up for trench warfare. A single button (the same used for play selection) was the only control other than the Trak-Ball, used to pass the ball on offense. Beyond that, it was all Trak-Ball, zipping through holes in the defense or charging for the player holding the ball. Contact equaled a tackle, and regular American football rules applied for yardage and downs.
Football didn’t allow for kicking plays, meaning that the only scoring options were a touchdown (6 points for passing it in, 7 for running) or a safety. Gameplay was time-based, allowing arcade owners to rack up the quarters as die-hard players paid for more and more on-field time.
For the start of the 1979 NFL season, Atari released its updated version of the game, 4-Player Football. With two Trak-Balls on each side of the cabinet, the game became an all-out melee. On offense, one player controlled the quarterback, while another controlled the wide receiver. On defense, each player controlled a defensive back. The enhanced game also offered five new plays, including the ability to kick field goals and point-after conversions.
A huge hit in both versions, Football set the standard for future sports simulators. The graphics and play selection improved in the ensuing years, but for all the fancy features, games like John Elway’s Team Quarterback and NFL Blitz 99 still followed the basics laid down by Atari’s X and O wonder.
Arcade Machine Release History1978 - Football
1979 - 4-Player Football