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A brief history of explosions in video games

Welcome to the explosive side of video games

Motorstorm Apocalypse

If there's one thing developers know we like, it's explosions. Sure, you could argue there's only so many things that can explode in a Call of Duty game before we get explosion fatigue, but that doesn't stop games getting packed full of them. But while we're used to pretty particle effects, dynamic lighting and blah blah blah, it wasn't always like this. So let's look back at explosions through gaming's history. Be warned - the first slide is very ugly. But it does get better.

1962 (ish) - Space War!

The first true video game? Suffice to say there's no direct feed footage from the original to take screenshots from, so you'll have to trust us that this mangled mess of blurry pixels is an explosion. Must've been incredible at the time. *cough*

1978: Space Invaders

The grid of invaders in this arcade classic could easily pass for pop art. Which is pretty much how we'd describe the explosion. It's a pop in pixel art. Minimalism at its finest.

1981: Star Strike

How much more like Star Wars can you get before George Lucas' lawyers come knocking? Zoom down the trench run... sorry, I mean 'surface of the alien planet' and try to stop the aliens before they destroy Alderaan... sorry 'Earth' in this Intellivision classic. Fail and this happens. That mess of red pixels USED TO BE OUR PLANET. Gulp!

1983: Star Wars (Arcade)

Come 1983, vector graphics were all the rage, allowing the most realistic simulation of X-Wing combat imaginable - and in your local amusement arcade too. This explosion? It's the freakin' Death Star, of course! Who needs its souped-up demise from the special edition re-release of the movie? This is so epic it even changes colour. Are you seeing the progress yet?

1987: Afterburner II

Not that different from Afterburner 'one', but this is the best version. And look at those hand-drawn explosions go! They even scale smoothly thanks to the super-scaler technology that also powered Space Harrier and OutRun. But these explosions are far bigger than Space Harrier's, especially when your own plane explodes right in front of the camera. Or when it disintegrates along the ground. We love that one.

1990: Lander

This pack-in demo of Zarch (later Virus) came with every Acorn Archimedes computer. Our school had one, meaning we got our first taste of flat-shaded polygonal 3D when we should have been learning speling. Or sumfing. The explosions were beautiful, with single pixel particle effects that even turned blue if they touched the water. Even more beautiful when you didn't have speakers. In space no-one can hear you explode.

1991: Lemmings

Explosions in Lemmings? Yes, but not the firey kind, really. The game came with a nuke option that turned all of your Lemmings into Bombers. This was either to allow you to quit a level or to detonate remaining blockers that were unable to reach the exit. But the real fun came from packing the Lemmings into as small a space as possible and doing this. Maniacal laughter is optional.

1993: Doom

Doom had exploding barrels. They didn't catch on. One of these sentences is a lie. However, it's worth noting that even at this early stage, splash damage hurt enemies in the vicinity and even blew objects around, causing chain reactions - which the player could unwittingly find themselves caught in. That'll learn ya.

1994: Dynamite Headdy

Not Treasure's greatest moment, but the stylised explosions in Dynamite Headdy are worthy of a place in this list. Using Treasure's trademark technique of having many small and simply-animated sprites combing to create something greater than the sum of its parts, the explosions here are classic video game fare - and they were smooth, too. Very nice.

Justin was a GamesRadar staffer for 10 years but is now a freelancer, musician and videographer. He's big on retro, Sega and racing games (especially retro Sega racing games) and currently also writes for Play Magazine,, PC Gamer and TopTenReviews, as well as running his own YouTube channel. Having learned to love all platforms equally after Sega left the hardware industry (sniff), his favourite games include Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, Zelda BotW, Sea of Thieves, Sega Rally Championship and Treasure Island Dizzy.