Q*Bert Turns @!#?@! 30 - Fans of the classic look back
by Patrick Scott Patterson
Originally published October 5, 2012
The iconic arcade classic Q*bert is now 30 @!#?@! years old.
Government documents show the first use of the Q*bert trademark in commerce as October 7, 1982. The title was the first video game success for pinball powerhouse Gottlieb. It gained tremendous buzz when it debuted at the 1982 Amusement Machines Operators Association (AMOA) Show, where Play Meter Magazine stated it was the strongest new game at the event. Gottlieb eventually sold 25,000 copies of the coin-op machine.
Following the lead made by arcade hits like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, Q*bert quickly became a darling of the licensing world, appearing on products ranging from plush dolls and pajamas to tabletop and handheld versions. 7-Eleven stores and Mellow Yellow soda arranged for in-game advertising. Q*bert was a featured short during both seasons of CBS Saturday Morning cartoon Saturday Supercade and every home console and computer of the day seemingly got a port of the arcade hit.
The 1983-84 crash of the North American video game industry almost stopped Q*bert in it's tracks. Gottlieb, now named Mylstar, folded. A strong sequel game called Q*bert's Qubes hardly saw the light of day. When the industry roared back due to Nintendo's efforts later in the decade, Q*bert almost seemed lost.
Slowly but surely, however, Q*bert bounced back into relevance. A port to the Nintendo Entertainment System was followed by a new sequel on the Super NES and a reinvention of the franchise on the original PlayStation. Q*bert made cameo appearances on programs such as Futurama and Family Guy.
Over the past several years the classic has been the focus of the competitive arena as well. Eighty-year old class act Doris Self appeared in a portion of cult classic film The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters in 2007, as she traveled to New Hampshire to attempt a Q*bert world record. More recently, competitors such as Kelly Tharp, Rick Carter, George Leutz and Ed Heemskerk have attempted marathon record runs that managed to gain international headlines. Thus far Heemskerk has been the most successful of the bunch, playing 68.5 hours to set a record for the longest continuous play of an arcade game.
Now Q*bert appears prime to appear as a major character in the upcoming Disney film Wreck-It Ralph in November, perhaps exposing the orange noser to an entire new generation for the first time.
In honor of this big anniversary, I gathered the thoughts of some of the biggest fans of Q*bert, along with some of the people behind the game itself. Check them out below and feel free to add thoughts of your own under them.
Bill McEvoy - Ottawa, Ontario
"I remember being in Grade 8 when Q*bert came to our town. Actually, it was the next town over, at a little convenience store called Kim's Korner. Any time my mom went to the Mall, I made sure to tag along. As a die hard arcade fan, I always had quarters in my pockets. I was never any good at Q*bert, I just loved the random speech synthesis it produced."
"In the summer of 1983, I took a trip with my family in an RV from Vancouver to Los Angeles. That was the best trip ever, because every restaurant and gas station had an arcade, and a lot of them had Q*bert. Man I love listening to that machine."
Robert Workman - Freelance gaming journalist - Aurora, Colorado
"I think the first thing I probably noticed was the control set-up. Instead of going with the traditional up-down-left-right, it went in diagonal directions. My friends were all like, 'Man, this system was broken' and then we'd play it for hours anyway. And I swear, we were cracking up the first time that Q*bert got hit on the head and cursed up a storm. We were even trying to comprehend just what curse term he was using."
"The funniest thing, though, was that I created a quote similar to Q*bert's out of cardboard and decided to play a prank on my sister. She'd hit me on the head with a tennis ball dropped from above and I'd hold up the quote and mutter to myself in the best Q*bert voice possible. My mom wasn't too crazy about it, though. She's like, 'You shouldn't curse' even though I wasn't. She just didn't get it."
"Probably the most screwed up thing about Q*bert, though, was that Saturday Morning Supercade cartoon. I was trying to figure out just why the producers opted to fit Q*bert and his buddies in a 50's motif when the original game had nothing to do with that. I actually got in an argument with my sister about how stupid it was, followed by being hit by that tennis ball and me holding up that quote. And of course, we laughed."
"Oh, and I bought Q*bert for PlayStation Network the first day it came out. Still have yet to dominate the scoreboards but it's great that Sony opted to bring the game out. Still a favorite to this day. I play it down at the 1-Up barcade in Denver as well."
Eric Bailey of NintendoLegend.com and 1MoreCastle.com - Chicago, Illinois
"The arcade experience will always remain the true legacy of Q*bert. After all, the console cannot emulate the wonderful 'ker-thunk' sound of the in-cabinet lever that would activate whenever Q*bert fell off the virtual platform. Those digital days were wondrous, and Q*bertserved a key purpose: If Pac-Man was the first video game character to serve as a recognizable mascot, and Mario the one to make the practice an industry standard among developers, surely Q*bert and his one-of-a-kind characterization paid their due in bridging the gap."
George Leutz - World Record Challenger
"I remember Q*bert really standing out among the other games when I was a kid. The bright colors, the Ed Roth-esque, Rat Fink style unique characters. The interesting balance of skill-based action and quick puzzle solving. The playfield of the pyramid, the pseudo-3D perspective and diagonal control were different from the other games of it's class. The interesting defensive weapon of the spinning disc was a cool concept."
"Of course the mumbling sounds and curses are one of the most memorable elements. I know Warren Davis says that the voices are generated by a random phoneme generator, but I still think he slipped some real curse words in there, as an inside joke, though I don't think he'll ever admit it."
David Theil, Audio Engineer for Q*bert
"Back in '84 I was in a big drugstore in a Chicago suburban mall and I hear a video game. It sounded good so I found it. Embarrassed I realized it was a game I did the sound for: Q*bert. A little boy was playing it. He quartered up, pressed start, pushed the joystick right till Q*bert plunged to his death. He giggled and did it two more times. Then he quartered up again. Repeat. He loved the fall and the splat. This in part accounted for the good earnings."
"I'm actually quite honored that Q*bert remains in the public zeitgeist after 30 years. I certainly never expected it when we were making the game, but after the wave of nostalgia for classic games began back in the 1990's, I had hopes that QB would stand the test of time. I'd probably be more bitter if Q*bert was a cash cow for someone, since I don't receive any money whatsoever from either the character or the game, but it has been a genuine source of pleasure to know how much the little guy means to some people, and how fondly he's remembered."