Video Game History Wiki

Battlezone box art.

Battlezone is an arcade game created by Ed Rotberg and published by Atari. It was released June 1, 1980. The game is a first-person perspective vehicular combat simulator in which the player destroys enemy tanks and other targets for points. The game uses vector graphics to produce 3D wireframes of enemy tanks, UFOs, and terrain. Some cabinets included an overlay to the screen to make the lower part of the screen appear green (gameplay area), and the top part of the screen red (radar and information).

It may be the first game where objects appear to hit the player's screen (when the player has been hit/killed.)


Enemy tank on the battlegrounds.

The player controls a tank from a first person view and uses the two joysticks to move and the button on the right joystick to fire projectiles. Enemy tanks are detected by the radar at the top of the screen. The tank can move forward, reverse, and left and right. The battlefield is a landscape with a mountainous horizon and crescent moon. One enemy tank will appear at a time on the battlegrounds. The tanks usually move slowly and can be destroyed with one shot. Enemy projectiles can be avoided by dodging them or by hiding behind indestructible terrain objects (buildings?). Faster moving tanks called supertanks are harder to hit because of their speed. Though they cannot be detected by the radar, UFOs appear as moving targets to be destroyed for bonus points and will not fire back. Occasionally, a guided missile is launched in the player's direction. It may be shot down, but if not it will hit the player and result in a lost life. The player has three lives. An extra life is awarded at 15,000 points, and another at 100,000.

The enemies in the game are worth different points:

  • A standard tank is worth 1,000 points when destroyed.
  • super tank is worth 3,000 points when destroyed.
  • A guided missile is worth 2,000 points when destroyed.
  • A flying saucer is worth 5,000 points when destroyed.


Battlezone was developed using vector graphics similar to Asteroids. The designers of the game are Ed Rotberg (main designer), Owen Rubin who designed the exploding volcano, and Roger Hector who helped in designing the tanks and enemy graphics. One of the two versions of the cabinet had a viewing goggle periscope and along with the 3D graphics, the game is considered the first virtual reality game.

Another version, called Bradley Trainer was produced as a training simulation for the US Army's M2 Bradley IFV. Ed Rotberg did not want to work on it, but was persuaded to do so after being promised he would never again have to do work for the military. It differs from Battlezone primarily in that the player only controls the gun (which can now be aimed up and down as well as left and right), and cannot move the vehicle. Other differences include machine guns and TOW missiles for armament, and helicopters as a target. It also had a new controller intended to replicate the real controls of the IFV that ended up being used in a number of subsequent Atari coin-op games.


There was a persistent rumor/myth that one could actually drive to the erupting volcano in the background, up the side, into the crater and discover a castle inside. This was false, but plans to include such a feature in future versions were inspired by this myth[9]. A similar rumor insisted if one kept driving in the same direction for at least an hour without dying, one would eventually reach the mountains and see a "tank factory" pumping out enemy tanks. Others involved the UFO, including one in which a mothership would attack after a set number of UFOs were destroyed.


Battlezone was housed in a standard upright arcade cabinet with a novel "periscope" viewfinder which the player used to view the game. The game action could also be viewed from the sides of the viewfinder for spectators to watch. A later, less common version of the cabinet removed the periscope to improve visibility to non-players and improve the ergonomics for players who could not reach the periscope. Also, hygienic concerns with the periscope, against which users pressed their faces, may have played a role in its removal[citation needed]. This modification also was welcomed by some operators, who felt that the small windows present in the "periscoped" version did not attract enough attention to the game when played.

A smaller version of the cabinet (known as a "cabaret cabinet") also existed with the screen angled upwards, and no periscope. A cocktail table version was tested as a prototype but not produced; it lacked the color overlays as the display would have to flip for opposing players.

The controls consisted of left and right joysticks, which could only be moved in the Y (vertical) axis, each controlling the treads on that side of the player's tank. One joystick contained a button used to fire projectiles at enemy targets.

Ports and clones[]

Throughout the 1980s, Battlezone was ported to several personal computers and videogame consoles (usually on the Atarisoft label), including DOS, the Apple II, Atari ST, the Commodore 64, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and the Atari XEGS. An Atari 2600 port was also released, but has colored raster graphics due to limitations and the view is behind the tank rather than inside it. A Game Boy Port was made including a port of Breakout. An Atari 5200 port was in the works, but was cancelled when Jack Tramiel took over Atari.[10] The Atari Lynx had the deluxe port Battlezone 2000 (within that version is a hidden game with filled polygons). Battlezone was also included in Microsoft Arcade and in Atari Classics Evolved for the PSP.

Activision, the video game publishing giant, released a game for Microsoft Windows inspired by and named Battlezone in 1998. Aside from the name, however, the game bears little resemblance to the original arcade game.

On April 16, 2008 an updated port of Battlezone was released on Xbox LIVE Arcade. The game was developed by Stainless Games and published by Atari Inc.. It features 1080i graphics, Dolby 5.1 audio and an online mode to play against 2 - 4 friends in Deathmatch and Capture the Flag modes, and incorporates Xbox LIVE Vision support.[11] This version of Battlezone was also on the PSP, as one of the 11 games included in Atari Classics Evolved. It received an ESRB: E (Everyone) rating. Main article: Battlezone (Xbox LIVE Arcade)

A Flash version is available on several websites such as ☀

In the Competitive Arena[]

In the Competitive Arena Commemorative Medallion Honoring the Battlezone Video Game World Record.

On August 30, 1985, David Palmer, of Citrus Heights, California, scored a world record 23,000,000 points while playing at The Game Room Arcade during Twin Galaxies' 1985 Video Game Masters Tournament. Palmer also holds the world record on numerous other arcade games, among them: Firefox, Red Baron, Star Rider, Star Wars, Subroc-3D, The Empire Strikes Back and TX-1.