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Cover art
Developer(s) Dan Gorlin
Publisher(s) Brøderbund
Ariolasoft (for European Commodore 64 version)
Atari, Inc. (Atari 5200 version)
Atari Corp. (Atari 7800 and XEGS versions)
Sega (1985 arcade version)
Designer(s) Dan Gorlin
Engine Custom
Platform(s) Apple II, Arcade, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Atari 8-bit family, ColecoVision, Commodore 64, Commodore VIC-20, MSX, NES, Sega Master System, Fujitsu FM-7
Release date(s) 1982
Genre(s) Shoot 'em up
Mode(s) Single-player

Choplifter (stylized as Choplifter!) is a 1982 Apple II game developed by Dan Gorlin and published by Brøderbund. It was ported to other home computers and, in 1985, Sega released a coin-operated arcade game remake, which in turn received several home ports of its own. While many arcade games have been ported to home computers and consumer consoles, Choplifter was one of the few games to take the reverse route: first appearing on a home system and being ported to the arcade.


The title screen of the Apple II game Choplifter

In Choplifter, the player assumes the role of a combat helicopter pilot. The player attempts to save hostages being held in prisoner of war camps in territory ruled by the evil Bungeling Empire. The player must collect the hostages and transport them safely to the nearby friendly base, all the while fighting off hostile tanks and other enemy combatants. According to the backstory, the helicopter parts were smuggled into the country described as "mail sorting equipment."

Although the Iran hostage crisis ended the year before the game was released, Gorlin has stated "the tie-in with current events was something that never really crossed my mind until we published."[1]


Choplifter was developed in six months. After Gorlin began experimenting with animating a helicopter on the Apple II, he added scenery, tanks, and planes, with the hostages last. He stated that as "A story developed ... movie camera techniques seemed appropriate", including the final message be "The End" instead of "Game Over". Gorlin's first demonstration to Broderbund was "too realistic, too much a helicopter simulation", and the company helped him make it easier to fly.[2] The original Choplifter art (not shown) for the Broderbund Commodore 64 release was produced by Marc Ericksen, who created the art for Broderbund's original first five covers.


The helicopter (named "Hawk-Z" in the Master System version manual) can face three directions: left, right, or forward (facing the player). It may shoot at enemies in any of these directions and need not fly in the same direction it is facing. The forward-facing mode is used primarily to shoot tanks. Care must also be taken to both protect the hostages from enemy fire and not accidentally shoot them oneself.

The player rescues the prisoners by first shooting one of the hostage buildings to release them, landing to allow the prisoners to board the sortie, and returning them to the player's starting point. Each building holds 16 hostages, and 16 passengers can be carried at a time, so several trips must be made. When the chopper is full, no more hostages will attempt to board; they will wave the helicopter off and wait (hopefully) for its return. Usually, each trip back is more risky than the previous one since the enemy is alerted and has deployed a counter-attack.

If the player lands directly on top of a hostage, or completely blocks the building exit, the hostage(s) will be killed. In the Apple II and Atari 7800 versions, hostages will also die if the vehicle is not landed correctly (it is slightly tilted), being crushed as they attempt to board the chopper. While grounded, the helicopter may be attacked by enemy tanks, which it can shoot at only by returning to the air. Also, the enemy scrambles jet fighters which can attack the vehicle in the air with air-to-air missiles or on the ground with bombs.


Tanks and a jet target the helicopter while hostages flee a burning building in the original Apple II game.

Choplifter was ported to many other home systems of the era. These versions were ports of the original Apple II game, not the later arcade version. These systems include the Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Atari 8-bit family (and a graphically updated version for the Atari XEGS), ColecoVision, Commodore 64, Commodore VIC-20 and MSX. German publisher Ariolasoft published the European Commodore 64 version.

In 1985, Sega, looking for properties marketable in the west, produced remakes of Choplifter and Pitfall II on their System 8 hardware. Sega's version added scoring elements, music, a fuel gauge, and several new environments including a naval battle, a cave, and futuristic city. This version was also notable at the time for its heavy use of parallax scrolling.[3]

In 1986, ports of the arcade version back to home versions were developed for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System. These versions include some gameplay and scoring changes of their own, but use the environments, music, and approximate scoreplay of the arcade remake. The arcade version is listed in the Killer List of Videogames Top 100 and one of the four best games in 1985.

On 17 June 2009, inXile Entertainment announced it was working on a remake of the classic game for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and Windows.[4] This game is entitled Choplifter HD and was released on January 11, 2012.

Version history
System Year of release
Apple II 1982
Atari 5200 1982
Atari 7800 1987
Atari 8-bit 1982
Atari XEGS 1988
ColecoVision 1984
Commodore 64 1982
Commodore VIC-20 1982
NES 1986
SEGA Master 1986
MSX 1985
Arcade 1985

Version differences[edit]

In the original Apple II game, play continues until all three helicopters are destroyed or all prisoners are either rescued or killed. There is no scoring system other than the counters at the top of the screen, which indicate how many of the 64 total hostages have been killed (red), how many are on board the helicopter (blue), and how many have been rescued (green). The best possible result is to rescue all the hostages, for which the game will award you a triple crown, Brøderbund's emblem. The Commodore 64 version is the same.

In the arcade version, a point system is used, giving points for enemies killed and hostages rescued. Furthermore, the arcade version has only eight hostages per building rather than 16. In order to move from one level to the next, the player must rescue at least 20 hostages (40 in the Sega Master System version). The arcade version also forces the player to restart a level if too many hostages are killed, but does not restore any helicopters lost. (In the Sega Master System version, this automatically ends the current game in progress.) Another difference in the arcade version is the addition of a fuel meter. This was essentially a time limit because there was only one way to replenish the meter—saving hostages.

The original game provides a safe zone around the player's launch area where the player was largely free from attack. A fence indicates the border between friendly and enemy territory. While the fence is still present in the arcade version, enemy jets will pursue the player's helicopter all the way to his landing pad.

In the original game, a new enemy is added with each trip the player makes. First, the player faces only tanks which are limited to attacking only when the helicopter has landed or is extremely close to the ground. The next trip introduces jet fighters that shoot missiles at the helicopter in the air and bomb it when it's on the ground. The last enemies are "air mines" which attempt to collide with the player's helicopter, and which on the fourth trip gain the ability to shoot. The arcade game has a larger variety of enemies which vary more according to each level's landscape rather than the number of trips the player has made. The most significant of these are anti-aircraft guns which make the arcade version much harder than the original. It retains the tanks and jet fighters, but does not include air mines which follow the player's helicopter. The arcade version also gives the ability, once the helicopter is shot down and while it is falling in flames, to make the hostages jump with parachutes by repeatedly pressing the 'turn' button, these hostages can be rescued again in subsequent sorties and will not count as dead hostages.

The original Apple version (and perhaps other platforms) allows the player to use the helicopter to lead hostages back to base on foot, but the game does not count such rescues. Without all hostages accounted for as either dead or rescued, the game will never end short of the destruction of all of the player's helicopters.

Reception and legacy[edit]

Softline in 1982 called the game "what may well be the first Interactive Computer-Assisted Animated Movie. A fusion of arcade gaming, simulation, and filmic visual aesthetics, Choplifter is destined to occupy a place in the software Hall of Fame". The magazine praised the animation and the helicopter's "subtle flight control", and concluded that seeing the hostages' "hope and excitement, their faith in you" made the game "hard to play. It hurts to see one of those lively people killed".[2] In 1983 its readers named Choplifter fourth on the magazine's Top Thirty list of Atari 8-bit programs by popularity.[5] BYTE called Choplifter "great fun",[6] and Computer Gaming World highly praised the graphics and animation.[7] The Apple II version of the game received a Certificate of Merit in the category of "Best Computer Audiovisual Effects" at the 4th annual Arkie Awards,[8]:33 and shortly afterward Billboard named it Computer Game of the Year.[9] The Addison-Wesley Book of Atari Software 1984 gave the game an overall A+ rating, calling it "a masterpiece". The book concluded that "the concept, graphics, and animation make this a delightful game".[10]

II Computing listed Choplifter seventh on the magazine's list of top Apple II games as of late 1985, based on sales and market-share data.[11] It had two sequels:

Sega also released a pair of spiritual successors without the Choplifter brand:

On the Commodore 64 and the MSX, games related to Choplifter were Lode Runner and Raid on Bungeling Bay, all three games featuring the fictional Bungeling Empire.

The world record holder, as listed by the 1987 Guinness Book of World Records, is Charles Collins of Madison, WI., with a score of 1,781,000.[12]

In popular culture[edit]

  • Choplifter is played by U.S. submarine crew members in Tom Clancy's book The Hunt for Red October, and the Sonar man aboard the USS Dallas, Jones, has the high score.
  • In Mario's Picross, "Easy Picross Level 6A" is a helicopter similar in appearance to the one in Choplifter. When the puzzle is solved, the caption describes the image as "Choplifter".
  • Web comic Up Up Down Down created a comic based on Choplifter in 2011.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Interview with Dan Gorlin in Halcyon Days, by James Hague.
  2. ^ a b Salmons, Jim (July 1982). "The Choppers of Mercy". Softline. p. 18. Retrieved 17 July 2014. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Choplifter will fly again?". Gamespot. 17 June 2009. Retrieved 2011-03-29. 
  5. ^ "The Most Popular Atari Program Ever". Softline. March 1983. p. 44. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  6. ^ Clark, Pamela; Williams, Gregg (December 1982). "The Coinless Arcade - Rediscovered". BYTE. p. 84. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  7. ^ Greenlaw, Stanley (July–August 1982), "Choplifter! Rescue the Hostages", Computer Gaming World, pp. 30, 38 
  8. ^ Kunkel, Bill; Katz, Arnie (March 1983). "Arcade Alley: The Best Computer Games". Video (Reese Communications) 6 (12): 32–33. ISSN 0147-8907. 
  9. ^ Kleiner, Karen (Jul–Aug 1983). "Billboard Conference". Softline. pp. 44–45. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  10. ^ Stanton, Jeffrey; Wells, Robert P. Ph.D.; Rochowansky, Sandra; Mellid, Michael Ph.D., ed. (1984). The Addison-Wesley Book of Atari Software. Addison-Wesley. p. 74. ISBN 0-201-16454-X. 
  11. ^ Ciraolo, Michael (Oct–Nov 1985). "Top Software / A List of Favorites". II Computing. p. 51. Retrieved 28 January 2015. 
  12. ^ Russel, Alan (1987), Guinness Book of World Records, p. 393, ISBN 0-553-26408-7  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Up Up Down Down comic based on Choplifter

External links[edit]