Tag Archives: Atari

Berzerk: The Killer Arcade Game?

So apparently, the classic 80s arcade game, Berzerk can kill people. It’s an urban legend that has been going on for a good few years now. It’s one of many urban legends related to gaming, a bit like the whole Polybius thing, the main difference being that there is no proof that Polybius even existed (it didn’t, it really didn’t). But Berzerk? Yeah it most definitely existed, people played it, lots of people, me included. But has it ever really killed anyone or been the basis for any deaths? Well that is the aim of this article, to explore the urban legend and get to the truth. But before I do get to that, perhaps an explanation as to what Berzerk is and the killer urban legend behind it.

The Game & Urban Legend

Released in 1980, designed and published by Stern Electronics and Atari. Berzerk has you playing as an unnamed human fighting his way though randomly generated mazes overrun with killer robots. The aim is to destroy all robots and move onto the next maze. It was simple enough gameplay, they all were back then. You can’t touch the walls of the maze or you’ll die you can’t touch the robots or you’ll die, you can’t get shot by the robots or you’ll die. The game featured early examples of synthesizer speech during gameplay… oh and it also featured Evil Otto, the source of the urban myth that the game could kill you.

Berzerk Screen

So here we go. Evil Otto is a character in Berzerk who appears when you spend too much time on one maze, deigned to keep you the player moving and the pace of the game high. Evil Otto is the only character in the game who is invincible, so you can’t kill him. He can also move through the walls of the maze, making avoiding him difficult. If you touch him, or more accurately, him you… you die. I mean you die in the game, not in real life. Now the thing about Evil Otto is how cheerful he is. He’s a bright yellow smiley face that bounces around the screen. He’s not scary, he’s a happy chappy. Yet the whole urban legend of Berzerk centres around him. It had been suggested that if you get a high enough score and then get killed in-game by Evil Otto, then you die in real life.

Evil Otto

But is it true? No, of course it’s not. It’s an arcade game, it can’t kill you. But researching this subject has led me down a very interesting path and one I aim to take you down too. I think I’ll need to cover this in three sub-chapters. So here we go, the birth of the Berzerk urban legend and first, it’s most (in)famous kill…

Jeff Daily

Now it has been said that Jeff was the first victim of Berzerk. Often called the ‘666 death’ (here’s a Reddit that covers the death along with mentioning another I’ll cover next). Aged 19, Jeff of Virginia is said to have played the game in his local arcade for many hours where he achieved the high score of 16,660 on the 12th of January of 1981. After playing and getting his high score, it has been reported that Jeff suffered a major heart attack and died right there in the arcade. Several places reported on the Jeff’s now infamous Berzerk death at the time and still mention it today as the first video game known to have been involved in the death of someone. It’s a story that has spread over the years and had been reported on several times by many, many people.

Berzerk Screen 2

But there’s a few things that just don’t add up here. A high score of 16,660 is possible in the game… but it’s not really that high to be honest. Even an average gamer could get a score close to that, a better one could easily obliterate it. So for Jeff Daily to get that score after playing Berzerk (as reported) for many hours and on only one credit too seems unlikely as you could get that kind of score in a few minutes. Plus the 666 in the middle of the score is awfully convenient, not impossible as each robot destroyed in the game gives you 50 points with a bonus of 10 points per robot if all are destroyed in one maze. So with a scoring system like that, a nice round score of 16,660 is mathematically possible, but it’s just very convenient and unlikely to have 666 in the middle when talking about a death related to it.

Then there is another thing I uncovered while researching this story. A Jeff Daily from Virginia did indeed die aged 19 in 1981, that’s true I even looked into it. Using familysearch.org (you need a membership) I found this information…

First Name: Jeffrey
Middle Name: NA
Last Name: Dailey
Name Suffix: NA
Birth Date: 16 January 1962
Social Security Number: 225-94-5973
Place Of Issuance: Virginia
Last Residence: NA
Zip Code Of Last Residence: NA
Death Date: May 1981
Estimated Age At Death: 19

So yeah, there was a Jeff Daily or at least a Jeffrey Dailey aged 19 who died in Virginia just as the urban legend has said for decades now.  But the death date doesn’t match up as Berzerk Jeff Daily was said to have died on the 12th of January, 1981. This Jeffrey Dailey died in May 1981… and this is the only Jeff/Jeffrey Daily/ Dailey from Virginia to die in 1981, I checked and double checked. Oh and Jeffrey Dailey was nowhere near an arcade or Berzerk when he died either, he died in a car crash and is buried in Holly Lawn Cemetery in Suffolk City, Virginia. Again, I checked.

So there is zero evidence to suggest that anyone called Jeff Daily, aged 19 from Virginia died after playing Berzerk. Zero, zilch, nadda, nowt, nothing. I can find nothing to prove the story is true, not even a mention in a local newspaper. So that’s it then, the end of the urban legend with it’s most famous story shot down… only it’s not because at least two people did actually die after playing Berzerk, not fictional made up people with similar names to someone else who died. But real people.

Peter Bukowski

The 3rd of April, 1982, Peter Bukowski aged 18 of South Holland, Illinois went into Friar Tuck’s Game Room to play some video games. Just like most teens caught up in those early days of video games, Peter quickly became a fan. He was instantly drawn to Berzerk and dropped a few coins into the machine. He played a couple of games and got himself a high score too, he put his initials into the game and decided to play another game. Once more, he got a high score and once more he put his initials in. Proud of his gaming achievement, he stepped away from the game, turned around and took a few more steps before collapsing. One of the workers at the arcade rushed over and began to preform CPR while an ambulance was called. Peter was rushed to hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. It was later revealed that Peter Bukowski suffered from a previously undiagnosed heart condition called Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia and he had even suffered a mild, unnoticed heart attack a few weeks previously.

Peter had walked to the arcade after visiting both a couple friends and his girlfriend, a round trip of just over four miles. It had also been snowing which made the walk more difficult. All this excursion is thought to have aggravated his then unknown heart condition. Even friends he was with at the time noticed he was short of breath by the time they all arrived at the arcade. So yeah, that is one death after paying Berzerk, but it wasn’t Evil Otto that killed Peter, it was his unknown heart condition.

Here are a few clippings from various sources who, at time, reported on Peter’s death…

Berzerk Death

Berzerk Death 2

Gaming mag

Edward Clark Jr

Then six years later another Berzerk linked death occurred with a very strange coincidence. It was the 20th of March, 1988 when Edward Clark Jr aged 17 walked into Friar Tuck’s Game Room… the very same arcade that Peter Bukowski was in when he died in 1982. Edward and his friends walked around the arcade looking to find some games to play. They spotted the Berzerk arcade machine… the exact same one that Peter Bukowski played just before he died. Sitting on the cabinet were a few coins that someone seemingly had left there. So Edward took one of the coins and put it into the Berzerk game and played. This was when Pedro Roberts, 16 stepped forward and claimed that the money was his and that Edward now owed him for the coin he had just spent.

Threats were made between the two teens and an argument began before a fight broke out. A staff member had to separate the brawling teenagers and decided to kick them both out to avoid any more trouble. Knowing kicking them both out at the same time would be a bad idea, the staff member told Pedro Roberts to leave first and then waited around ten minuted or so before ordering Edward Clark to leave and telling him to walk the opposite way that Pedro had gone earlier… advice Edward didn’t take.

Edward and his friends walked along the street and though a car park, but they didn’t know that Pedro had been hiding in an alley waiting. As Edward and his friends strolled past, Pedro jumped out from his hiding spot rushed toward his victim and plunged a knife into his chest. Edward Clark was bundled into the back of his friend’s car and driven to the hospital but he died shorty after arrival. Pedro Roberts was convicted of the murder in 1990 and was sentenced to an eleven year prison sentence. I apologise in advance for the poor quality image coming up, it’s the best I could find…

Clark Murder.jpg


Berzerk TShirt

So there you have it, the truth about Berzerk: The Killer Arcade Game. Truth is the game never killed anyone directly. The most famous related death, the one that kick started the whole urban legend didn’t even happen. The other two indirect deaths were linked to a heart condition and a petty fight over a coin. It’s more than safe to play Berzerk, I have many times.

Next in my Halloween special. A look at a supposed film curse

Advertisements

RollerCoaster Tycoon

RollerCoaster TycoonTitle Screen

Little Bit of History:  Released in 1999 for PC – RollerCoaster Tycoon is a construction and management simulation based in numerous theme parks. Designed and programmed by Chris Sawyer.

Little Bit of Plot/Story: No real ‘plot’ to talk of here – you are just given a chunk of land, some cash and the research team to help you develop, design and build your very own theme park. Build rides, attractions, shops and coasters. You can even design and create genre specific scenery and rides, you want a horror, cowboy, space theme along with various others? Well you can  – make enough money and meet mission requirements so you can move onto the next park. You can even download fan made content and parks/rides, some based on world famous attractions from around the world. You can create your very own Disney World.

Little Bit of Character: There are no characters in the game – just random customers who will enter your park looking to be entertained and amused. Though you can rename any of the characters to whatever you like, so you can name your punters after your friends and family… then make then throw up after going on crazy coasters.

RollerCoaster Tycoon

Little Bit of Influence: RollerCoaster Tycoon was not the first game in this genre – but it was the best of the lot (until the sequel). It went on to become a successful franchise with four main games and several spin-offs.

Little Bit of Memories: It was my older brother, Rob who first introduced me to this game and I admit, at the time, I was not too impressed with it. I just found it slow, dull and uninteresting. But the more I played, the more RollerCoaster Tycoon grew on me – as I learned the building mechanic, as I became more familiar with the micro managing – I soon found myself becoming a big fan and before I knew it, I’d sunk hundreds of hours into this game creating some of the most insane theme parks and roller coasters ever created.

Little Bit of Playability: RollerCoaster Tycoon is just as playable now as it was eighteen years ago. I still enjoy losing myself in its charm and deep management gameplay. Though I much prefer RollerCoaster Tycoon 2 over the original, it still holds a special place in my gaming heart. If you like theme parks, roller coasters and games – you’ll not find a better place to quench your thirst than RollerCoaster Tycoon and its sequel… and to a slightly lesser extent the third game – but stop after that, you’ll thank me later.

RollerCoaster Tycoon Box

I love roller coasters and theme parks so much that I have decided to start my own theme park blog; 0 to 4gs. Its early days yet as I’m tinkering with the style, etc – but feel free to check it out – more content coming soon.

“I’m Batman”, Part II

I’m still Batman.

Welcome back to part II of my retrospective look at the Batman games I grew up playing and even still play today.
We left off with one of the all time classic and best NES games, Batman: The Videogame, which was inspired by the Tim Burton film. But the NES game was not the last game based on the movie.

Batman arcade

Batman: This one was an arcade only game released in 1990. Developed by Numega and published by Atari Games.
This was a simple scrolling beat em’ up and featured scenes based on the 1989 movie as well as stages where you use the Batmobile and Batwing. The game also used voices and images taken directly from the movie as well as featuring Danny Elfman’s amazing Batman score.
With you playing as Batman patrolling the streets of Gotham trying to stop The Joker.

The game was shallow and repetitive…but it was also good mindless fun. It’s an arcade game and designed to eat up your loose change.

Batman arcade 2

For a scrolling beat em’ up, this was not a bad one at all. Not a great game, but it was good enough to warrant a play or several. Followed the film fairly closely too and was interspersed with scenes taken directly from the film.

As we leave Tim Burton’s Batman inspired games behind, Sunsoft just could not wait for the next film for their next Batman game.

Batman 2 Nes

Batman: Return of the Joker: The sequel to the NES Batman game that was based on the 1989 film. But this sequel NES game released in 1991 was made before the official Batman Returns movie sequel. (confused yet?)
Again Developed and published by Sunsoft.
There were various versions of this game released on other formats that all slightly differed from version to version, but it’s only the NES one I played.

Joker escapes Arkham Asylum and you playing as Batman having to survive through several side scrolling levels set in and around Gotham City. Batman is only equipped with a “Batgun” that fires various, selectable projectiles.

Batman 2 nes 2

I didn’t find this one as enjoyable as the previous NES Batman game, it just did not have the same feel. This one felt more like a scrolling shoot em’ up. It’s was not a bad game at all…just not as good as the previous one. Still as it was from Sunsoft, you can again expect some great music. Worth a look.

Next up we get an official game based on Tim Burton’s sequel film; Batman Returns.

Batman R

Batman Returns: Again, there were various version of this title. But I’m going for the SNES version for this retrospective as it was really damn good. Released in 1993, developed and published by Konami for the SNES.

Batman Returns was a scrolling beat em’ up with some really great little touches to add a lot of depth to this fairly shallow genre. Massively redundant and mindless…but it was also an awesome and satisfying experience.
Based on the film of the same name from Tim Burton, the game followed the film really well with you playing as Batman having to save Gotham City from Catwoman and the Penguin. The game also featured a stage where you get to use the Batmobile.

Very well received at the time and still fondly remembered as a great title.

Batman R 2

Simple in its style, but full of great little features and details. Like being able to grab 2 henchmen at once and smash their heads together (see above image), or being able to throw enemies into the background smashing windows and denting lampposts, etc. The game followed the film really well and was intercut with amazing cutscenes with written dialogue taken right from the film as well as using Danny Elfman’s infamous Batman score to great effect.
Another thing that I always remember is how you could save Selina Kyle in the game just like in the film…”you missed.”
Well worth playing through if you can.

I’m going to stick with the SNES for my next pick of Batman games, this time based on the animated TV series.

Batman animated

The Adventures of Batman & Robin: Was an action/platformer released in 1994 for the SNES. Developed and published by Konami and based on the critically acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series.

You to play as Batman with Robin only appearing in cutscenes. Each level was based on one of the main villains with a rogues gallery like; The Joker, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face, The Scarecrow, The Riddler, Clayface and even Man-Bat. Each level had it’s own flavour and style based on each of the villains which in turn was based on an episode of the TV show itself.

Batman animated 2

A really great game. Dark, moody and well animated…just like the TV show it was based on. As each level had it’s own villain based aesthetic and style. The game brought a great mix of gameplay styles that offered plenty of variation from simple beat em’ up to head scratching puzzles.

Next I’m going to tackle one of the worst Batman games ever made.

Batman forever

Batman Forever: Was Released in 1995 for the SNES, Sega Mega Drive, Sega Game Gear, Game Boy and PC. Developed by Probe Entertainment and published by Acclaim. Lets be honest, it does not matter which version I talk about as they were all really, really, really bad.

Based on the third film in the Batman series of the same name. This game has you playing as either Batman or Robin, or even Co-Op 2 player…if you can find anyone that would want to play this game.
This was a side scrolling beat em’ up with some of the worst controls ever made in a game. Sluggish combat inspired by Mortal Kombat, awkward gadget selection and usage. Even bad level design with little to no idea of where to go or what to do.

Batman forever 2

I really have nothing to say here. It’s a terrible game and should be avoided at all costs, not even worth playing just for curiosity sake.
Lets move on…

Still, there was more from Batman Forever yet.

Batman forever arcade

Batman Forever: The Arcade Game: Also based on the movie of the same name, but not the same game as the previous version. Developed by Iguana Entertainment, Published by Acclaim and released in 1996. This was an arcade game but later ported to the Sega Saturn, Windows and PlayStation.

This was another one of those redundant scrolling beat em’ ups, but unlike the last Batman Forever game. This one was actually pretty decent. It was another mindless button mashing game and allowed you to play Co-Op as Batman and Robin trying to stop The Riddler and Two-Face.

Batman forever arcade 2

Decent action romp with a pretty good combo system allowing you to do a 150+ hit combo on one enemy if you knew how. Plenty of powerups, weapons and gadgets to use along the way.
It is an inane button masher, but it still has some playability value in there and it’s far, far, far better than that previous Batman Forever game.
Worth a quick look.

So ends part II, but I will return in part III with the next Batman game based on the next Batman film. Same Batwebsite…yeah, I already did that one eh?

btn_donate_LG