Thursday, January 6, 2011
Second only to Frenzy. Alan McNeil (working for Stern) created Berzerk in 1979, and the cabinet launched nationwide in 1980. Arcade-goers everywhere glared, amazed that the machine demanded the quarters in their pocket. Although a gimmick, the synthesized robotic voices became assimilated into popular culture. "Destroy the humanoid" and "Intruder alert" both enter Hollywood's vocabulary in the '80s and '90s. Many humanoids certainly are not aware that these phrases first originated in Berzerk.
In January 1981 a player died of a heart attack after getting the high score of 16,660 at his local arcade. October 1982: another player dies of a heart attack while playing Berzerk.
Why all the death? Because Berzerk (as I've said before) symbolizes a common human nightmare very well. You run around a hopelessly complicated maze, chased by vague destroyers for irrational reasons. One can play Berzerk, but, eventually, one dies. The player can earn 2 extra lives, but no game will last forever (unless the player exploits a bug). I like Berzerk because it reminds me of death. Like Missile Command, it's a cautionary tale against creating death weapons. The robots in Berzerk talk and think; awful sentience can be seen in Evil Otto's grin. Every game of Berzerk begins with literally impossible odds, yet the human fights and sometimes kills lots of robots before touching the electric walls.
All of this passed into gaming legend and was extensively covered in Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade. Two years later, Stern would release Frenzy, and then port Berzerk to as many systems as possible.
Although Berzerk is well known among arcade gamers, it remains relatively overlooked in the mainstream outside of its few cultural remnants ("Goin' Berzerk" and a Futurama cameo come to mind). The series was never successfully updated. Stern stopped making games.