Prior to games like 1983's Crystal Castles, most arcade games with a single-player or cooperative multiplayer style were technically endless, not including any sort of actual "ending". If you think about that from a storytelling perspective, that means that many of the most iconic "Golden Age" arcade games always had "bad endings". In Space Invaders, the aliens successfully invade Earth. In Pac-Man, our titular hero will succumb to the ghosts. And in Missile Command... Everything you fought to protect is reduced to rubble. Sure, many of these games didn't actually go on forever, as integer overflow would result in a stage/screen that effectively forced the end of the game, but even those weren't exactly "good endings"; they were called "kill screens" for a reason. Of course, very few arcade games of the time were actually designed with this storytelling concept in mind; the designers were just thinking of fun ways to get people to keep pumping change into a machine. Still, I feel that one the arcade classics of this time to truly nail that feeling of helplessness, that all your efforts are truly for naught since you'll eventually lose in the end, is Stern Electronics' Berzerk, which turns 40 this year.
|Man, Atari 2600 artwork was just amazing.|
By 1980, Stern Electronics was known solely for its pinball machines, but decided to expand into arcade video games after seeing that market expand, due to the success of Space Invaders. While it'd mainly be responsible for being the American home for many of Konami's early arcade games (Scramble, Amidar, Super Cobra, etc.), the company also had its own division for creating games, called Universal Research Laboratories. One of the employees of URL was a man named Alan McNeil, who one night had a dream about a video game in which he had to fight a never-ending barrage of robots. With that inspiration in mind, McNeil got started on development, though the original intention for it to be a black-&-white game was eventually replaced with color; only the earliest versions of the game used B&W monitors, but with a color overlay on top. When it came time to give this game a name, McNeil had a fitting inspiration: Berserker, a series of science fiction novels by Fred Saberhagen about a never-ending robot menace that aimed to kill all life. Come late 1980 (a Stern production note says November 12), Berzerk was unleashed to the general public, so let's take a look at the game, some of its ports, its lesser-known sequel, & the legacy it's left behind.