Story idea: Berzerk

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Story idea: Berzerk

Post by seanmcmanus » Fri Mar 02, 2007 8:45 am


I went to the Game On exhibition for the second time just before it moved out of London and spent quite a bit of time with an arcade machine called Berzerk, which I had never seen before. It's a game where you move a robot through a crude flick screen maze (2D, seen from overhead), shooting at other robots while you're being chased by a bouncing smiley face. It makes no sense at all. But it has great synthesised speech and sound effects and is compelling once you get used to the clunky controls.

I'd love to read more about this game - where it came from, how it fits into the historical timeline, how it did commercially and more.

Isn't it time for a bit more Amstrad stuff, as well? The Spectrum and C64 do reasonably in coverage, but there hasn't been much about the Amstrad for ages and it is on the masthead. A piece about Amsoft would be interesting. The label's got a bad reputation, but it put out many highly playable albeit simple games and got the CPC off to a quick start in the market.


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Post by CraigGrannell » Fri Mar 02, 2007 8:51 am

Amsoft was covered in-depth in the very first Imagine issue of Retro Gamer, #19.
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Post by psj3809 » Fri Mar 02, 2007 8:53 am

Berzerks a classic old game, very simple graphics, great gameplay though

Think theres been a fair bit for the Amstrad, it was the featured machine a little while ago and theres been a fair bit about it along with the Speccy/C64.

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Post by seanmcmanus » Fri Mar 02, 2007 9:03 am

Thanks, Craig.

I'll take another look at that issue.

How about a piece about Get Dexter, then? I think it was only ever on the CPC, but it really pushed the machine and brought great humour to the isometric adventure.


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Post by Mayhem » Fri Mar 02, 2007 11:45 am

Stern were more well known afaik for being a pinball manufacturer. Many of the games they are known for publishing actually came from Japan (Scramble for example). Berzerk was one of their own efforts, and a damn good one too, if a little unforgiving. Classic speech as well :)
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Re: Story idea: Berzerk

Post by SirClive » Fri Mar 02, 2007 12:02 pm

seanmcmanus wrote:Hello

I went to the Game On exhibition for the second time just before it moved out of London and spent quite a bit of time with an arcade machine called Berzerk
I was playing Bezerk at Game On last week aswell :)

Great little game.

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Post by paranoid marvin » Fri Mar 02, 2007 3:58 pm

Venture was a great Berzerk style game for the 2600
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Post by Rev. Stuart Campbell » Sat Mar 03, 2007 3:41 am

The story of Berzerk is a pretty interesting one. There's a bit about it in this book: ... 813&sr=8-2

which is possibly my favourite games book ever. I was going to scan the piece, but my USB port blew up yesterday so I'll just have to summarize.

The game was designed by Alan McNeil, who said this of it:
I have this love-hate relationship with computers. I thought [the one at the University Of Chicago Lab School] was the worst piece of machinery I ever dealt with. I kept writing a program over and over again that was supposed to average twenty-five test scores, and the computer kept rejecting it. It too hours, days, to get it to do something that I could have done in a few minutes, even without a calculator. I like computers to be more humanized. Half the people I know are afraid of computers. Video games are helping.
That's why the robots in Berzerk are such dummies. They shoot each other, they blunder into the walls of the maze, they collide with each other and get run over by Evil Otto. It's also why they speak and make jokes.

I love Berzerk. It's simple and funny yet it's also pretty ferocious a few levels in, resembling a primitive attempt at Robotron. It's definitely overdue some love.

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Post by Dudley » Sat Mar 03, 2007 4:33 am

I kept writing a program over and over again that was supposed to average twenty-five test scores. It took hours, days, to get it to do something that I could have done in a few minutes, even without a calculator.
If he couldn't whack this together in 5 minutes I don't know how he ever manage to write a game.
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Post by Farmer » Sat Mar 03, 2007 12:06 pm

This is one of my favourite games of all time. In fact, until recently I had \"Intruder alert\" as my ringtone (Geek ; ). I used to play on it in Hunstanton until Retro Gamer led unscrupulous collectors to the best arcade in the country *sniff*. Its alright though - Im not bitter anymore ;o). This is the Official history from Mame.

The player is in control of a green stick-figure, representing a 'humanoid'. Using a joystick (and a firing button to activate a laser-like weapon), the player negotiates a maze filled with as many as eleven robots, who fire lasers back at the player character. A player can be killed by being shot, by running into a robot, by running into a wall of the maze, or by being touched by the player's nemesis, 'Evil Otto'. The player advances by escaping from the maze through an opening at one of the far walls. Each robot destroyed is worth 50 points. Ideally, all the robots in the current maze have been destroyed before the player escapes, thus gaining the player a per-maze bonus (ten points per robot). The game has 64, 000 mazes, and each level is designed to be more difficult to finish than the last. It has only one controller, but two-player games can be accomplished by alternating at the joystick.


Alan McNeil, 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. This dream, with heavy borrowing from the BASIC game 'Robots' ('Daleks' in the UK), was the basis for Berzerk. The idea for a black-and-white game was abandoned when the color game \"Defender\" was released earlier the same year to significant success. At that point Stern decided to use a color overlay board for Berzerk. 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.

The title of the game comes from the series of books called 'The Berzerker Stories' by Fred Saberhagen. It's a novel about robots which go Berzerk and kill everybody.

Berzerk is the first robot killing game but the big selling point of Berzerk was that very speech – it was the first game to feature talking enemies, the speech synthesis technology of the time being so new that it cost $1000 to program each individual word into the game’s ROM.

Berzerk was also the first game to attempt a bit of on-screen comedy – your robot opponents often fell foul of slapstick misfortune, shooting each other in the head or walking into walls and exploding in their attempts to kill you. And if you legged it out of a room without killing them all, the survivors would taunt you in their Speak & Spell voices : \"Chicken – fight like a robot!\". Okay, it’s not hilarious, but even Bob Monkhouse had to start somewhere.

'Evil Otto' was named for 'Dave Otto', who worked for Dave Nutting's Arcade Engineering group as R & D director at the time Alan McNeil did. 'Evil Otto' can be considered one of the most intimidating video game villains of all time. He is, and even travels through walls, preventing a player from loafing in the room. He resembles a bouncing smiley face, and has been called a 'Malicious basketball' by some.

Berzerk was Stern's first major video game success. It was made in both upright (approx. 4000 units) and cocktail (approx. 100 units) models. Berzerk suffered a bit in sales due to frequent breakdowns of it's original giant sized optical 8-way joystick. Approximately 4200 orders were canceled by distributors and operators whose machines were frequently down from the opto-stick. Stern issued free WICO leaf switch sticks to operators after they had so much trouble with the optical stick, but this still hurt sales.

Berzerk shares a rather chilling distinction of being the first known game to be blamed for an actual player's death. In January 1981, Jeff Dailey was the first person to die playing a video game, a 19-year old Berzerk player, died of a massive heart attack right after playing his favorite game. His score was 16, 660 (a very respectable score but disturbing for obvious reasons). On an equally distressing note, in October 1982 at the 'Friar Tuck Game Room' in Calumet City, Illinois : 18-year old Peter Burkowski, a physically healthy person who was alcohol-free and drug-free, inscribed his initials in Berzerk's top ten list twice in a matter of only fifteen minutes. A few seconds after that, he collapsed and died of a heart attack.

The Berzerk cabinet was the first in a series of cabinets from Stern that had a patented pull out drawer that allowed access to the games circuit boards from the front of the cabinet. This title features rather primitive painted sideart that only uses two colors, but it makes up for it with the awesome comic book style art on the control panel and monitor bezel. The marquee is only a 'Berzerk' logo, and it kind of looks like something that someone might have done in their high school airbrush class.

Berzerk is technically a monochrome game. It uses a special 'color overlay' circuit board to add color to the games graphics before they go to the monitor. A side effect of this is that walking very close to a wall will cause that section of the wall to change to your color.

This title uses a Z80 processor, although it was originally written for the 6809E processor.

A Berzerk unit appears in the 1982 movie 'Tron' and in the 1983 movie 'Joysticks'.

Berzerk inspired a catchy hit song by Buckner and Garcia called 'Goin' Berzerk' released on the 'Pac-Man Fever' album.


Two different versions of the game were released. 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 (once they reach the limit, they cannot fire again until one or more of their bullets detonates; the limit applies to the robots as a group, not as individuals). In the original version, the sequence goes :
* Yellow robots that don't fire
* Red robots that can fire one bullet
* White robots that can fire two bullets
After 5, 000 points Evil Otto doubles his speed, moving as fast as the player while robots remain in the maze, and twice as fast as the player after all the robots are destroyed.

The revised version, which had the much larger production run of the two, features a longer color sequence that also included purple, green, and light blue robots. In this version, the robot sequence went up to five normal speed bullets, then they began firing fast bullets, starting with one fast bullet, and eventually going as high as seven fast bullets at once. After 20, 000 points the robots stay light blue and may have up to seven fast bullets on screen for the remainder of play. To balance the greatly increased threat from the robots in this version, Evil Otto's pursuit speed remains at its normal (half or equal the player's speed) level throughout.


* An Interesting Quirk : The space between your man's head and body is not technically part of your man, so that shots that pass through this area (your 'neck') will not kill you.

* Hint 1 : Always exit the mazes on the sides! If you exit the top or bottom, you will often start in a long corridor with many robots on both sides of you.

* Hint 2 : The robots will always move toward you. Use this to your benefit when two (or more) robots are close to each other by moving your man back and forth, thus causing the robots to collide and annihilate each other.

* Hint 3 : When seperated from the robots by a vertical wall, move up and down to place the robots on the same horizontal plane, where they will kill each other with shots aimed in your direction.

* Hint 4 : The robots always walk toward you unless you're in their line of fire; then they will pause to shoot. There are eight directions you and they can shoot. The only way to survive the higher levels (10, 000 points +) is to learn the blind spots of the robots. If you are in a robot's blind spot he poses no threat, and you can concentrate on blasting the others. The angle shots are almost never necessary. It is very difficult to hit a robot with an angle shot. When you shoot, your man stops moving, when you can't move, you are vulnerable. Make your shots count and don't bother wasting your time with angles unless you are on an early level and need the practice.

* Hint 5 : Because the robots are shorter than you, try to avoid robots at the bottom edge of the screen. By the time you move low enough to get a shot they will have already fired. In contrast, if you come 'up' on robots from the bottom, you can shoot their feet and duck back down before their shot reaches you.

* Hint 6 : Because your man is a lot taller than he is wide, it is very easy to avoid shots from above and below. Take out the robots to the sides of you first.

* Hint 7 : If you poke your head above a wall just far enough to shoot above it, the robots on the other side of it can't shoot you. They will only hit the wall. ALWAYS use this tactic to kill most of the robots in a maze. When you are in the right position, just hold down the fire button. This will make your player stand still. You can inch your way very close to the deadly walls without fear of running into them. When shooting up or down, that trick doesn't work. If there is a wall between you and a robot above you, run to the right and start shooting up just past the wall. If you are lucky, the robot will walk into your fire before he gets a shot off. By design, if a robot is above you, he will lock into position directly in-line with your shots, and you will shoot each other's bullets. In early rounds you can overpower a robot and outgun him, but later the robots can keep up with you and you will be in a deadlock. To defeat him, shoot up and immediately walk to the right and he will walk into your bullet.

* Hint 8 : Because the robots are attracted to you 'as the crow flies', they will tend to clump together and smash into each other. The best way to kill robots is to stand safely behind a wall and let them shoot and smash each other. The ball (Evil Otto) will also kill them. You can ignore some robots in the maze and let Otto kill them for you. Otto follows your position like the robots, so as he comes across the screen, lead him up and down into any remaining robots before you exit.

* Hint 9 :The robots are programmed to avoid colliding into the sides of the deadly walls, but they can't detect the start or end of a wall. If a robot is below the end of a wall, you can move up and direct him into the wall end.

* Hint 10 : In later rounds, all or the real action takes place in the first two or three seconds of a round. If you survive the initial shots from the robots, you are as good as done with the maze. When a new maze comes on screen, you are very vulnerable. Often you are in the line of fire of five robots. As the new maze slides on-screen, you can see it before the robots appear. Use this time to decide which way to run. Assume that there will be a robot in each 'room' or 'nook'. Shoot the robot right in front of you first, and then run toward his position. By running ahead, you will exit the line of fire of any robots above/below you and also the dreaded angle shots. Once you are out of their line of fire, you can re-enter their line of fire selectively and shoot them. Get to a safe barrier as soon as possible and wait for the robots to move into easy positions.

* Hint 11 : The more robots that are in a maze (up to 11), the more time you have until Otto comes out. If the maze has only 1-3 robots, don't waste time shooting them unless they stand between you and the exit.

* Here is how the rounds progress :
Points - Robot Color - Shots fired
0-260 -Yellow - 0
260-1200 - Red - 1
1200-3000 - Light Blue - 2
3000-4500 - Yellow / Green - 3
4500-6000 - Purple - 4
6000-8000 - Yellow - 5
8000-10000 - White - One fast shot (2x speed)
10000-12000 - Light Blue - Two fast shots

This color system now repeats. At around 20, 000 points, the robots stay light blue. Starting at about 10, 000 pts. Berzerk becomes largely a game of luck. If you get an open maze with a lot of robots, there is not much you can do.


1. Berzerk (1980)
2. Frenzy (1982)


Designed and programmed by : Alan McNeil


* Consoles :
GCE Vectrex (1982)
Atari 2600 (1982)
Atari 5200 (1983)

* Computers :
Microtan 65 (1984)

* Others :
VFD handheld game (1982) by Coleco : Unfortunately, this game was never released.

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Post by GetDexter » Sun Mar 04, 2007 5:28 am

Well I did all that but still can't find the third stone of shankara to give to Indy ???
As requested by the Tw@t himself - his account was Hijacked and has had a change of password.

Sorry Dexter!

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Post by seanmcmanus » Mon Mar 05, 2007 5:27 am

Thanks for posting that MAME guide. I want to play it again now, and hear the speech reverberate from the cabinet!


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