In 1982, Gottlieb released what would be its only hit video game and an instant arcade classic: Q*bert. The titular character of the game became one of the most recognizable and lovable characters in arcade history. Q*bert was not only a success in the arcades; the game became one of the most merchandised games in arcade game history.
Gottlieb programmer Warren Davis devised the idea for Q*bert after seeing a coworker fill a screen with tri-colored hexagons that looked like cubes. By eliminating some of the hexagons from the screen, Davis created a three-dimensional pyramid of cubes. This pyramid turned into a game when Davis added some bouncing balls and a main character. Jeff Lee designed the characters of the game, including the main character- later named Q*bert. The titular character was an armless, orange figure with a large nose intended for shooting. Although pressured to create a shooting game, Davis preferred to have the main character avoid objects on the pyramid rather than shoot them. Another coworker gave Davis the idea for game's objective: Q*bert would jump diagonally from cube-to-cube, changing the colors of the squares he landed on, in an attempt to change all the cubes of the pyramid to one color.
The exceptional sounds of Q*bert were created by Dave Thiel. A pitiful scream and depressing thud announced when Q*bert was caught by an enemy or fell off the pyramid. When Thiel was unable to create the desired phrases from a speech synthesizer, he decided to create gibberish instead. Q*bert's gibberish swearing became one of the symbols of the game.
Q*bert is full of cute, comical characters. "Coily" the purple snake bounces around chasing Q*bert. "Slick" and "Sam" thwart the players efforts by changing the squared back to their original color. "Ugg" the gremlin and "Wrongway" the little green dot with sunglasses defended the sides of the pyramid. The imaginative characters of Q*bert kept the game fun and entertaining even though the gameplay was difficult.
Although the video game industry was in decline, Q*bert was a success with approximately 25,000 units sold. The game's popularity led to many licensing deals outside of the video game industry. Q*bert merchandise was plentiful; from lunchboxes and board games to sleeping bags and stuffed animals, Q*bert merchandise was popular. Like other popular games of the day, Q*bert was even turned into a Saturday morning cartoon series. The merchandising of Q*bert helped turn the lead character into an video game icon and the game into an arcade classic.