I, Robot (video game)
|Mode(s)||Up to 2 players, alternating turns|
|Cabinet||Upright, cabaret, and cocktail|
|CPU||M6809 (@ 1.5 MHz)|
|Sound||(4x) POKEY (@ 1.25 MHz)|
|Display||Raster, 256 x 232 pixels (Horizontal), 96 colors|
I, Robot is an arcade game designed by Dave Theurer and published by Atari, Inc.. It was developed in 1983 and released in June 1984. Atari originally intended to release the game in 1983, but it was delayed due to technical issues and difficulties, so it was returned to the lab for further testing and research, and was not fully released until June 1984. Only a total of 750–1000 machines were produced. The arcade machine comes with two games. The first is I, Robot, a multi-directional shooter that has the player assume the role of "Unhappy Interface Robot #1984", a servant bot that rebels against Big Brother. The object of the game involves the servant bot going through 126 levels, turning red squares to blue to destroy Big Brother's shield and eye. The player can switch to the second game, Doodle City, a drawing tool that lasts for three minutes.
I, Robot is known for being the first commercially produced video game with filled 3-D polygon graphics with flat shading, as well as being the first video game to feature camera-control options. Its name was originally "Ice Castles", but was changed to "I, Robot".
Upon release of the game, I, Robot received poor reception and was a financial flop. Approximately 750–1000 units of the game were created, with few having been confirmed to exist today. However, the remaining arcade cabinets have become rare collectibles and the game has received later praise for its innovative 3D graphics. Author David Ellis listed it as one of the "notable classics" of its time.
In I, Robot, the player controls "Unhappy Interface Robot #1984", a servant robot that has become self-aware and decides to rebel against Big Brother. To advance from level to level, the robot must destroy the giant blinking eye of Big Brother, first by wearing down its shield and then attacking the eye directly. The robot fires energy at the shield by moving over red blocks in the level, converting them to blue.
Although the robot can jump, the robot will be destroyed if jumping while the eye is open. Various extra hazards, such as birds, bombs and flying sharks, can also destroy the robot during each level. At the end of some levels, rather than destroying the eye immediately, the robot must navigate a maze and collect gems before it encounters the eye at close range. Once a level is completed, the robot flies through outer space and must shoot or avoid "tetras", meteors, and various obstacles (including a floating head that fires nails) to reach the next level.
The player can adjust the camera angle during gameplay, moving closer to the robot or flying up for an overhead view of the level. The closer the camera is to the robot, the greater the score multiplier, but the more difficult it is to see the whole level and Big Brother. In later levels, enemies known as "viewer killers" begin attacking the camera directly, forcing the player to either change the viewing angle or move the robot so that the camera will follow it. Failing to avoid a viewer killer costs the player a life.
There are 26 unique level designs; after completing all of them, the levels repeat at a higher difficulty and with a different color palette, as in Atari's earlier game Tempest. After completing a total of 126 levels, the player is presented with random levels for the rest of the game. The game ends when the player runs out of lives.
Doodle City, referred to in the game as an "ungame", is a simple drawing tool which presents the player with a selection of objects from the "game" mode. The player can move and rotate each shape and can cause trails to be left on the screen as they are moved. The player can remain in this mode for up to three minutes per credit, and can switch back to the main game at any time. One life is subtracted from the player's life pool for each minute spent in Doodle City.
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The game features amplified stereo and pixel graphics on a 19-inch color CRT monitor. It uses a Motorola 6809 central processing unit and four Atari POKEY audio chips. I, Robot was originally called "Ice Castles".
Dave Sherman developed the custom bit-slice ('pepperoni') 3D co-processor that allowed for a throughput of approximately 2,000 polygons per second.
Reception and legacy
Because of its radically different nature from the usual games of the day, as well as its esoteric storyline, I, Robot received a poor reception on release. Approximately 750–1000 units of the game were created. Few have been confirmed to exist today. The arcade cabinets have since become rare collectibles with Dave Theurer's involvement being a selling point among collectors.
Computer and Video Games magazine reviewed the game in 1985, stating that the "graphics are perhaps the most unusual of any arcade game around" but is nevertheless "a cubist's delight." In 2001, author John Sellers described I, Robot as a "near miss" because of its strong release that didn't gain enough popularity. He further praised the game, calling it enjoyable and influential. Author David Ellis listed it as one of the "notable classics" of its time, calling it "quirky". In 2008, Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition listed it as the number ninety arcade game in technical, creative and cultural impact, citing its innovative 3D graphics. Gamasutra placed I, Robot on its "20 Atari Games" list, saying that "This is the kind of brilliance Atari could field in its halcyon days". The game has been cited as the first arcade game to use 3D polygon graphics, and holds a Guinness World Record for the milestone. IGN.com's Levi Buchanan and Craig Harris included I Robot to their "Dream Arcades" articles.
A rumor persisted that Atari shipped 500 unsold units to Japan with instructions to dump the units into the ocean at the halfway point. Atari employee Rusty Dawe dispelled this rumor as a "total myth" in a 2009 interview, adding "I would have LIKED to dump [the] I, Robot controls into the ocean [as they were a] total nightmare. But that didn't happen either."
Modern video game historians have brought greater attention to I, Robot for its historical significance as the first-ever game to use 3D polygon graphics.
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- The GameRoom Blog: Rare Game Room Gems — I, Robot by Atari
- The Last Starfigter, Retro Arcade