An advertisement flyer for Q*bert, which depicts the arcade cabinet, the orange titular protagonist, the purple enemy Coily, and the green character Slick.
|Designer(s)||Warren Davis and Jeff Lee|
|Mode(s)||Up to 2 players, alternating turns|
|Cabinet||Upright and table|
Q*bert (pronounced /ˈkjuːbərt/) is an arcade video game developed and published by Gottlieb in 1982. It is a platform game that features two-dimensional (2D) graphics. The object is to change the color of every cube in a pyramid by making the on-screen character jump on top of the cube while avoiding obstacles and enemies. Players use a joystick to control the character.
The game was conceived by Warren Davis and Jeff Lee. Lee designed the titular character based on childhood influences and gave Q*bert a large nose that shoots projectiles. His original idea involved traversing a pyramid to shoot enemies, but Davis removed the shooting game mechanic to simplify gameplay. Q*bert was developed under the project name Cubes, but was briefly named Snots And Boogers and @!#?@!? during development.
Q*bert was well received in arcades and by critics, who praised the graphics, gameplay and main character. The success resulted in sequels and use of the character's likeness in merchandising, such as appearances on lunch boxes, toys, and an animated television show. The game has since been ported to numerous platforms.
Q*bert is an isometric platform game with puzzle elements where the player controls the titular protagonist from a third-person perspective. Q*bert starts each game at the top of a pyramid of cubes, and moves by jumping diagonally from cube to cube. Landing on a cube causes it to change color, and changing every cube to the same color allows the player to progress to the next stage. Later stages require the player to change the color multiple times. Jumping off the pyramid results in the character's death.
The player is impeded by several enemies: Coily, a purple snake that chases after Q*bert; Ugg and Wrong-Way, purple creatures that run along the sides of the cubes; and Slick and Sam, green gremlins that revert the color changes that have occurred. A collision with purple enemies is fatal to the character. Colored balls occasionally appear at the top of the pyramid and bounce downward; contact with a red ball is lethal to Q*bert, while contact with a green one will immobilize the on-screen enemies. Upon dying, Q*bert emits a sound likened to swearing.[Note 1] A multi-colored disc on either side of the pyramid serves as an escape device from danger, particularly Coily. The disc returns Q*bert to the top of the pyramid, tricking Coily to jump off the pyramid if the snake was in close pursuit.
The game features amplified monaural sound and pixel graphics on a 19 inch CRT monitor. It uses an Intel 8086 central processing unit that operates at 5MHz. Q*bert is Gottlieb's fourth video game. The basic ideas were thought up by Warren Davis and Jeff Lee. The initial concept began when artist Jeff Lee drew a pyramid of cubes inspired by M. C. Escher. Lee felt a game could be derived from the artwork, and created an orange, armless main character. The character jumped along the cubes and shot projectiles from a tubular nose at enemies. Enemies included a blue creature, later changed purple and named Wrong Way, and an orange creature, later changed green and named Sam. Lee had drawn similar characters since childhood, and based them on comics, cartoons, and characters from Mad magazine and by artist Ed Roth. Q*bert's design later included a speech balloon with a string of nonsensical characters, "@!#?@!?",[Note 2] which Lee originally presented as joke.
Warren Davis, a programmer hired to work on the action game Protector, noticed Lee's ideas, and asked if he could use them to practice programming game mechanics: randomness and gravity. Because Davis was still learning how to program game mechanics, he wanted to keep the design simple. He also felt games with complex control schemes were frustrating and wanted something that could be played with one hand. To accomplish this, Davis removed the shooting and changed the objective to saving the protagonist from danger. He continued to work on the game and added balls that bounced from the pyramid's top to bottom. As Davis worked on the game one night, Gottlieb's Vice President of Engineering, Ron Waxman, noticed him and suggested to change the color of the cubes after the game's character has landed on them. Davis decided to implement a unique control scheme; a four-way joystick was rotated 45° to match the directions of Q*bert's jumping. Staff members felt a more contemporary orientation used in other games would be better, but Davis reasoned that a standard orientation did not make sense.
The Gottlieb staff had difficulty naming the game, and, aside from the project name "Cubes", it was untitled for most of the development process. The staff agreed the game should be named after the main character, but could not agree on a name. Lee's title for the initial concept—Snots And Boogers—was rejected, as was a list of suggestions compiled from company employees. Vice president of marketing Howie Rubin favored @!#?@!?, although the rest of the staff felt it was not viable. Staff members argued it was silly and would be impossible to pronounce. A few early test models, however, were produced with @!#?@!? as the title on the units' artwork. During a meeting, "Hubert" was suggested, and a staff member thought of combining "Cubes" and "Hubert" into "Cubert". Art director Richard Tracy changed the name to "Q-bert", and the dash was later changed to an asterisk. In retrospect, Davis wishes the asterisk was changed to a different character; the asterisk prevented the name from becoming a common crossword term and it is a wildcard character for search engines.
As development neared the production stage, test models were built and placed in local arcades to gauge player responses and see how much the game earned. Gottlieb also conducted focus groups, in which the designers observed players through a two-way mirror. The control scheme received a mixed reaction during play testing; some players adapted quickly while others found it frustrating. Initially, Davis was worried players would not adjust to the different controls; some players would unintentionally jump off the pyramid several times, reaching a game over in about ten seconds. Players, however, became accustomed to the controls after playing several rounds of the games. The different responses to the controls prompted Davis to reduce the game's level of difficulty—something he regretted afterward.
A MOS Technology 6502 chip that operates at 894kHz and a speech synthesizer generates the sound effects and Q*bert's incoherent expressions respectively. The audio system uses 128B of random-access memory and 4KB of erasable programmable read only memory to store the sound data and code to implement it. Like other Gottlieb games, the sound system was thoroughly tested to ensure it would handle daily usage. In retrospect, audio engineer David Thiel commented that such testing minimized time available for creative designing.
"We wanted the game to say, 'You have gotten 10,000 bonus points', and the closest I came to it after an entire day would be 'bogus points'. Being very frustrated with this, I said, 'Well, screw it. What if I just stick random numbers in the chip instead of all this highly authored stuff, what happens?'"
—David Thiel on the creation of Q*bert's incoherent swearing.
Thiel was tasked with using the synthesizer to produce English phrases for the game. However, he was unable to create coherent phrases and chose to string together random phonemes. Theil also felt the incoherent speech was a good fit for the "@!#?@!?" in Q*bert's speech balloon. Following a suggestion from technician Rick Tighe, a pinball machine component was included to make a loud sound when a character falls off the pyramid. The sound is generated by an internal coil that hits the interior of a cabinet wall. Foam padding was added to the area of contact on the cabinet; the developers felt the softer sound better matched a fall rather than a loud knocking sound. The cost of installing foam, however, was too expensive and the padding was omitted.
Q*bert was Gottlieb's only video game that gathered huge critical and commercial success, selling around 25,000 arcade cabinets. Cabaret and cocktail versions of the game were later produced. The machines have since become collector's items; the rarest of them are the cocktail versions. Author Steve Kent and GameSpy's William Cassidy considered Q*bert one of the more memorable games of its time. Author David Ellis echoed similar statements, calling it a "classic favorite". 1UP.com's Jeremy Parish included Q*bert among the higher-profile classic games. In 2008, Guinness World Records ranked it behind 16 other arcade games in terms of their technical, creative and cultural impact.
Video game critics focused on the gameplay and visuals. Kim Wild of Retro Gamer magazine described the game as difficult yet addictive. Author John Sellers also called Q*bert addictive, and praised the sound effects and three-dimensional appearance of the graphics. Computer and Video Games magazine praised the game's graphics and colors. Cassidy called the game unique and challenging; he attributed the challenge in part to the control scheme. IGN's Jeremy Dunham felt the controls were poorly designed, describing them as "unresponsive" and "a struggle". He commented that despite the controls, the game is addictive. William Brohaugh of Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games described the game as an "all-round winner" that had many strong points. He praised the variety of sound effects and the graphics, calling the colors vibrant. Brohaugh lauded Q*bert's inventiveness and appeal, stating that the objective was interesting and unique.
The main character also received positive press coverage. Edge magazine attributed the success of the game to the titular character. They stated that players could easily relate to Q*bert, particularly because he swore. Computer and Video Games, however, considered the swearing a negative, but still felt the character was appealing. Cassidy believed the game's appeal laid in the main character. He described Q*bert as cute and having a personality that made him stand out in comparison to other popular video game characters.
Q*bert became one of the most merchandised arcade games behind Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. The character's likeness appears on various items including coloring books, sleeping bags, frisbees, board games, wind-up toys, and stuffed animals. In 1983, Q*bert was adapted into an animated cartoon as part of CBS's Saturday Supercade, which featured segments based on video game characters from the golden age of video arcade games. Saturday Supercade was produced by Ruby-Spears Productions, and the Q*bert segments aired from 1983–1986. The show is set in a United States, 1950s era town called "Q-Burg", and stars Q*bert as a high school student. In the cartoon, Q*bert's design was altered to include arms and hands, as well as the ability to shoot black projectiles from his nose. Characters frequently say puns that add the letter "Q" to words. It also includes new characters, similar in appearance to Q*bert, and the game's other characters.
Q*bert has been referenced in episodes of the television series Futurama and The Simpsons. Creators Davis and Lee expressed pride at the longevity of the game's legacy; Davis is also surprised people still positively remember the game. In describing Q*bert's legacy, Jeff Gerstmann of GameSpot referred to the game as a "rare arcade success". Despite its success, the two creators did not receive royalties as Gottlieb had no such program in place at the time. Obtaining the highest score for the game became a goal for players. Doris Self, credited by Guinness World Records as the "oldest competitive female gamer", set a record score for Q*bert in 1984 at the age of 58. Her record was surpassed, and she continued attempting to regain the record until her death in 2006. The North American video game crash of 1983, however, depressed the market, and, by 1984, the game's popularity began to decline.
Q*bert has inspired other games and been remade on different platforms. Several home console games like Boingo, Mr. Cool, and Pogo Joe copied Q*bert's gameplay, while others like Flip Flop built upon it. Following its 1982 release, the game was ported to several platforms including the Magnavox Odyssey², Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, Commodore VIC-20, and several Atari consoles. The different ports received mixed receptions. Many home versions poorly replicated the controls on game controllers. Davis considered the ColecoVision home version the most accurate port of the arcade. Upon its release, the Atari 2600 port of Q*bert was well received. Antic magazine's Brian Fung complimented the adaptation from the arcade to home format. Arthur Leyenberger of Creative Computing praised the gameplay and audio-visuals, and listed it as the second best arcade adaptation for the console. In 2008, however, IGN's Levi Buchanan rated it the fourth worst Atari 2600 arcade port, citing poor visuals and a technical problem that makes the game excessively difficult; a lack of animations for enemies while jumping between cubes made it impossible to know which direction they travel until they land.
A remake with three-dimensional (3D) graphics was released by Hasbro Interactive on the PlayStation in 1999 and on the Dreamcast the following year. It features three modes of play: classic, adventure, and competitive multiplayer. Allgame's Brett Weiss praised all aspects of the game, while Parish called it a poor adaptation. Kevin Rice of Next Generation Magazine praised the game's graphics, but criticized the new level designs. He further commented that adventure mode was not enjoyable. In February 2007, Q*bert was released on the Playstation 3's PlayStation Network, the first classic arcade game to do so. It features updated graphics, an online leaderboard for players to post high-scores, and Sixaxis motion controls. The game received a mild reception. Dunham and Gerstmann did not enjoy the motion controls and felt it was a title only for nostalgic players. In contrast, Parish considered the title worth purchasing, citing its addictive gameplay.
Sequels were released, but did not reach the same level of success as the original. The first, titled Q*bert's Qubes, was released in 1983. It was manufactured by Mylstar Electronics,[Note 3] and used the same hardware as the original. The game features Q*bert, but introduces new enemies: Meltniks, Soobops, and Rat-A-Tat-Tat. The player navigates the protagonist around a plane of cubes while avoiding enemies. Jumping on a cube causes it to rotate, changing the color of the visible sides of the cube. The goal is to match the cubes in a row; later levels require multiple rows to match. In 1984, Q*Bert's Qubes was ported to home consoles like the Colecovision and Atari 2600 by Parker Brothers. Another sequel, Q*bert 3, was released in the early 1990s for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It features gameplay similar to the original, but has larger levels of varying shapes. In addition to new enemies (Frogg, Top Hat, and Derby), enemies from the first game attempt to impede the player from changing the cubes' colors.
Gottlieb also released a pinball game, Q*bert's Quest, based on the arcade version. It features two pairs of flippers in an "X" formation and audio from the arcade. Gottlieb produced less than 900 units. Parker Brothers released a tabletop, electronic game adaptation. It uses a VFD screen to emulate the arcade's gameplay, and has since become a rare collector's item. Feeling that the original game was too easy, Davis decided to develop Faster Harder More Challenging Q*bert (also known as FHMC Q*bert) in 1983. The project, however, was canceled and the game never entered production. Davis later released FHMC Q*bert's ROM image for fans to play via MAME, an arcade emulator.
|Publisher(s)||Gottlieb (Konami in Japan)|
|System(s)||Arcade, Atari 8-bit, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, ColecoVision, Intellivision, Magnavox Odyssey², Commodore 64/128, Commodore VIC-20, TI-99/4A, NES, Sega SG-1000, PlayStation Network, Mac OS|
Q*bert was the collaboration of artist Jeff Lee, programmer Warren Davis, and sound engineer David Thiel. Like many early game concepts, Q*bert started out much differently than the eventual form in which it was released, but the result was a very innovative and fun game that did very well in the arcades. It contained a variety of features, ranging from the pseudo-3D look of the pyramid, to the physical knock sound generated from pinball hardware whenever the player fell off of the pyramid, and the famous unintelligible Q*bert swearing that he uttered when he collided with an enemy.
In 1982, Parker Brothers was determined to become a major player in the video game industry. As such, they joined the race with Atari, and later Coleco, to acquire the home conversion rights to several popular arcade hits. Along with Frogger and Popeye, they scored the rights to release Q*bert for home systems and computers. In 1989, Konami released the game for the NES under the Ultra Games label.
Since then, the Q*bert license has been brought back like many classic gaming icons. Updated versions have appeared on the Game Boy, Super Nintendo, PlayStation, Sega Dreamcast and the PC. The last three editions were a 3D version produced by Hasbro Interactive.
Like many of the earliest video games, there is no distinct reason provided as to why Q*bert must jump all over multiple pyramids and change the color of every block top. It is simply your job to guide him safely through each stage, avoid all the enemies who would like to stop him in his quest.