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A History of Robotron

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the who-needs-three-dimensions dept.

Classic Games (Games) 78

blacklily8 writes "Gamasutra has published our history of Robotron: 2084, Eugene Jarvis' ultimate twitch-game of 1982. Robotron's frantic gameplay, intense difficulty, and elegant control scheme made it a hit in the arcade and a favorite of countless retrogamers. The illustrated article compares the game with Jarvis' earlier hit, Defender, describes its gameplay in detail, and traces its roots and impact on later games such as Smash T.V. and Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. Robotron's gameplay may be intimidating, but never too complex to grasp — with both hands!"

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Another Hard One (2, Insightful)

LaskoVortex (1153471) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983287)

Robotron.

Re:Another Hard One (1)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983317)

One of my flatmates still plays this. The only problem is that he turns the speakers up to cinema level and I can tell you, at that level, the sound effects, well, they just aren't so hot anymore.

I don't care if he is frying his brain playing this for hours, but frying my brain with the sounds, it had to stop. We now have a special "Robotron Sound Rule" in the household.

Re:Another Hard One (1)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 5 years ago | (#28984779)

"...at that level, the sound effects, well, they just aren't so hot anymore."

Maybe you're not smoking enough weed to grok the Robotron experience. This appreciation technique also works with Sinistar.

Re:Another Hard One (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28988437)

Maybe you're not smoking enough weed to grok the Robotron experience. This appreciation technique also works with Sinistar.

As opposed to LSD and Sinistar, which works... not so well.

Re:Another Hard One (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28983337)

The parent comment is dumb...like Trig Palin dumb.

Re:Another Hard One (1)

LaskoVortex (1153471) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983467)

The parent comment is dumb...like Trig Palin dumb.

Thanks for pointing that out bro. I had a long day and for the life of me, I thought the title said "Tron" and not robotron. And then they talked about defender and vaguely described this game I remember called "robotron" and I was wondering why they weren't mentioning it specifically. And I swear that I remember a blue background so I didn't really recognize the screen shots. And I hit submit just as I saw that it was the history of "robotron" and now I'm being compared to Trig Palin. Well, at least it's not her retarded sister, Algebra Palin.

Re:Another Hard One (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983649)

While i really tried back in the day to get into Robotron and its sister Defender, I just never could "get the groove". For me the best of that period was Vanguard and Pleiades [pinballrebel.com] . Man I used to get into a zone playing those two. I would often play for hours on a quarter and then let some kid have the game, especially Pleiades, as I already had all the high scores on it at the local pool hall. Good times.

Did anybody ever make a home version of Pleiades or does it run on MAME? Because I would love to sit back and give it a spin for old times sake. My boys laugh their asses off at the games we used to call fun back then (like my Colecovision with the Atari 2600 addon so I could play Zaxxon AND Yars Revenge!) but without the eye candy to fall back on the designers really had to work on gameplay and finding that elusive balance between hard and fun.

Re:Another Hard One (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28984105)

In fact i liked robotron and defender when i had enough time to play them in MAME, not in the arcade. While joust, two player, was very fun since the first match, those other two need time to adjust to the rhythm or the strategy or the controls.

Besides, interesting to notice how williams made games with peculiar controls, dual joystick in robotron, two way horizontal scroll with defender, flapping around with joust. Many VG makers of the time were not so original (capcom or whoever ripped off xevious with 1942/1943 comes to mind)

TRUE HORROR STORY ABOUT DEFENDER... apk (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28984523)

"While i really tried back in the day to get into Robotron and its sister Defender, I just never could "get the groove"." - by hairyfeet (841228) bassbeast1968&gmail,com> on Friday August 07, @04:49AM (#28983649)

Man - this brings back memories: These are the things that got me "into" computers, circa 1980 - 1983 or thereabouts... I loved "DEFENDER", but I liked Robotron 2084 a lot too (&, I still have them, on my PC, via "Williams Arcade Games for the PC", which still runs on Windows, just fine, even though I bought it in 1996 or so @ MicroCenter Atlanta, which I lived down the street from on in those days)...

FUNNY TRUE STORY ABOUT DEFENDER, ME, & TROUBLE!

LMAO (now, I wasn't back then, when this all "went down") - I was playing DEFENDER for a few months by then, & had played it so much w/ my friends in competition (for the "ALL-TIME HIGH SCORE" chart, where I used "DOC" as my signature on highscores (my friends called me this as a nickname, lol), & not just the daily one) that this certain day @ an arcade I had the machine "owned", & got to 1 million++ scores... I thend found out, you CANNOT DIE!

The machine gives you yet another free life once you cross 1 million++ score ranges, & even when you die? Yes, you got another life - bug in the program!

At some point, it got bogus just staying alive & I made a deal with my friend, to watch the machine while I went home & ate lunch - he could get better @ the game, for free, because of this - so naturally? He "goes with it"...

(I then drove home & thought about how to work around this, w/out unplugging the machine)...

I came back 1/2 hour later, & my buddy's still "rocking the planet" (since he cannot die, he loves it, lol) having fun & lets me back on... by this point??

The attendant sees us playing w/out end & comes over, along w/ the owner (I think) & says "We broke the machine" & they called cops, & I just said "Look: Once you get over 1 million++ scores? The machine keeps letting you stay alive, & just gives you another life when you die even..." & they laughed. I did figure out HOW to stop that though: KEEP HITTING HYPERSPACE!

(Which functioned on somekind of RND command, as to how often you SURVIVED hyperspacing/beaming out-back into the game)

Eventually??? I killed myself, by hyperspace deaths (in other words, it was the ONLY WAY YOU DIED & DID NOT WIN ANOTHER LIFE) ... the only way around the bug in DEFENDER I found, back in 1983-1984 iirc... as to the dates.

It just goes to show you that computers, even back then? Could get you into trouble, or too close to it, without having done a thing wrong, lol...

APK

P.S.=> ROBOTRON 2084 was, imo @ least, HARDER than DEFENDER though... apk

Re:TRUE HORROR STORY ABOUT DEFENDER... apk (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28988543)

Eventually??? I killed myself, by hyperspace deaths (in other words, it was the ONLY WAY YOU DIED & DID NOT WIN ANOTHER LIFE) ... the only way around the bug in DEFENDER I found, back in 1983-1984 iirc... as to the dates.

Yep, that's exactly how it worked.

Here's an explanation of the Defender infinite life bug [donhodges.com] , that you encountered, complete with disassembly of the relevant code.

Thanks man, I actually found that INTERESTING! apk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28993613)

I thank you for supplying me that url (made my gaming favorites/bookmarks in fact, for "trivia's sake" @ the very least), per my subject-line above: Very cool to know... & know WHY it was "going on", especially this quote from the url you supplied:

"When Defender was introduced, it was considered to be so difficult that no one imagined that a score of 1 million points was even possible to achieve."

It was hard, but, once you "got the game down"? It wasn't because any "AI" has patterns, & tendencies, & once you figure those out? You're set... The really funny part, which I was a BIT upset @ myself for NOT mentioning in my 1st post, was that I told myself back then:

"Someday, because I love this game so much, & many others like it? I will have them ALL in my home one day"

(And, due to emulators on PC's? I do... pretty neat, but NOT the way I expected it to be - I figured I'd have their actual physical cabinets in my home, not knowing PC's for people were on the way, shortly thereafter!)

Currently, today? Man - We have tons more power/speed, & capability than those days, & PC's are "the way", as they're ultra versatile, & fully programmable for a myriad of purpose, with a ton of peripherals too: Best of all, PC "know how", on a variety of levels, can get you PAID - to think I *almost* got into Ham Radio! Glad I made this choice, instead, & by FAR...

APK

P.S.=> Good memories, all in all, & again - thanks for that info! Very cool... in fact, on THAT note? I think I will "fire up" my Williams Arcade pack I mentioned, for "old times sake", right now! apk

Re:TRUE HORROR STORY ABOUT DEFENDER... apk (1)

Mad-Bassist (944409) | more than 5 years ago | (#28988573)

LMAO! I salute you for your Defender skill. I was once kicked out of an arcade for conquering Star Wars. The woman in charge said I did something to the machine because it was going so slow. I handed it off to another arcade-goer, and he lost all six shields and died within a minute. She still didn't get it, even though she saw me weaving through the holes in the trench barriers while using the force (not firing until the end for the big bonus.) "It's not cheating--it's skill!"

It was an unhappy occasion when games started working on the "feed quarters to continue" business model.

Re:TRUE HORROR STORY ABOUT DEFENDER... apk (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 5 years ago | (#28993423)

I used to get the same treatment with Pleiades and Vanguard. I had a friend whose dad owned a pool hall at the time, and I got to play whatever games were there for free when nobody was around. I got good enough at those games that I used to live on the free pizzas and always had a new free T-shirt to wear (that was when they were still allowed to give out prizes to high scorers) from the other arcades thanks to the practice I got. Occasionally when I would get accused of cheating I would simply say "I'll hand off the game to anybody here and you can watch them die. I just know how to play!" which would usually shut them up quick.

And to Tuffy? Thanks for the info. I doubt I can still pull it off like the old days, especially with a keyboard instead of the original leaf switches, but it will be a nice trip down memory lane. Thanks.

Re:TRUE HORROR STORY ABOUT DEFENDER... apk (1)

Mad-Bassist (944409) | more than 5 years ago | (#29014333)

Right on! Maybe I should have tried to find a way to capitalize on my skills. The woman I dealt with was just an idiot--too bad the sign featuring people's records the previous owner put on all the machines were gone.

I loved Vanguard--GRUB RIDES!

Same to you/Likewise... apk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28995349)

"LMAO! I salute you for your Defender skill." - by Mad-Bassist (944409) on Friday August 07, @02:15PM (#28988573) Homepage

Thanks, & likewise to you, for your "use of the force", young jedi! lol...

----

"I was once kicked out of an arcade for conquering Star Wars. The woman in charge said I did something to the machine because it was going so slow. I handed it off to another arcade-goer, and he lost all six shields and died within a minute. She still didn't get it, even though she saw me weaving through the holes in the trench barriers while using the force (not firing until the end for the big bonus.) "It's not cheating--it's skill!"" - by Mad-Bassist (944409) on Friday August 07, @02:15PM (#28988573) Homepage

Heh, then, you too, have earned that "red badge of courage" too it seems... lol! Nothing QUITE LIKE IT, eh? "The Dark side of the force is a pathway, to MANY abilities, some consider to be... unnatural!" & "Only thru ME, can you achieve a power GREATER THAN ANY JEDI!" (love those 2 quotes from Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine).

Yes, I can laugh about it, NOW... but, I wasn't laughing back then, when it happened... FAR FROM IT!

----

"It was an unhappy occasion when games started working on the "feed quarters to continue" business model." - by Mad-Bassist (944409) on Friday August 07, @02:15PM (#28988573) Homepage

Sorry, but that? THAT, I never saw... as I quit playing games in the arcades right after my 2nd yr. of collegiate academia (was busy keeping up grades, dealing with women I dated etc. et al, & playing a sport in college (lacrosse, ate quite a bit of my time everday, during the spring & fall seasons))...

Heh, however, now that you mention THAT?

Well - I am glad I did, I suppose, since things seem to have changed in that regard as you note in the quote above: "It's ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS!"...

APK

P.S.=> Boy, I "fired up" DEFENDER here, & I stink @ it now, lol... @ least, by way of comparison to what I used to be able to do on it in the arcades! apk

Re:Same to you/Likewise... apk (1)

Mad-Bassist (944409) | more than 5 years ago | (#29014145)

[Thanks, & likewise to you, for your "use of the force", young jedi! lol...]

LOL! Thanks. I remember one freaky thing happening--before I mastered that game, I was talking to a friend of mine and not paying attention. Somewhere along the way I realized I had all six of my shields back and was going on automatic pilot. I guess I grew a few neural connections with all the repetition--much like playing bass.

[Sorry, but that? THAT, I never saw... as I quit playing games in the arcades right after my 2nd yr. of collegiate academia (was busy keeping up grades, dealing with women I dated etc. et al, & playing a sport in college (lacrosse, ate quite a bit of my time everday, during the spring & fall seasons))...]

Aye, having no life is a prerequisite to excellence in videogames (and programming for that matter!)

[P.S.=> Boy, I "fired up" DEFENDER here, & I stink @ it now, lol... @ least, by way of comparison to what I used to be able to do on it in the arcades! apk]

Yes, I had that experience too. I know I could get back to my old skill level (surviving to wave 10 on a good day) or even conquer the game, but I don't want to dedicate that kind of time. Besides, I have a life now. *looks around* Okay, sort of. Heh heh.

Re:TRUE HORROR STORY ABOUT DEFENDER... apk (1)

dickens (31040) | more than 5 years ago | (#28993419)

I was never a big fan of Defender, but my roommates were, so much so that they (in 1982) utterly destroyed the controllers for my Atari 5200 console within a period of 2 or 3 months.

Re:Another Hard One (2, Informative)

tuffy (10202) | more than 5 years ago | (#28987333)

Did anybody ever make a home version of Pleiades or does it run on MAME?

It runs in MAME under the name "Pleiads" because that's what comes up on the screen.

robotron was sweet (1)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983303)

I used to play robotron for ages including the later N64 version.

It's like tetris for robotic death!

Re:robotron was sweet (1)

moon3 (1530265) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983539)

Loved the autofire.

Re:robotron was sweet (1)

aletterman (544519) | more than 5 years ago | (#28984707)

It is a wonderfully challenging, difficult game. I must admit that I once played a single game on Robotron for about 32 hours. My score was over 127,000,000 points - it was a 'world record' score for a while during the arcade era. Found one overflow bug - too many extra men and it rolls over to >>zero extra guys (8 bit overflow). Pretty much a panic situation after playing about 20 hours. I now own one and have it in the game room in the the basement (next to my Asteriods machine). Still a lot of fun to play, even if I only play for an hour or two.

Re:robotron was sweet (1)

badass fish (1254730) | more than 5 years ago | (#28985429)

ah how well i remember best quarter i ever spent 4+ hours screen 268 ihad an actual audience scored well over 4 million

Had this one at home. (1)

Jamie's Nightmare (1410247) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983321)

I have fond memories of this game. Robotron 2084 was one of the first 3 arcade machines my father purchased, used from a local arcade in Burton, Michigan. I don't think I'll ever rekindle the feeling of seeing real arcade machines in the living room. It was a real "Silver Spoons" moment for me.

Our Robotron machine died as a result of the cinder-block sized linear power supply which fried a rectifier and 2 ICs on the main board. Today I still play the game via MAME (solid blue label romset). My current high score is 4,515,850 on the default settings. I actually find the keyboard is far superior to the dual joysticks as they don't cause as much fatigue.

Re:Had this one at home. (1)

coolgeek (140561) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983509)

That's a pretty good high score. I think my all time best was around 3 million. I used to play it back in the 80's in the arcade until the owner would kick me out, or I'd walk in exhaustion and let someone else get trashed on the game. I loved that game. I had a friend who shredded Asteroids, and the machines were right next to each other. We'd both score plenty of free men (ok, he scored up the ships), and then we would swap for a while, and we both weren't that great at the opposite game, so then we'd switch back and have to struggle to get a bunch of free men/ships in the bank again.

I loved Defender too. Defender actually inspired me to get into programming. I wanted to make a game that cool someday. That never happened, but I've turned my hobby into a lifelong career that I still love, after doing it for 25 years.

A few years back, my buddy got me the console from a Robotron game off of eBay, with two joysticks, and plenty of cigarette burns. One of these days, I'm gonna hook it up with a keyboard wedge and hang it on the wall with a flat panel and a copy of MAME.

Re:Had this one at home. (1)

prockcore (543967) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983637)

Defender actually inspired me to get into programming.

Ditto. As a kid I had an Apple II book that covered making a defender clone in 6502 assembly. I was hooked from that point on.

Re:Had this one at home. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28985355)

Do you remember what the title of the book was?

Re:Had this one at home. (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 5 years ago | (#28988483)

I don't recall it getting into making a Defender clone (but my memory may be faulty or I didn't finish the book), but my favorite book for Apple II assembly programming was "Apple Graphics and Arcade Game Design" by Jeffrey Stanton. Amazon.com has some used copies available. This helped me understand how some games were coded, especially the screen memory lookup tables to get raster graphics into the right spots in memory (needed for the venetian-blind interlacing pattern the Apple II graphics used). I had intended to take what I learned to adapt several Apple II games to Apple IIgs graphics, but college (including summer classes) took up what spare time I had had in high school to work on that, coupled with getting my first Mac (7500/100) and budding addiction to TinyMUCK.

Re:Had this one at home. (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 5 years ago | (#28988625)

I don't recall it getting into making a Defender clone (but my memory may be faulty or I didn't finish the book), but my favorite book for Apple II assembly programming was "Apple Graphics and Arcade Game Design" by Jeffrey Stanton. Amazon.com has some used copies available.

A little more research [hyperjeff.net] and I can say yes, this is the same book that promised to teach how to make a Defender clone.

Re:Had this one at home. (1)

Creepy (93888) | more than 5 years ago | (#28986381)

I can't say the same - piracy brought me into assembly level programming on the Apple ][, and that was before Defender was out, though I didn't really get into assembly programming until Ultima, Sabotage, and Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, all of which my little group of elementary school hoodlums modded in different ways (extreme Sabotage was more funny than fun - basically, it started at a high difficulty level and got harder).

Funny that this thread talks about Defender and Robotron - my favorite Defender-like game was actually a little known Sierra gem called Aquatron.

Re:Had this one at home. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28987655)

wow. Aquatron reh-preh-zent!!! Apple IIc, could play that game for hours!

Re:Had this one at home. (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 5 years ago | (#28989257)

extreme Sabotage was more funny than fun - basically, it started at a high difficulty level and got harder

How did you do it? Was it just to start it with more helicopters than normal or did you adjust the timing? How did it compare to running the stock version at native speed on an Apple IIgs? Did you find and disable the memory-dump-card copy protection?

I had completely disassembled SABOTAGE and labeled all the branches and memory locations I could identify to a text file in an aborted attempt at converting it to Apple IIgs graphics. If only I could have afforded a real assembler at the time to realize that design. There would be enough unused bits per pixel on the IIgs to have allowed me to have day-night cycles and possibly weather patterns. Imagine jet levels with a rendered late night thunderstorm in the background.

Defender is an all time classic (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 5 years ago | (#28984387)

In fact for me its my favourite video game of all time and I still have happy memories of heading off down to a greasy spoon cafe on the saturdays to play it. Never was very good, I think 40,000 was about the best I managed. But the buzz I got from the speed of the game , all the explosions, not to mention the great sound effects (which I think were one of the first examples sampled sounds used in any game) was immense. All subconcious split second reactions - no thinking - the way a truly good shoot-em-up should be.

Re:Defender is an all time classic (2, Informative)

Mad-Bassist (944409) | more than 5 years ago | (#28988917)

Actually, Defender was a continuation of the Williams pinball machines as far as sound effects went. They used a separate CPU (a 6809 I believe) that ran a set of sound routines that Eugene Jarvis created that were brilliant. The game running on the main CPU would set a flag on the sound CPU to begin the next sound effect, which was done by an digital-to-analog converter tied to the second CPU. Defender also had a power switch under the front of the console, much like a pinball machine!

Many of the sounds on Defender and Robotron came from the classic pinball game Firepower, which was also difficult and ate quarters, but it was so good, we kept feeding it, desperately trying to trigger the killer multiball countdown. You can find this machine in the Visual Pinball/PinMAME arena.

Gottlieb came close, Atari was great, Namco was classic, but nothing could touch the excitement of Williams' late 70's pinball and early 80's videogames.

Speaking of Firepower (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28993001)

I see that Firepower has been included on Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection. [wikipedia.org]

Is this console-based pinball emulator any good?

Re:Speaking of Firepower (1)

Mad-Bassist (944409) | more than 5 years ago | (#29013917)

That looks interesting, especially since "Williams" was involved in the project. My only complaint would be the need to unlock half the tables. If I walked into an arcade and saw a Firepower machine, beeline would be the operative term.

I don't know if the original game's hardware and code are emulated, because playing samples of Jarvis' classic sounds would be heresy, especially for dynamically generated effects like Firepower's lit-spinner sound--the most beautiful sound to ever come from a pinball machine.

If they made that package for the PC, I'd probably buy it. The Visual Pinball tables are great (especially PacDude's work,) but they don't always play realistically, and every once in a while, a ball will drain through a flipper. D`oh!

For original tables with realistic physics and 3D acceleration, check out the free Future Pinball.

Re:Had this one at home. (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#28986969)

I loved Defender too. Defender actually inspired me to get into programming. I wanted to make a game that cool someday. That never happened, but I've turned my hobby into a lifelong career that I still love, after doing it for 25 years.

In high school I wrote a Defender clone. I don't think it was as cool, but it was close imo. :) The downside was that I didn't have a working Defender cart anymore so i couldn't go back to 'the source'. I got some things right like the alien abductors turning into the super-fast and evil mutants when they'd capture a human (and the human dying a pixely death if you accidentally shot them or killed the alien too high up so they fell too far), but other than that I was mostly making up enemies. And hand-made VGA graphics!

Funny to think that back in the day, something like that could be a career-launching game. Thinking of trying to "clone" most games made these days makes the mind boggle.

or go to jail (1)

JohnnyComeLately (725958) | more than 5 years ago | (#28988085)

Seems these days you'd get a cease and desist letter and have feds break down your door with a federal search warrant. I was good at Defender, but loved Robotron like no other. Asteroids was cool, but I could play Robotron and Galaxian forever. I've got Robotron on my XBOX360 and play it periodically.

In the immortal words of Lou Reed ... (1)

SickLittleMonkey (135315) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983367)

"It's very dangerous
Putting money down on Robotron"

Quite possibly the most intense shoot-em-up of all time.
How many hours of play will it take you to clock the level counter?
(It wraps to zero three times before reaching level 1 again.)

Of course you can always take a break on a Brain wave:
Leave one Brain, go to the edge of the screen and wait till it does too, then get your GF^H^HMom to fire up & down while you go take a leak.

SLM

Llamatron! (4, Interesting)

mccalli (323026) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983379)

Always liked Jeff Minter's clone of it - Llamatron. Still downloadable for free, and I still play it in DOS Box now and again. To those who haven't tried it - have a quick search and give it a go.

What depresses me is that it's hard. Very hard. Not only myself who thought that, but my friends who were playing it at the time agreed too. Having a hard game isn't depressing in itself though, so why is this one different?

Because about a year I watched Jeff Minter, in a Google Talk about indie game development, said he wrote it to be easy. Well, thanks Jeff. That's just great. There's ten years of my gaming self-esteem down the drain...

Cheers,
Ian

Re:Llamatron! (1)

Harold Halloway (1047486) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983517)

Yeah, Llamatron was the only game which was better than Robotron. I used to play it on my Atari STE. I managed to get through all 100 levels with the droid helper but never solo.

I can still play it now on my XBox via an Amiga emulator. But ageing eyes and arthritic fingers make it much more of a challenge these days.

Re:Llamatron! (1)

Peregr1n (904456) | more than 5 years ago | (#28984597)

Yes, llamatron was AWESOME. And very, very funny. And very hard. I did manage to complete it (well, get over level 100, where it reverts to level 1) in the 'assist' mode where instead of a second player you have a robot pal. Hard is good though: It keeps you coming back. Not hard as in 'stuck at one particular point and can't go further', which seems to be a problem with modern games (eg. GTA4, there's one mission I can't get past, so I've just stopped playing), but hard as in 'try again, and again, and again, and gradually get better'

Re:Llamatron! (1)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 5 years ago | (#28987475)

Hard is good though: It keeps you coming back. Not hard as in 'stuck at one particular point and can't go further', which seems to be a problem with modern games (eg. GTA4, there's one mission I can't get past, so I've just stopped playing), but hard as in 'try again, and again, and again, and gradually get better'

My thoughts exactly. I think Llamatron has a very nice learning curve, it seems like the progression of levels is very carefully tuned. I've played it up to about level 80 without any assist, and at that point I feel like some kind of a cyborg, because of the particular reflexes and strategies you develop on the way. I also like having the occasional easy levels in between.

Re:Llamatron! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28984601)

I used to know Jeff when I was a teenager. I used to meet him at computer shows and play his games with him on his stands. Things like Ancipital and Sheep in Space on the C64 were great. Hellgate on the VIC-20 was superb, but on the C64 the screen size didn't work in the game's favour and it wasn't so good.

Jeff's games were superbly playable. The only one I didn't get on with was the one with the whirling gravity induced destruction devices. Can't remember the name but I think it was his last C64 game. Shame I lost touch with him really, but thats life... you move on and in different directions.

Llamatron was good and I wouldn't class it as hard either.

If you liked Robotron and have a C16/C64 and can get a copy of "Droid One" you'll like it. I wrote it during my final year of my electronics degree. It has a special Sigue Sigue Sputnik (SSS-F111) mode, where instead of having to clear the level you have survive for 60 seconds. Strangely enough even the girls in the house liked the carnage of this game. Not sure how easy it is to get a copy of Droid One these days. I don't have any of the 20+ games I wrote (over 20 years ago now). I did write a successor to Droid One, called Droid One Plus which was awesome but it died in one of those inevitable C64 5.25" floppy disk crashes and I lost all the source (all 6502 assembly). I couldn't face rewriting it so went up to Scotland to work for Gannon Designs... look it up on the web, its out there somewhere. I know there are some cheats for the game, but you should, with practice be able to clear all the levels without any cheats at all.

I now write software tools for Software Verification (www.softwareverify.com), some of it still in assembly, but i386 and x64 these days.

Stephen Kellett (stephen (at) spezzaturra (d0t) com).

Re:Llamatron! (1)

mccalli (323026) | more than 5 years ago | (#28984787)

If you liked Robotron and have a C16/C64 and can get a copy of "Droid One" you'll like it.

I do indeed still have a C64 - both emulation and a real one with a flash card reader attached (MMC64). I'll see if the archives have a copy of Droid One and give it a shot thanks.

As for the hard comment - I think it is hard, but in a good and enjoyable way. It's still got staying power and my kids play it too - kids don't care if games are old or have flashy graphics, they care if the game is good and Llamatron is certainly that.

Cheers,
Ian

One of my favourites. (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983391)

This was one of my favourites on the emulators. The dual joystick control is fantastic, especially on the xarcade sticks. Some people tried to emulate it with a keyboard on home computers (eg llamatron), but they were never as frantic or fast.

  Sadly, the version I had stopped working with newer versions of xmame, and now xmame seems to have pretty much disappeared off the face of the earth. Well, from a development standpoint. Anyone know what happened there?

Re:One of my favourites. (1)

Misanthrope (49269) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983483)

I can recommend wahcade
http://www.anti-particle.com/wahcade.shtml [anti-particle.com]
Either compile from source or install system packages and use wahcade for a frontend.

Re:One of my favourites. (1)

tuffy (10202) | more than 5 years ago | (#28985169)

Sadly, the version I had stopped working with newer versions of xmame, and now xmame seems to have pretty much disappeared off the face of the earth. Well, from a development standpoint. Anyone know what happened there?

xmame, along with AdvanceMAME, DosMAME and others, were wiped out by the big graphics subsystem overhaul that came with MAME 0.105, as I recall. These days, it's been superceded by SDLMAME which should work most anywhere with SDL installed.

Fascinated by the porting aspect (3, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983419)

One of my personal interests in this era of gaming, which doesn't have a direct analog today, is the arcade->console adaptation route, and the technical, artistic, and gameplay challenges involved. I guess I've always known that such adaptations were common, but until recently I didn't really understand just how deeply such adaptations/ports were affected by the differences between special-purpose arcade hardware and generic and generally underpowered console hardware, and what sorts of heroic efforts porters went to to try to get something even vaguely like the cabinet to run on a home machine (sometimes in vain). That's probably the single thing I found most interesting about a recent book on the Atari VCS [amazon.com] that opened my eyes on that. I'd read all sorts of stuff [atariage.com] previously about the VCS (aka 2600) hardware, and different stuff about its cultural, business, and social role, but pulling the two together by looking at how the tech affects the culture and vice versa is really fascinating to me. I think ports are a particularly good lens to look at that through, because they focus sharply on how the tech affected what the designer could or couldn't do; the aforementioned book's examples of the disastrous Pac-Man port [wikipedia.org] , on the one hand, and the unfaithful but interesting/successful adaptation of Star Castle [wikipedia.org] into Yars' Revenge [wikipedia.org] , on the other, are particularly thought-provoking.

So I really like that aspect of this article, tracing how Robotron was and wasn't successfully adapted to home machines, and which parts specifically of the arcade version survived the translation and were still compelling in the home version. Although we don't have nearly the same hardware limitations on home machines these days, I think we're in a way still struggling with similar issues about "what worked in the arcade, and how can we adapt it?"--- e.g. the discussion in this article of custom controllers to make the home version more authentic reminds me of our current era's custom controllers (Rock Band's peripherals being the best-selling). And, more broadly, we're trying to figure out whether platforms matter, and if so, how. The Wii has a compelling "what's different" angle for its platform, but is that a one-time, peripheral-only thing? Do the Xbox 360, PC, and PS3 have interesting differences going for them? Do physical arcade cabinets still matter?

More generally, I think it's one way of getting at a sort of design science that's still lacking for games, and I like how this article tries to break that down. Obviously much of game design is not really "science", but other design fields still do carefully analyze existing works, try to identify which elements specifically mattered, etc.; you might be doing something that's artistic/subjective in a lot of respects, but that doesn't mean you have to do it blind. I mean, if I want to learn architecture, there are a lot of books I can buy. I can buy a book specifically on the Bauhaus style, or some sub-style of it, or one particular architect's style. But, despite their huge role in popular culture, I can't buy a book about the design style of, say, Microprose 4X games, analyzing what elements they had in common or didn't, their relationship to other games of the era, how technical aspects influenced the design and vice versa, etc., etc. As a player, I can probably tell you some stuff off the top of my head, and I think there really is a book to be written there--- or an in-depth article on the internet if you can't interest a publisher--- but nobody's written it.

So I guess that's a long-winded way of saying: yes, more of this!

Re:Fascinated by the porting aspect (1)

hackerjoe (159094) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983755)

Obviously much of game design is not really "science", but other design fields still do carefully analyze existing works, try to identify which elements specifically mattered, etc.;

Not to detract from your main point, but give them some credit, game designers totally do this. The field is still relatively young, and you're right that there's not the same body of literature yet as there is for, say, graphic design, but that's got more to do with the fact that you can't get tenure at a major university teaching game design yet than anything.

The game designers I work with can certainly break down what makes a game addictive and fun. Give them a chance and they'll talk your ear off about compulsion loops and memorable moments...

Re:Fascinated by the porting aspect (1)

Trepidity (597) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983769)

Yeah, I agree; I didn't mean to imply people didn't actually think about these problems and come up with those sorts of insights. But my impression is that there isn't nearly the same sort of discussion and shared knowledge and vocabulary on this subject, even beyond books. Are there even names for all the successful game mechanics used by important games of the past few decades?

The situation may have improved somewhat since then, but Doug Church [wikipedia.org] expressed a similar sentiment in an article [gamasutra.com] back in 1999, so at least some game designers seem to agree...

Re:Fascinated by the porting aspect (1)

DXLster (1315409) | more than 5 years ago | (#28985187)

So I guess that's a long-winded way of saying: yes, more of this!

Indeed.

What about berzerk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28983433)

I always liked it better than robotron. And hey... You could actually really die.

Berzerk was the first video game known to have been involved in the death of a player. In January 1981, 19-year-old Jeff Dailey died of a heart attack soon after posting a score of 16,660 on Berzerk. In October of the following year, Peter Burkowski made the Berzerk top-ten list twice in fifteen minutes, just a few seconds before also dying of a heart attack at the age of 18.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berzerk

Re:What about berzerk (1)

Mad-Bassist (944409) | more than 5 years ago | (#28989593)

I remember reading about Mr. Daily--it's hard to believe someone could have heart failure at that age, but I do know the stress once you make it to the "fast cyan" robots around 10,000. My personal best was the "fast red" ones (17,000+: very, very lucky!) You're facing an empty maze, and you know it's going to be full of constantly firing robots in one second, and you have maybe 1/10th of a second to decide which way to dodge when they appear. Often one will be right in front of you, meaning instant death.

I Heart Robotron (1)

yerktoader (413167) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983559)

Robotron and it's derivatives are amongst the favorite games of me and my friends - in fact, it's probably the game in which I perform best to this day. For whatever reason, we can play Robotron, Smash TV, and Geometry Wars for hours and hours - I think the difficulty despite the largely predictable patterns makes it such an enticing and fun game to play. Figuring out the best techniques and learning to master them, learning to account for the unexpected. Even when you know what needs to happen, it REALLY IS so absurdly frenetic that it is always a challenge to do well....Man I love those games. So much so that in the early 90's I got an arcade port of the Williams Arcade Classics on my PC and played the hell out of it on the keyboard. On a side note, my hard core gaming buddies that like those games also like other manic shooters like DoDonPachi [wikipedia.org] and E.S.P. Ra.De. [wikipedia.org] Dunno if there is a connection, but it would seem to follow.

I will cherish Robotron when my gaming years are well and gone.

Me Heart Robotron, too. (1)

Noble Kiwi (787927) | more than 5 years ago | (#28984247)

I used to work up a tremendous sweat playing this game at the arcades. Hardly moving, just those two joysticks, but expending almost as much energy as jogging.

The difficulty of the game was just right. The controls are hard to get used to, but they make sense. When you're just beginning, the game smacks you down so fast, you wonder if it's even possible. Then you start getting some mastery, and then you run into level 5, the hulk wave. The chaos just gets more and more intense.

There was some amazing sensory pleasure about that game. It just *felt* good. Oh, it felt so good to catch one of the humans and hear that old glug-glug-glug sound they'd reused from some old pinball game. Ohhhh, I want to play again!

Re:Me Heart Robotron, too. (1)

yerktoader (413167) | more than 5 years ago | (#28995813)

Your assessment is right on the money. Man, I want a stand up version pretty badly, to be honest. I'd even build my own box just for it :D

Love Robotron (1)

tony7531 (1605921) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983931)

Gotta love Robotron and the old Atari. The pioneers in video games and gaming systems.

"Coin detected in pocket" (2, Funny)

raju1kabir (251972) | more than 5 years ago | (#28983937)

I can still hear the pseudo-synthesized voice that called out once in a while when the game wasn't being played.

Re:"Coin detected in pocket" (1)

Viol8 (599362) | more than 5 years ago | (#28984399)

Yeah , I remember that. Also the voice from The Black Knight pinball game from the early 80s has always stuck in my head too. It was like an evil sounding version of Speak-n-Spell. Which was probably the idea!

Re:"Coin detected in pocket" (1)

Mad-Bassist (944409) | more than 5 years ago | (#28989643)

Firepower too--it was monotone, but robots were cooler in '79. "Enemy destroyed you..." followed by the sound effect that would later mean an extra life.

Re:"Coin detected in pocket" (1)

Norwell Bob (982405) | more than 5 years ago | (#28984961)

That wasn't Robotron. Robotron had no speech. You're thinking of either Gorf or Wizard of Wor, I believe. They were both very early games that used the Vortax SC-01 phoneme synthesizer.

Re:"Coin detected in pocket" (2, Informative)

raju1kabir (251972) | more than 5 years ago | (#28985765)

Just googled it... it was Berzerk. Could have sworn it was Robotron. Oh well.

Re:"Coin detected in pocket" (1)

Norwell Bob (982405) | more than 5 years ago | (#28986073)

Ah, yes. Right you are!

"Intruder alert! Chicken! Fight like a robot!"

Why two joysticks (3, Informative)

Jim Hall (2985) | more than 5 years ago | (#28984479)

The article doesn't mention why there were two joysticks for the game: one to control movement, the other to control direction of fire. So you could travel in one direction while firing in another. Great freedom of movement that made the game very popular because it was such a diversion from most other games.

This is probably one of the coolest bits of trivia from the era: Jarvis had been in an accident, [wikipedia.org] and his arm was in a cast when they started work on the game. It would have been impossible for him to work on the game with a typical "stick and button" approach and he decided the dual-stick design made it easier for him to design and play the game.

[...] The dual joystick control design resulted from two experiences in Jarvis's life: an automobile accident and playing Berzerk. Prior to beginning development, Jarvis injured his right hand in an accident--his hand was still in a cast when he returned to work, which prevented him from using a traditional joystick with a button. While in rehabilitation, he thought of Berzerk. Though Jarvis enjoyed the game and similar titles, he was dissatisfied with the control scheme; Berzerk used a single joystick to move the on-screen character and a button to fire the weapon, which would shoot the same direction the character was facing. Jarvis noticed that if the button was held down, the character would remain stationary and the joystick could be used to fire in any direction. This method of play inspired Jarvis to add a second joystick dedicated to aiming the direction projectiles were shot.[10] Jarvis and DeMar created a prototype using a Stargate system board and two Atari 2600 controllers attached to a control panel. In retrospect, Jarvis considers the design a contradiction that blends "incredible freedom of movement" with ease of use.

Re:Why two joysticks (1)

Mad-Bassist (944409) | more than 5 years ago | (#28989677)

It's funny--I thought of that control scheme a couple years before Robotron came out. I thought it would be too complicated--shows how much I knew.

Robotron the Arcade (1)

thecoolbean (454867) | more than 5 years ago | (#28984515)

Robotron is the best arcade game ever, bar none. I purchased the stand up version from the local Chuck E. Cheese that I used to play it on, years ago. None of the console version compare to the dual joystick action of the arcade version. For the record, the score rolls at 10 million; My record sits at about 21 million which took about 5 hours until the comic shop owner finally conceded that my kung fu was stronger and begged me to quit to he could close his score.

Here is some interesting trivia: The original reason I was drawn to Robotron:2084 back in the heyday 80's arcade madness is that unlike normal games that allowed you 3 characters for you initials when you posted a high score, Robotron 2084 allowed you a glorious 20 character taunt for high score!

Re:Robotron the Arcade (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28993541)

Amen. I did the same thing (but not from Chuck E. Cheese mind you) and would play for hours and only stopped when the pain in my arms grew too much to ignore (approx 8 hours). Then, for fun, I'd go to the local arcades and play from open to close, by simply taking breaks and letting other people lose my guys for a while.

Great game - Fun Co-op (1)

PottedMeat (1158195) | more than 5 years ago | (#28984891)

When I was a kid, my step-brother and I would spend hours playing this game "co-op." One of us would take charge of the movement joystick while the other took the firing one. It was great fun yelling back and forth about where to go and what to shoot. Try it with a friend some time.

PM

Re:Great game - Fun Co-op (1)

Mad-Bassist (944409) | more than 5 years ago | (#28989823)

Ooooh! I like that idea.

Have you played Blasteroids? It's the fourth in the Asteroids series, and one button lets you cycle the size and capabilities of your ship between three sizes. In two player mode, if one ship is large and one is small, they can merge into a large ship that moves fairly fast and fires large shots, and the small ship becomes a turret that fires a spread of little shots, but has no say in the direction of travel. That made for some interesting arcade playing.

It may be hard to do with emulation though--the game calls for dial controls and three buttons. Maybe an original game can still be found...

JUNO FIRST is another good one .. (1)

torpor (458) | more than 5 years ago | (#28985321)

I love Robotron, play it regularly, Defender too .. In fact this is a list of games on my WIZ console, which is running pretty much MAME exclusively these days:

Robotron
Defender
Scramble
Moon Buggy
Crazy Climber
Crazy Climber 2
Juno First
Pleiades
Pisces
Exerion

Currently, I just can't stop playing Juno First .. love it so much, I'm considering doing a 'tribute/remake' for iPhone ..

Morality of Robotron (4, Interesting)

realinvalidname (529939) | more than 5 years ago | (#28985709)

One thing this (and many articles) overlook about Robotron is how its "bonus collection" morality sharply differed from other games of the time. Many contemporaries, especially Japanese games, used bonus point pickups as a lure to your death. For example, unless you're working from a known pattern, going after fruits in Pac Man is a great way to get yourself killed. I remember one early video game book whose intro said, succinctly, that "greed kills" in video games.

Except in Robotron. The bonus structure for saving the family gave you 1,000 points for the first, 2,000 for the second, and so on until you maxed it out at 5,000 per save. Since you generally got a extra life at 20,000 or 25,000 points (operator setting), you could get free life with just six saves, and a second for another four. Once the counter was at 5,000, it's a sensible tradeoff to go for risky saves: the payoff in extending your game is usually worth the very real risk of dying instead. Indeed, while Namco-style games awarded free lives on very long intervals (3-4 Galaga waves, for example), and thereby valued getting through most waves safely, Robotron had a flow of fast death and rebirth, with players often earning and losing one or more lives on each wave. Provided you could earn more lives than you lost, even at a fairly low margin, you could keep going, which is why taking risks to save the humans was a winning strategy.

Robot Escape (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28985857)

I liked Robotron, but it was not a genre first... DG Nova 3 Robot Escape... and the cool thing in that game was you could maneuver robots into the walls and then escape the map

Midway Arcade Treasures Video Bonus Content... (1)

Xin Jing (1587107) | more than 5 years ago | (#28986531)

The bonus content videos on the Midway Arcade Treasures Vol 1&2 (for Gamecube) were wonderful insights into the technical minds that created the games. I mention this because they include video clips with Eugene Jarvis, Ed Logg and others as they talk about their respective games. It's too bad Midway hasn't made their own game history videos because the devs recalled some hilarious and interesting technical footnotes to the games they worked on.

Apple II port of Robotron (1)

Desert Tripper (1166529) | more than 5 years ago | (#28989605)

I remember how amazed I was when I got a hold of Robotron for the Apple. I had never seen so many objects move at one time on the Apple, and they even did a halfway-decent job with the sound on a machine that was only designed to play one simple sound at a time. And, the two-joystick control was faithfully reproduced on the keyboard. Another game that made great use of independent control was the original Castle Wolfenstein (and, if I recall correctly, it predated Robotron by a year or two.)

ROBOTRON! (1)

DoninIN (115418) | more than 5 years ago | (#28992137)

4 Million with it on uhm.. I think it was the medium hard setting, the "arcade" setting, as I remember it the Williams boxes had a bunch of dip switches you could set and I'm thinking was "7" for the arcades with the odd "5" for department stores and stuff, but I am old. Interestingly a friend of mine and I who could both get a few million got bored and plopped in a quarter, and I drove and he shot thinking that would be funny and we die right away. We got nearly our high scores combined. There has never been a video game as much fun as robotron 2084, for me anyway, and I doubt there ever will.

BEWARE... I live! (1)

grumling (94709) | more than 5 years ago | (#28993145)

Sinistar and Robotron were 2 of my favorite games. Everyone else was standing in line waiting to play Pac Man or whatever, I wanted to play games and they were open.

Playing Robotron was an extensional experience. Sinistar tended to induce a seizure.

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