Atari's Major Havoc is a cult classic among arcade game enthusiasts. Less than 600 dedicated units were made.

Released in November 1983, it featured... no ending. This was fairly moot since the game was so hard few people got anywhere near the end.

Controls consisted of two buttons for jump and shield (no fire!); and a freewheeling rotary knob for left/right. This knob had a large mass so that it could be slapped hard for high acceleration.

Play consisted of three modes:

  • a Breakout-style 3D maze through which your ship was thrust at increasing speed
  • a Galaga-style skirmish followed by a very quick "landing" during which you appeared already falling fast and had only enough time to apply one left/right course correction to land on a small target platform
  • the maze within the target level itself.

    Each level was an enemy space station you had to clear. You were in a gravity field, so you fell anywhere there wasn't floor; often right over electric deathtraps. You could jump some height, but for free motion you needed the antigrav boots. Each life gave a single shield that would save you from 3 projectiles or one collision, though never from falling through electric screens.

    Basically you had to learn the timing of various obstacles and booby traps in order to make your way through to the reactor. Touch the reactor and a countdown started, during which you had to make your way to the escape pod. If you got there in time you blasted off the station and repeated the three modes for the next, against tighter-timed and more numerous enemies and obstacles.

    What made the game for me was two things: I love gravity games (Lunar Lander, Gravitar). And the mazes in Major Havoc were diabolical toward the end. You had to do some pretty nifty combos of jump, fall, speed down a hallway, fall through an intermittent floor section, hover till a door opened etc.

    Designed by Owen Rubin of Space Duel fame.

    If you're into video game mods, you can install Major Havoc and several other Atari vector games (Tempest, Quantum, Gravitar, Space Duel) into a shared cabinet: see for how. Otherwise, if you can't find a working arcade unit somewhere (hah!), get MAME or Vectorama and pull down Atari ROM 136025.

    Major Havoc was also the nick of a semifamous phreaker in the 80's.

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