The Video Games of ‘Ready Player One’

Reading Time: 11 minutes

The Ready Player One novel is full of classic video game references and they also play crucial roles in the story (even more so with the novel). What follows is a list of the video games of Ready Player One (the novel), but before I get to that list I go into more detail about seven of the most important video games in the Ready Player One novel. For each of these seven games I give a little bit of background about the game, the tie-in with novel and movie and some information on where you can play these games today.

Video Games of Ready Player One
A lot of great classic video games were part of the main plot from the Ready Player One novel (Images from Wikipedia.org, readyplayerone.wikia.com, Nintendo, readyplayerone.wikia.com, capcom.wikia.com, and jointhequest.io)

Disclaimer: It is impossible to write this article without spoilers. So what I have done is limited the spoilers to just the “Ready Player One Tie-In” sections and I have marked these sections with a spoiler warning. So if you want to learn more about the video games in Ready Player One and where you can play them today but don’t want either the novel or the movie spoiled for you then just don’t read the “WARNING – Spoilers in this section” marked sections of the article.

Joust

Video Games of Ready Player One
This is a combination of the Joust game start screen on the Ready Player One movie website (left) and an image of an original flyer advertising the arcade game (right) (Images from jointhequest.io and Wikipedia.org)

Joust is the first game from Ready Player One I’ll cover and it’s is very important game to the story. This is a game I actually remember playing quite a bit as kid in the arcade at my neighborhood pool during the summer. Joust was released in July of 1982 by Williams Electronics in arcade formats (upright and table) and eventually released/ported to a large variety of game consoles (Atari, NES and other systems like Apple II, MS-DOS, PCs and the Macintosh). Joust was known for its unique flapping control mechanism and because it allowed for simultaneous 2-player gaming. It was also a very unique game for the time as it stayed away from the popular theme of space and instead featured a knight carrying a lance on top of a flying ostrich (which is about as far from a space-themed game as you can get).

 

Ready Player One Tie-In (WARNING – Spoilers in this section):

There is virtually no reference to Joust in the Ready Player One movie (only in passing) although you can see the arcade table for the game in the background when Parzival and Aech are inside Aech’s workshop in the Oasis. The real tie-in is from the book. Joust is the first major video game challenge our young hero faces when he has to battle Acererak the Demi-Lich in a best-of-three match of Joust in order to win the Copper Key.

 

Where to play today:

  • The Ready Player One movie website has a web port of Joust you can play in your web browser for free
  • The Internet Arcade website (which archives classic video game information) also has a web browser port of Joust you can play for free
  • Atari VCS is an upcoming gaming system from Atari that is part retro part modern gaming console. While the full list of retro games is not yet available there is good chance that Joust will be among them (we can hope can’t we?)

 

Black Tiger

Video Games of Ready Player One
Original artwork for the game Black Tiger (Image from capcom.wikia.com)

Black Tiger (also known as Burakku Doragon or black dragon) was released by Capcom in 1987. The game play is very similar to Ghosts n’ Goblins (also a Capcom video game) but instead of fighting ghosts you are a barbarian (named Black Tiger) fighting a wide variety of enemies as you make your way through a medieval kingdom. As you progress through the game you can use coins to upgrade your armor and weapons, you encounter stone wise men who give you rewards when you free them from captivity and ultimately you are trying to free the kingdom from three invading dragons.

 

Ready Player One Tie-In (WARNING – Spoilers in this section):

Again, there is virtually no mention of Black Tiger in the movie but it is another key plot point in the book. In the book Wade/Parzival must play through a full 3D recreation of the game in the Oasis and as a prize you get a giant robot and the riddle for finding the Crystal Key.

 

Where to play today:

  • If you have credits on the Wii Virtual Console you can purchase the arcade version of Black Tiger and play it on the Wii. Nintendo very recently shut down the ability for users to be able to purchase more points on the Wii Shop, so if you don’t already have credits you are out of luck. Hopefully they bring Black Tiger to the Nintendo Switch store when the Nintendo Switch Online service is started up later this year.
  • If you still have a PS3 there is a game called Capcom Arcade Cabinet and you can play the full game of Black Tiger in the free trial version (no add-on purchase required).
  • For the rest of us the only options we have to play Black Tiger today is to visit an old retro arcade in-person or find a web browser port of the game online and play it within your web browser.

 

Dungeons of Daggorath

Video Games of Ready Player One
Original box art from the Tandy Computer release of the game (Image from readyplayerone.wikia.com)

Dungeons of Daggorath was produced by DynaMicro and released in 1982 by the Tandy Corporation for the TRS-80. It is well-known because it one of the first video games that takes place in a 3D real-time environment. It used very simple 2D graphics but used the illusion of angled lines to give the screen a 3D depth to the environment as you progressed through the game. The game itself is a text-based game meaning you play the game by typing in text commands and your player on-screen would then follow those commands.

 

Ready Player One Tie-In (WARNING – Spoilers in this section):

Again there is virtually no tie-in to the movie, except you do get to see a young version of Halliday playing on his Atari and you get a glimpse of his TRS-80 in his virtual bedroom in the OASIS. In the book Wade/Parzival must insert the game Dungeons of Daggorath into Halliday’s TRS-80 Tandy computer inside Halliday’s virtual bedroom in the OASIS and play through an OASIS version of the game to access the first gate. Once Parzival plays through the entire game, the WarGames poster on the wall of Halliday’s virtual bedroom transforms into the first gate. The Copper Key unlocks the gate and then Parzival must complete a Flicksync of the entire movie WarGames as the main character David (and disappointingly this is not in the movie either).

 

Where to play today:

  • If you have a PC then you can download Dungeons of Daggorath for free from the Microsoft store
  • For Android users you can also download and install Dungeons of Daggorath on your Android device from the Google Play store
  • For those of you hoping there is an iOS version…I hate to burst your bubble but there is not. Turns out Apple will not allow a port of this game without getting a legal copyright release from them first (and that hasn’t happened so no iOS version)
  • But Apple users are not totally left out as there is a Mac OS X port out there. I use Boot Camp on my Mac so I play the PC version from Microsoft so I can’t speak personally for this particular port of the game.

 

Pac-Man

Video Games of Ready Player One
Game art from the Nintendo Switch version of Pac-Man – part of the Namco Museum collection of games (Image from Nintendo)

Pac-Man needs no introduction or explanation so I won’t bore you with any in-depth background other than to say that is was released as an arcade game in 1980 by Namco. Pac-Man went on to become one of the highest-grossing video games of all time.

 

Ready Player One Tie-In (WARNING – Spoilers in this section):

Pac-Man did not play a part in the plot of the movie but was a key plot point in the novel. Wade/Parzival had to play a perfect game of Pac-Man and for his efforts he received a 1981 Quarter artifact in the OASIS that ended up being an extra life (in the movie Wade receives the same Quarter but in another way). There is even a song about Pac-Man (called “Pac-Man Fever” by Buckner & Garcia) in the Ready Player One novel that I included as part of a Ready Player One playlist I published a while back here on GeekDad.

 

Where to play today:

  • It would be easier to list the one or two platforms you can’t play Pac-Man on (if they even exist) so instead I will tell you about my two favorite ways I play Pac-Man
  • Method one is old school: I like to play Pac-Man on an original arcade machine by visiting retro arcades (it is hard to beat the arcade controls)
  • Method two is at the opposite end of the technology spectrum: I also like to play Pac-Man everywhere I go by playing it via Namco Museum on the Nintendo Switch. Bonus: I even made my own Pac-Man themed Nintendo Switch game cartridge carrying case.

 

Zork

Video Games of Ready Player One
Original Zork game art work (Image from readyplayerone.wikia.com)

Zork was one of the first interactive fictional text games for the computer. Zork was first developed between 1977 and 1979 using the MDL computer language on a DEC PDP-10 computer and eventually it was released commercially as three separate games (Zork I: The Great Underground Empire, Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz and Zork III: The Dungeon Master).

 

Ready Player One Tie-In (WARNING – Spoilers in this section):

Zork doesn’t really make it into the movie but is another key plot point in the novel. In the novel there is an entire planet called Frobozz that is a 3D recreation of the world of Zork. In the novel Wade/Parzival has to collect all 19 trophies in the game and place them in the trophy case and then blow a Cap’n Crunch cereal box whistle to obtain the Crystal Key. The Cap’n Crunch whistle may sound like a silly made up thing, but it is a real life reference. An analog hack discovered in the 1960’s used a Cap’n Crunch cereal box whistle to create a 1,000 Hz tone that could be used to trick our old analog phone systems into making free phone calls.

 

Where to play today:

  • Retronauts.com has an excellent article that talks about all the ways you can play Zork today and does a great job of explaining what is legal and what is not. Below are just a few key pointers I took away from this article:
  • There is a mobile text-based game called Frotz that allows to play a large number of text-based games on your mobile device and Zork is one of them (for both iOS and Android)
  • One of the only ways to play Zork on a modern game console is to find the Easter egg hidden in the Xbox 360 (which is also backwards compatible for Xbox One) version of Call of Duty: Black Ops.

 

Tempest

Video Games of Ready Player One
An image of a miniature arcade game of Tempest from RepliCade – Coming in the Fall of 2018 (Image from New Wave Toys)

Tempest was an arcade game released by Atari in 1981 and one of the first games to use Atari’s Color-QuadraScan display technology. In another first this game also allowed players to select their starting level within the game and would vary the design of the levels as the player progressed (levels were not the same each time). You play Tempest by piloting a ship down a 3-Dimensional tube and clearing the screen of as many enemies as possible without being destroyed.

 

Ready Player One Tie-In (WARNING – Spoilers in this section):

Tempest also gets the cold shoulder in the movie (like most of the video games from the book) but has an important role in the book. In the novel, gunters must beat James Halliday’s high score in Tempest of 728,329 points and when they do they are allowed to proceed into a Flicksync of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Ernest Cline says that Tempest made it into the book because the game is featured toward the end of his favorite music video…”Subdivisions” by Rush. Below is the “Subdivisions” music video. Be on the lookout for some Tempest game play near the very end of the video.

 

Where to play today:

  • The easiest way to play Tempest today is by playing it within the Atari Greatest Hits game (for Nintendo DS and iOS)
  • Tempest is also available for the Xbox 360 (which is also compatible with the Xbox One) through the Xbox Live Arcade
  • Tempest can also be played via the online virtual arcade called Game Room (works for Xbox 360 and Windows)
  • There is also a mini arcade version of the game being released by RepliCade later this year. Here are links to the game on Kickstarter and the pre-order page on Amazon.com.
  • Atari VCS is an upcoming gaming system from Atari that is part retro part modern gaming console. While the full list of retro games is not yet available there is good chance that Tempest will be among them (we can hope can’t we?)

 

Adventure

Video Games of Ready Player One
Original box art work for the game Adventure (Image from Wikipedia.org)

Adventure was released by Atari for the Atari 2600 in 1979/1980. With its simple blocky graphics, the game isn’t known for being a technological breakthrough, but it had its own set of firsts. Enemies would continue to move within the game even if you weren’t on a screen with that particular enemy. Most notably Adventure contained the first widely known Easter egg, a secret room that when found would display text crediting Warren Robinett as the game’s creator.

 

Ready Player One Tie-In (WARNING – Spoilers in this section):

In the novel, James Halliday mentions in his hunt invitation that his Easter egg hunt within the OASIS was inspired by the Easter egg in Adventure. Both the novel and the movie (yes, an actual video game shown in the movie) feature Adventure game play. This is one of the few video game related things that actually carried over from the novel into the movie. Wade/Parzival had to play through the Atari game Adventure and find the secret room, but instead of finding the classic Easter egg showing the name of the game’s creator the game gave the player “THE” Easter egg everyone was searching for in the OASIS.

 

Where to play today:

  • The easiest way to play Adventure today is by playing it within the Atari Greatest Hits game (for Nintendo DS and iOS)
  • Playstation (PS4) and Xbox One has a title called Atari Flashback Classics Volume 2 that contains the Atari 2600 version of Adventure
  • In 2016 Atari Vault was released for the PC and on Steam which gives you access to 100 classic Atari games including Adventure
  • The Atari Flashback 3 and Atari Flashback 4 stand alone retro gaming units released in 2011 and 2012 respectively both had Adventure (earlier Atari Flashback units had the game as well)
  • Adventure can also be played via the online virtual arcade called Game Room (works for Xbox 360 and Windows)
  • Atari VCS is an upcoming gaming system from Atari that is part retro/part modern gaming console. While the full list of retro games is not yet available there is good chance that Adventure will be among them (we can hope can’t we?)

 

All of the video game references from the novel

Below is a full list of all the video games references I came across as I read the novel in the order I came across them:

  • Adventure p5,p361
  • Galaga p13, 108,p220
  • Defender p13,p220
  • Asteroids p13, p103
  • Robotron: 2084 p14,p220
  • Donkey Kong p22, p220
  • Burger Time p22
  • Pitfall p22
  • Contra p39
  • Golden Axe p39
  • Heavy Barrel p39
  • Smash TV p39
  • Ikari Warriors p39
  • Tron: Deadly Disks p40
  • Astrosmash p40
  • Swordquest: Earthworld p43
  • Fireworld p44
  • Waterworld p44
  • Airworld p44
  • Aklabeth p64
  • Zazxon p64
  • Joust p80
  • Dungeons of Daggorath p85
  • Centipede p96
  • Ms. PAC-Man p96
  • BurgerTime p96
  • Combat p.103
  • Space Invaders p.103
  • Kaboom! p.103
  • Star Raiders p.103
  • The Empire Strikes Back p.103
  • Starmaster p.103
  • Yar’s Revenge p.103
  • E.T. p.103
  • Raaka-tu p.105
  • Bedlam p.105
  • Pyramid p.105
  • Madness and the Minotaur p.105
  • Dig Dug p.108
  • Star Wars (arcade game from Atari) p.216
  • Battlezone p.217
  • Tennis for Two p.218
  • Spacewar! p.218
  • Pac-Man p.220
  • Zork p.225
  • Colossal Cave p.226
  • Crime Fighters p.254
  • Heavy Barrel p.254
  • Vigilante p.254
  • Smash TV p.254
  • Black Tiger p.254
  • Time Pilot p.254
  • Tempest p.350

One final bonus, the YouTube video below is an interview with Ernest Cline talking about many of the video games referenced above and what the meant to him and why they were included in the novel:

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