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Bite the dust, Space Cadet!

Gorf is an arcade game released in 1981 by Midway, whose name was advertised as an acronym for "Galactic Orbiting Robot Force" . It is a multiple-mission fixed shooter with five distinct modes of play, essentially making it five games in one: an innovation at the time, as other video games had a level to clear, only to have a different level that looked the same but was a bit harder. It is well-known for its use of synthesized speech, a new feature at the time.

Gorf's objective is to simply destroy all enemies. The player controls a spaceship that can move slowly left, right, up and down. (Its vertical movement is limited to the lower one-third of the screen.) The ship can fire a single shot (called a "quark laser" in this game), which travels slowly up the screen. Unlike similar games, where the player cannot fire again until their existing shot has disappeared, the player can "re-fire" their laser at any time, causing their existing shot to disappear immediately (if it hasn't already).

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Gameplay is broken up into five distinct "missions", each one essentially a mini-game in its own rightnote . Successfully completing all five missions will increase the player's rank and loop back to the first mission. The game continues until the player loses all of their lives. The player can advance through the ranks of Space Cadet, Space Captain, Space Colonel, Space General, Space Warrior, and Space Avenger, with a higher difficulty level at each rank. Along the way, a robotic, synthesized voice heckles and threatens the player, often calling the player by their current rank (for example, "Some galactic defender you are, Space Cadet!"). Some versions of Gorf also display the player's current rank via a series of lit panels in the cabinet.

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Vague collision detection was a feature of the game intended to shorten the playing time - enemy shots that did not appear to actually impact on the ship object would still destroy it if they passed in close proximity.

Gorf is well-known for introducing or popularizing two new features (for its time) to the video game market. Its most notable feature is its robotic voice, powered by the Votrax speech synthesis chip (the same one featured in Wizard of Wor). Most games, even today, that feature human and robot speech use digitized voice samples rather than a speech synthesizer. Also, Gorf is one of the first games to let the player to buy additional lives before starting the game. Most games offer a predetermined number of lives (usually three) and allow the player to earn additional lives throughout the game. Gorf, which was usually set to offer two lives per coin, lets the player insert extra coins to buy up to seven starting lives.

Gorf was originally meant to be a tie-in with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but when the game designers read the film's script, they realized that the concept would not work as a video game and changed its title. Even so, the player's ship bears a passing resemblance to the Starship Enterprise flipped upside-downnote .


Gorf has examples of:

  • Adapted Out: The Galaxians mission is not present in most home versions of the game (and for a very good reason).
  • Antagonist Title: The main enemies are referred to as the Gorfian Empire.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: The Flagship on Mission 5.
  • Battleship Raid: The Trope Maker.
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory: Insert more coins for extra lives.
  • Final Boss: Widely credited with creating the concept (though Phoenix, which had a similar five-round progression ending in a boss fight, pre-dated it in the arcades)
  • Gameplay Roulette: Each stage plays out somewhat differently, though "shoot everything" is still the general idea on most stages:
    • Astro Battles is a clone of Space Invaders, but with fewer invaders (only 24 compared to the 55 in Space Invaders) and a dome protecting your ship instead of individual shields. Also, the Gorfian Robot drops the invaders in one by one at the start of the stage (shooting it gives you bonus points, but it doesn't explode until it's done), and sometimes adds reinforcements mid-match.
    • Laser Attack pits you against two formations of ships consisting of one laser-shooting cannon and four dive-bombers, including miniature Gorfian robots.
    • Galaxians is a clone of the Midway game of (almost) the same name, but with fewer attackers (24 vs. 48 in Galaxian).
    • Space Warp: In the center of the screen, a black hole spits out alien ships, Gorfian robots, and meteors, which spiral around the screen before disappearing off the edge. You have to destroy a certain number, but letting them leave also counts.
    • Flagship is the boss. Protected by a dome similar to the one protecting you in Astro Battles, it drops bombs constantly and is protected by two Gorfian Robots at every difficulty level but Space Cadet. You have to hit it at a precise point to destroy it, but you can shoot pieces off of it to make its weak spot bigger.
      • The home versions lacked the Galaxians stage, as mentioned, and the Atari 2600 version was scaled down further in most respects: no dome or Gorfian robots in Astro Battles; only one group in Laser Attack (but the laser regenerates if you don't kill the dive-bombers quickly enough); you have to destroy all the ships in Space Warp, because letting them go off the screen just resets them; and there's no dome or Gorfian Robots protecting the flagship, and pieces can't be knocked off of it, but its weak point is a little larger to compensate.
  • Have a Nice Death: When you (inevitably) lost, the game would taunt you, calling you a "Spaaaaace Cadet" (or whatever rank you achieved before losing).
  • Hitbox Dissonance: The player's hitbox is larger than it appears to be.
  • Lag Cancel: Firing the ship's "Quark Laser" while a shot is still on the screen will erase that shot and fire a new one.
  • Mascot: The cute (?) little Gorfian Robot, which appears on almost every stage.
  • One Bullet at a Time: Played with. Like in many other shmups of its kind, you can only have one shot on the screen at any given time, but you can cancel that shot to fire a new one. The drawback is that you can't button mash, or else your shots won't travel far enough to hit anything (though it is still a strategy for mowing down enemies that get in close).
  • Rank Up: You start with the Space Cadet rank, and every six missions, you are promoted to the following, with each rank becoming more difficult: Space Captain, Space Colonel, Space General, Space Warrior, and Space Avenger.
  • Synthetic Voice Actor: The arcade game contains a voice synthesis chip where the Gorfian commander taunts you and even congratulates you for completing a level.

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