B-17 Bomber

INTELLIVISION CARTRIDGE [Mattel Electronics #3884]

Working titles: Air Traffic Controller, Flying Fortress

Design: John Sohl & Bob Del Principe, Bill Fisher & Stephen Roney

Program: John Sohl, Bill Fisher & Stephen Roney

Graphics: Kai Tran, Peggi Decarli (map of Europe)

Sound: Bill Fisher

Voice of Pilot: Phil Proctor

Voice of Bombadier: Phil Austin

See also Intellivoice credits

Instructions Posted Here


World War II action at 12 o'clock high as you fly a bombing mission deep inside Fortress Europe. You select the target. The farther you go the more points you gain, but the closer you get to your target, the more flak and enemy planes you encounter. Constant radio chatter among the crew members heightens the tension. The action shifts from pilot to gunner to navigator to bombardier as you assume their roles.


Despite published reports that this game came out of a brainstorming picnic in the park (TV Guide, June 19 1982), John Sohl remembers it differently: The initial Intellivoice brainstorming session was held mid-1981 on the third floor of the main Mattel Toys building -- a floor with armed guards to keep spies from finding out Mattel's biggest secrets, such as what Barbie would be wearing next year. This session yielded three ideas that went into production: Space Spartans, Bomb Squad and Air Traffic Controller. John, fresh from Astrosmash, began work on Air Traffic Controller, although he wasn't enthusiastic about the concept: bringing a plane in for a landing based on feedback from the control tower. He was leaning toward using the alternate scenario developed for the game -- an oil tanker negotiating a foggy docking with feedback from the Harbor Master -- when Bob Del Principe, a graphics artist, came into his cubicle and suggested making the airplane a bomber on a mission over Europe. Now blowing stuff up was a concept John could get enthusiastic about! Within an hour, Air Traffic Controller turned into Flying Fortress.

By early 1982, John, with graphics artist Kai Tran, had developed an impressive bombing run simulation with revolutionary Intellivision effects, but the cartridge was oversized and the gameplay was still to be defined. Steve Roney and Bill Fisher, just off Space Spartans, were assigned to the game, now called B-17 Bomber, full-time. John, Steve and Bill worked up to the last minute -- literally -- to finish it. Unfortunately, most of John's fancy features (such as a turret gunner who could rotate 360 degrees) had to be cut in favor of gameplay. On April 23, 1982, two months overdue, on the day the program absolutely had to be shipped to the ROM factory in Arizona, programming frantically continued. (John recalls: "During the final week, and particularly the final day, I got the impression that everyone [in the department] was adding code or graphics to the game.") With less than an hour to go, they pronounced it finished (or, more accurately, "close enough"). An unsuspecting visitor to Mattel that day was Shanghaied, stuck in a cubicle and asked to try out the game. That 30 minutes of play was the extent of the game testing. The code was shipped, and everyone kept their fingers crossed that the bugs wouldn't be too bad. Luckily, they weren't, and B-17 Bomber was released to strong reviews.

BUG: If your altitude is high enough, and you're hit with enough enemy fire, you can rack up so much damage before you hit the ground that you'll roll over the counter. Voila! Instant repair!

BUG: Dropping a bomb to the far left of the screen from just the right altitude will crash the game.

BUG: Flying into flak features some great perspective animation; the rear view, however, doesn't look quite right. They ran out of time to debug it. By the way, they also ran out of room for a flak graphics picture. Instead, the program grabs some of the Executive ROM program code and graphically displays it. This random jumble of bits passes as flak.

BUG: When the game starts, the bomber faces east, When you return from a mission, the bomber faces west. When you start the second mission, the bomber is still facing west, so you can easily end up halfway to Bermuda, trying to figure out how the English Channel got so wide and where the German fighters are.

FUN FACT: The gauges screen was not intended to be in the game. It was a debugging tool, used by the programmers to check on the value of certain variables during the game. John liked it so much it became part of the finished product. But since this screen was never intended to be seen by the public, it wasn't coded to check for values overflowing, resulting in non-numeric characters showing up on the counters.

FUN FACT: Early in the development of the game, John and Kai, just for fun, used Atari logos to mark targets on the map of Europe. No one noticed this when the marketing department deployed the unfinished game at the January 1982 Consumer Electronics Show. No one, that is, except the Atari legal team, who swooped into the Mattel booth and forced them to stop demonstrating the game.

FUN FACT: One of the characters in the game has a pronounced Southern accent. A few customers, hearing the drawl "Buhee-Sevunteen Baaahmmmer" on the title screen, sent the cartridge back as defective. (The character, described by Joey Silvian's script as: "Southern accent, laid back, slow drawl even under fire, talks like he's sittin' in a cotton field on a sunny day watchin' the bees buzz," was voiced by Phil Austin, a member of The Firesign Theatre comedy group.

FUN FACT: B-17 Bomber was not included when foreign versions of the Intellivoice games were recorded. In a rare show of good taste, Marketing decided that a game in which the goal is to drop bombs on France, Germany and italy would be inappropriate for the European market.

FUN FACT: At least one programmer was strongly opposed to Mattel releasing the game at all. In the main hallway of the programming department one day, numerous copies of a flyer appeared "announcing" the "logical follow-up" to B-17 Bomber: a Viet Nam game called Napalm the Babies. The flyer described how well Intellivision graphics could render burning flesh and how realistically Intellivoice could reproduce children's screams. The author of the flyer was, and remains, anonymous.