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Game Design Essentials: 20 Atari Games

May 30, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 11 of 23 Next

I, Robot
Designed by Dave Theurer

When people find out about I, Robot, the polygonal game released at the tail end of the classic era, jaws tend to drop. It's completely in 3D, right down to having a camera change button, and it was released just two years after Pac-Man. Sure, it's primitive, but as they say, it's amazing that the dog talks at all. This is the kind of brilliance Atari could field in its halcyon days.

And yet, I, Robot did badly in arcades. It could be that it was timing: it was released in 1983, the very year of the crash that marked the end of mainstream acceptance of video games. Atari Games did manage to retain much of its spark through the early 90s, but it set back the cause of 3D gaming for years.

The company tried to make sophisticated games, with unique play mechanics that no one had seen before, while arcades had become the exclusive province of teenage boys, a demographic not exactly known for its discernment.

Which is not to say the game doesn't have other problems. Its hardware had a high failure rate, and the game is abstract and weird -- even by Atari standards. The player controls a robot whose eternal mission is to hover and color all the red spaces of a three-dimensional playfield blue, in order to destroy a malevolent eye that surveys the board.

Moving to the edge of a gap causes the robot to leap across it, and there are lots of gaps to leap across, but the eye has declared that there shall be no jumping. (The game's attract mode demonstrates this humorously.) The eye opens at regular intervals, and if the robot isn't on solid ground at that moment it is instantly destroyed. Jumps are often long, so on some levels this requires some degree of foresight to avoid getting zapped.

Each level also contains its own unique hazards, and these obstacles are the most interesting thing, design-wise, about it. Each of the first 26 levels plays differently! From destroying green walls with soccer balls to dodging floating sharks to dodging giant beach balls, this is a tremendous amount of variety for such an old game.

When people talk about I, Robot now, this aspect tends to get drowned out in their awe of the technical aspects, but it's the portion of the game that holds up the best. There are shooter sections between the platformer areas, bonus stages every three levels, and per-level best score tracking. There's even a second game mode, a simple art toy called Doodle City, that can be selected instead of the main game at the start of play, though it's kind of pointless.

I, Robot actually shares a lot in common with Major Havoc. Both games feature multiple modes, including shooting scenes, platforming sections and tremendous variation between levels. They also both get hard fast.

Link: Here's a list of all the levels in I, Robot.

Article Start Previous Page 11 of 23 Next

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