Until yesterday, I had believed that the only former East-bloc country with coin-op video games was East Germany with its ill-famous "Poly Play" machine. How wrong I was!
Last night, I stumbled upon a YouTube video displaying some old Russian arcade games. Most of them were clearly mechanical in their design, but there was at least one which looked like a genuine video game. Of course, a discovery like this meant that I had to sacrifice some sleep for the sake of some extremely important research.
The Russian website www.15kop.ru belongs to "Museum of soviet game automatons" and shows pictures of many arcade game machines, both mechanical and electronic. Most of the machines look really amusing - if not due to their apparent technical clumsiness, then at least due to their strange soviet esthetics.
Some of the museum pages include excerpts from the original documentation, stating for example that a single round used to cost 15 kopecks (hence the domain name, I presume) and there indeed are computer components inside the video games. The rationale for the existence of such machines was documented as well:
"2.1. Play automaton "interceptor" is intended for the entertainment and the productive leisure of population, for the development in the playing eye, accuracy and the rapidity of reaction." (Babelfish translation)
No moneymaking rationale, just the noble idea of enhancing the lives and abilities of the working masses!
According to the Russian Wikipedia page, mechanical arcade games started to appear in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s. In the mid-1980s there were already some computerized video game coin-ops, but they seemed to be rather primitive, with monochrome screens or maybe four simultaneous colors.
"Extreme", an Ukrainian company founded in 1986, seems to have been a pioneer of the more advanced soviet video game hardware. Their TIA-MC-1 platform had a soviet 8080-clone as CPU and supported a whopping 16 colors out of a palette of 256, a resolution of 256x256 pixels and even hardware sprites. The soviet homecomputer Vektor-06C released in 1987 seems to have had somewhat similar capabilities - however, with more RAM and without sprites nor dedicated soundchip. Some TIA-MC-1 games can be played with MAME nowadays.
By the way, this was my first blog entry ever. And I'm even planning to write some more on various topics every now and them, so beware.