Hello and welcome! My name is Katosepe and I’ll be your host for today’s Video Game of the Day.
There’s something special about being in a darkened room, standing in front of the soft glow of an arcade machine. The beeps of the game sounding around you and maybe, just maybe, you even get some synthesized voice effects from the game. The words of encouragement or, more likely, the taunts of the game pushing you ever onward. Today’s game is one that perfectly captures that arcade magic. Today’s game is Berzerk, developed by Stern Electronics and released in arcades in 1980.
Berzerk would be best described today as a top-down shooter, with players taking the joystick to move their stick figure and using the single button to shoot straight ahead. Each screen is filled with attack robots that can be destroyed by shooting them but players have to be careful not to be shot themselves. Each robot destroyed gets 50 points with an added bonus for clearing out an entire screen. The player can escape the room, whether or not the robots are all destroyed, by exiting through the far side of the screen.
If players take too long on any one screen, they will be met with Evil Otto, a flashing smiley face that chases the player relentlessly until the player either leaves that screen or is caught and dies. Evil Otto cannot be destroyed and can run through walls so players have to be quick once he appears on screen. Players continue playing until they get shot by a robot, touch any of the walls or get caught by Evil Otto. Lose every life and it’s game over.
We’ve previously talked about the arcade game Gorf being one of the first arcade games with digitized speech but Berzerk actually predated that game by a year, containing thirty English words that are actually quite understandable, unlike some other games of the time. It’s estimated that this cost developers upwards of $30,000 to implement. Berzerk is also known as the first game blamed for the real-life death of a player. Two players, Jeff Dailey and Peter Berkowski were reported to have died of heart attacks shortly after playing the game, with Jeff receiving the ominous score of 16,660. Later investigations have found that only Peter Berkowski’s story actually occurred and that he had a previously undiagnosed heart condition which contributed to his death. Still, these urban legends have added to Berzerk’s fame over the years.
Berzerk was well received by fans at the time with Evil Otto being especially memorable. Something about a flashing smiley face chasing down the player, threatening to end their high score run has proven to be intimidating to this day. Berzerk was ported to the Atari 2600 and the 5200 although only the 5200 version contains the voice effects. Berzerk received a sequel, Frenzy, that never quite achieved the same heights as Berzerk but was fun in it’s own right. Berzerk continues to have a high-score seeking fanbase to this day.
Thank you so much for listening and a big thank you to our new partner on the show, Old School Gamer Magazine, a physical and digital magazine for retro gamers. You can get their digital magazine completely free by going to https://oldschoolgamer.com/day. That’s https://oldschoolgamer.com/day. You can also follow me on Twitter @vg_oftheday. Don’t forget to check back here tomorrow for another Video Game of the Day.
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