Retro Coin Op Synopsis

“Intruder alert! Intruder alert!”
“Get the humanoid!”

It talked. How cool was that? Using a limited vocabulary of synthesized words, game designer Alan McNeil helped create one of the world’s first talking arcade games, Berzerk. Cries of “The humanoid must not escape!” and “Coins detected in pocket!” were an instant draw to this sci-fi action game, which pitted your player against an unending wave of emotionless killers.

Inspired by sci-fi author Fred Saberhagen’s Berzerker stories, the game’s plot had a lone green humanoid stuck in a room with an army of deadly robots. Deadly, but not exactly brilliant. Giving the robots the power of human error, McNeil designed his enemies with the ability to fry themselves on the electrified walls or accidentally blast each other. The walls were also toxic to your humanoid character, who had to run around obstacles and blast away with his eight-directional gun. After clearing the room, the humanoid moved out a side opening and on to the next level.

Executives at Stern wanted to set a time limit on each room, fearing that gamers would just hang out after wiping out the robots. But the game designers had a better idea—Evil Otto. The bouncing yellow smiley face (named after a former co-worker) entered the room if you overstayed your welcome, and his touch was as fatal as the glowing walls. As the game went on, the rooms became trickier, the robots more numerous, and Evil Otto made his entrance earlier and earlier.

Berzerk was the biggest video hit in the history of manufacturer Stern Electronics, selling tens of thousands of units. The popular game even earned its own song, “Goin’ Berzerk,” on Buckner & Garcia’s fondly remembered Pac-Man Fever album. And if the advanced technology and nerve-wracking robot hunt weren’t enough to hold your interest, Berzerk could always pull out its trump card—insulting appeals to your game-playing pride: “Chicken! Fight like a robot!”

A sequel followed in 1983. Titled Frenzy, it added a number of new, smarter robot enemies and a variety of other features. Unfortunately, the game debuted just as the arcade market was going into decline, leading to the tremendous crash of 1984. Stern Electronics went out of the arcade business, and Frenzy never got a chance to prove its own worth.

Arcade Machine Release History

1980 - Berzerk
1983 - Frenzy

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