Monthly Archives: March 2014

Excerpt from screenshot of Berzerk, an arcade video game by Stern 1980

Video Games Go Berzerk

When the arcade ruled the entertainment landscape, I played a tonne of Berzerk, an arcade video game released by Stern in 1980.

Atari’s Gotcha might have been the first maze game, but Berzerk really brought the genre to life. You are a lone survivor of a robot uprising, racing through room after room trying to avoid the indigenous population of up to 11 of the murderous machines. If you touch one of them, you die. If you get shot by one of them, you die. You touch the walls, you die. You also cannot linger too long in a room, even if you clear out all of the robots, because soon Evil Otto will appear, pure hate in the form of a smiling, bouncing ball. Designer Alan McNeil based the game on his dreams, as well as taking inspiration from Fred Saberhagen’s Berzerker series of SF books. Otto himself comes from a security guard McNeil had run-ins with while working at Nutting Associates.

Even though it doesn’t seem to be part of a larger overall maze, running from room to room in Berzerk gave one a sense of wandering a complex, hopelessly lost and unsure of what you’ll face when you pass through the next door. It’s an extremely early example of an open-world game, although what kind of world and what you’re supposed to be doing besides surviving is anyone’s guess. Another thing that brought the game alive was the groundbreaking speech synthesis used to give voice to the robots, taunting the player with gems like “Chicken, fight like a robot!” and “The humanoid must not escape!”. If you dared try to walk past the cabinet in the arcade without stopping, you might be admonished with “Coins detected in pocket!”.

Berzerk rightfully earned a lot of love in the arcades, as well as at home with a wonderfully done adaptation to the Atari 2600 in 1981. This was followed by a version for Atari’s 5200 console, which actually included the speech. An arcade sequel was commissioned, released as Frenzy in 1982, although it didn’t meet with the same success.  The original, however, had a wide-ranging influence on the industry, including inspiring Eugene Jarvis to improve upon the formula with his classic Robotron: 2048, as well as the later Smash TV.

For more information on the history of Berzerk, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

 

He has a monkey on his back

Alan: A Video Junkie

I used to think this short film from SNL was a dream I had once.  But no, it’s real.

It is a poker-faced mockumentary about the dangers of the growing obsession of video games by youngsters of 1982. It is also a pitch-perfect indictment of the hysteria swirling around the pastime, drummed up by the news media to create a new boogeyman to scare adults. It’s 11:00 o’clock.  Do you know where your children are?  On the street corner, apparently, turning tricks for quarters to put into Dig Dug.

Made by Claude Kerven, the short aired on the premiere episode of the 8th season of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, September 25, 1982. They sure don’t make them like this anymore. Not only is it a reminder of video games past, it is also a monument to how SNL used to be edgy and hilarious:

Video via eBaum’s World

A martial arts explosion!

The Visual Cortex: Double Dragon II

There’s been a lot of left-right scrolling fighting games over the years, for a number of different consoles, but Nintendo’s NES particularly seemed to specialize in the genre. And amid that myriad of brawling cartridges stood the Double Dragon games. Beginning in the arcades, they soon punched and kicked their way to the console market, including a 2009 version for the Zeebo microconsole.  The pugilist brother team from the games, Billy Lee and Jimmy, also slugged their way into many computer game translations.

Lined up in the Cortex today is an ad for the NES version of the second game in the series, Double Dragon II: The Revenge:

Ad for Double Dragon II: The Revenge, a video game for Nintendo's NES 1990

The arcade smash comes home

 

Run, E.T., Run!

Oscar Week at TDE: E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Tonight’s the big night!  Overly primped celebrities engage in vapid self-congratulatory masturbation.  Still… we’re excited! Wrapping up this series of articles covering games based on movies either nominated for or winners of Best Picture, we have perhaps the most infamous: Atari’s adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Released in 1982, the movie concerned itself about the story of a young boy who befriends a lost space alien and attempts to return him home.  It was an immediate hit, and through various re-releases the movie ended up taking around $435 million over its box-office lifetime. It was nominated for an Academy Award in 1983, but lost to Richard Attenborough’s epic biopic Gandhi.

Atari saw E.T. as a natural video game hit. Steve Ross, head of Atari owners Warner Communications, negotiated a 21 million dollar deal for the home video game rights to the movie. The problem was that negotiations took so long that Atari game designer Howard Scott Warshaw was left with only six weeks to get a game for the VCS/2600 out the door in time for Christmas 1982. Within that crushing deadline he attempted to create an involved adventure game featuring the lovable little alien, but the result is confusing and endlessly frustrating.  Players strive to guide E.T. around an abstract landscape, searching for the three pieces of the interplanetary telephone that he can use to phone home. With only a certain amount of energy to complete this task, E.T. is chased by government agents and scientists, who will delay his progress. Also on hand is young Elliott to lend assistance during the mission.

The game is at least interesting, with invisible power zones positioned around the different screens giving E.T. special powers, such as teleportation and the ability to scatter his pursuers. The real problems are the holes that are scattered about, into which the alien falls over and over and over and over and over again. My gosh, the holes. Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote “When you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.” Atari’s E.T. cartridge has so many, many eyes to gaze so very, very long into you.

For more information on the E.T. game and its role in the great video game crash of ’83 – ’84, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Here are the rest of the Oscar Week articles on TDE:

The Towering Inferno (VCS/2600, U.S. Games 1982)
Star Wars (Arcade, Atari 1983)
M*A*S*H (VCS/2600 Fox Video Games 1983)
Rocky (ColecoVision, Coleco 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)
Jaws (Amiga, Intelligent Design/Screen 7 1989)

 

Quint prowls the waters for the dreaded beast

Oscar Week at TDE: Jaws (1989)

1975′s Jaws might not have been Steven Spielberg’s first theatrical film (it was his second; The Sugarland Express, released the previous year, takes that honour), but it most certainly was the first to put him on the map. The story of a resort-town police chief and his battle against a monstrous killer shark, it set the template for the movie blockbuster and kept a huge swath of the public away from their beaches, bays and bathtubs. While nominated, it didn’t swim away with Best Picture; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest flew away with all the big awards at the 1976 ceremony.

Jaws: The Computer Game was released in 1989 for the Amiga, C64, Atari ST and other systems. Made by developer Intelligent Design, Ltd. and published by Screen 7 Ltd., it is a strange mish-mash of strategy and 2-D platforming. Players take on the role of chief Martin Brody, who circles the island of Amity in his boat The Orca, following reports of shark sightings.  He can close beaches to prevent attacks, although keeping them closed too long ticks off Mayor Larry Vaughn and can lead to Brody’s dismissal. Both Hooper and Quint from the movie join Brody on his quest, along with a team of six divers who pilot a submersible vehicle into the depths around Amity.  The ultimate goal is to collect pieces of a special gun and a cache of bullets, which when assembled can be used to dispatch the fishy fiend.

Jaws: The Computer Game is actually fun to play.  Trying to guess where the shark will go lends a bit of strategy, and the underwater parts are competent if a bit draggy and frustrating at times. The colourful graphics help keep things interesting, along with John Williams’ famous main theme from the movie, which lends tension leading up to the titular fish’s occasional appearances. It’s worth going back into the water for this one.

Here are the rest of the Oscar Week articles on TDE:

The Towering Inferno (VCS/2600, U.S. Games 1982)
Star Wars (Arcade, Atari 1983)
M*A*S*H (VCS/2600 Fox Video Games 1983)
Rocky (ColecoVision, Coleco 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)