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    Retro Requisition would like to draw your attention to a classic video game of old that we shall be formally requisitioning to be reborn, revisited, rebooted, or remastered. We will explain what makes each game such a timeless classic still worthy of attention, pitch what it would be all about and get all realistic by discussing the possibilities of it actually ever happening.

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    “We, the most awesome and fabulous team at That Not Current, have decreed in all our wisdom and obsession with the wonders of retro gaming, that the following game should be brought back to life and hereby submit this formal request to make it so:”

    Berserk

    THE PLAYERS: Stern Electronics

    PLATFORM(S): Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Vectrex, Arcade

    Cartridge artwork for the Atari 2600 version of Berserk.

    WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?

    Berserk is an arcade run and gun shooter from 1980, published by Stern Electronics as an arcade cabinet and was available on classic systems such as the Atari 2600. Just like many games from the 80’s, Berserk has a fairly simple premise; navigate your way through various maze-like structures, shoot the evil Cylon style robots for points and progress to the next board of the game, whilst avoiding enemy fire of course. As simplistic as the gameplay for Berserk might seem, it’s actually a formula that works tremendously well, retaining its excitement and replayability without being overly convoluted. As well as racking up a high score and progressing through increasingly difficult mazes, you will also have to evade the antagonist of the game: Evil Otto.

    Berserk’s sinister antagonist looks far more terrifying in the Atari 2600 manual for the game.

    According to the Atari 2600 manual, Otto is the evil genius behind the army of one-eyed robots that inhabit the planet of Mazeon, which of course is named as such due to it being nothing but electrified mazes. Despite Otto’s demonic appearance in the artwork for the game, in reality, he looks like a pixelated version of the potato smiley faces that you would often get at school cafeterias. Regardless, if you spend too long within the maze, he will hunt you down, which is actually pretty terrifying. Adding to the creepy nature of Berserk was the debut of speech synthesis that was used in the arcade version of the game, meaning that the evil killer robots would actually speak within the game, which would have the robots utter words such as “kill”. Berserk manages to create an atmosphere of suspense that not a lot of games could achieve with such limited hardware, which is something that helps fuel the imagination of gamers. If you think about it, this arcade game has a plot, however, no resolve for your main character is mentioned in the manual. In fact, the only mention of your purpose is that you’re the last survivor of your group who is now a prisoner on this planet and that even if you do escape the maze, you just find yourself in another. So basically, all you do in Berserk is score points and prologue you’re already doomed existence, but hey, at least you can have an absolute blast while doing so.

    They might look like pixelated blobs, but they’re hell-bent on your destruction.

    WHY DOES IT NEEDS TO BE REBORN?

    Bringing back games such as Berserk is part of a statement, a need for forgotten genres to be brought back to the mainstream market. The industry as it stands today seems to be obsessed with making everything open world and in higher fidelity than looking out your window on a clear day. As nice as it is to have the technically advanced games we have today, sometimes all that is needed is some fast paced, high score junkie action. Berserk could serve as a brilliant addition to the various genre of games that we like to play today, with easy to pick up mechanics and excitement inherent to its design, there’s no reason that this game couldn’t be part of a modern gaming library.

    The mighty Vectrex release of Berserk

    That’s not to say that the arcade genre doesn’t exist today, however, it has become a place where the most popular high score titles are reserved for reiterations hosted on mobile platforms. A great example of a similar game that was given an overhaul was the N64 rendition of Robotron 2084, which maintains the original concept of the classic arcade shooter, yet adds some more depth overall. However, not all remakes turn out the way you’d like, most notably the PlayStation 2 3D remake of Defender. The remake teaches the important lesson that you can’t manipulate a classic arcade game to conform to whatever the current industry wants games to look like, as squeezing the game into a 3D mould distorted the game’s original concept into obscurity. Funnily enough, the PS4 game Resogun is practically a modern day version of Defender, that maintains the exact structure of the original game yet utilises the modern technology available. To boil it down to a more simplified statement: shooting evil robots for points is amazing and we need more of it in our gaming libraries today, without it being warped by whatever money making fad the gaming industry has hooked up to its pasteurizer.

    WHAT WOULD WE WANT TO SEE IN ANY REBIRTH?

    As has been already mentioned above, having a new rendition of Berserk without it being changed into something it isn’t, would be perfect. Modern day examples of arcade classics such as the aforementioned Resogun and even older titles such as Robotron 64 prove that a primitive game can be given an overhaul without being changed beyond recognition. It feels like this is a lesson that the gaming industry has failed to learn in general, even with classics within other genres. Doom is a great example of this, as the 3rd entry to the series was considered the weakest, yet once it was rebooted and returned to its roots, it proved to be an original hit once again. The first step in reviving a game like Berserk is to ensure that the original feel of the game is still at its heart, as once that is achieved, expanding the original concept can be attempted.

    Resogun is a prime example of how to revive a classic arcade game while maintaining its original vibe.

    That leaves us with the question of what a remake of Berserk would actually look like. Various different elements could be added to the original design, in order to give the gameplay some depth. Adding some enhanced stealth elements could help elaborate on the suspense of the original game, providing more ways for the player to evade dangerous laser blasts. This then could be further expanded upon by adding some variances to the maze environments, such as having some of the walls non-electrified in order to be utilised for cover, as well as some of them being shorter, which would add to the danger of being intercepted by the enemy. Implementing some simple changes like this could combat the monotony of clearing the same mazes repeatedly, while still not deviating from the original idea, especially if this is all still achieved through a top-down perspective. Outside of the stealthy mechanics, features such as a variance in weaponry could also add to the excitement, rewarding the player for achieving a high score. Adding a multiplayer option would also be a major development from the original, as the game could really flourish by using a competitive co-op structure.  Evil Otto could also become the main pillar to succeeding within the game, as the player’s careless actions could result in the added pressure of Otto’s presence. Did you get spotted by too many electric eyes? Now you’ve got a sinister smiley face to deal with. This could play a major role in developing the atmosphere of the game that the original brought to the table. The sequel to Berzerk, the 1982 arcade game Frenzy, did add some variances to gameplay mechanics such as non-electrified walls, however, it was still a fairly similar game to the original.

    An advertisement for Frenzy, Berzerk’s arcade sequel

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that this would be the only implementation that would work, I do have trust in the creative visions of many developers out there. Who knows, Berserk could work really well as a 3D title, or something totally different than mentioned above. The most important thing is that the original identity of the game is maintained, everything else is in the creator’s hands.

    IS IT LIKELY?

    Sadly, it is fairly unlikely that a revitalised release of Berserk in the style discussed above will ever come to be. Stern Electronics only lasted until 1985 before stepping away from the entertainment market, existing from that point onwards as a pinball machine manufacturer. It might have been possible if Atari still existed as a viable games company, however, the only thing they have retained after being bought and sold over the years is their iconic logo. The only mention of Berserk in recent years in terms of a release, or even a port of the game, was in 2013 when the Vectrex Regeneration program released the Vectrex version of the game as part of an iOS app. So really, our best chances of having Berserk come back is for a company to take the same approach as Resogun did and basically just remake the game under a different branding. Who knows if and when that will ever happen though, most indie developers these days are too busy building their Minecraft clones, while the big boys are making open worlds that anyone over the age of 20 won’t have the time to explore.

    Phil Hayton
    A lover of old video games, dogs and tea. Creator of the video series 'Through The Techades' and something of a history geek.

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