|System(s)||Arcade, Atari 2600, Atari 8-bit, Atari 5200, Vectrex|
Berzerk is a very simple game of kill or be killed. Even by 1980 standards it was a simple game, but its simplicity was probably the feature that made it most successful. The game's designer, Alan McNeil, had a dream one night involving a black-and-white video game in which he had to fight robots. This dream was the basis for Berzerk. The idea for a black-and-white game was abandoned when the color game Defender was released earlier that same year. The title of the game comes from the series of books called 'The Berzerker Stories' by Fred Saberhagen. It's a novel about robots which go Berzerk and kill everybody.
Berzerk is the first robot killing game but the big selling point of Berzerk was speech. It was the first game to feature talking enemies, with the speech compressed for the game at a cost of roughly $1000 per word. If you left a room without killing them all, the survivors would taunt you in their robotic voices : "Chicken! Fight like a robot!" or simply "Chicken". The A.I. for the robots was naturally unsophisticated. Your robot opponents often fell foul of slapstick misfortune, shooting each other or walking into walls and exploding in their attempts to kill you. "Evil Otto" was named for "Dave Otto", who worked for Dave Nutting's Arcade Engineering group as R & D director at the time Alan McNeil did. "Evil Otto" is considered one of the most intimidating video game villains of all time, resembling a bouncing smiley face.
Berzerk was Stern's first major video game success, and it was followed up with a sequel called Frenzy. Atari bought the rights to bring the game to their popular home systems, the Atari 2600 and the Atari 5200, with a version planned for the Atari 8-bit line of computers but ultimately never commercially released (it was leaked to the public early on). Because of the simplicity of the game, Berzerk is considered one of the most accurate and faithful conversions to the 2600 that Atari ever made. While clones were developed for many other systems, Berzerk saw one other surprising official release, appearing on the vector graphics based Vectrex home video game system. Despite the difference between the display of the arcade and the display employed by the Vectrex, the conversion was well made. The game also served as an inspiration for later, more sophisticated maze games such as Castle Wolfenstein, Shamus, and Robotron: 2084.
The story of Berzerk is a bit chilling. As the player of the game, you are forced to wander forever in a maze full of enemy robots, destroying as many as you can and moving from room to room until the robots ultimately defeat you. There is no escape, only the will to live.