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This is from http://www.multipath.com/d.jefferys/vids/bzone/

Army Battlezone (Atari, 1980/1981)



"Army Battlezone remains a mystery, even to those of us who worked
on it." 

Editor's Notes:

I recently had the privilege of discussing Atari history with a member of Atari's
development team. This individual worked at Atari for a period of several years,
including the "Golden Age", and was a major contributor on many of the classics
we've come to know know and love. A note of thanks to him, not just for the
information on these pages, but for hours of fun in the arcades. 

One topic which came up was the truth behind the rumors that surround Army
Battlezone. This is what he had to contribute: 

       Facts: The prototype was built. 
       Speculation: Project background. 
       Conclusions: A passion for secrecy. 

NOTE: Please don't send me e-mail requesting the identity of my source. Suffice
it to say that you've already seen his name on the credits of many Atari games. 


Army Battlezone (Atari, 1980/1981)



"This is what I know to be true."

1) Project Team:

The project team consisted of: 

       Rick Moncrief: Project Leader.
       Rick was the manager of the Special Projects Group which, after several
       name changes, became the Applied Research Group. This group went on to
       produce Star Wars, Hard Drivin', Race Drivin', and Race Drivin' Panorama. 

       Ed Rotberg: Programmer.

       Jed Margolin: Engineer.
       Jed also helped Ed with the 3D math. Ed Rotberg and Jed Margolin were the
       only members from the original Battlezone team. 

       Erik Durfey: Technician.
       Erik Durfey also worked for Rick Moncrief. 

       Hans Hansen: Programmer.
       Hans Hansen was a programmer who did a very nice job converting the
       pictures of friendly and enemy vehicles to vector drawings. 

       Otto De Runtz: Mechanical Engineer.
       Otto De Runtz adapted the control we were given. This control was said
       to be an actual gunner control from the Bradly Fighting Vehicle. Later,
       he downsized and redesigned it. It became the Star Wars control and was
       used in several other games. 

       Others:
       "There may have been others of which I was not particularly aware." 



2) Hardware Changes:

My source writes: 

       "Jed added a lot of switch inputs, as well as a real A/D converter for
       reading the Control Yoke and Range Pot." 



3) Game Play:

My source writes: 

       You were in an IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). The game was produced
       before the name was changed to Bradly Fighting Vehicle (in honor of
       General Omar Bradly). The vehicle drove by itself. 

       You were periodically presented with either Friendly Vehicles or Hostile
       Vehicles. (Tanks, Armored Personnel Carriers, and Helicopters) 

       Your first task was to determine whether a vehicle was Friendly or
       Hostile. If you killed a Friendly, it was Game Over. 

       You could select either a normal view or a magnified view. 

       Your weapons consisted of a 7.62mm machine gun, a cannon with both 
       armor-piercing or high-explosive shells (another decision to make),
       and a TOW (Tube-launched Optically-guided Weapon) missile launcher.
       The trick with the TOW missile was to keep the crosshairs on the
       target; the temptation was to put the crosshairs on the bright missile
       exhaust. 

       The cannon was supposed to be aimed with a simulated optical range
       finder. This required that you guess the size of the target, align
       it with an on-screen gauge, and read out the distance. There was a
       dial to set to compensate for the distance. The idea was to hit the
       target with the first shot. (Firing several shots to zero-in on the
       target not only wastes ammunition, it really annoys the target :-) 



4) Was it Produced?

My source writes: 

       "ABZ was a rush project. When it was 85%-90% done it was hauled off
       to a military conference (we were told) where it was a big hit
       (we were told) and then returned. I remember the one prototype but
       there may have been two. [One of the team members] kept the prototype. 

       A few months after the presumed conference I asked Rick [Moncrief,
       the Project Leader] if we were going to produce it. He said no, but
       I don't remember if he gave me a reason, or if anyone had even given
       him a reason." 



5) Maybe it was...

Several years later, my source ran across a very curious paragraph in the
book Computer Image Generation, edited by Bruce J. Schachter, John Wiley
& Sons, 1983. On page xii (in the preface): 

       "The Army's Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) has completed
       an extensive study of arcade game technology and its application
       to military instruction {LUDV81}. Under contract to TRADOC's training
       support center, Atari has modified their popular 'Battle Zone' game
       into 'Army Battle Zone' in which the controls and weapons of the M2
       infantry fighting vehicle are replicated. Army experts who have
       worked with the game find it to be a useful tactical trainer; a more
       sophisticated version is in the works." 

{LUDV81} is a reference to an article in Army Magazine: E. C. Ludvigsen,
"Combat in a Box," Army, 31(8), pp. 14-21 (August 1981). 


Army Battlezone (Atari, 1980/1981)



"This is what I was told but have no way of verifying:"

1) Low-cost trainers:

Someone in the Military (probably the Army) was investigating whether or
not arcade games could be adapted to be low-cost military trainers. 



2) Why Battlezone?

They were particularly interested in finding out if Battlezone could be
modified as a gunnery trainer for the Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Why? 

       TOW missiles cost $7K each, and gunners had a tendency to keep the
       crosshairs on the bright missile exhaust instead of on the target.
       If a $3.5K video game could save even one TOW missile, it would
       have paid for itself. The optical range finder was difficult to
       use and gunners had a tendency to ignore it and just fire several
       shots to zero-in on the target. (It ended up being replaced by a
       laser range finder which was more or less automatic.) 



3) Intermediary company:

The Army had set up a company run by retired Army officers to act as an
intermediary. The reasons for this were: 

       The Army would not have to go through the normal procurement
       process. The equipment would be purchased as "video arcade games"
       and placed in commissaries where, due to normal competitiveness,
       the gunners would play it (and pay for it) on their own. 
       Warner Communications (Atari's parent company at the time) would
       not be treated as a Defense Contractor. Being a Defense Contractor
       would have meant opening their financial records to the government,
       and would also have set a profit margin far below what the company
       was accustomed to. 



4) Politics:

My source describes some internal divisions within the company regarding
the ethical implications of working on a military-related project. In a
nutshell, there were two schools of thought: 

       One school of thought was that if building ABZ could help our guys
       in the field so that fewer of them would get killed in a battle,
       then it was a Good Thing to do. 
       There was also a "rebel" group, who were not working on ABZ, and
       who strongly objected to having anyone work on ABZ. 


Army Battlezone (Atari, 1980/1981)



"The real question is: Did Atari build them for the Military?"

Editor's Notes:

My personal opinion is that it's a definite "maybe". Although nobody
seems to know the whole story, my source was able to provide some insights. 

My source's last comment probably summarizes the situation better than
I can; at least those of us in the game-preservation community can sleep
well in the comfort that we're not the only ones who wonder about
whatever happened to Army Battlezone. 

I'll leave it to him to close the discussion: 

1) One Answer:

My source writes: 

       "It is highly unlikely that Atari built them in its factory."
       [emphasis added] 



2) An Explanation:

My source writes: 

       "If the machines had been built in Atari's factory, people would
       have been involved with the PC Design group to make the
       modifications to the PC board, and would also have been involved
       with getting the project into production. I saw neither of these
       things. Someone would also have noticed the games coming off the
       assembly line." 



3) Another Answer:

My source also writes: 

       "I have no firm proof for the following: 

       I have a strong memory of reading, somewhere in a book on
       Wargaming, that Atari built 5,000 ABZs for the Army.
       Unfortunately, I cannot find the reference. I remember telling
       Rick about it. He said it was news to him." 



4) Another Question:

My source concludes with: 

       "There is another possibility: 

       In order to avoid trouble with the 'rebel' group, could someone
       in management have quietly gotten all the documentation together
       and either farmed it out or licensed it to someone on the outside? 

       The answer is yes, this is a possibility. 

       Atari's management has always had a passion for secrecy." 


 


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