Williams - 1982
Generation: 2 but has be reinvented many times since.
Machine: Arcade, and many others
Genre: Character Shooter
Amongst old-school gamers, Robotron usually comes top of the list of All Time Great Arcade Machines. The game originated from the same team that designed the sublime Defender, and where that allowed scrolling screen action, Robotron drops you back onto a single screen, confined and surrounded by TONS of baddies. The general idea is to clear the screen of these marauding baddies ('robotrons'), then you progress onto another screen (classed as a 'wave') which you then have to clear... and so on. In addition to surviving each onslaught, you have to try and rescue a 'family' of humans that wander around the screen aimlessly... they are under threat and, in a cruel twist, if you’re not careful they can be mutated into part of the robotron hoard.. All you need to do is to touch one of the humans to save them (but at what cost?) It usually means wading through millions of robotrons to perform your rescue...
There are quite a few different sorts of robotrons, each having their own pattern of attack. Some of the robotrons create other sorts of enemies, which move on after you and cause more havoc. Remember: these baddies are all tough, and even hardened veterans of this game shudder if you mention Brain Robotrons or Tank Robotrons... There are 255 waves in all... 255 because the 8 bit technology that the arcade machine employed couldn't count up to 256... so when you move on from wave 255, you start again at zero. Be warned: the same applies to the number of lives you pick up... roll over 255 and you start again... Harsh. But then again, most of us will never be good enough to discovers these little design quirks.
Robotron has a unique control system using two joysticks: one stick controls your movement, the other stick controls the direction in which you fire... very novel but tricky to get the hang of... however, once you've got your head around it, you'll appreciate the genius.
This game was probably Williams' greatest hit, and people still play the original version today... There are misty eyed masters of the game who talk about mammoth 6 hour sessions and their dream of reaching a score of 100 million points... these people are utterly insane, but who can really fault them? Great pianists and violinists are insane too.
Robotron spawned at least two updates, one by Williams and one by an eccentric hippy called Jeff. In Smash TV (Williams, 1990) you played a contestant in a Running Man-esque game show... You competed for prize money and things like toasters and washing machines (this is a game show, after all.) Like Robotron, you basically had to mow down various baddies who stood in your way, all of whom brandished nasty looking weapons. The update introduced noticeable differences, with a more modern video game structure (ie End of level of bosses, power-ups, secret levels etc.) Smash TV even had the added bonus of humour and (gasp) a touch of satire...The graphics were snazzier, and there is a pleasing amount of blood. Williams had also added another pair of joysticks, so you could enjoy two player action! Despite these changes, the immediate game play fix of Robotron was still present and Williams scored another success with a re-mix of their biggest hit. One of the most popular aspects of Smash TV was that the adults that had been masters of Robotron could now show off that they too were capable of playing video games... it also introduced punk kids to the delights of Robotron.
Llamatron (Llamasoft 1992), meanwhile, was one of the first shareware hits to appear on the 16 bit home computers. Designed by Jeff Minter, this was pretty faithful to the original Robotron. This time the heroes are Llamas and sheep, but the action is no less exciting... Like Smash TV it contained further improvements without spoiling the Robotron backbone. There was quite a lot of humour in Llamatron, and Minter made sure that there were lots of mad sounds and visuals to keep things engaging, just in case you were finding things too easy.
All in all Robotron must stand as one of the most influential video games of all time. It still continues to pop-up in different guises (check out pompom.org for a graphically spectacular version) and it's attraction is obvious: it has pure game play, and provides a relentless, exciting and intense experience. Although there were great games before it (Space Invaders, Asteroids, Defender etc) this was the first game that seemed to really understand what great, addictive game play was all about. The game's designer (Eugene Jarvis) revealed in the fact that he didn't need to spend time worrying about Robotron’s graphics. He just spent all of his time on the game play, endlessly tweaking and refining it until he reached the gaming perfection that is Robotron.
Bubbaray 30 May '03
Play online - In the official Midway online arcade.
Have You Played Robotron Today? - A great little fan page.