Atari Battlezone: Weekend Pickup!

A few weeks back you will have read here on the blog about Pete Davies, the UK-based collector who sadly passed away last year. A group of us travelled up to his house in Scotland and were able to rescue his collection and distribute the cabinets amongst the community. My own pickup from that weekend was a cabaret-style Atari Battlezone.

I’ve given Battlezone a wide berth to date, mainly due to my perception that they aren’t very reliable. I recall being at a show a few years back and watching the owner of a Battlezone cabinet spending most of his weekend with a torch in one hand, multi-meter in the other, on his hands and knees, constantly messing about with the PCB to get it working for any length of time. I guess that my view of this title has been irrationally marred by that observation. Ownership of this title didn’t look like much fun to me.


But now I’m older and wiser, I’m more confident about getting stuck into more complicated projects. One thing you learn in this hobby, is that the only way to increase your knowledge and learn new stuff, is to take things on, do your research and have a go.

So when the list of cabs from Pete’s collection was posted up, this Battlezone jumped out at me. It’s an Atari title from 1980; it’s a cabaret (which I prefer given my space issues in my arcade room) and it would be another cool project to work on over the summer (along with the other three I’m in the middle of!).

Released in November 1980, Battlezone was well received at the time, and is regarded as one of the iconic 80’s arcade video games. A vector title programmed by Ed Rotberg, it puts the player inside a tank simulator, complete with twin stick tank controls – each stick controls the left and right track of the tank. Gameplay takes place on a futuristic looking flat plain, complete with an erupting volcano and mountains on the horizon (which despite the urban legend suggesting otherwise, can never be reached!)


As you can see pictured on the flyer above, two versions of the cabinet were released – an upright (complete with “periscope” for extra immersion), and a cabaret size model.

As an aside, a cocktail version was developed, but never saw a full release, but a couple exist in the hands of collectors:


My Battlezone was one of 63 cabinets saved on the day. It was found in the middle of a barn at the rear of the property. You can just make it out in this picture:


That’s one of my collector “friends” clambering over the thing to see what was lurking at the back of the room. Bloody cheek.

So having been dragged out into the sunlight for the first time in years, my cabaret was loaded into the back of a van and driven down to London along with 15 other cabinets rescued on the day, and my buddy Alex hung onto it for me for a few days until I could pick up from him a few days later.

Thankfully, given its diminutive size, the squeeze in the car wasn’t anywhere near as bad as previous pickups. I was able to drive home in relative comfort without a joystick pressing into my ear:


Unloading the cab, I was able to get a good look at things:


Well it is complete, and in relatively good shape given where it came from. You can see a bit of rust on the metal parts which is fairly typical. Both sides show some age, but all in all, it looks OK:


I think of all the Atari wood grain cabarets, this shape looks the best. (This design was shared with the Asteroids Deluxe game). It stands at just 54 inches high!

That metal plate there is the remains of a security bolt that an operator put in place to protect the coin door. It’s been bolted through the sides which is a shame, but I should be able to fill the holes and touch up with paint to make good.

Battlezone’s defining feature is the twin stick controls. They are pretty unique, and you’ll often find these are broken off, cracked or missing altogether. So to discover a cab with this important component intact is a good find:


Notice the fire button on the top of the right stick. Sadly, the control panel itself is pretty tatty. These were originally silk screened at the factory, and tend to hold up better than a vinyl overlay, but even this was has succumbed to the elements and has rusted through resulting in bubbled paint in certain spots:


Bit of a shame that, but all is not lost. Someone in the USA did a run of reproduction control panels last year, using the same silk-screening process used by Atari, and I intend to get one shipped over to replace what we have here. More on that in a future post.

Marquee and coin door are present and in good nick:


That speaker at the bottom will need a respray – which is an easy job. The black vinyl on the front there is peeling off at the top. A bit of Gorilla glue will fix that no problem.

Insides are complete for the most part, but there is a coating of white mould everywhere. Damp had started to get into the storage area where it was found, and this was a common feature of most of the cabs we pulled out. This is going to need to be removed as quickly as possible before it gets worse:


But the most surprising thing is the condition of the bespoke monitor bezel surround. Made of cardboard, these tend to perish pretty quickly. This one appears to be in really good shape which is a nice bonus given the detail of the artwork. Replacing this would be a tricky job:


The bezel includes green and red gel overlays to give the appearance of colour. The G05 vector monitor is present. I’ve not tested it yet, but it has all its component parts:


I can get that tested in my Asteroids pretty easily. Fingers crossed it might work as-is.

The PCB was found separate to the cabinet on a shelf in Pete’s workshop. It hadn’t been protected very well, so who knows if it works – we’ll find out soon enough. I also didn’t notice until I got the cab home, that the power brick was nowhere to be seen! No idea how I missed that, as we saw a few PSUs lying around when we were going through things. Need to pay more attention next time. Thankfully I’ve had a couple of offers of help from other collectors who have spares, so I’ll be able to grab one soon.

The first job is to remove the white mould that has built up inside the cab whilst it was in storage – the container it was found in was pretty damp, resulting in some cabs being completely destroyed. Thankfully our Battlezone isn’t too bad, and I’m hoping the mould is only superficial.


Well, I’ll sign off here, as I’m about to get out to the garage to make a start on cleaning this Battlezone out.

It’s a special cab this; one I’m honoured to take ownership of. As one of the late Peter Davies’ collection of cabinets, I feel an obligation to do a good job and revive this Battlezone back to its former glory. Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for more details of the restoration as I make progress.

Thanks for dropping by this week!


5 Comments Add yours

  1. Neil McEwan says:

    Another great read Tony.
    I’m looking forward to a thread that actually finishes a resto too!
    You must have more projects on the go than a high school teacher!
    Keep them coming. A+


  2. Barrie Ellis says:

    There was a bit of BattleZone folklore that made a Microsoft Atari classics disk (Windows 3.1 I think on a 3.5″ disk). Ed Logg talked about a fan who said he’d heard that if you turned your back on the fighting and kept aiming for the Volcano that you’d eventually get there, and that there was a castle inside it. I’m 99.9% sure that was from a letter I sent in the early 1980s. Had a bit of an imagination then / was a doughnut. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Tony says:

    “The volcano erupting in the background was created by Owen Rubin (Major Havoc). Rubin pestered Ed Rotberg to add the volcano but he was too busy to write the code and told Rubin that if he wanted the erupting volcano he’d have to write the code. The next morning, Rotberg walked in to a volcano erupting onscreen and the code listing on his desk.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brian Deuel says:

    Re: Tony’s post above- heh. Those are words that *I* wrote for the old MAME history database back in the late 90s. Kind of weird and surreal coming to a site that I had never visited before (great site, by the way) and seeing something that I wrote so many years ago. The last line of the entry is somewhat inaccurate, and I’ll have to pop by and fix the entry. Owen wrote the code and gave it to Ed, who put it in the game and tested it.

    Liked by 1 person

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