This article will educate us about the INVENTION OF BATTLEZONE. THREE-DIMENSIONAL DISPLAYS first appeared on computer screens in the 1960s, and very large machines were able to manipulate those images in real-time, but it wasn’t until 1980 that a video-game player could freely maneuver through an imaginary landscape, wreaking havoc until being brought to an untimely end by enemy tanks. Battlezone, a first-person tank game, was made possible by the vector display unit utilized by Atari Inc., Sunnyvale, Calif., in the previous year’s Asteroids.
History of The invention of BATTLEZONE
The first 3-D games appeared in the 1960s in computer labs, but it wasn’t until the 1980s when home consoles like the Atari 2600 could be purchased that anyone could enjoy these games. Atari Inc. released Battlezone, a tank combat game in 1980 for 2600, which was a breakthrough for the gaming industry. The invention of BATTLEZONE was the first first-person shooter, though it was hard to tell when looking at it on the TV screen.
The game was made possible by the Vector display unit that had been developed for the Atari Asteroids arcade game the year before by the same company. These games, along with the follow-up sub-$500 arcade laserdisc games like Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, helped fuel the rise of console gaming alongside the home computer revolution of the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Even with the vector generator, Battlezone required three microprocessors, according to Videa’s Ed Rotberg, who designed the game’s computer code: a 6502 to handle the game, a bespoke processor for the display, and another built from 2901 bit-slice processors for the mathematics.
“It was pretty fast,” said Mr. Rotberg. “Quite often it wasn’t worth going off and doing something else—you just waited for the math box to finish.”
The math box in Battlezone solves the vanishing-point perspective matrix equations for all of the objects on the screen. To make the challenge more accessible, the game is limited to horizontal movement, lowering the matrix from 4 by 4 to 2 by 2. “Finding out how to organize the data” was a big part of the early work on Battlezone, according to Mr. Rotberg.
Because Battlezone is a vector game, rather than entire filled regions as in a raster game, objects in Battlezone are merely points connected by lines. Even so, the three microprocessors couldn’t handle the number of objects on the screen, so Mr. Rotberg had to go to his graphic designer, Roger Hector, who also helped define the gameplay, and ask, “Could you draw the same thing in fewer lines, fewer vertices?”
Although The invention of BATTLEZONE does not address the hidden-line issue, it does employ reduced brightness to indicate distance, and it, like any vector-drawing system, must deal with clipping issues, such as determining what items are on the screen and what to do with objects that are partially on the screen.
“We did an end run around the problem,” said Mr. Rotberg. “The hardware lets you draw about half a screen off each side, which helps considerably. You calculate where the center points are and determine whether or not you’re going to display an object, and if you are, you draw all its lines regardless of whether or not they’ll be on the screen.”
The only issue with this method is that if an object is really close, it may suddenly vanish from the screen because its center point has shifted off-screen, even though some lines should still be visible. “If we didn’t do it that way,” Mr. Rotberg explained, “we’d be ordering the vector generator to draw lines past where it could, and it’d run out into the ozone.”
From conception to completion, The invention of BATTLEZONE took 15 months to complete. Mr. Rotberg explained that other features, such as an erupting volcano on the horizon, were added to the game because they were enjoyable and there was time to execute them.
“Early in the game there is a lack of a sense of urgency,” he noted. “You can stroll around and blow tanks up or not. A modification would be to give you a goal other than blowing up tanks.”
“One of the reasons engineers worked for Atari instead of working for the Government or a corporation doing Government contracts was that [military] is not the kind of work we want to be doing.”
Mr. Rotberg said he would change the game even more if he could do it over with today’s technology: instead of a monochrome display, a colour vector display could be utilised, and newer microprocessors and cheaper memory could enhance realism and intricacy.
Mr. Rotberg did make a more realistic and complicated version of Battlezone, but only under duress. Army Battlezone is the name of the game, and it contains a rolling countryside with representations of American and Soviet tanks. Mr. Rotberg added that a business hired by the Army to develop training uses for video games approached Atari just for The invention of BATTLEZONE He explained:
“They had no idea it existed until they saw it in the foyer and said, ‘That’s exactly what we’re looking for.'” ‘We could make it exactly what you want,’ someone at Atari said. It was December at the time. They claimed the Army was hosting a training centre meeting in March; could Atari meet their requirements before then?
“I stated that I did not want to be a part of the initiative.” I was adamantly opposed, but it became clear that no one else in The invention of BATTLEZONE knew enough about the software to make the necessary changes by March. We had a formal brainstorming session, and I got into a yelling war about Army Battlezone with Joe Robbins, then president of Atari’s coin-op division.
One of the reasons engineers worked for Atari instead of the government or a company executing government contracts, I believe, is that [military] employment is not what we want to be doing. It couldn’t possibly be positive press with all the concern about games being violent and influencing children’s minds.
“I ended up losing three months of my life, spending every waking minute at Atari, coming home at 1 a.m., going in at 6 a.m. The game got done.”