sw arcade

The Star Wars Arcade Game

Star Wars Arcade

Built in 1983 by Atari Inc, Lucasfilms had little to do with creating the Star Wars arcade game. Designed by Mike Hally, the game used the flight yoke controls that were adapted from the controls used for the arcade game Battle Zone.

This was the fist Atari game to have speech. I will cover this part more later. The game engine for Star Wars was converted from a 2-year old space game project called Warp-Speed. Vector graphics were dated by the time it came out in 1983.

Technical specs are as follows:
Main CPU: M6809 (@ 1.512 Mhz)
Sound CPU: M6809 (@ 1.512 Mhz)
Sound Chips: (4x) POKEY (@ 1.512 Mhz), TMS5220 (@ 640 Khz)

Scoring is as follows:
TIE fighters: 1,000 points
Darth Vader’s ship: 2,000 points per hit
Laser bunkers: 200 points
Laser towers: 200 points, increasing by 200 points per tower
Trench turrets: 100 points
Fireballs: 33 points
Exhaust Port: 25,000 points
Destroying all tower tops: 50,000 points

End of wave bonus:
5,000 points per shield remaining
Starting on medium difficulty (wave 3): 400,000 points bonus
Starting on hard difficulty (wave 5): 800,000 points bonus
A nice feature and a way to rack up the high score is to “use the force”. What this means is you don’t shoot anything until the very end.

Scoring for this is as follows:
Wave 1: 5,000 points
Wave 2: 10,000 points
Wave 3: 25,000 points
Wave 4: 50,000 points
Wave 5 and above: 100,000 points

The game is made up of 3 parts:
Part 1: The assault begins. Fly towards the Death Star shooting TIE Fighters or dodging them if you are using the force.
Part 2: Fly over the surface of the Death Star being sure to watch out for the tower guns.
Part 3. If you have not seen Star Wars this part is a spoiler. Fly into the trench making sure to fly over and under walls on your way to the exhaust port. After you blow up the death star, the game starts over at part 1 this time a bit harder.

I once read a funny story about the game. One thing Lucasfilms got from their partnership with Atari was their very own machine for “reference”. One of the guys at the ranch read the owners manual and found out you could put the game in debug mode by closing a contact. This would freeze the game and would enable the user to advance the game one frame at a time by pressing the fire button making the game extremely easy to play. He went on and installed the switch in the front of the cabinet and labeled it “The Force”. The story gets even better when Steven Spielberg who was at the ranch and working Riders of the Lost Ark and became hooked on the machine. He even asked for it to be moved to the set of Raiders. After the movie wrapped, he called Atari for his own system. When it arrived, he asked the guys where the force button was. Needless to say, they were a bit confused.

Here’s the story of how I got my very own. I am a huge fan of yard sales; I got it from my mom. One day we were out looking for some treasure when I spotted a guy across the street from the sale that we stopped at with his garage door open. He was working on an arcade machine but I could not tell which one it was. I started to walk up his driveway and by the time I was half way up I could see the X-Wing and picked up the pace. The guy did not notice me at first with his head inside the cabinet. I think I startled him when I blurted out, “Is this yours?” He explained to me what he does with them. He leased them to places like pizza parlors or health clubs then switched them out after a few months. All of his games were for sale. This one was $500 but I had to wait four months for the contract to expire with a health club. The game was the stand up model with a bolted on ashtray. Yes, kids, you could smoke in arcades at that time. The days went by slowly. I crossed them off on my calendar until the day arrived. He drove to our house and delivered it. He went over how you turn the system on and off and even gave me the owner’s manual. Had I been better at reading it maybe I could have rigged up my own force button. When I told my friends I had an arcade game in my basement, they flipped. We would stay up late trying to beat each other’s high scores. The best part was the voices. If the game was left on, Sir Alec Guinness’ voice would say, “The force will be with you always.” When the Death Star was blown up you would hear Harrison Ford yell out, “Great shot kid.” I would leave the game on even when I was not playing just to hear the Star Wars theme song. It was the centerpiece of my collection and a treasured memory of my teen years.

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Who knew living in the 80's would lead to writing and podcasting about them 30 years later?
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