Martin has been a software developer for many years. This is mixed with a passion for retro machines and game,
Battlezone was an arcade game released by gaming giants Atari way back in 1980.
It became famous for its use of wireframe (or vector) graphics to create a three-dimensional gaming zone complete with enemy tanks and geometric obstacles.
The way the game played and looked made it stand out from the crowd, leading it to be an instant hit and one that remained popular for a number of years.
These days it has retained a cult classic status and is well remembered by many retro gaming enthusiasts as a true milestone in vector gaming.
It is time to take another look at Battlezone some thirty two years later...
Vector heaven in Battlezone
The Game was 'set' on a plain with a distant mountainous horizon featuring a (rather cool) erupting volcano, a distant crescent moon and various geometric solid obstacles such as pyramids and oblong blocks.
The player viewed the gaming screen which also included an overhead radar to find and destroy the enemy tanks, which were either standard tank vehicles or faster moving 'supertanks'.
Back in 1980 all of this really was a sight to behold.
UFOs and guided missiles would also occasionally appear for a bonus scoring opportunity, but you did not have to destroy them to continue the game.
The saucers, unlike the tanks did not fire upon the player; they were there to be shot at and provide further variety to the game. In a cunning move they did not appear on the radar scanner either meaning the player had to pick them up visually.
It was possible to use the solid shapes as cover as you duelled with the enemy vehicles giving you time to loose off a shot before ducking behind a pyramid to evade enemy fire.
When used correctly the pyramids and oblong blocks could be used to very good effect.
Enemy in range in Atari Battlezone
Original Battlezone Cabinet With Periscope
The Battlezone Cabinet
Battlezone Game Cabinet
Battlezone was housed in a standard upright arcade cabinet with a novel periscope viewfinder which the player used to view and play the game.
This viewfinder really did make you feel like a proper tank commander as you looked through it to see the 3D world.
Thinking of the punters, Atari also allowed the action to be viewed from the 'sides' of the viewfinder; thus allowing spectators to observe the action. What a great way to entice other players!
The following year another version of the cabinet was released without the periscope to improve visibility to non-players and to improve the ergonomics for players who could not reach the periscope viewfinder.
A smaller version of the cabinet was also released with no periscope viewer, the action was viewed with a standard screen which was angled upwards.
The game graphics were actually monochromatic (white vectors on a black background) and used overlays to create the famous green gaming zone. The use of overlays prevented a cocktail table version from being mass produced as it was not viable to use them on a cabinet of this type.
The controls consisted of left and right joysticks which could only be moved in the vertical axis, each controlling the 'treads' on the side of the player's 'tank'. This was actually a pretty realistic portrayal of 'tank driving' at that time. Combining this method of driving with the periscope viewer led to a real immersion into the gaming zone for the player.
One joystick was fitted with the button to fire at enemy targets. As players know, once you had unleashed a shot it took a few seconds to reload so it was prudent to choose your shots carefully lest you leave yourself exposed to counter fire...
Battlezone In Action
Battlezone Game Myths
Not long after the game hit the amusement arcades there was a rumour that it was possible to actually drive to the erupting volcano shown on the distant horizon.
If that wasn't crazy enough the rumour also claimed that the player could drive up the side of the volcano and into the crater to discover a hidden castle inside!
This was, of course falser than a Tory promise, but plans to include such a feature in future versions of the game were inspired by this now famous myth!
A similar myth also surfaced which described driving in the same direction for at least an hour without the loss of a life. The rumour went that if this was achieved the player would eventually reach the mountains on the horizon and see a munitions factory churning out enemy tanks!
There were other rumours involving UFO motherships, being able to shoot the moon from the sky and so on.
If Atari had managed to incorporate any of these 'features' it would have been the programming feat of the decade!
This is a classic title that left a vast legacy in the world of arcade gaming. It also set Atari was one of the premier exponents of vector graphics when you coupled Battlezone with the likes of Asteroids and Space Duel.
During the 1980s a myriad of ports (both official and unofficial) were released for pretty much every home computer and gaming console of the era.
Two notable versions for the ZX Spectrum were:
There was even a PC (at the time IBM Compatible PC) version released in 1983 which is pretty rare!
This game also inspired the 1998 PC Game 'Battlezone' which was a superb RTS 3D arcade game which took much inspiration from the 1980 Atari classic.
This was a truly excellent game (and one that I played a lot) and brought the Battlezone concept into the modern gaming arena.
Battlezone On The Atari 2600 Console
Batllezone PC Version from 1983
Battlezone 1998 Intro Scene
Classic Gaming - Battlezone
All in all this is an arcade game that is truly regarded as a classic.
It really brought the concept of '3D' vector gaming to the fore and led to other excellent games in the genre such as the seminal Star Wars game which would appear in 1983.
I myself have been playing this game again on my Nintendo DS and it is impressive just how smooth those vector graphics move around the screen.
A true classic (and one that has gained cult status over the years) that deserves your playing time once again!
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