The Star Wars Arcade Game

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.


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

This Post Has 20 Comments

  1. So awesome. I used to play this when I was in the service, and got quite hooked on it. The only guy who could beat me was a sargeant. After he was trasferred, I was the Jedi Master. Oddly, i found the game got easier after you got up past Level 20 or something. Never knew you could dodge stuff to get extra points though. I liked the vector graphics. They were simple, but that didn’t seem to matter.

  2. Love it! This was one of my favorites from back then as well. Thanks!

  3. This was my favorite arcade game, by far. Right in my wheelhouse.

    I currently have a DK Junior in my house with DK installed. If I ever came across a Star Wars in person for $500, there’s no way I would be able to turn it down. Not sure where we’d fit it in our house, but who needs a refrigerator anyway?

  4. Great stuff Dr. Quest. I would have killed to have one of these in my house when I was younger and with the amount I pumped into it in arcades, I probably could have afforded one.

  5. Thanks for the kind words guys, Yep I was lucky to get one as a teen it provided hours of fun for me and my friends.

  6. As I always say to my wife: “You know what they call a guy like that? Lucky.”

  7. @drquest What happened to the game? Where is it now?

  8. Sadly we moved to a smaller house so we sold it. We sold it to a frat house of all places I know they enjoyed it wonder if they destroyed it by now?

  9. Great overview of my all-time favorite arcade game. I never knew about the control yoke’s origins.

  10. You lucky dog! I loved that game. The sit-down model was awesome because you could totally immerse yourself in the game. I’d love to have one myself but they are quite pricey. Give me a good vector graphics game over any other game.

  11. That poor machine…. :P

  12. I bought a damaged Star Wars arcade machine a couple of years ago. The monitor\ vector generator didn’t work and the cabinet was damaged but I rescued all of the boards and cables. I have them in a box in the laundry room; I need to sell them to a good home, someday.

  13. What an absolutely incredible post, Dr. Quest!

    Your home must have been incredibly popular with that addition to your household! :)

  14. Grrrrrrreat game. Remember playing it in my local arcade back in the UK.

    Had a friend who could play it for literally HOURS….. !!!!
    I remember we watched him get around 2M – Went home for some food and came back hours later and he was still on it – This was around 1985 and I can’t remember his final score – but think it was 26M or even MORE (I could not even crack 2M :( LOL)

  15. Great post and terrific story about Lucasfilms’s cabinet experience, Dr Quest.
    Loved reading about the Force button. I should have one on my person for daily activities requiring pause and perspective.
    The game still deserves praise today for being such an incredibly accurate simulation of the climax of the movie that held us spellbound for a lifetime.
    I *was* a Rebel Alliance fighter whenever I popped into the sit-down cabinet, and indeed, the actors’ voices confirmed I was no longer on Earth but in a galaxy far, far away.
    Too bad you couldn’t keep it around your new house. But that thing *was* huge.

  16. As a kid of the 80’s the arcades were magic to me, starwars was right up there at the top of the heap.

    To this day i can’t think of another game that locked me in the way starwars did. You got the speed of the game, the speech that made you shiver… it threw you in to a Xwing…. it connected, how cool was that!!

    Thanks for writing it up, another man happy:)

  17. I was totally obsessed with this game when i saw it at my fairfax va shakeys pizza place when it was new in 83… I am happy to say i got a mint condition star wars machine with boards and marquee for empire game as well when i found it 10 years ago. Of all the vintage star wars items i have in my collection this machine STILL gives me goosebumps everytime I play it…it is always 1983 when I am playing it so in some ways it is my own personal time machine…when i obtain a sega trilogy sitdown machine the i can die happy…

  18. I have the stand up model. It is not working but I would live to sell the parts off it if anyone is interested.

  19. Loved this game. I think it was 50-cents to play in my local arcade, but I always made time to play it. It’s no fun to play on emulators because who has one of those great Atari yoke controllers on the computer?

  20. That’s great that you write that the Star Wars game uses the 6809 CPU for both its main board and sound. (It’s so powerful yet underrated.)

    Star Wars was one of 2 games that prompted me to earn a degree in Computer Engineering, to learn about hardware and programming. (The other was Gauntlet, which also uses a TMS-5220 for its memorable speech.) At the time I couldn’t afford much of a computer to practice, so I resorted to using limited Treasure from summer jobs to buy a Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer.

    It so happens the heart of this computer is none other than the 6809 CPU.

    I’ll never forget the orgasmic feeling when I asked an arcade technician if I could look at his schematics package as he fixed an Atari Star Wars. I just had to know, what makes a Star Wars tick? I was absolutely stunned when I saw one page showing the wiring to a 6809 CPU, and then another! I had just learned a little assembly language at the time and thought, Wow!, while others insisted I get a PC compatible or Apple II, I’m so redeemed to have opted for the CoCo.

    Incredible how much computing and arcade power came out then!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Close Menu
%d bloggers like this: