Berzerk (1980) – A brief look at the game that inspired first-person shooters
The 1980's was definitely an exciting time for arcade styled games and software developers, as technology was still in its infancy and new developments were being discovered all the time. There was already a wide range of home consoles available to gamers including the Atari and Amiga, but the larger coin operated games machines were still very much a part of the culture. If you were lucky enough to have been a child back then, you'll no doubt have a few memories of sneaking out to the local games arcade to drop all of your pocket money into your favorite games title.
At the start of the 1980's there was finally a clear-cut set of top level genres in which new game releases could be conveniently slotted into, for example Asteroid's was a shoot-em-up, Monaco GP a car racing game and Donkey Kong was a platform game; though there was one particular arcade title that didn't seem to have a particular category to fit into. Now known as a classic piece of arcade game history, Berzerk was initially designed and released in 1980 by the then well known 'Stern Graphics' also a popular pinball machine creator. This brand new title was like nothing any gamer had seen; it had a completely different layout, unconventional controls, a unique game-play and some very cool audio effects, offering the perfect challenge for the ever hungry video game enthusiast.
The idea for Berzerk takes some influence from an older title named 'Robots', but the developer Alan McNeil swears that the inspiration came to him in a dream. Due to the limitations of technology at the time Berzerk had simple pixilated graphics on a black background, basic one button and a joystick controls and some brilliant ground breaking human speech sound effects. In fact Berzerk was one of the first games to include digitized speech, which at that time was rather expensive costing roughly 1000 dollars per word. During the game-play the evil androids would spew out phrases like 'Chicken, fight like a robot' or 'Coins detected in pocket'.
If you're not familiar with this classic title, it involved a basic maze background, a swarm of lingering robots and you, the hero who has to start at one end of the maze and make it to the exit by shooting your way through the robots while avoiding obstacles, such as electrical walls. Although it didn't fit into a genre category back then, some believe that it was the first ever first-person shooter and paved the way for games like Doom and Counter Strike. Berzerk was an overnight success and thousands of arcade machines were shipped to arcade centers all over the world to satisfy the demand for this unique new title. After the hype died down and people got used to the game-play, developers at Stern Electronics decided to come out with a second version called 'Frenzy', released in 1982 this new title offered identical game-play, but included a few extra elements, including walls that can be shot down to reveal secret passages and walls that reflect your guns laser shots.
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