Atari's 1983 I, Robot
I, Robot is a combination of a maze game, puzzle game, and vertical shooter, done with 3D graphics.

You control the unhappy Interface Robot #1984 and must navigate a series of mazes, under the ever-present gaze of the Evil Eye. To clear a maze, you must change all of the red areas of the floor to blue by passing over them. You must also avoid or shoot various enemies that are sent after you, from giant birds, to soccer balls, to space sharks.

The puzzle aspect emerges in how you have to complete a particular maze. You can't always take the most direct route to where you need to go. You may have to navigate around barriers, shoot down walls, or scoot past an enemy at just the right time. You'll also have to jump over chasms, which is easy enough to do, but not always easy to do at the right time. If you jump while the Evil Eye is red, you're dead.

After each maze, you're flung into space, where you have to blast away at tetrahedrons for bonus points, and letters for extra lives. Every few levels you'll also have to face a giant floating head that spits spikes at you.

During the attract mode, various gameplay tips are displayed. The most helpful of which is to use the Player 1 and Player 2 buttons to adjust your view, which can give you a much better look at the mazes.

Missing Ingredient
Although an excellent game, I, Robot had several things going against it from the start. Its biggest problem was timing. Released right after the big videogame industry crash, many arcades had closed, and few were willing to invest in new games, especially ones that were such a radical departure from what had come before. Additionally, the few I, Robot machines that did make it to the arcades tended to have reliability problems. These two elements combined to ensure that few people would ever get to play the game.

Then there was Doodle City. This was an alternate program which you could select instead of playing I, Robot, that allowed the player to "draw" on screen with 3D objects. Unfortunately, Doodle City just wasn't very interesting, potentially turning off players who were looking for a game to play - instead of a glorified Etch-a-Sketch. I, Robot would have been better off without Doodle City, since it only served to detract from the game.

The Games That Time Didn't Forget
Since this is the last planned installment of The Games That Time Forgot, I felt some sort of wrap-up was in order. I, Robot could be the poster child for TGTTF, and perhaps MAME itself.

There were many games that never got the recognition they deserved, but I, Robot is one of the few that can truly be called revolutionary. While its gameplay was a variation on themes that had come before, the execution was literally years ahead of its time, as it was the first-ever shaded polygon 3D videogame. This involved not only the technical challenge of getting 3D graphics to work, but a complete paradigm shift in game design from two dimensions to three. This was something that wouldn't be attempted again for years, but is completely commonplace now.

I, Robot is also a game steeped in mystery. The legend is that only 1,000 machines were produced, with 500 sold in the United States, and the rest shipped off to Japan. Halfway across the Pacific, the crew were allegedly instructed to push the machines overboard, since Atari was unable to sell them, and unwilling to deal with them. Whether this is true or not, may be a matter for Robert Ballard to solve.

Whatever the reasons were for various games to be forgotten, it's thanks to projects like MAME that videogame history is being preserved, and these long-lost, overlooked classics can be appreciated once again.

- Nathan Strum

Thanks to Jeffrey Carl at ServInt for providing the space for CinemArcade


All content © Dave Dries unless otherwise stated