Hail the Gorfian Empire!
Working for Bally/Midway game development house Dave Nutting Associates, 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.
To further entice Space Cadets to challenge the Gorfian fleet, rankings on the bezel of the upright cabinet are lit up as players progress through each set of missions, as such: the first run through promotes you to Space Captain, then to Space Colonel after screens 11 to 15, Space General after 16 to 20, Space Warrier from 21 to 25 and the vaunted title of Space Avenger after 26 to 30. The machine’s speech will also address players by their ranks as they gain them. To facilitate their rise up the ranks of the Interstellar Space Defense Force, players can add coins at the start to double the amount of ships they have to fight with, both for one player or two. Their record of achievement is also recorded on a high score table, separated between those who fought valiantly with the default amount of ships, and those who paid for reinforcements.
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 “Your end draws near” and “You will meet a Gorfian doom!”. Gamers’s wallets also start receiving a truthful warning emanating from the cabinet when Gorf is released to arcades in April of 1981: “I devour coins!” 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.
Sources (Click to view; inert links are kept for historical purposes)
“1981: The Year In Review.” Cash Box, 26 Dec. 1981, p. 88. Internet Archive, archive.org/details/cashbox43unse_30/page/88. April: Midway debuts “Gorf”
“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.