"Enter the perilous realm of Lazarian, a multi-phased battle for ultimate control of the universe! Defeat the merciless Lazarian by successfully completing each hazardous phase: dodge deadly meteors, exchange fire with bizarre alien creatures, and journey the deadly corridors of the mysterious Tunnel of Fear! Only then can you do battle with the evil eye of Lazarian in a climactic life-or-death duel for victory and scores that are out of this world!"
So declared the game's promotional materials, anyway. LAZARIAN was part of a minor trend in the industry during the late 70's and early 80's towards "multi-stage" games, as the increasing capabilities of newer and better hardware allowed game designers to put more complexity and variety into the games. The idea was that by presenting the players with several different kinds of challenges, they would stay interested in the game longer and spend more money on it.
This game was originally manufactured by an Italian company called Zaccaria, under the name LASER BATTLE; Bally/Midway licensed the game for the U.S. market, and retitled it as LAZARIAN. Oddly, the original LASER BATTLE flyer shows the game to have six stages, with the first stage apparently being some kind of introductory screen where the player's ship is dropped from a larger saucer-shaped mothership. The Bally/Midway version lacks this screen, for no obvious reason, and there are some other minor differences as well.
As you can see, this particular LAZARIAN is only about three-quarters the size of the full-sized TRON cabinet next to it. This made it easy to get home from the auction I bought it from in Mesquite, TX; believe it or not, this will actually fit inside a 2-door Mitsubishi Precis hatchback! (I didn't take a truck or trailer because I had originally been planning on picking up a cocktail-size game, which I knew would fit in the car.) Granted, it was a bit of a tight fit, even with the front passenger seat moved as far forward as it would go, but I managed it...
This type of cabinet, commonly referred to as a "mini upright" or (more often) a "cabaret", was made primarily for bars, nightclubs, and other places where space was limited, back in the "golden age" (the '70s and '80s) when the video-game boom was in full swing and everyone was looking to cash in on it. Because they were made in much smaller quantities, cabarets are generally considered more valuable than a full-sized version of the same game - though it does, of course, depend on the game; some games aren't all that highly valued no matter what cabinet they're in.
Cabaret-style cabinets often had plain wood-grain or painted sides, instead of the laminated, detailed side-art of their full-sized cousins (which, in this case, is a shame, as LAZARIAN had some cool side-art). Supposedly, this was also done to appeal to bar and nightclub owners, the idea being that the more subdued woodgrain look would blend in better with the interior decor than would the bright, cartoonish graphics on the sides of most full-size machines. Note that the rather crude-looking logo painted on the side of this machine is not original; one of this game's previous owners must've done it.
My first encounter with LAZARIAN was at an arcade in Salt Lake City, UT, whoose name I have long since forgotten. (I think it was on Main St., somewhere between 2nd and 6th South, if anyone feels like going to see if it's still there, though I'd be very surprised if it was...) It was, believe it or not, the only arcade I ever saw a LAZARIAN in; I never saw another one until I came across this one at the Dec. 1998 Super Auction in Mesquite, TX. It seems to have been not all that popular a game in the arcades, although it was modestly successful as a cartridge for the Commodore-64 home computer, as I recall... I liked it, though, so I used to duck into the above-mentioned arcade to play it whenever I had the chance, even though Mom didn't really like me going there because it was one of "those" places... you know, the kind of place with pool tables in it.
This game was acquired at my second trip to a Super Auctions which, at the time, were being held periodically at the (now defunct and demolished) Big Town Mall Exhibition Hall in Mesquite, TX, just outside of Dallas. (Although they have since moved to the Resistol Arena, also in Mesquite.) These affairs are huge, filling over half the expo hall's floor space with arcade games of all vintages (and a fair number of pinballs, ticket-redemption games, and other non-video items as well). This was the third game added to my collection, and the first one purchased in fully-working condition. Since LAZARIAN isn't exactly a high-demand item, I was able to take this one home for just $87.50 even though it's one of the "rare" cabaret models. Not a bad deal for a working game, really, although I think I could have gotten it cheaper; I strongly suspect the one (and only) other guy bidding against me was a "shill" bidder trying to run up the price. (This is something you have to be careful of at auctions; while the practice may be technically illegal in many jurisdictions, it's also widely practiced, especially by sellers who think their items are worth more than they really are.)
Both the original Zaccaria LASER BATTLE and the Bally/Midway LAZARIAN versions of the game were made in full-size upright, cabaret, and cocktail-table models. Zaccaria also made a wall-mountable version of the game, presumably to match what was then a common design for various other types of coin-operated vending machines in Europe.
The eight-way joystick on the left moves your ship around, while the four fire buttons (arranged in a diamond shape) on the right allow you to shoot in the four cardinal directions. The game can be set for automatic ("rapid") or manual fire; you cannot, however, press more than one Fire button and shoot in multiple directions simultaneously. You start with anywhere from two to five ships (operator-selectable); being hit or shot by anything, or running out of fuel during a mission, loses one ship. (Yes, these ships explode when they run out of fuel... that's what you get when your Space Fighters are built by the lowest bidder, I guess. ) One – and only one – extra ship may be awarded at 10,000, 14,000 (the factory default), or 18,000 points, or not at all, depending on how the DIP switches on the game board have been set. The difficulty level can also be set by the operator, although I'm not sure what the difference really is; "Easy" doesn't seem significantly easier than "Medium" or "Hard", and they're all pretty difficult if you ask me...
LAZARIAN also featured what was, at the time, a relatively new and novel feature: "buy-in", which offered a player who'd just lost his last "life" an opportunity to continue the game at the point where he left off if he inserted another coin. You could only do this during the first level on LAZARIAN, though; as soon as you defeated the Eye for the first time and went on to level 2, the "buy-in" option was no longer available. Practically every modern arcade game offers this option, of course – in fact, most are designed to maximize profitability from it by being so fiendishly impossible that you can't get through them without "buying-in" a few dozen times! – but back in 1982, the idea that "Game Over" didn't necessarily mean game over was a fairly radical concept.
• MISSION 1: Release the captive meteors from the yellow zone!
In this stage, you have to free the "meteors" from their confinement zones in the center by shooting each zone as it turns yellow. As each one is freed, it drifts aimlessly around the screen, giving you an increasing number of hazards to avoid as you try to free the rest. The number in the center of the zone indicates how many points you'll get for freeing the meteor; the faster you release each meteor, the more points it's worth.
(As a side note – the Italian-language flyer for Zaccaria's LASER BATTLE refers to the objects as "antibodies", rather than meteors. This would actually make a bit more sense, since it suggests that there's some kind of Fantastic Voyage scenario going on where you're blasting your way through a giant, hostile space organism. Oddly enough, though, both the English-translated Zaccaria flyer, and the German-market flyer, also refer to the objects as "meteors.")
• MISSION 2: Destroy the revolving meteors before their return fire destroys you!
The meteors you just freed from the confinement zones in stage one now start shooting at you. (There's gratitude for you!) You have to dodge their fire and get into the red circular zone in the center, to dock with a sister-ship, then destroy the belligerent meteors. This is harder than it sounds; for one thing, you can't shoot at all until you dock in the red zone, and once you enter the red zone your movement is restricted to that small area. Also, your quick-firing lasers have somehow been replaced with slow-moving "bullets", making the meteors much harder to hit. (Sorry about the blurry picture, by the way; I was trying to hold the camera with one hand while playing the game with the other, since this screen doesn't appear in the attract mode.)
Destroying all the meteors refills your fuel tank for...
• MISSION 3: Travel the Tunnel of Fear to combat alien creatures, erupting volcanoes, and blazing fireballs!
Stage three is a serpentine maze where you have to make your way through a variety of hazards, to dock with another sister-ship in the upper-left corner. During this stage, your firepower is arbitrarily limited to certain directions at different points in the maze; while traversing the bottom row, for example, you can't simply use your upper laser to blast the enemies pre-emptively before they come out of the ceiling after you; you have to wait until they come out and then shoot them using the side lasers. The fireballs which streak across the uppermost level of the maze are indestructable. If you successfully dock with your sister-ship, you recieve another full load of fuel, and progress to...
• MISSION 4: Release the evil eye of Lazarian from its protective shield. Now vulnerable, the eye attacks!
Using your lasers, you have to drill your way through the Lazarian's vulnerable purple underside until you reach the eye. This, again, is a lot harder than it looks, because in this stage your laser's range is restricted to about an inch away from your ship in each direction. This means you not only have to get dangerously close to the Lazarian (or "Polifemo spaziale", as the Italian flyer calls it, which loosely translates into something like "space Cyclops") to destroy it, but that the two "guardians" bouncing up and down the sides of the screen are out of your reach unless you waste valuable time and fuel to go after them. (Not that destroying them does you any good, since a new one will immediately take its place.) The "guardians", of course, are under no such restriction and can fire at you with impunity. The purple underside will slowly regenerate itself if you cease firing at it, so success depends on getting right up against the Lazarian and hammering away at it, while being prepared to duck the occasional bullets fired at you by the eye. Fortunately, touching the purple underside doesn't destroy your ship. Also, despite what the flyer and cabinet art shows, the Lazarian's arms don't actually try to grab your ship; they just sort of wave around ineffectually. :)
• MISSION 5: Duel the evil eye of Lazarian in a final life-or-death battle!
It's not so much a "duel", as it is a somewhat annoying skeet shoot. The "Evil Eye of Lazarian" drifts randomly around the screen, and you have to hit it four times in order to destroy it. The streaks of light coming off of the eye (which, alas, aren't really visible in this photo) are harmless, although they are rather distracting (by design, no doubt); the only way the eye can hurt you is to ram you – which it often tries to do. Escaping the Eye's ramming attempts is made more difficult by the fact that in this stage, you can only move left and right along the bottom of the screen, and you're back to firing slow-moving shots again; plus, since you can only have one shot on screen at a time, the eye often makes a sideways ramming attempt after you've already launched a "buller" in a different direction and can't fire again until it leaves the screen. Note that you do not get a fuel refill between the previous mission and this one, so the longer you took to drill your way through to the Eye in Mission 4, the less time you have now. If you succeed in destroying the eye, then you get refueled, and progress to the next level.
• Emerge victorious and game repeats for even bigger scores and more challenging missions!
Beyond this point, the five missions repeat in sequence, made increasingly difficult by faster-moving enemies and further speed/range restrictions on your weapons. As noted above, past this point the "buy-in" option is not available, so once you reach level 2 (which the Bally/Midway flyer confusingly refers to as "mission 2", even though the different stages of each mission are also called "missions" – I think there may have been a translation problem here ) you're on your own. Since your score gets reset to zero on a "buy-in", and you can't use it after the first stage, LAZARIAN's buy-in scheme is of dubious usefulness at best, so I generally just ignore it and play as if I only have the one set of ships to get through the game with.
Once the game is over, LAZARIAN stores the five highest scores, along with your initials. High scores are not preserved when the game is turned off.
The interior of a cabaret-size game is rather closely packed, with much of the space being occupied by the monitor. This can make them somewhat more difficult to work on, due to the confined space and difficulty in getting to certain parts of the machine.
As an example – the red square in this close-up highlights the volume control. If you're thinking that it looks uncomfortably close to the monitor chassis... you're right, it is. Worse, because of the cabinet design it's almost impossible to get to it through the front, via the coin door, which is where you usually find the volume controls...
The LAZARIAN main game-logic board. Since this game was not actually developed by Bally/Midway themselves, but simply licensed for U.S. distribution by them, it wasn't based on the "MCR-II" architecture common to most Bally/Midway games of the period; rather, they just re-used the design Zaccaria supplied, which was fairly unique. (I've heard that it was used on other Zaccaria games of the period and can, with the proper ROM swap, play those games. Certainly, it should be able to play the original Zaccaria LASER BATTLE version of the game, but I've not tried it.)
LAZARIAN used some very peculiar hardware on its board, including an oddball graphics controller chip from Signetics (the Signetics 2636) for which information seems to be rather difficult to find. LAZARIAN uses three of these, in fact, along with a Signetics 2650 microprocessor, 2621 sync generator, and some N82S100 programmable logic arrays – so fixing this board will be a decidedly non-trivial task if (god forbid!) it ever decides to die on me! From what I can tell, the Signetics chips were never all that popular or widely-used even back in the '80s, so you can imagine how difficult they are to come by nowadays; even my usual source for obsolete electronics, M.C. Howard Electronics, doesn't have them.
Strangely, the Bally/Midway LAZARIAN manual contains a section entitled "Introduction to the Z-80 Microprocessor", despite the fact that the Z-80 is not used anywhere on the board. It's the same Z-80 uP section that's normally part of their MCR-based game manuals, so I can only assume whoever prepped the manuals just cut-and-pasted the LAZARIAN-specific info into a standard "boilerplate" manual without actually checking it. Rather unfortunate, since an "Introduction to the Signetics 2650 Microprocessor" might actually be useful!
The sound board, on the other hand, uses what was (at the time) fairly common hardware; the ubiquitous SN76477 sound generator for laser fire, explosions, and other sound effects, and a pair of TMS3615 Organ Tone Generators for the background music. While both are pretty well obsolete by now, they're fairly well documented (certainly, the SN76477 is - it was very widely used for a long time; even Radio Shack stocked them for several years!) and, for the moment at least, not too difficult to get hold of...
The monitor can be either an Electrohome, or a Wells-Gardner. There doesn't seem to be any particular reason to favor one over the other; presumably, it was solely a matter of which manufacturer had monitors in stock at any particular time. The upright model used a 19-inch display; cabaret and cocktail models have 13-inch displays.