Battlezone (1980 video game)

Battlezone is a first-person shooter tank combat arcade game from Atari, Inc. released in November 1980. The player controls a tank which is attacked by other tanks and missiles. The game is considered to be the "first big 3D success".[5]

Promotional arcade poster
Developer(s)Atari, Inc.
Publisher(s)Atari, Inc.
Designer(s)Ed Rotberg
Owen Rubin
Roger Hector
Platform(s)Arcade (original)
Apple II, Atari 2600, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, Commodore 64, IBM PC, VIC-20, ZX Spectrum, Game Boy, Lynx
November 1980[1]
Atari 2600
Genre(s)Combat simulation, vehicular combat, first-person shooter[2][3][4]
Mode(s)Single player
CabinetStandard, Horizontal
SoundPOKEY and discrete circuits
DisplayHorizontal orientation, Vector monitor (b&w) with color overlay


The game uses wireframe vector graphics on a black and white (with green and red sectioned color overlay) vector monitor. Gameplay is on a flat plane with a mountainous horizon featuring an erupting volcano, distant crescent moon, and various geometric solids (in vector outline) like pyramids and blocks. The player can hide behind the solids or, once fired upon, maneuver in rapid turns to buy time with which to fire. The geometric solid obstacles are indestructible, and can block the movement of a player's tank. However, they are also useful as shields as they block enemy fire as well.

The player views the screen, which includes an overhead radar view, to find and destroy the rather slow tanks, or the faster-moving supertanks. Saucer-shaped UFOs and guided missiles occasionally appear for a bonus score. The saucers differ from the tanks in that they do not fire upon the player and do not appear on radar.

There is a game play modification at 100,000 points if the proper conditions are met. When executed properly the next appearing Supertank will not attack and will retreat. A tank icon will then appear at right on qualified high score listings.


Battlezone used 3D vector graphics to immerse the player through a 'periscope' display

Battlezone was housed in a standard upright arcade cabinet with a novel "periscope" viewfinder which the player used to view the game. The game action could also be viewed from the sides of the viewfinder for spectators to watch. A later, less common version of the cabinet removed the periscope to improve visibility to non-players and improve the ergonomics for players who could not reach the periscope. This modification also was welcomed by some operators, who felt that the small windows present in the "periscoped" version did not attract enough attention to the game when played.

Battlezone uses two sticks for controlling the player's tank

A smaller version of the cabinet (known as a "cabaret cabinet") also existed with the screen angled upwards, and no periscope. A cocktail table version was tested as a prototype but not produced; it lacked the color overlays as the display would have to flip for opposing players.

The controls consisted of left and right joysticks, which could only be moved in the Y (vertical) axis, each controlling the treads on that side of the player's tank. One joystick contained a button used to fire projectiles at enemy targets.


Owen Rubin, who shared an office with Ed Rotberg, came up with the idea of making the volcano in the background erupt, and coded the animation for it.[6]

Home portsEdit

In the 1980s, Battlezone was ported to the Apple II, Atari 8-bit family, Atari 2600, Commodore 64, VIC-20, IBM PC, ZX Spectrum, and later the Atari ST. The ZX Spectrum version was published by Quicksilva; the ports to non-Atari systems were from Atarisoft. The Atari 2600 version uses raster graphics instead of vectors and has a third person view where the tank is visible. The Atari ST port contains large parts of the original 6502 code which is emulated in real time.[7]

An Atari 5200 port was scheduled for release in November 1983, but was cancelled.[8] The Atari Lynx has the deluxe port Battlezone 2000 released in 1995.[9] A Game Boy port was part of the 1996 Battlezone / Super Breakout combo.[10]

In 2008, an updated version of Battlezone was released on Xbox Live Arcade. The game was developed by Stainless Games and published by Atari Inc. It features 1080i graphics, Dolby 5.1 audio and an online mode to play against 2 - 4 friends in Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes, and incorporates Xbox Live Vision support.[11]


Battlezone was well received, earning an Honorable Mention for "Best Commercial Arcade Game" in 1982 at the Third Annual Arkie Awards. It was runner-up, behind Pac-Man.[12]:76

The Bradley TrainerEdit

A standard enemy tank in the player's sights in The Bradley Trainer

A version called The Bradley Trainer (also known as Army Battlezone or Military Battlezone) was designed for use by the U.S. Army as targeting training for gunners on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.[13] It was commissioned by a consultant group of retired generals.[14]

Approaching Atari in December 1980, some developers within Atari refused to work on the project because of its association with the Army,[15] most notably original Battlezone programmer Ed Rotberg.[16] Rotberg only joined after he was promised by management that he would never be asked to do anything with the military in the future.[17] According to Rotberg, it took him three months of constant work to develop the prototype version of The Bradley Trainer.[14] Only two were produced; one was delivered to the Army and is presumed lost, and the other is in the private collection of Scott Evans,[18][19] who found it by a dumpster in the rear parking lot at Midway Games.

The gunner yoke was based on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle control and was later re-used in the popular Star Wars game.[17] The Bradley Trainer differs dramatically from the original Battlezone as it features helicopters, missiles, and machine guns; furthermore, the actual tank does not move—the guns simply rotate.


Because of its use of first-person pseudo 3D graphics combined with a "viewing goggle" that the player puts his or her face into, Battlezone is sometimes considered the first virtual reality arcade video game.[20]


  • Stellar 7, a Battlezone-inspired game, was released for the Apple II and Commodore 64 in 1983.
  • Robot Tank, released by Activision in 1983 for the Atari 2600, is similar to the 2600 version of Battlezone.
  • Encounter, developed by Novagen Software for the Atari 8-bit computers and Commodore 64 in 1983, is also similar to 2600 Battlezone, with scaled sprites instead of wireframe 3D graphics. It includes both the missiles and saucers of the original.
  • A clone named 3D Tank Zone was released on the Acorn Electron and BBC Micro in 1983 by Dynabyte. 3D Tank Duel and Rommel's Revenge by Realtime Games and Crystal Computing respectively were released for the Sinclair Spectrum in 1983 and 1984, shortly before the Atari-authorized version was released by Quicksilva. A TRS-80 Color Computer clone called Rommel 3D and was released in 1985. Another clone from Design Design software was released as Tank Busters[25] in the mid-80s for the Amstrad CPC.
  • A Battlezone clone for Apollo Domain/OS called bzone was written by Justin S. Revenaugh in 1986 and re-written for the X Window System by Todd Mummert in 1990. The X Window System version, cbzone, differed from the original arcade version in that the player could be attacked by more than one enemy tank at the same time. This version of the game was also ported to the Macintosh in the 1990s and was included in the UMich software archive.[26]
  • The 1991 Macintosh tank game Spectre and its sequels owe much to Battlezone for their gameplay and appearance.
  • SGI workstations had a Battlezone derived game in the early 1990s called BZ which added network play.[27] BZ also had guided missiles, where the player would fly the missile after launch, returning to the tank on impact. This version evolved into the game BZFlag with a capture-the-flag mode where flags can change the tank's abilities.
  • A true vector graphics homebrew Stramash Zone for the Vectrex in 2018.[28]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Production Numbers" (PDF). Atari. 1999. Retrieved 19 March 2012.
  2. ^ Dalton, Andrew (December 15, 2016). "'Battlezone' Classic Mode fulfills the promise of '80s VR". Engadget. Retrieved September 23, 2017. It's been 36 years since Atari released Battlezone and effectively created the first-person shooter in the process.
  3. ^ Staff (May 1, 2017). "A 43-year history of first-person shooters - from Maze War to Destiny 2". GamesRadar. Retrieved September 23, 2017. 1980s: First-person-shooters become commercialised: Battlezone gives life to the FPS.
  4. ^ Walker, Alex (October 26, 2012). "Evolution of the First Person Shooter". ABC News. Retrieved September 23, 2017. But the one game that many Generation X'ers will identify with when it comes to first-person shooters belongs to Atari and the green, wire-frame worlds within Battlezone.
  5. ^ "The evolution of 3D games". Tech Radar. 2010-07-11. Retrieved 2020-03-19.
  6. ^ Kent, Steven (November 1997). "Retroview: The Owen Rubin Memorial Gameroom". Next Generation. No. 35. Imagine Media. p. 34.
  7. ^ "Spiced up games".
  8. ^ Reichert, Matt. "Battlezone". Retrieved 2007-07-05.
  9. ^ "Atari Lynx - Battlezone 2000". AtariAge.
  10. ^ "Review Crew: Battlezone / Super Breakout". Electronic Gaming Monthly. No. 87. Ziff Davis. October 1996. p. 66.
  11. ^ "Xbox – Battlezone Game Detail Page". Archived from the original on April 14, 2008.
  12. ^ Kunkel, Bill; Laney, Jr., Frank (January 1982). "Arcade Alley: The Third Annual Arcade Awards". Video. Reese Communications. 5 (10): 28, 76–77. ISSN 0147-8907.
  13. ^ "". Retrieved 2007-09-17.
  14. ^ a b "Army Armed with Quarters!". Next Generation. No. 26. Imagine Media. February 1997. p. 49.
  15. ^ Jung, Robert. "The Army Battlezone Q & A". Archived from the original on 31 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-17.
  16. ^ Hague, James. "Halcyon Days: Ed Rotberg". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-17.
  17. ^ a b Kent, Steven L. (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games. Prima Publishing. pp. 153–155. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4.
  18. ^ Evans, Scott. "Bradley Trainer". Retrieved 2007-09-17.
  19. ^ "MAWS Bradley Trainer ROM set info". Archived from the original on 16 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-09.
  20. ^ Dan Harries (2002). The New Media Book. British Film Institute.
  21. ^ Dobson, Jason (May 4, 2006). "Pre-E3: Battlezone Re-imagined, Charlotte's Web, Codemasters Finds Bliss". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2010-01-29.
  22. ^ "Wargaming and Rebellion claim Atari IPs".
  23. ^ "Battlezone Critic Reviews for PlayStation 4". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 15 February 2018.
  24. ^ a b "Battlezone Hits HTC Vive and Oculus Rift with an Exciting Launch Trailer". DualShockers. Retrieved 15 February 2018.
  25. ^ "Home Computing Gaming Heroes – Design Design (1980s)".
  26. ^ "/mac/game/war/00index.txt".
  27. ^ "SGI TPL View (6 bz)". Archived from the original on 2007-09-30.
  28. ^

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