Videogames Speak Up
Speech comes to videogames in Taito’s 1980 release of Galaxian knock-off Stratovox, developed by Japanese game development house Sunsoft under the title Speak and Rescue. The point of the game is to try and prevent the abduction of planet colonists by marauding aliens, who for some reason have chosen a sombrero as their choice of ship design. Speech synthesis requires massive amounts of memory to execute, and the hardware used to emulate the male human voice is a full 1.5 MHz chip (about half the speed of the the Z-80 running the rest of the show), but the alien taunts and pleas from kidnapped colonists are still highly distorted and limited to four phrases. Cries of “Help me!” come when an alien grabs one of your men, who then congratulate you with a “Very good” if you mange to shoot his captor. Shouts of “Lucky!” accompany each colonist saved during the tally at the end of a screen, and a very Arnoldesque “We’ll be back!” is said when an alien is destroyed. I remembered playing this game at my local arcade as soon as I fired it up in MAME, and Stratovox appears to have been a particular success for Taito in North America.
Sources (Click to view)
Associate-manuel-dennis. “Taito America Bows First Talking Video Game.” Cash Box, 6 Sept. 1980, p. 41. Internet Archive, archive.org/details/cashbox42unse_15/page/n43. With its new “Stratovox” model, Taito America introduces the first talking video game.
May, Greg. “Video Games: They’ve Come Long Way since Pong.” The Des Moines Register 18 Oct. 1999: 18B. Newspapers.com. Web. 6 July 2022. The first speech synthesizer was heard in Taito’s Stratovox and the feature would spread rapidly.
Hartlaub, Peter. “Sound Now as Vital as Graphics in Video Games.” Globe Gazette (San Francisco Chronicle News Wire) [Mason City, Iowa] 27 Apr. 2003: C1. Newspapers.com. Web. 6 July 2022. 1980: Stratovox becomes the first arcade game with a voice soundtrack. It is followed quickly by the much more famous Berzerk…
Associate-manuel-dennis, comp. “Chicago Chatter.” Cash Box 25 Oct. 1980: 47. Internet Archive. 26 Sept. 2016. Web. 9 Oct. 2019. <https://archive.org/details/cashbox42unse_22/page/46>. Mike Von Kennel, national sales manager at Taito America, happily items that the factory’s “Stratovox” video is doing superbly well – as expected.
Farmington Daily Times, “Pinball’s Electronic Wizardry”, by George Johnston, pg. 3, Jan. 1981
The Arcade Flyer Archive – flyers.arcade-museum.com/?page=home
Stratovox – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stratovox
Looking Forward to It, by Stephen Elliot, pg. 106, macmillan 2004