Q*Bert

Gottlieb’s Q*Bert is arguably their most successful game. Upon release being flooded with praise and sales. The game’s protagonist, Q*Bert, has become one the most recognisable characters from an arcade game. In 1983, having 125 licensed products on the market which ranged from lunchboxes and Frisbees to plush toys. The game’s popularity shows as is was even made into a Saturday morning cartoon as part of CBS’s Saturday Supercade. In more recent media appearances, Q*Bert has played major roles in both Disney’s Wreck It Ralph (2012), and Sony’s Pixels (2015).

Q*Bert is a game that was designed around a pyramid shape board. The player controlled Q*Bert, a small, round and orange creature with a snout and legs. They had to guide Q*Bert down the board, moving vertically down to the left and right with a four-way joystick. Obstacles and enemies would randomly appear on the board which could either help or hinder Q*Bert’s quest – to change the colour of every block of the pyramid by jumping on them.

As the player developed further into the games levels, the difficulty increases. Whereas in the earlier levels of the game, when the cube has be turned to the correct colour, it will stay that way if Q*Bert would be to hop on the same cube again. However, this was not the case in the more difficult later levels of the game, where if Q*Bert hops on the same cube twice it will change back to the original colour. Another level of difficulty could be found in later levels of the game was that each cube in the pyramid needed to be jumped on more than once to reach the correct colour. In some final levels of the game, both of these are combined.

Another hindrance to the player was the incorporation of the enemies and the obstacles that share the board with the main character. Each of these foe characters were given personal characteristics. The first enemy being Coily. Coily first appeared on the board as a purple egg which made its descent down the board. Once the egg reaches the bottom of the board it will hatch and turn into a snake, which proceeded to chase Q*Bert around the board.

Ugg and Wrongway were the next two enemy characters. They were depicted as two purple creatures that hopped along the side of the cubes. They could start at either the bottom right or left hand corners and make an ascent to the top right and left sides of the pyramid. Once they reach their designated point, continued to fall off of the Pyramid.

Other enemies from the game were Slick and Sam. These were two green creatures that go down the pyramid, reverting cubes which colours have been changed. The purple enemies could have been fatal to Q*Bert upon collision, whereas the green creatures are removed from the board upon contact.

Other obstacles in the game include coloured balls that bounced down the board. These came in red and green. The red balls were lethal to Q*Bert, whereas the green balls could aid the player by immobilising enemies for a limited time. Other objects include multi-coloured floating discs which were located either side of the pyramid, these could have been used as helpful escape routes as they returned Q*Bert to the top of the board.

Points were awarded to the player for each block that changes colour. These were worth 25 points each. 500 points would have been rewarded for defeating Coily using a multi-coloured disc. A further 50-100 points available for every remaining disc at the end of a level. Finally, 300 points for each Slick and Sam that are remaining at the end of a level. Furthermore, an extra life was gained by reaching a certain amount of points.

The game was designed around a picture drawn by game creator Jeff Lee, inspired by M.C. Escher. He decided that a game could be derived from the picture which gradually became the pyramid made of cubes that the player navigates Q*Bert down. The character of Q*Bert was originally designed to be an orange round character that shot ‘mucus bombs’ from his snout. However, throughout development it was agreed that the title character would be avoiding enemies rather than shooting at them.

The game went through many possible names throughout development, originally being called Cubes. However, the Jeff Lee wanted the game to be named Snots and Boogers earlier in the games development due to Q*Bert being able to shoot ‘mucus bombs’ at this stage. The name @!#[email protected]! was decided upon just before public release, a small number of the game being developed under this name for testing. Finally, the game was named Q*Bert due to the worry that the game would be impossible to pronounce and impractical.

Upon release, the game surpassed expectation, becoming an instant hit. Q*Bert was showcased at the AMOA show in November 1982. It has been said that arcade operators were ordering their own cabinets directly from the show, due to the popularity. It sold for $2600 per unit, and quickly went to go on to sell 25,000 cabinets and proving to be the company’s biggest success. Q*Bert was praised for the innovative gameplay, making it unique for its time, even being rewarded the ‘Most Innovative Coin-Op Game of the Year’ by Electronic Games.