Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Death is a Smiley Face

Evil Otto.  Just saying the name gives me shivers.  I'm haunted by this bastard.  I can't see a smiley face of any kind without breaking out in a cold sweat.  Todays kids may see this and or course will think of The Comedian from Watchmen.  Well, lemme tell ya, there was a time when this little guy was more than just the calling card of a mentally ill "super hero". 

Evil Otto first appeared in the arcade game Berzerk (1980), which was then ported to many other gaming systems including the Atari 2600.  Players controlled "The Humanoid" who had to navigate endless mazes filled with deadly robots armed with lasers.  Everything is better with lasers, don't you think?  Anywhoo....Evil Otto here would appear out of no where, shouting "Intruder Alert, Intruder Alert!"  and would then proceed to chase after you.  This guy could move through walls, he had absolutely no regard for his minions, because he'd destroy any standing in his way just so he could get to you!  Evil worse, Otto was completely unstoppable.  He was a virtual killing machine that could not be reasoned with and could not be destroyed.  Like an evil bouncing yellow smiley energizer bunny from hell.

Now you may be asking " it was The Smiley what?"  Well, beyond being listed as #78 in IGN's list of the Top 100 Videogame Villians as well as #1 in's 10 Most Terrifying Video Game Enemies of All Time, Evil Otto has the distinction of being in the first video game to be directly related to not one, but TWO deaths!  In January of 1981, Jeff Dailey (age 19) died of a heart attack after acheiving a score of 16,660 points in Berzerk.  Hold on...can we look at that score again? 

16,660  Points

No, I'm not making that number up.  That is the score that Jeff got before he died.  Okay, so quite possibly Evil Otto is Satan.  Victim #2 died in October 1982.  Peter Burkowski (age 18) also died of a heart attack after making the Berzerk Top Ten High Score List twice in 15 minutes.  Apparently Evil Otto don't like being messed with and if you REALLY piss him off he WILL kill you for real!   

Hey, you know what that made me think of?  Rememeber an anthology movie from the 80's called Nightmares?

The segment I'm talking about was called The Bishop of Battle and starred a young Emilio Estevez.
Take a look at these screen shots and tell me if anything looks kinda familiar:

Hhhhhmmm.....looks a little bit like our ol' pal Otto, don't it?  If you are unfamiliar with the film, The Bishop of Battle is about a teen video game whiz (Estevez) who is trying to beat the video game of the same name.  The game has thirteen levels, but no one can seem to get past the twelfth (que 80's spooky music).  Well, after getting kicked out of the arcade for causing a ruckus and getting into a fight with his parents, he does what anyone would do.  Goes back after hours, breaks into the arcade and fires up The Bishop.  Well, he manages to get to the thirteenth level and the game comes to life.  Literally.  Video game enemies come out of the machine and the arcade itself becomes the final stage.  Cool, huh?  I wonder if the filmmakers had heard about the Berzerk deaths and decided to play upon that.

Okay, so originally this was gonna be just a quick piece on one of my favorite video games and how it fits into the horror lexicon and it's turned into one of those stories that you tell while you're in the pub with some friends on a dark and stormy night....with the lightning crashing and the rain pounding on the windows.....folks clinging to their beer with both hands and jumping when you tell them poor Jeff's final score.  It feels like Mr. Jeff Dailey's story should end with something like "....and when they found his body, Stairway to Heaven was playing on the radio...."

Well, I hope you've enjoyed this disturbing little article off the beaten path.  Let this article be a warning...if you are going to play Berzerk and you are going for high score, please for the love of God, think twice.  Evil Otto is watching.......with a big ol' grin on his face.

I will leave you with a video demonstrating the creep robot voice synthesis of the arcade version of the game.


  1. Berzerk is one of the best games of all time. Both the atari and arcade versions were great.

    Still, you can play Frenzy for hours, but in Berzerk you always die.

  2. Agreed! I fell in love with this game the day I bought it for my Atari 2600 and it's been a torrid affair ever since!!