I, Robotron
by Dave Giarrusso

I was checking out of the grocery store the other day, when, suddenly and out of nowhere, Barbara Walters walked straight up to me, looked me squarely in the eye, and asked me in her Shatner-esque way, “Dave, if you were a video game, what video game would you be?” “Wow, how strange,” I thought, “she knew my name.” Further thinking on my part led me to believe that she must have stolen a glance at my credit card as I was about to pay for my groceries.

I looked up, then down, then up, then down while I thought about it, and finally, now looking Barbara squarely in the eye I responded. “That’s an easy one. Robotron:2084.”
She nodded as if in complete and instantaneous understanding, almost as if that was the answer she knew I would give. As I moved once again to swipe my credit card to pay for my items, she stopped my hand, threw the clerk a fifty and went on her way. “Wow, how strange,” I thought, “those new fifties really do look like phony baloney money. Oh, yeah, and she also paid for my groceries!” A few weeks later, the realization that these events were not very strange at all would hit me like a ton of bricks. You see, everyone out there has played Robotron. Everyone. Okay, maybe not everyone, but certainly, everyone who considers themselves to be an avid video game player. For example, since you, the reader, are a current subscriber of Digital Press, I can say with absolute certainty that you have played Robotron. If you are reading a friend’s copy of this fine fanzine and have not played Robotron, then shame on you! Go out and get your own subscription! Oh, yeah, and go out and find a Robotron machine. In fact, make that your first priority. See, you haven’t lived, I mean really, truly, lived until you’ve played Robotron. It’s the single greatest arcade game of all time. Since Eternity. It really is. As such, it would make sense that Barbara expected me to respond with that answer, therefore, the entire scenario isn’t all that odd, from a certain point of view. After all, many of the truths that we cling to…aah, never mind.

Tracking down this mighty machine shouldn’t prove to be too difficult, even sixteen years after its creation. The difficult part will be wading through all of the players who are crowded around it in a sugar-filled, zombified, hypnotic state anxiously awaiting their turn. Better keep a stack of quarters and an ice cold bottle of Coke or root beer handy. If you can’t manage to hunt down the real deal, a variety of emulators, including the excellent Playstation disc, are available. For the sake of argument and authenticity though, let’s find that actual five foot ten, three hundred pound upright monster. Yeah, that’s the one!

Looks like a simple enough creature. Futuristically lettered backlit marquee indicating that we are, indeed, at the mercy of the mighty Robotron:2084. Control panel? Couple o’ joysticks complete with red ball on top, one to move and one to fire, powerful, straightforward, elegant in its simplicity. Nice slate gray cabinet exterior, with the standard Williams template lettering in bright red. Could this vivid marking be foreshadowing the wild melee contained within this beast. Yes. You’d better believe it. Go ahead. Drop your quarter in. I dare you. I double dare you. Do it. Go on. Now press the start button… Ah, another brave warrior joins our masses.

Robotron is the undisputed king of the arcade that redefined those thrill-a-second games where the odds are overwhelming, the graphics are fantastic, and the foes are deadly. Add to the mix the fact that any clown can drop in a quarter and figure out the objective in three seconds, and not only have you got yourself a winner, you’ve got an instant classic. I don’t like to stand at a machine for longer than eight seconds before I can begin playing it, and if the list of possible moves and combinations of elements is longer than my own rambling banter, then I can’t possibly begin playing quickly enough and I’m outta there. If I wanna read, I’ll pick up a book. Even a lousy one. Or write one. Even a lousy one.

So. No game can really get the adrenaline pumping like Robotron does. You have to think fast and react even faster, and, well, if you choose not to, the length of your entire game will be shorter than the screen time devoted to actual dialogue in “Rambo.” Eugene Jarvis, the mad genius behind the game is what you would want every game designer to be. He’s brilliant, overly and sincerely enthusiastic about his craft, and, well, out of his gourd…lucky for us. Okay, at the risk of breaking my promise not to go over what we all already know about Robotron, I will briefly touch on the story and objective here, in case there are any novice players among us who didn’t run down to the nearest arcade like they should have about ten minutes ago.

It is the future. It’s 2084 AD, to be precise, and, that wacky species, the humans, have somehow managed to engineer a series of robots that are so incredibly intelligent, that they, the Robotrons, have decided to wipe us, the humans, out. These days, you don’t have to be incredibly intelligent to see that perhaps the human species should be wiped out, but, well, hell. We still haven’t managed to invent the Robotrons. Life is so fraught with paradoxes.
Anyway, “you” are the only hope for the human race, and, as such, must run around like a maniac trying to A) destroy all of the Robotrons and B) save all of the remaining humanoids. The humans come in three flavors, “Mommy,” “Daddy,” and of course, little “Mikey.” The Robotrons include the myriad Grunts, the indestructable Hulks, and the inscrutable Brains, Spheroids and Quarks, just to touch on a few. They’ve all gotta go, and it’s either you or them, so get off your butt and get moving. Now that we’re all up to speed on the basics of this fine game, lets just shoot the breeze on why it’s so damn exciting to play.

Of the many facets that make Robotron such an incredibly exciting game to play, one immediately stands out: it simply grabs you by the balls the second you begin playing and doesn’t ever let go. Ever. Well, until your game ends. No, scratch that. Until you run out of quarters. Unless you happen to be a girl person. In that case, it must grab you by some other appendage or appendages, take your pick, and, well, after that, we’re all on the same bus ride of electronic fun. Robotron, like so many of the Williams classic arcade tyrants, starts out on the “pretty difficult” end of the scale and very quickly progresses to “absurdly difficult.” Perhaps not as quickly as Sinistar or Stargate, but certainly more so than Defender or Joust. Or even Blaster, the first person sequel. Anyhoo, it’s tough, and if you’re not up to snuff, you’ll know it after the first few boards. Boy, will you ever know.

Perhaps my best (translation: Dave really is nuts) Robotron anecdote begins with the first Atari 800XL computer game that I bought. Yup, it was Robotron. We had just gotten that top o’ the line computer for Christmas, and, well, while no games came along with it, I quickly remedied that situation, and with a bang, on the day after Santa Claus dropped by. I managed to snatch the last remaining copy of Robotron from a local Hills store, ran home, and played it. And played it. And played it. “Way too cool,” I thought, “Robotron at home, and it even has the dual joystick controlled game play!”

It sure was, and it sure did. The box it came in contained the vacu-molded plastic joystick coupler and once they were in there, you were set. Well, at least, you should have been set. That is, probably, most everyone out there was set. Everyone except me.

See, what I had inadvertently done was, well, I had put the sticks in there backwards. Yeah. Brilliant. Instead of the “move” stick on the left, where it should have been, I put it on the right, where, of course, the “fire” stick should have been. In a related story, I managed to put my Mensa application in the envelope that my phone bill was supposed to be delivered in and vice versa. Mensa would have called me and laughed in my face, but, well, since my phone got turned off as a result of the fact that the phone company received my application to Mensa instead of my phone payment, they just laughed at me through the US mail and informed me that should I ever get the urge to send them another application, I’d have a better chance of winning the state lottery than having them actually read through the thing. Lousy eggheads! Well, no big deal, right? Right??

Wrong. Wrong, sort of. Aside from the purist standpoint of having the joysticks backward like a bozo, I had created a problem that made playing the real deal a very strange ritual. Since I had been playing the game at home so much, and since, as a result, I had not been going to the arcade as often to play it, I unlearned what I had learned and relearned how to play it, but, backwards! Now when I ventured to the arcade to play Robotron, I was forced to play with my hands crisscrossed over one another like some sort of yoga practicing monk of the arcade. Need more wackiness, throw in the fact that I met an extremely cute girl at the arcade one of those days. No, really. There was a girl at the arcade, and, if that wasn’t difficult enough to believe, dammit all, she was a Robotron fanatic! Her name was always up there on top of the high score board, and, guess what – wow, she actually liked me. Well, she did, until we tried to play Robotron. Here’s a pointer for you guys at home: playing Robotron with your hands tangled up on the control panel like you’re trying to mug yourself while simultaneously typing up your college thesis and balancing your checkbook does not impress the chicks. Once she saw that, it was all over. “What the hell is this, some kind of joke?” Yeah. On me. Wanna hear something even funnier? That bizarre method of playing stuck with me for years and years, through Smash TV, through Total Carnage, and up until very, very recently, when I finally managed to make a breakthrough via a combination of the upright Black Widow and the Playstation 2084 emulation. Now, at least the way I’m playing looks “normal,” even if I’m really not.

Some final little miscellaneous revelations concerning Robotron: when you are ticked off at that girl who dumped you because you’re perfect and so forth, you can simply allow all of the female humanoids to get wasted by the Hulks. “Take that, vile woman!” Same goes for anyone else who might be foolish enough to have incurred your wrath, just pick the appropriate character from the three and allow them to meet their maker, or, even push the Hulks into them. Lousy humans! Something interesting that occurred to me the other night as I was playing this masterpiece of a game is that, well, it could really happen. It really could. Man could create some sort of advanced robot that would then turn on the collective “us” because it realized that we are inferior, and then wipe us out. Also, as in real life, the robots, superintelligent as they may be, do reveal their fatal flaw and prove that they were created by an imperfect being. If they’re so brilliant, why are they constantly walking blindly into stationary mines and committing cyber-suicide? I mean, you’d think that such an advanced “race” would be able to skirt right around those flippin’ things. My explanation, and one that really does seem at least relatively plausible, is that they have become so focused on wiping out the inferior human race that the mines are no longer a concern, and, if they should eat electric death while trying to fulfill their plan to convincingly dominate the universe, then so be it. Oh, those wacky robots.

Yeah, a few weeks after the Barbara Walters incident, I realized that the whole incident between her and I was not as strange as I had originally thought. Robotron is just the greatest game ever made, and it always will be. McGwires will continue to beat Marises, Olympic athletes will continue to have their respective records broken, and Titanic will surely give up the top money making spot to the new Star Wars films, but, throughout all of that tempestuous turmoil, one mighty champion will not fall. I proclaim that champion, Robotron:2084. Oh, yeah, and in case you’re interested, another reason I realized that the chance meeting of Ms. Walters was not as strange as I had initially surmised struck about another week after my Robotron epiphany. See, when I got my monthly credit card statement, there were a few extra charges on it that I really didn’t remember ever making. London. Paris. Rome. LA. It turned out that when she stopped my hand from swiping my card through the card machine and tossed the clerk some cash for my groceries, she expertly swiped my card and pocketed it for later use. A word to the wise, if you don’t have the cash, stay the hell outta the grocery store. Save up a couple a bucks, and when you’re done buying your groceries, take the change and hit the arcade. Feed our old friend while you’re there, and I’ll see you ‘round.

Go to Digital Press HQ
Return to Digital Press Home

Last updated: Tuesday, February 13, 2007 05:57 PM