Hail the Gorfian Empire!
Jay Fenton, designer of the Bally Professional Arcade home videogame for Bally/Midway, makes arcade game history with his 1981 coin-op Gorf, who’s chipset is adapted from the company’s home console. While the play in the arcade game’s multiple levels on their own is hardly original, they are nonetheless the first ever featured in a video game. Gorf also sports the Quark Laser, which allows the player to cancel a missed shot by firing again, and Gorf also allows the player’s ship to freely roam the bottom one-third of each playfield. The storyline deals with an invasion by the Gorfians, a murderous robot empire intent on the conquering of Earth. The player must defend his planet through five levels in all – a Space Invaders knock-off with the added feature of a flickering protective barrier stretched over the player, two Galaxian clones (one of which adds laser ships that send a deadly line of energy down at the player), a warp sequence where enemy ships come swirling out of a void, and a final level against the dreaded Gorfian Flag Ship. When the flag ship is destroyed in a spectacular conflagration, the game restarts at a harder difficulty level.
A Gorfian Doom
Gorf is also on the vanguard of synthesized human speech, utilizing the SC-01 speech synthesis chip by Votrax. Emulating a human voice by use of speech blocks called phonemes allows for lesser memory requirements than using actual digitized phrases, a process that the company says gives the chip a nearly unlimited vocabulary. With up to 64 phonemes at its disposal, the Votrax chip offers a much higher quality voice than what was available in first talking game Stratovox, along with a low data rate of 70 – 100 bits per second. In Gorf it is used to generate an astounding 25 sentences during attract mode and game play. In fact, the brutal taunts that the game throws out at players become infamous, including such memorable lines as “I devour coins!”, “Your end draws near” and “You will meet a Gorfian doom!”. Jay Fenton apparently creates a sequel called Ms. Gorf in 1982, but the game appears to exist only as uncompiled code on development floppy discs.
Another big hit for Midway, Gorf prompts the usual flood of translations of the game for home systems such as the VCS. Unfortunately, this version omits the Galaxian screen of the arcade game, but at least some text on the box warns you of this limitation. The ColecoVision port is a real standout, faithfully reproducing the game although it too lacks the Galaxian screen and any speech.
Sources (Click to view; inert links are kept for historical purposes)
“Votrax Offers Speech Chip with Unlimited Words.” Leisure Time Electronics, 1980, p. 41. Votrax, a division of Federal Screw Works, has introduced a speech synthesis chip with “unlimited” vocabulary…
…silicon chip is said to generate an unlimited vocabulary with the low data rate of 70 – 100 bits per second. The high speech-rate capability and low memory requirement result from the chip’s use of phoneme-based speech rather than reconstituted human speech. Words and phrases are generated with the Votrax chip through a series of electronic commands that can produce up to 64 phonemes.