Berzerk Information

From: (Tony Miller)
Subject: Re: Arcade Berzerk
Date: Tue, 18 Oct 1994 16:58:48
Organization: ElectriCiti
Lines: 87
Message-ID: <>

Following the Berzerk thread got me to remeniscing, in case anyone is

Lee K. Seitz ( remembers the phrases better than
I do.  I can't think of any he may have missed.  The speech was done using
LPC coding that I believe was invented by T.I., although I remember we
used a National Speech chip in it.  This was when speech and memory was
expensive, so we didn't just digitize sounds and dump them out through a 
DAC.  I remember it cost something like $1000 per word to have the 
compression done, so we tried to come up with a limited vocabulary which
could be rearranged and reused as much as possible.  There was some guy
up in Silicon Gulch who did this stuff for a living - so it is possible to
make money while talking in a monotone.

The original hardware design used a 6809 CPU, until we found out that
the externally clocked version (6809E) didn't work properly.  We had to
hustle to redo the board to run a Z80.  The local Mot rep said he was
going to have the 6809E's designer shot for that, but I don't think that
ever really happened.

Stern's management (in their infinite wisdom) did not foresee that color
video games would take off, so we were 'directed' to develop a monochrome
hardware system.  Then suddenly Defender happened from Williams and we had
to hustle again.  What we did was to come up with a color overlay board which
would map the screen into 4 x 4 or 8 x 8 (I don't remember anymore) pixel
blocks.  If the monochrome frame buffer output was a '1', the color in the 
overlay RAM was used.  Otherwise it was black.  This is why when the rooms
move the walls change color.  We called this board the BSC (Bullsh*t color), 
but the real name was Buffer System, Color.

The frame buffer used refresh spec fallout 4K x 1 DRAMs.  These were cheap
and easy to get at the time because all the manufacturers had problems meeting
the refresh specs.  Since we read out data during all lines, refresh was no 
problem.  This idea was originated on the original Midway monochrome 8080 
based games - Gunfight, Seawolf, etc.

There was no object to the game other than to survive and kill as many robots
as possible.  As the game progressed, the rooms got more intricate and more
any more robots showed up.  You had to kill all the robots before the exit
doors would open. Evil Otto came out faster as the game progressed.

The game was named after the Sci-Fi novel 'Berzerkers' by I believe Fred
Saberhagen.  It's a novel about robots which go Berzerk and kill everybody.
I remember we came up with the name while caught in a traffic jam on Chicago's
Kennedy expressway.

Evil Otto was invented to convince you to leave the room after you killed
all the robots.  Otherwise, people would have a tendency to hang around.  We
wanted to kill you off ASAP so as to get the replay.  By the way, Evil Otto
was named after a guy by the name of Dave Otto, who worked for the company
all of us worked for before joining Stern/URL.  This company did R&D for 
Midway, and was respnsible for the first Midway processor-based games.  We also
worked on the aborted Bally Professional Arcade, one of the first home vid systems.
Otto was the co-owner's gopher.  We used to call him the sherrif, since he
was an ex rent-a-cop and was responsible for security, toilet paper, coffee,

Berzerk was the most popular American-designed video game done by Stern.  I 
think we built somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000.  We would have built more
but we had serious problems with the original joystick - which used opto-
reflector devices.  The joystick was designed to pass the baseball bat test -
smack it with a baseball bat and if it survived we figured that it would last
on location - how wrong we were.  What happened was that the rubber piece that
formed a liquid seal (barf, beer, etc) was gorund down by the action of the 
joystick rubbing against the mounting plates, and the rubber glop coated the 
reflective surface. Another problem was that the surface did not reflect 
directly into to optics, it went off at an angle, so the phototransistor 
didn't see all the light.  It was eventually replaced by a Wico joystick.  
The numbers built were short of what Williams did with Defender which was 
out at the same time.  Defender was definitely a better game.

Frenzy happened because we had some board inventory left over.  We were 
running Astro-invaders (a ripoff of Invaders which we lisenced from a little
known Japanese company - Konami) and it used a different hardware system.
As I recall, the object was to nuke the nuclear reactor - then all the 
robots would go nuts and just walk around instead of going after you -
for a while.

That's all I can remember for now, if anyone is interested I'll talk to some
of the guys who were around at the time (some of us still keep in touch) and
see if there are any other things which might be of interest.

The only reason I remembered the phrases so well is because I have a copy of Pac-Man Fever to keep them in mind. Also, note that the e-mail address quoted for me is no longer valid.

Return to Lee's classic video game info.
Last Modified: 14 Jul 1999