Berzerk is a multidirectional shooter designed by Alan McNeil and released for arcades in 1980 by Stern Electronics of Chicago. Following Taito's Stratovox, it is one of the first arcade video games with speech synthesis. Berzerk places the player in a series of top-down, maze-like rooms containing armed robots. Home ports were published for the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, and Vectrex.

North American arcade flyer
Developer(s)Stern Electronics
Atari, Inc. (2600)
GCC (5200)
Western Technologies (Vectrex)
Publisher(s)Stern Electronics
Atari, Inc. (2600/5200)
Designer(s)Alan McNeil
Platform(s)Arcade, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Vectrex
Genre(s)Multidirectional shooter, maze[2]
Mode(s)1-2 players alternating turns

A sequel, Frenzy, was released in 1982.

Gameplay edit

The green player has just entered a room with five red robots (arcade).

When the game begins, the player controls a green stick man on the left of the screen. In two-player games, the second player controls a purple stick man on the right of the screen. Each player plays until they lose a life, allowing the other player to have a turn.

Using a joystick and a firing button that activates a laser-style weapon, the player navigates a simple maze filled with many robots, who fire lasers back at the player character. A player can be killed by being shot, by running into a robot or an exploding robot, getting electrocuted by the electrified walls of the maze itself, or by being touched by the player's nemesis, Evil Otto.

The function of Evil Otto, represented by a bouncing smiley face, is to quicken the pace of the game.[3] Otto is unusual, with regard to games of the period, in that he's indestructible. Otto can go through walls with impunity and hunts the player character. If robots remain in the maze Otto moves slowly, about half as fast as the humanoid, but he speeds up to match the humanoid's speed once all the robots are killed. Evil Otto moves at exactly the same speed as the player going left and right but he can move faster than the player going up and down; thus, no matter how close Otto is, the player can escape as long as they can avoid moving straight up or down.

The player advances by escaping from the maze through an opening in the far wall. Each robot destroyed is worth 50 points. If all the robots in the current maze have been destroyed before the player escapes, the player gains ten points per robot. The game has 65,536 rooms (256×256 grid), but due to limitations of the random number generation there are fewer than 1,024 maze layouts (876 of which are unique). It has only one controller, but two-player games can be accomplished by alternating at the joystick.[4]

As a player's score increases, the colors of the enemy robots change, and the robots can have more bullets on the screen at the same time.[3] Once they reach the limit of simultaneous on-screen bullets, they cannot fire again until one or more of their bullets detonates; the limit applies to the robots as a group, not as individuals.

A free life can be awarded at 5,000 or 10,000 points, set by internal DIP switches, with no extra lives thereafter.

The game's voice synthesizer generates speech for the robots during certain in-game events:

  • "Coin detected in pocket": During attract mode, specifically while showing the high score list.
  • "Intruder alert! Intruder alert!": Spoken when Evil Otto appears.
  • "The humanoid must not escape" or "The intruder must not escape": Heard when the player escapes a room after destroying every robot.
  • "Chicken, fight like a robot": Heard when the player escapes a room without destroying every robot.
  • "Got the humanoid, got the intruder!": Heard when the player loses a life (the "got the intruder" part is a minor third higher than the "got the humanoid" part).

There is random robot chatter playing in the background, with phrases usually consisting of "Charge", "Attack", "Kill", "Destroy", "Shoot", or "Get", followed by "The Humanoid", "The intruder", "it", or "the chicken" (the last only if the player got the "Chicken, fight like a robot" message from the previous room), creating sentences such as "Attack it", "Get the Humanoid", "Destroy the intruder", "Kill the chicken", and so on. The speed and pitch of the phrases vary, from deep and slow, to high and fast; as well as different versions of the game being translated into four different languages such as English, French, German, and Spanish.

Development edit

Alan McNeil (1951–2017),[5] an employee of Universal Research Laboratories (a division of Stern Electronics), had a dream one night involving a black-and-white video game in which he had to fight robots. It was named for Fred Saberhagen's Berserker series of science fiction novels.[6]

"Evil Otto" was named after Dave Otto at McNeil's former employer Dave Nutting Associates. According to McNeil, Dave Otto would "[smile] while he chewed you out".[7] He would also lock McNeil and his fellow employees out of the building to enforce a noon-hour lunch, as well as piping beautiful music into every room.[6]

The idea for a black-and-white game was abandoned. At that point Stern decided to use a color overlay board for Berzerk.[8] A quick conversion was made, and all but the earliest versions of the game shipped with a color CRT display. The game was test-marketed successfully at a Chicago singles bar before general release.

Technology edit

The game was originally planned around a Motorola 6809E processor, but problems with the external clock for this CPU led to its abandonment in favor of a Zilog Z80.[8]

The game suffered from failure of the optical 8-way joystick unit; Stern suffered the cancellation of about 4,200 orders for new games because of previous purchasers' bad experiences with these joysticks. The company responded by issuing free replacement joysticks in a leaf-switch design by Wico.[8]

Berzerk is one of the first video games to use speech synthesis, featuring talking robots.[3] In 1980, computer voice compression was extremely expensive, estimated to have cost the manufacturer US$1,000 (equivalent to $3,700 in 2023) per word;[8] the English version has a thirty-word vocabulary.

Ports edit

Berzerk was officially ported to the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, and Vectrex. The Atari 2600 version has an option allowing Evil Otto to be temporarily killed, though he always returns. The Atari 5200 version was the only home version to include digitized speech, until the release of the Atari 2600+ edition in 2023.

A port for the Atari 8-bit family of computers, identical to the Atari 5200 version, was ready in 1983, but was not published.[9]

A portable version of Berzerk was planned by Coleco, similar in design to its line of VFD tabletop games including Pac-Man and Frogger, but was never released.[10]

Atari released an enhanced version of Berzerk[11] to coincide with the new Atari 2600+ console that went on sale in November 2023.[12][13] As well as the digitized speech, which can only play when the screen is blanked due to hardware limitations, the enhanced version allows robots to shoot diagonally—something they could not do in the original Atari 2600 game. The enhanced Berzerk game is also compatible with the original Atari 2600 and Atari 7800.

Reception edit

The game received highly positive reviews and was highly considered to be one of the greatest video games ever made.

Ed Driscoll reviewed Berzerk in The Space Gamer No. 56.[14] Driscoll commented that "if you liked Berzerk, or if you simply enjoy shooting evil robots in electrified mazes, then look for this at your local store. But watch out for Evil Otto!"[14] Michael Blanchet's 1982 book How to Beat the Video Games compared Berzerk favourably to older, Western-themed multi-directional shooters Boot Hill (a sequel to Gun Fight) and Bandido (the North American rebranding of Sheriff).[15] The Atari 2600 version received a Certificate of Merit in the category of "Best Solitaire Video Game" at the 4th annual Arkie Awards.[16]: 30 

Retrospective edit

Brett Weiss of AllGame gave the arcade version a review score of 4.5 out of 5 stars calling the Berzerk: "A great game that is immensely challenging and imminently replayable."[17] He also reviewed the Atari 5200 version and gave a review score of 4 out of 5 stars and praised the Atari port writing: "excellent job of recapturing the play mechanics and the voice feature."[18]

In 2010[19] Evil Otto was ranked 78th in "Top 100 Videogames Villains" by IGN.[20] In 1995, Flux magazine ranked the game 55th on their "Top 100 Video Games."[21]

Reviews edit

Legacy edit

Milton-Bradley produced a Berzerk board game designed for two players, one playing Evil Otto and the robots, the other playing the hero. The playing pieces are plastic yellow rectangular panels that are labeled with the corresponding characters. The hero figure is differently shaped and labeled only on one side. It also has a slot in which a second piece is inserted representing the character's arms, both equipped with laser pistols. Pressing down on the back tab raises the guns and if the figure is properly positioned in the space, it knocks down a robot. Firing the weapon counts as one move.

In 1982, Stern released Frenzy as a sequel. A Berzerk arcade machine can be converted to Frenzy simply by replacing one processor (ZPU-1000 to ZPU-1001) and installing a different ROM.

In 2002, the Atari 2600 version was hacked to include speech.[23]

Berzerk was released for iOS in 2013 as part of the Vectrex Regeneration app.

An unofficial port for the NES was released by Parisoft in July 2019.[24]

On March 16, 2023, Atari announced that it had acquired the intellectual property rights to 12 Stern Electronics titles, including Berzerk and Frenzy.[25] On November 9, 2023, Atari released a remake, Berzerk: Recharged, for the Atari VCS (2021), PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.[26]

Fatality edit

In 1982, a player died from a heart attack while playing Berzerk, which has been cited as the first recorded case of a death caused by video gaming.[27] However, the incident has been mired in urban legend, with accounts varying as to how many people died (ranging one to three), when the death occurred (while playing Berzerk or after moving on to another cabinet), and whether or not the victim was showing signs of stress before playing the game. The coroner ruled that the heart attack was caused by scarring of heart tissue which the victim would have had before playing the game, and that any form of exertion could have triggered the attack.[28]

Influence edit

The influence of Berzerk upon popular culture is marked by appearances of the game and samples of its media within television shows, music, and movies.[29][30][31][32][33][34] Several third-party clones of the original game exist, and the design of Shamus (1982) is greatly influenced by it.

Eugene Jarvis cited Berzerk as an influence on Robotron: 2084 (1982), the basic concept of which was to combine elements of Berzerk with that of Space Invaders (1978).[35] The 1981 computer game Castle Wolfenstein was also influenced by Berzerk.[36]

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Stern Production Numbers and More CCI Photos". May 1, 2012. Retrieved July 21, 2013.
  2. ^ Weiss, Brett (2011-12-20). Classic Home Video Games, 1972-1984: A Complete Reference Guide. McFarland & Company. pp. 37, 135. ISBN 978-0-7864-8755-4.
  3. ^ a b c "The Making of Berzerk | Retro Gamer". 29 December 2021.
  4. ^ "Berzerk - Videogame by Stern Electronics".
  5. ^ "North Fork stalwart and NFPA board member Alan McNeil dies | North Fork Preservation Association".
  6. ^ a b "Berzerk - The Dot Eaters". Retrieved January 28, 2009.
  7. ^ Thomasson, Michael. "Berzerk". Manci Games Magazine, Issue #2. Manci Games Publishing. Archived from the original on October 15, 2008.
  8. ^ a b c d "Berzerk - Videogame by Stern Electronics". Retrieved March 14, 2015.
  9. ^ Reichert, Matt. "Berzerk". Retrieved September 19, 2014.
  10. ^ "Coleco Berzerk". Coleco Handheld Games. Handheld Games Museum. Retrieved January 12, 2009.
  11. ^ "Atari 2600+". Atari®. Retrieved 2023-11-25.
  12. ^ Orland, Kyle (2023-11-22). "Review: New Atari 2600+ doesn't justify its plus sign". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2023-11-25.
  13. ^ "Atari 2600+". Atari®. Retrieved 2023-11-25.
  14. ^ a b Driscoll, Ed (October 1982). "Capsule Reviews". The Space Gamer (56). Steve Jackson Games: 34.
  15. ^ Blanchet, Michael (1982). How to Beat the Video Games. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 29–34. ISBN 0671453750. p. 29: Berzerk brings out the "Dirty Harry" (or "Annie Oakley") in all of us. If you feel you have outgrown Boot Hill and Bandito, then Berzerk is your game.
  16. ^ Kunkel, Bill; Katz, Arnie (February 1983). "Arcade Alley: The Fourth Annual Arcade Awards". Video. 6 (11). Reese Communications: 30, 108. ISSN 0147-8907.
  17. ^ Brett Alan Weiss. "Berzerk (Arcade) Review". Allgame. Archived from the original on November 14, 2014. Retrieved August 6, 2022.
  18. ^ Brett Alan Weiss. "Berzerk (Atari 5200) Review". Allgame. Archived from the original on November 14, 2014. Retrieved August 6, 2022.
  19. ^ "Top 100 Videogame Villains - IGN". Reddit. 2010-05-17. Retrieved 2023-04-11.
  20. ^ "Evil Otto is number 78". IGN. Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved March 14, 2015.
  21. ^ "Top 100 Video Games". Flux (4). Harris Publications: 30. April 1995.
  22. ^ "GAMES Magazine #34". December 1982.
  23. ^ "Atari 2600 Hacks – Berzerk Voice Enhanced". 2011. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved September 23, 2011.
  24. ^ Old, Vintage is The New (2019-07-05). "Berzek is now available for your trustworthy NES!". Vintage is the New Old, Retro Games News, Retro Gaming, Retro Computing. Retrieved 2019-07-10.
  25. ^ "ATARI ANNOUNCES ACQUISITION OF BERZERK AND FRENZY IP". Atari. 16 March 2023. Retrieved 1 April 2023.
  26. ^ Handley, Zoey (26 October 2023). "Atari has announced Berzerk Recharged will be released on November 9". Destructoid. Gamurs. Retrieved 12 November 2023.
  27. ^ "Video Game Timeline". Electronic Gaming Monthly. No. 102. Ziff Davis. January 1998. p. 124.
  28. ^ Wirtanen, Josh (January 6, 2016). "How Many People Has the Berzerk Arcade Game Killed?". Retrovolve. Retrieved 9 June 2020.
  29. ^ Berzerk at AllMusic
  30. ^ "Humanoid". Discogs. Retrieved April 27, 2016.
  31. ^ 1993 Mixmag interview,
  32. ^ 1996 Mixmag interview,
  33. ^ Berzerk at AllMusic
  34. ^ "Gaming Steve - My Name Is Earl". Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved September 1, 2011.
  35. ^ Grannell, Craig (July 30, 2008). "Eugene Jarvis on the reality of clones in the games industry". Revert to Saved. Retrieved 19 May 2021.
  36. ^ Boardman, Krist; Bernstein, Harvey (June 1982). "Inside Gaming". Computer Gaming World. Vol. 1, no. 4. Ziff Davis. pp. 22–3.

External links edit