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Document Title: [ArmyBattlezone.html (html file)]

Army Battlezone (Atari, 1980/1981)

Army Battlezone (Atari, 1980/1981)

Submitted by Unknown

"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

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
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. 

       "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

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

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."