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Feature: The History of Robotron: 2084 - Running Away While Defending Humanoids

In the Gamasutra-exclusive bonus excerpt from Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton's new book Vintage Games, we examine classic twin-stick arcade shooter Robotron: 2084
In the latest in a series of Gamasutra-exclusive bonus material originally to be included in Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton's new book Vintage Games, we examine classic twin-stick arcade shooter Robotron: 2084 and the sub-genre of frantic games it birthed. Robotron: 2084 was an arcade game developed by Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar at Vid Kidz and released by Williams Electronics in 1982, and the historians say it "is without doubt one of the most difficult games ever to grace the arcades." Loguidice and Barton explain: In terms of sheer physical and mental challenge, it is second only to the popular Defender and direct sequel, Stargate, whose history and development are detailed in bonus chapter, "Defender (1980): The Joys of Difficult Games." Indeed, it repurposed the technology found in those games, offering a graphical style, sound effects, pacing, and difficulty familiar to fans of these earlier titles. What makes Robotron stand out from its predecessors, however, is its concrete gameplay and innovative control scheme. Unlike Defender, where the player pilots a spaceship across an abstract, scrolling planet, Robotron is more down-to-Earth, putting the player in the shoes of an avatar whose movement is limited by the edges of a single screen. The player is tasked with the grim, desperate, and ultimately futile task of saving the last family of Humanoids. Particular to the game was its special ambidexterous control scheme, which was also relevant to ideas of balance at the core of the gameplay: The result was that Robotron was one of the very first, all-out, nonstop action games that truly resonated with the general public. Though unforgiving in its intensity and requiring an almost Zen-like state-of-mind to rack up a respectable score, the game was perhaps the first evolution of that elusive "perfect" twitch game, an all-you-can-kill buffet. The nonstop action and wave after wave of enemies were balanced by the basic human need to nurture, in the form of rescuing the Humanoids. It perhaps speaks even more pointedly to the human condition that death is inevitable and unavoidable, as in the arcade classic nuclear missile defense game, Missile Command (Atari, 1980). The full chapter excerpt is now available at Gamasutra (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from other websites).

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