Battlezone (1980 video game)

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For articles with similar titles, see Battle zone (disambiguation).
Promotional arcade poster
Developer(s) Atari
Publisher(s) Atari
Designer(s) Ed Rotberg
Owen Rubin (exploding volcano)
Roger Hector (tank & enemy graphics)
Platform(s) Arcade
Release date(s) Arcade
November 1980
Atari 2600
Genre(s) Combat simulation, Vehicular combat
Mode(s) Single player
Cabinet Standard, Horizontal
CPU 6502
Sound POKEY and discrete circuits
Display Horizontal orientation, Vector monitor (b&w) with color overlay

Battlezone is an arcade game from Atari released in November 1980.[1] It displays a wireframe view (using vector graphics rather than raster graphics) on a horizontal black and white (with green and red sectioned color overlay) vector monitor. Due to its novel gameplay and look, this game was very popular for many years.


The vector technique is similar to the visuals of games such as Asteroids. The game was designed by Ed Rotberg, who designed many games for Atari Inc., Atari Games, and Sente.

A version called The Bradley Trainer (also known as Army Battlezone or Military Battlezone) was also designed for use by the U.S. Army as targeting training for gunners on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.[2] Approaching Atari in December 1980, some developers within Atari refused to work on the project because of its association with the Army,[3] most notably original Battlezone programmer Ed Rotberg.[4] Rotberg only came on board after he was promised by management that he would never be asked to do anything with the military in the future.[5] Only two were produced; one was delivered to the Army and is presumed lost, and the other is in the private collection of Scott Evans,[6][7] who found it by a dumpster in the rear parking lot at Midway Games. The gunner yoke was based on the Bradley Fighting Vehicle control and was later re-used in the popular Star Wars game.[5] The Bradley Trainer differs dramatically from the original Battlezone as it features helicopters, missiles, and machine guns; furthermore, the actual tank does not move—the guns simply rotate.

Also, one cocktail version of Battlezone was developed as a prototype. This is also in a private collection.

Because of its use of first-person pseudo 3D graphics combined with an actual "viewing goggle" that the player puts his face into, Battlezone is widely considered the first virtual reality arcade game.[8] Likewise, The Bradley Trainer is considered the first VR training device used by the U.S. Army.[citation needed]


A standard enemy tank in the player's sights in the military training version The Bradley Trainer.

Gameplay is on a plane with a mountainous horizon featuring a memorable erupting volcano, distant crescent moon, and various geometric solids (in vector outline) like pyramids and blocks. The player views the screen, which includes an overhead radar view to find and destroy the rather slow tanks, or the faster moving supertanks. Saucer-shaped UFOs and guided missiles occasionally appear for a bonus opportunity. The saucers differ from the tanks in that they do not fire upon the player, and do not appear on radar. The player can hide behind the solids or maneuver in rapid turns once fired on to buy time with which to fire himself. Common play in the US could run from 25 cents to a dollar per game, depending on machine setting. The typical setting is for 25 cent play, with three tanks.

A standard enemy tank is worth 1,000 points, a supertank 3,000 points, and the flying saucer 5,000 points. The guided missile is worth 2,000 points when destroyed. Each of these targets can be destroyed with a single shot from the player's tank. An extra life is awarded when the player's score reaches 15,000 points, and a further tank is then awarded at 100,000 points. No additional tanks are awarded until the score counter rolls over at ten million, and additional bonus tanks are again awarded at indicated scores of 15,000 and 100,000. The game only includes one hostile enemy on the game board at all times; the player never has to battle two enemy tanks at once, or a tank and guided missile. The UFO can appear on the screen at the same time as an enemy tank, and it can occasionally be destroyed by enemy fire.

The geometric solid obstacles are indestructible, and can block the movement of a player's tank. However, they are also useful as shields as they block enemy fire as well.

There was a bug in some machines which caused very high phony scores into the seven digits to be posted (after a player would enter his initials). Good players could actually reach this level after an hour or two of play.

The music heard in the high score initials prompt is from Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.[9]


There was a persistent rumor/myth that one could actually drive to the erupting volcano in the background, up the side, into the crater and discover a castle inside. This was false, but plans to include such a feature in future versions were inspired by this myth.[10] A similar rumor insisted if one kept driving in the same direction for at least an hour without dying, one would eventually reach the mountains and see a "tank factory" pumping out enemy tanks. Others involved the UFO, including one in which a mothership would attack after a set number of UFOs were destroyed.


The cabinet of this arcade version of Battlezone has a "periscope" and two joysticks, for controlling the movement of the player's tank.

Battlezone was housed in a standard upright arcade cabinet with a novel "periscope" viewfinder which the player used to view the game. The game action could also be viewed from the sides of the viewfinder for spectators to watch. A later, less common version of the cabinet removed the periscope to improve visibility to non-players and improve the ergonomics for players who could not reach the periscope. This modification also was welcomed by some operators, who felt that the small windows present in the "periscoped" version did not attract enough attention to the game when played.

A smaller version of the cabinet (known as a "cabaret cabinet") also existed with the screen angled upwards, and no periscope. A cocktail table version was tested as a prototype but not produced; it lacked the color overlays as the display would have to flip for opposing players.

The controls consisted of left and right joysticks, which could only be moved in the Y (vertical) axis, each controlling the treads on that side of the player's tank. One joystick contained a button used to fire projectiles at enemy targets.

Ports and clones[edit]


An upright cabinet

Throughout the 1980s, Battlezone was ported to several home computer systems (usually on the Atarisoft label), including DOS, the Apple II, the Commodore 64, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and the Atari XEGS. The Atari ST port contains large parts of the original 6502 code which is emulated in real time.[11]

An Atari 2600 port was also released, but has colored raster graphics due to limitations and the view is behind the tank rather than inside it.

A Game Boy port was made including a port of Breakout.

An Atari 5200 port was in the works, scheduled for release in November 1983, but was cancelled.[12]

The Atari Lynx had the deluxe port Battlezone 2000 (within that version is a hidden game with scaled sprites instead of vector graphics).

Battlezone was included in Microsoft Arcade.

On April 16, 2008 an updated port of Battlezone was released on Xbox Live Arcade. The game was developed by Stainless Games and published by Atari Inc.. It features 1080i graphics, Dolby 5.1 audio and an online mode to play against 2 - 4 friends in Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes, and incorporates Xbox Live Vision support.[13] This version received an ESRB: E (Everyone) rating.

Battlezone was also re-released to Microsoft's Game Room download service for the Xbox 360 and Windows-based PCs in May 2010.

In July, 2013, Rebellion bought the Battlezone franchise from the Atari bankruptcy proceedings.[14]


A Battlezone-inspired game named Stellar 7 was released on several home computer platforms in the 1980s. Its sequel, Nova 9, was later released on the Amiga and DOS by Sierra Online. Stellar 7 has a number of features which were to be in the never-released Battlezone II or Battlezone Deluxe by Atari, including a variety of enemies and multiple enemies on the field at once.

In the mid-1980s, Electronic Arts released a similar game named Arcticfox for several platforms, with multiple enemies on the field at once like Stellar 7, but with a varied landscape of mountains and valleys and crevasses to traverse, and other features not found in Battlezone.

A game by the name of Robot Tank was released by Activision in 1983 for the Atari 2600, and was very similar to the Atari 2600 version of Battlezone.

A Battlezone clone named 3D Tank Zone was released on the Acorn Electron and BBC Micro in 1983 by Dynabyte.

A Battlezone clone named 3D Tank Duel was released on the Sinclair Spectrum in 1984 by Realtime Games Software, shortly before the Atari-authorized version was released by Quicksilva.

A clone of Battlezone for DOS called "bzone.exe" circulated through the BBS community in the 1980s.

The TRS-80 Color Computer clone is called Rommel 3D and was released in 1985.

A Battlezone clone for Apollo Domain/OS called bzone was written by Justin S. Revenaugh in 1986 and re-written for the X Window System by Todd Mummert in 1990. The X Window System version, cbzone, differed from the original arcade version in that the player could be attacked by more than one enemy tank at the same time. This version of the game was also ported to the Macintosh in the 1990s and was included in the UMich software archive.[15]

Another clone from Design Design software called Tank Busters[16] was released in the mid-80s for the Amstrad CPC.

The 1991 Macintosh tank game Spectre and its sequels such as Spectre VR owed much to Battlezone for their gameplay and appearance.

The SGI workstations had a Battlezone derived game in the early 1990s called BZ which added network play.[17] BZ also had guided missiles, where the player would fly the missile after launch, returning to the tank on impact.

Activision, the video game publishing giant, released a game for Microsoft Windows inspired by and named Battlezone in 1998. Aside from the name, however, the game bears little resemblance to the original arcade game.

A "re-imagining" of Battlezone was developed by Paradigm Entertainment and released for the PlayStation Portable.[18]

A similar game, Tank Hunter, has been available in recent years for online play only.

A Java version was written in "1996 as a challenge to write BattleZone, the once well-known Atari arcade game, in 24 hours," according to the Cyberdyne Systems web site.[19]

The Java version can be played online. Reportedly, since Java programming downloads the .jar zip file to the client computer, all that is needed to play the Cyberdyne version is to visit the website, and after playing the game online, search the client computer for the zip file. It can then be used to play the game offline, in the classic single player mode.

CMGResearch developed another modern version, "Tanks!" (Palm Pre/Pixie) or "Tanks! Mayhem" (iOS). "Tanks!" is a deliberate homage to and update of the original Battlezone which features wire-frame raster graphics and a flat playing field. The obstacles include yurt-like huts which are indestructible, and pine trees which are destructible. Computer-enemies include one class of tanks and helicopters. Available power-ups include shields, cloaking devices, healing, depleted uranium rounds, and homing missiles. Local network play is supported among multiple players.

High score[edit]

On August 30, 1985, David Palmer, of Auburn, California[20] scored a world record 23,000,000 points while playing at The Game Room arcade in Citrus Heights, California. This game took 23 hours, at the end of which he quit with four tanks still left. On June 28, 1985, Palmer achieved a score of 10,000,000 in the 1985 Video Game Masters Tournament, the score from which was subsequently published in the 1986 and 1987 Guinness Book of World Records (he quit at that score, after ten hours of play and without losing a single tank, because of time limitations in the tournament and his desire to compete on other games).

Palmer also holds world records in a number of other first-person simulator-type games, namely Red Baron, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Star Rider, Firefox, SubRoc-3D and TX-1.[21]

Popular culture[edit]

  • In Wreck-It Ralph, Battlezone was among the video games that are seen at Litwak's Family Fun Center & Arcade.
  • In Girls Und Panzer, the game was played by the main characters on an outing to a tank shop.

See also[edit]

  • Battlezone, a 3D remake from 1998 which changed the game from an arcade game to a more complicated tank piloting strategy game.
  • Battlezone II: Combat Commander, another sequel to Battlezone released by Pandemic Studios in 1999.
  • Red Baron, a pseudo-sequel to Battlezone released by Atari in 1980, which uses much of the Battlezone hardware.
  • Tanarus, a game released in 1997
  • BZFlag, an open source computer game based on Battlezone gameplay.
  • X, a similar tank-based combat game with vector graphics for the Game Boy
  • Stellar 7, a home computer game inspired by Battlezone


  1. ^ "Production Numbers". Atari. 1999. Retrieved 19 March 2012. 
  2. ^ "". Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  3. ^ Jung, Robert. "The Army Battlezone Q & A". Archived from the original on 31 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-17. [dead link]
  4. ^ Hague, James. "Halcyon Days: Ed Rotberg". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  5. ^ a b Kent, Steven L. (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games. Prima Publishing. pp. 153–155. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4. 
  6. ^ Evans, Scott. "Bradley Trainer". Retrieved 2007-09-17. 
  7. ^ "MAWS Bradley Trainer ROM set info". Archived from the original on 16 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-09. [dead link]
  8. ^ Dan Harries (2002). The New Media Book. British Film Institute. 
  9. ^ International Arcade Museum
  10. ^ About Battlezone from Rec Room Amusements
  11. ^
  12. ^ Reichert, Matt. "Battlezone". Retrieved 2007-07-05. 
  13. ^ "Xbox – Battlezone Game Detail Page". [dead link]
  14. ^
  15. ^ "/mac/game/war/00index.txt". 
  16. ^ "home-computing-gaming-heroes-design.html". 
  17. ^ BZ(6D)
  18. ^ Dobson, Jason (May 4, 2006). "Pre-E3: Battlezone Re-imagined, Charlotte's Web, Codemasters Finds Bliss". Gamasutra. Retrieved 2010-01-29. 
  19. ^ Battlezone in 32 hrs
  20. ^ 1986 Guinness Book of World Records
  21. ^ "Twin Galaxies' Career Page on David Palmer". Retrieved 2009-03-22. [dead link]

External links[edit]

Battlezone guide at StrategyWiki