The player takes on the role of a disgruntled interface robot, '1984', rebelling against the 'Big Brother' sentinel who watches over him. The aim of I, Robot is to 'colour in' the landscape - in a basic gameplay design similar to Konami's "Amidar", released two years' earlier. The player-controlled robot is armed with a laser gun with which it can destroy the many enemies that patrol the levels. The 'droid must jump any gaps in the platform in order to reach other parts of the landscape, but must be careful to do so only when the sentinel 'eye' is closed. Jumping is outlawed in the world of I, Robot and the sentinel will destroy Robot 1984 instantly if it catches the 'droid jumping. The game consists of 126 levels in total, each level consisting of a land stage with the recolour-the-blocks gameplay, followed by a space stage, in which you have to destroy or avoid the many objects that fly towards you. Every third terrain presents the player with a pyramid that leads Robot 1984 to a direct confrontation with the sentinel. Destroy the sentinel, and Robot 1984 will launch into outer space to continue its journey on to other worlds and attempt to free them from the sentinel's hold. To increase the game's difficulty on later levels, a 'Viewer Killer' appears and goes after the PLAYER, not the robot. The viewer killer can be avoided by using the viewpoint (selectable view) feature.
People who didn't quite feel up to facing Big Brother could instead spend their quarter playing 'Doodle City', which was a little 3-D paint program that used the I, Robot engine and graphics to let the player draw things on screen. You could select Doodle City at the beginning of the game, and you could switch to the real game if you grew tired of doodling, but it would cost a life or two.
I, Robot was an arcade experience with several unique innovations that could be described as years ahead of their time; Solid 3D polygons at a time when the first "Star Wars" game's wire frame antics were still blowing everyone away, appeared in this game first. Selectable camera angles. now a staple of 3D games, were another innovation that I, Robot introduced. The game's uniqueness would also be it's downfall; arcade goers of the time were unable to cope with the game's surrealism and ground-breaking graphics and I, Robot was a commercial flop. Approximately 1,000 units were produced and shipped worldwide.
I, Robot was originally called "Ice Castles" and consisted of three boards rather than the usual two. At the time of I, Robot's development, Atari exercised the somewhat unusual policy of awarding bonuses to engineers based entirely on revenue from sales of the machines, without taking into account the amount of engineering resources (man-years) spent developing and manufacturing them. In other words, just the sales revenue minus the manufacturing cost. Consequently, Atari's engineers were motivated to spend ridiculous amounts of time doing little more than reducing the manufacturing cost. They decided that the only way to reduce the cost of the game hardware was to replace a lot of TTL logic with an ASIC. Unfortunately, they assigned very inexperienced people to develop the ASIC design. The resulting chip had a very low yield; it was unlikely that ANY of them worked over the normal voltage and temperature ranges that commercial semiconductors were rated for at the time. By this point, the game was so late that they weren't allowed to fix the ASIC problems. Apart from the time it would take to redo the chip, fixing it would also require putting it in a larger package with more power and ground pins, and so the board would have to be redone as well.
So for each production unit they just tried chips until they found one that seemed to work, and shipped the unit.
There was only one I, Robot arcade machine made; the upright dedicated cabinet. The only other game that used this exact cabinet was "Firefox", although the "Major Havoc" cabinet was similar. The best way to describe this cabinet is to say that it looked really top heavy. This cabinet wasn't just a straight up and down affair; the monitor area, control panel, and bottom section were all different sizes and the whole machine flared out at the bottom. The game featured partial side-art in the form of a field of red, blue, and yellow blocks floating in a field of stars. The marquee showed an I, Robot logo composed of 3D multi-coloured blocks. There were no important decorations on the control panel or monitor bezel, although the monitor did have a pair of grill-like plastic plates on either side of it. The action was controlled with a single 'Hall Effect' joystick mounted centrally and a camera button on the side of the control panel. This joystick was a fairly new kind of gaming control, but it never did catch on, a few other titles such as "Road Runner" used this stick, but they are almost impossible to find today. A joystick that worked off of magnetic fields probably wasn't the best idea anyway. Some people have managed to replace these joysticks with other kinds of analog sticks, but it requires custom work, and doesn't have the same feel as the Hall Effect stick.
There are 126 levels altogether (although the level counter display is only two digits, hence for instance Level 100 is displayed as "Level 0"); if you beat level 126, you will be thrown back to a random level.
Scoring in this game is a little complicated since many things score differently (even the same things can score differently):
- Birds, Balls, Spiked Balls, etc. on the Platforms : 25-100 points
- Polygon Asteroids, Pyramids, Cones, etc. in Space : 1-300 points
Once you destroy the Eye on the Platforms round, you get whatever bonus is left. Bonuses are variable per Platform and range from 3000 to 7000 points and decrement as you play.
You get 100 points per jewel collected when you take out the Eye in the control area. There are a maximum of ten jewels in the control area. Your maximum score you can get, though, is 999 points.
In space, you get points for everything you can kill.
If your score is greater than the BEST time on the Platforms or the BEST score in Space, you get a bonus of 2,500 points. You do not receive this bonus if you get killed on the Platform or in Space and have to start again.
When you enter a transporter pod, you get 20,000 points/level skipped if you successfully complete the Platform you transported to.
Tips and Tricks
Warp : Hold down both Start buttons when entering the transporter on level 1. You can now warp as high as level 10 (if a completely new game; see below).
When you lose all your lives, if you then start a new game promptly and use the transporter, you can start on the last level you completed (as with Atari's earlier game Tempest, though without Tempest's restrictions as to level number), even up to level 125 (if that was your last beaten level).
One block of claimed area will reduce the shield strength down by one. The shield strength is basically the total of all these unclaimed blocks per level. So if you see a shield strength of two, but don't see any unclaimed areas, this means you will definitely have to look around for them.
Some Platform levels only have a few blocks separated by gaps while others have long walkways also separated by gaps. You must bridge the gaps between these blocks. To bridge any gap:
- The game will show you when a gap can be bridged. The section under your robot will blink and a corresponding section across the gap will blink.
- Bridges created are the same colour that other claimed areas are.
- If you jump when the Eye is open, your robot will be destroyed by the Eye.
Sometimes unclaimed areas are hidden behind blocks. Use the point of view buttons to look for these areas.
Your robot is equipped with lasers. They are useful when taking out the smaller objects such as birds and spiked balls. They won't work on the big beach balls or the walkway grinders.
Using the above tip, remember to constantly shoot when you are jumping. Your lasers only fire toward the eye regardless of which way you jump. This usually prevents something from hitting your robot in mid-flight.
Watch the shield below the Eye. The number will go down as long as you claim areas on the walkways. If the number is at one or two and you don't see any unclaimed areas, change your point of view and look around for unclaimed areas.
There are indestructible creatures called Point of View killers. If you don't change your point of view by the time these things make it to your robot, your robot will be destroyed.
In the middle, at the bottom of the screen is a phrase showing you how often the Eye opens and closes. This time is variable so you need to check out the bottom of the screen to see the frequency the eye opens. If there isn't a time, then it is once every five seconds.
Keep in mind, you are on a timer. This basically means planning out in advance of where you want to move since there isn't really any time to sit around and take in the scenery.
You must land on the unclaimed block in front of the eye in order to destroy it.
Every third level, after you destroy the Eye from the outside, you will be able to enter a control area to take on the Eye in its environment. To make your job harder, a buzz saw starts at the back of this platform and eats it away toward the Eye. In addition, you may have to blast through walls in order to get the jewels and proceed toward the eye.
The best way to get through this area is to rapidly shoot. Most objects require at least five to ten shots to take them out.
Never let the tetras go. If you don't destroy them, they will come around from the backside and destroy your robot.
There are other enemies such as tankers. If you hit them, they get mad and hit your robot from the backside if you don't destroy them.
You can't destroy the saucers, but you can lead them into the rocks to kill them.
You can also manoeuvre around the shapes but in the later levels, this is made harder by the life ring shaped objects that are on the outer edges.
Every fourth level, you have to deal with a three-dimensional head. Although not particularly tough, it is a nuisance:
- Fire at one side of the head to force it to rotate around. If the head isn't facing your robot, the danger is minimized considerably since he won't fire his cone-shaped projectiles at your robot.
- You must hit every cone-shaped projectile fired from the head. If you don't, they come around and hit your robot from the backside.
- You will have to survive this encounter for about 20 seconds. After that, you will be done with that part of the level.
If you successfully destroy the letters IROBOT during the Space part of the level, you get a 5000-point bonus.
After level two, you must successfully land your robot on the next level platform.
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