Joust: History of the Ostrich-Based Arcade Co-Op Romp

Joust the arcade game advertisement
En garde! Also, nice sockies.

Launched in 1982, never has a video game ever revelled in ostriches quite as much as Joust. From American developer Williams Electronics, it’s now an arcade icon. Squawk!

All About Joust the 1982 Arcade Game (and ostriches)

In Joust, you take control of a knight riding on an ostrich. These things can fly and you need to complete levels by defeating enemies.

Your competitors are flying around on buzzards.

The game world consists of stages with a handful of platforms dotted about, which you can land on and use strategically to defeat the enemy.

The baddies come in waves, which can vary in intensity. So you need solid hand-eye coordination and nerves of steel to handle the mania.

All good fun! Joust was a pretty big hit back in 1982 and remains one of the most iconic arcade games in history.

And like birds (except ostriches, which can’t fly) the game has soared in a flock across the globe nesting in all manner of ports to various systems.

Heck, you can even still play it now on the likes of Antstream Arcade. And over the years it’s featured on many Midway Arcade Classics collections.

However, back in 1982 Joust did introduce an industry favourite feature.

The Arrival of Co-Op Gaming

As you can see with the 1988 port of the NES (Nintendo’s console had up two controllers), you can do battle with a mate to save the day.

This made the arcade title revolutionary, introducing two-player capabilities. This brought about the start of gaming as a more social activity.

Think of decades later with gamers playing Goldeneye 007 and Mario Kart 64 hunched around a TV, or more recent efforts like MMORPGs.

Joust started the craze like a bunch of houmous addicts inventing houmous.

Williams Electronics’ lead designer John Newcomer developed the concept with his team (the two-player stuff, not houmous), buoyed after the success of 1981’s Defender.

Newcomer set out with the idea for two player action, but wanted to avoid other space shooter type games such as Asteroids and Space Invaders.

He considered the pros and cons of various flying things, before settling on ostriches as they have quite a lot of lore in the fantasy genre.

Newcomer took it all so seriously he went to his local library to read up about mythology.

The choice of birds in the game also led to a change in the way players could control their character.

Instead of just the eight-direction route, the ostrich could flap to create an ascent and descent.

These changes made Williams Electronics worried it’d freak gamers out. But the game went on to shift some 26,000 units.

And, lo, did gamers get their very first taste of the trials and tribulations of taking on their best mate in a video game.

The Sequel Arrives! Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest

Despite the success of the first game, Williams Electronics seemed to rest back on its laurels a fair old bit.

But, in 1986, a rather belated sequel arrived on the scene. It wasn’t as popular as the first outing, probably due to the industry having moved on a tad.

But Joust 2: Survival of the Fittest did have more advanced gameplay than its predecessor. The levels offered a wider variety and were more complex.

But many gamers were preoccupied with the NES and other leading arcade titles by 1986. This meant the late arrival of a new joust title was a little old hat.

Due to this the title didn’t receive ports to other systems, remaining in the arcades only until being bundled in arcade game compilations.

The Fate of Williams Electronics

Williams Electronics (also called WMS Industries)was founded in 1974 in Nevada. It first manufactured pinball machines, before also switching attention to video games.

The developer continued with slot and pinball machines throughout the 1990s, eventually closing that division in 1999.

In 2013 the company was acquired by Scientific Games and is now a subsidiary of that thing. Neat, eh?

But it does mean the legend that created Joust continues on! Just in a slightly different form.

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