Williams Electronics' SINISTAR
Nerve-Wracking Arcade Action from 1982

NEWS FLASH: Sinistar was mentioned in a very important news article here.

I recently got another Sinistar upright- It's considerably nicer that my previous one. You can see it here.

I came across what appears to be a rare early version of the game (thanks Doug). According to Sinistar development team members Noah Falstein and RJ Mical, this may have been a version done for the 1983 AMOA trade show, e.g. not quite finished. There are several differences from the most commonly-known version:

The ROM images are here. These are (of course) copyright 1982 by Williams Electronics Games. Don't download them unless you are legally entitled to do so. I will remove these immediately if requested to do so by Williams.

Bored? Read the Philosophy of Sinistar!

In a move characteristic of Williams Electronic Games' brilliance of the early 80's, the company released its now-legendary Sinistar video game, in both upright and sit-down formats, in 1982. Although not a major arcade hit in its time, the game has since developed a fanatical following among collectors and enthusiasts, becoming one of the most frantically sought-after games ever.

Fast-paced, gripping and utterly ahead of its time, Sinistar represented a number of firsts in game design. It was the first game to use stereo sound (in the sitdown version), with two independent left and right sound boards for this purpose. In addition, Sinistar was the first game to use digitized speech as successfully as it did; the Sinistar character's speech is one of the most exciting aspects of the gameplay. It was also the first to use the 49-way, custom-designed optical joystick that Williams had produced specifically for this game (a variant of which later appeared in the game Arch Rivals, although this one was not electrically identical to the original).

One possible reason why Sinistar was not a massive success could be its sheer difficulty; this is one of the most challenging games in arcade history. The basic premise of the game is this: You pilot a lone fighter ship through your quadrant of the galaxy, initially blasting away at drifting planetoids to "mine" Sinisite Crystals from them, which fills up your fighter's bomb bay with up to 20 Sinibombs.

All the while, Worker ships (from the planet Sporg, apparently) work to construct a Sinistar nearby. In addition to your crystal mining mission, you must also contend with aggressive Warrior ships which will try to blast you out of existence. When the Workers complete the Sinistar, it comes to life with a frightening "Beware, I Live!!", and comes after you. During this pursuit, the Sinistar will invariably taunt you with phrases like "Run, Coward!!", Beware, Coward!!, "I am Sinistar!", "I Hunger", and "Run, Run, Run!!". You can only destroy it by bombarding it with Sinibombs. Destroy it, and you will hear a bone-rattling scream. You are then warped to the next, more difficult quadrant, where the action gets more intense, the Sinistar is assembled faster, and the Warrior ships are more aggressive. There are four quadrants, called "zones", in Sinistar gameplay, which repeat with increasing difficulty if you manage to survive. They are the Worker zone, Warrior zone, Planetoid zone and Void zone, the latter being extremely challenging due to the scarcity of planetoids to be mined.

There are a few main aspects of the gameplay that make it particularly difficult, even on the default difficulty setting. First of all, your ship can't maneuver as fast as the Warrior ships- they are more nimble, agile and show up in large numbers. Secondly, they fire shots which travel very fast, making them virtually impossible to avoid.

On top of this, they are wont to appear from many different directions, all firing at once, doggedly tracking and pursuing your ship. It all adds up to major action, but it is extremely hard to get past the 300,000 score realm. Still, this is one of the most exciting and addictive games out there, even now.

Throughout this article you'll find many of the sprites and sounds from the actual Sinistar ROM code (a big, big thank you to Sean Riddle, who is one of the most technically-savvy and knowledgeable people in the world of video game collecting- check out his page ), as well as a few cool links to Sinistar- and collecting-related pages.

I miss games with the imagination, excitement and brilliance of Sinistar; the era of this kind of innovation in game concept, plot and design seems to be over, at least for the time being.


I've updated this area and added a few links to some of my collector friends' pages. Take a look..

Sean Riddle's page is a must for all devotees of Williams classic games. Don't wait- go here now.

Zonn's Cinematronics home page has info on the innovative, classic and fabulously unreliable Cinematronics/Vectorbeam games we love to play and hate to fix.

The Game Archive site is one of the most comprehensive and informative classic video game sites anywhere.

Here is a link to the Rec.games.video.arcade.collecting Usenet newsgroup, the primary Internet forum for collectors.

Oh, and my friend Keith likes classic video games too.

One other interesting tidbit:

A while back, I received email from Noah Falstein, who was the Sinistar project leader at Williams in the early 80's. Apparently, he'd done a net search for "Sinistar" and had found the earlier version of this page. I wrote back and suggested that we conduct a short email interview about the game's development. You can read it here

I have also done two other classic game pages; The Q*Bert page and the Defender/Joust/Robotron page. If you liked this one, chances are you'll like them as well.

If you have questions or comments about this page, you can address them to me at sinistar at vapid dot reprehensible dot net.