The 13 Most Overheard Phrases in an ’80s Arcade

By Teague Bohlen

Coin-ops were known for their sound effects–the boops,
beeps, ba-da-DA-das, and wakka-wakka-wakkas.  But a few years into the coin-op boom of the early 80s came
something new to add to the arcade soundtrack: voices.  This when digitized speech was
something new and pretty amazing in gaming.  It’s no coincidence that a lot of the early digital
voicework in these games was devoted to getting you to give up your quarter;
these voices worked, and well. 
Games had already earned reputations for being quarter-eaters; with the
advent of voice technology, the games could actually taunt you for it, too.

Here, a baker’s dozen of the voices emanating from your
coin-op arcade–the ones that haunted your dreams, called for your quarters…and
eventually made arcade managers turn the damn things off.

13) “Blast Off!” – Bosconian

Ah, the cries of “Alart! Alart!” The voice for this classic 1981 game sounds
sort of like Steven Hawking’s speech synthesizer, if it was raised in Jersey. And
was sort of pissed at you. I said Blast
off, you fuckin’ mook.

12) “Dragon’s Lair! A
fantasy adventure where you become a valiant knight on a quest to rescue the
fair princess from the clutches of an evil dragon.” – Dragon’s Lair

Unlike most of the entries on this list, the bombastic voice of this 1983 game
was not digitized but rather recorded on videodisc (hot on the heels of the
first of its kind, Atari’s Firefox,
which was a fairly boring ad for the movie of the same name, and boasted only
one thing worth your quarter–Clint Eastwood’s semi-unrecognizable but
still-cool voicework), but the cheesy announcer in the attract mode of this
game was ubiquitous to any arcade worth its dim lighting. But the Disneyesque Don
Bluth art was gorgeous, and even if the gameplay was a little (okay,
completely) choreographed, any kid enamored with D&D or fantasy lit was
enchanted by the come on: “Lead on, adventurer…your quest awaits.”

11) “Prepare to Qualify.” – Pole Position

Okay, so it was only one line, but if you spent an afternoon in 1982 dropping
quarters at a Gold Mine arcade, you became well acquainted with this female
voice. Despite the tone of relative disinterest that can be heard in the
reading of that line, many video-gamers claimed that the girl sounded cute. Which
is either a sign of an active imagination at work, or evidence that early 80s coin-op
players had gotten used to cute girls speaking with tones of relative


10) “Help Me!” – Stratovox

One of the first games with a speech synthesizer, this one wasn’t nearly as well
known as others on the list, probably because it wasn’t a great game. But the
novelty of the voice synthesizer (crude as it was) kept this in the arcades for
longer than it might otherwise have lasted. It probably also helped that it
took a while to actually figure out what the voice was saying–cutting through
the thick haze of both accent and early digitizing took some time. But it was
sort of fun that the alien voice had some attitude: in counting up the
surviving spacemen at the end of a round, it would do so by saying, “Lucky,
lucky, lucky, lucky….”


9) “Body blow! Body blow! Uppercut!
Knock him out!” – Punch-Out!

By 1983, the voices were getting better and more completely used. This boxing
game would have gone utterly nowhere without the ring announcer giving you a
play-by-play of the punches that you’re throwing. The two-monitor layout was
something of a visual draw for the arcade stand-up, but it was the voice that
brought the crowds around to watch the bouts.

8) “Warrior Needs Food
Badly” – Gauntlet

Gauntlet is a veritable treasure chest of quotable quotes. So much so that
many arcade operators turned off the voice due to its ever-present nature. The
first Gauntlet was produced by Atari in 1985, right in the middle of the
coin-op bust; to counter this it came up with a lot of inventive things to spur
players into dropping not just one quarter but two on the experience. One of those things was the sonorous
announcer giving a play-by-play: “Warrior is about to die!” or “Elf needs food
badly!” The guy sounds like he’s on Clorazapam (the side effects of which
include drowsiness and irritability, which sound about right), especially when
he says things like “Valkyrie has eaten most of the food lately.” That’s just
the game going out of its way to sow discord between players. Which is sort of
evil, and pretty damn cool.


7) “On your mark…get set…” –
Track and Field

Though this game came out in 1983, its heyday was the summer of 1984, when the
USA was kicking ass and taking names at the Olympics, due in part to the
Russian boycott. This game was notorious for being loud–but not so much for the
voices (both male and female, primarily starting an event and then announcing
your time or distance when it was done), but for the mad tapping of the
three-button controls (usually a “tappatappatappatappa” of the alternating Run
buttons, followed by a decisive “smack” of the Action button. And the midi
version of the theme to Chariots of Fire
didn’t hurt either.

6) “You will diiee!” – Crossbow

The disembodied voice that starts this 1983 game with the aforementioned quote
is a big fat liar. Because you, in fact, don’t die. Your friends do. You’re the
one trying to save them through absurdly treacherous landscapes in which
witches in town windows whine “Curse you,” and evil eyes open in the sky and
laugh at you with a hearty “Ha ha ha!” But the most memorable voice from the
game is probably that of your own friends who say “Aieeeeeaaaaagh!” when you fail
them and they get killed. Or when you inevitably get sick of the whole thing
and just start shooting them yourself.

5) “Red Five, Standing By” – Star

In 1983, before the advent of VCRs, before George Lucas allowed his films to be
shown anywhere but in theaters, and despite the Star Wars Holiday Special? This
was an amazing experience. Not only did players get to be Luke Skywalker in the X-Wing, taking out TIEs and diving into
the Death Star trench, but they got easily recognizable audio clips from the
movies: digitized samples of Luke Skywalker
(“I’ve lost R2!”), a bit of Han Solo “Yahoo! You’re all clear, kid!”), a good
amount of Darth Vader (“The Force is strong with this one…”), and a whole lot
of Obi-Wan Kenobi (“Let go!”)–not to mention growls and beeps from Chewie and
R2D2 respectively. Not only was the game a great recreation of the Death Star
battle, hearing the voices in context–and in the sit-down cockpit of the arcade
game–was pretty thrilling. Of course, like any video game, there were things
that didn’t quite make sense–like that Ben Kenobi telling you to “
the Force, Luke!” meant “don’t fire in the trench for bonus points”. Who knew?

4) “Coins detected in
pocket.” – Berzerk

For a very early voice-supported coin-op, this 1980 classic was surprisingly
chatty. Not only did it taunt you into spending your quarter in the first
place, but it continued to do so with lines like “Chicken! Fight like a robot!”
and “The humanoid must not escape.” And escape you didn’t, since this
subscribed to the same nihilistic philosophy that most early video games did:
no way to win–play until you die. Which come to think of it seriously needs to be on a t-shirt


3) “Welcome to my world of
Wor…Ka ka ka ka.” – Wizard of Wor

Oh my god, this game would just not. Shut. Up. And to make it worse, it was always
one of the loudest games in the arcade. But then, that was the strategy of 1980’s
Wizard of Wor: get you to hate the wizard enough to want to beat him, which of
course was impossible (though you could shoot him in-game–he just got better). The
Wizard could say a then-astonishing 71 phrases, and it felt like more. Just as
an example, the wizard told you to “Insert Coin”…and when you did, it mocked
you for it: “Another coin for my treasure chest.” Rat-bastard. (That treasure
chest was lightened considerably after Gandalf and Merlin filed suit in for
damages in 1982 under the Clich?d Magic-User Defamation Act.)

2) “You will meet a Gorfian
Doom!” – Gorf

Another game that takes the loud and obnoxious road to quarter-consumption,
1981’s Gorf was a classic of the space-battle genre. The taunting never ended,
from pronouncements like “Long live Gorf!” to warnings like “Prepare yourself
for annihilation” to chastisements like “Bad move, Space Cadet.” And, of
course, there was the requisite gloating over taking your money: “I devour
coins.” Yes. Yes, it did, and in a new way: by allowing players to spend more
quarters up front, buying more lives to get farther in the game. Apparently,
“Gorfian Doom” roughly equates to “blowing your lunch money for the week in a

1) “I hunger.” – Sinistar

Oh yeah, baby. 1982’s Sinistar was the bad-ass of the arcade, with its guttural
growls and its honestly fear-inducing gameplay. When “Beware, I live!” is
followed by “Run Coward! and “Run, Run, Run!” you better believe that you want
to. And if you manage to defeat Sinistar (for that wave, at least) even his
death howl is pretty terrifying. It was a tough game, which translated to it
not being quite as popular as it might have been–but the voice will live on in
video game history. The horror…the horror…