Army Battlezone -- from arcade to army
A recollection of stories from gaming's past
by Brian Deuel


Atari Battlezone- from arcade to Army

In 1980, Ed Rotberg and Morgan Hoff began work on Battlezone, the first realtime 3D arcade game. With help from Jed Margolin and Mike Albaugh, both of whom did the 3D math transforms and bit-slice microcoding for the Atari Mathbox processor. The project was completed and released in November of 1980. Given Atari's then-quest for innovative gameplay, it is no surprise it was a hit. So impressive was Battlezone that in December of 1980, a group of consultants from the US Army approached Atari with the idea that the game could be made into a simulator for the then-new Infantry Fighting Vehicle (or the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, as it is known now).

Many physical and gameplay changes were made to the original game, such as a new control yoke (a similar control was used for Star Wars), friendly and hostile vehicles and helicopters, more weapons (7.62 mm machine gun, a cannon with armor piercing or high-explosive shells; and a tube-launched optically-guided missile launcher, or TOW), and view selection (normal or magnified). The key was to guess the size of the target, use the on-screen gauge to align it, and dial in the distace to the object, to hit it with the first shot. A screenshot is available at AtariHQ..... Click here for the screenshot.

A prototype of the simulator was rushed out in March, 1981, and was introduced at the worldwide TRADOC conference that year. It was a hit at the conference, but question remains as to whether it was actually produced. Only one, or maybe even two, prototypes exist.

Ed Rotberg, the project programmer, was very opposed to doing the project, mainly due to the principles of such a project. He felt that technology used to produce Battlezone and video games in general shouldn't be used for bad purposes, such as weapons research, and cited the conversion of automobile factories into tank and airplane factories in World War II. Rotberg spent two months on the project, and resented it the entire time. He left Atari shortly after to form Avid (which later became Videa, then Sente) with Roger Hector and Howie Delman, also of Atari.