Codex Gamicus

Sinistar is an arcade game released by Williams in 1982. It belongs to a class of video games from the 1980s called "twitch games". Other "twitch games" include Tempest, Defender, and Robotron: 2084. Sinistar was developed by RJ Mical, Sam Dicker, Jack Haeger, and Noah Falstein.[1] Sinistar's voice was supplied by John Doremus.


The player pilots a lone fighter ship through a quadrant of the galaxy, initially blasting away at drifting planetoids to "mine" Sinisite Crystals from them, which, when harvested, create Sinibombs. Sinibombs are the only weapon capable of damaging Sinistar. The fighter's bomb bay can hold 20 Sinibombs.

The player creates Sinibombs by shooting at the drifting planetoids and catching the crystals released. Each shot makes a planetoid shake, and if too many shots are fired at a planetoid at too fast of a firing rate, it will cause the planetoid to explode and no crystals will be released. At the same time, a planetoid must shake a certain amount to actually release any crystals. It normally takes between 3 to 6 shots (depending on the size of the planetoid) to release between 1 and 10 crystals. Additional crystals can also be obtained from the same planetoid, as long as the number of shots and firing rate do not cause it to explode.

At the same time that the player is trying to get crystals, the "worker" ships are also trying to take the crystals. They use these crystals to create Sinistar, the skeletal-looking boss who is trying to destroy the player. At the same time that all of this is going on, other ships (called "warrior ships") are trying to shoot the player's ship, and the warriors can also be seen shooting at planetoids to mine crystals when they aren't trying to attack the player or guard the Sinistar.

If the player's ship is destroyed before the Sinistar is formed, the game shows how far along the worker ships are in building the Sinistar. The workers must harvest 20 crystals before the Sinistar is completely formed. Once it is completely formed, a digitized voice says "Beware, I live". While he is trying to collide with the player's ship in order to eat it, he says further things. His seven voice clips are "Beware, I live!", "I am Sinistar!", "Run! Run! Run!", "Beware, coward!", "I hunger!", "Run, coward!", and a loud roar. If the Sinistar succeeds in colliding with the player's ship, the ship spins out of control and then the Sinistar eats the ship, which also causes the ship to explode.

A total of 13 Sinibombs are required to destroy a fully built Sinistar (one Sinibomb for each of the twelve pieces, plus an additional Sinibomb for the entire face). Each Sinibomb attempts to target and hit the Sinistar, but each Sinibomb can also be intercepted by a collision with a worker, warrior, warrior shot, or a planetoid. If the player's ship is shot by a warrior or eaten by the Sinistar, the status screen will show the number of Sinibombs remaining and the number of Sinistar pieces remaining.

After the initial, unnamed zone, there are four zones—Worker Zone, Warrior Zone, Planetoid Zone, and Void Zone—that repeat over and over again. The player moves from one zone to the next after defeating the Sinistar. The first three zones have more workers, warriors and planetoids, respectively. The Void Zone is especially difficult because it has almost no planetoids. A partially destroyed Sinistar can also be rebuilt, starting with the Worker Zone and continuing for all subsequent zones.

The game continues until you destroy 99 sinistars, and then it starts over at 0. When you hit the 27th wave, (which is 127 sinistars smashed), it stops advancing, and you stay on the planetoid zone until you lose all your men. If the default settings are changed to extra men every 30,000 you can amass enough men to play indefinitely.

255 lives bug[]

Sinistar contains a bug that grants the player many lives (ships). It happens only if the player is down to one life and Sinistar is about to eat the player's ship. If a warrior ship shoots and destroys the ship at this moment, it immediately takes the player to zero lives, and Sinistar eating the player subtracts another life. Since the number of lives is stored in the game as an 8 bit unsigned integer, the subtraction from zero will cause the integer to wrap around to the largest value representable with 8 bits, which is 255 in decimal.[2]

This bug cannot be exploited if the AMOA ROMset is installed in the game. This version of the game was hurried for the 1983 AMOA Trade Show.[3] In this version of the game, the player's ship does not spin out in Sinistar's mouth when caught. It just explodes. Therefore, a player cannot die twice.


Sinistar was not widely ported near the time of its release. A port for the Atari 2600 was completed but unreleased due to the video game crash of 1983. It was commercially available in the mid-1990s as part of Williams Arcade's Greatest Hits for the Super NES, Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, Dreamcast, PlayStation, and PC. (On the PC, the collection's title was Williams Arcade Classics, and there were separate versions for DOS and Windows.) It is also available as part of Williams Arcade Classics for the Tiger, Midway Arcade Treasures, which was released for the Xbox, Nintendo GameCube and PlayStation 2 in 2003, and for the PC in 2004, and part of Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play for the PlayStation Portable, in late 2005.

Sinistar was the first game to use stereo sound (in the sitdown version), with two independent front and back sound boards for this purpose. It was also the first to use the 49-way, custom-designed optical joystick that Williams had produced specifically for this game.

In July 2000, Midway licensed Sinistar, along with other Williams Electronics games, to Macromedia Shockwave for use in an online applet to demonstrate the power of the shockwave web content platform, entitled Shockwave Arcade Collection. The conversion was created by Digital Eclipse. It is currently freely available to be played within the shockwave web applet.

Like most arcade games of the era, unofficial clones were made for home computers. One of the best was Peter Johnson's Deathstar for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron which was published by Superior Software in 1984. The quality of the clone is not too surprising as it was originally developed as an official port to be released by Atarisoft but they decided to abandon the BBC platform while a number of games were still in development. Atari also programmed a version for the Atari 2600 console that was never officially offered for sale.

The line "Run, coward!" was named the fourth best game line ever in the January 2002 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly.

A 3D pseudo-sequel was released for the PC in 1999, Sinistar: Unleashed. The original authors were not involved in the development of this game.

Sinistar was released as part of Midway's Greatest Arcade Hits on the Game Boy Advance. However, many popular features were removed. Sinistar no longer has glowing eyes and his mouth no longer moves (except for the game over screen). Many of his phrases have been omitted, leaving just "I Am Sinistar!" at the opening, "I Hunger!" upon pressing start, "Run! Run! Run!" during the game, and "Beware! I live!" when the user receives a game over.

Video game tributes[]

Many of Sinistar's iconic quotations have been included in subsequent video games.

In the game Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne, the neutral hero Firelord's birth sound is him saying "Beware, I live." Also, the Dreadlord hero occasionally says "I hunger," when clicked.

World of Warcraft paid tribute to the same quote: The boss enemy Reliquary of Souls shouts it when freed. "Beware - I live". This boss strongly resembles Sinistar.[1] The game also pays homage to the "I hunger" phrase during the boss fight with Gurtogg Bloodboil, who sometimes shouts the line when a Character fighting him is killed.

In Telltale Games' Sam & Max episode "Reality 2.0", one of the C.O.P.S. computers is an arcade machine referencing Sinistar, including his catchphrase "I hunger!"

In tribute to Sinistar, the entire game was cloned as the public domain Xenostar, released for the Amiga computer in 1994.

In Team Fortress 2, the Heavy Weapons Guy says the phrases "I Live!" and "Run, Cowards!"

In the freeware game I Wanna Be The Guy, Sinistar is shown to be one of the original "The Guys".

In Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath, the Redeemer unit says "I live!" when built. Template:Copyedit In the Uprising expansion for Command & Conquer Red Alert 3, the Giga Fortress for The Empire of the Rising Sun bears a striking resemblance to Sinistar.[4]

In Unreal Tournament 3, a taunt from Necris bots is "I... Hunger".

In Fat Princess: Fistful of Cake's Grim Reaper mode, the announcer will sometimes say "Beware, I live! Run, cowards!".

In Liero 8-bit weapon set Sinistar is a weapon

Other media[]

Sinistar's sound effects have been used in a number of other media projects, both for their iconic status and for their emotional effectiveness.

The film We Are the Strange uses "Beware, I live", "I hunger", "Run Coward" and Sinistar's roar.

The British computer game review series "BITS" used "Beware, Coward" as the ending flourish to the opening titles of every season.

A number of samples from the game have been used in song productions, such as the Buckethead song "Revenge of the Double Man" off his 1999 album Monsters and Robots which samples "Beware coward!"

Many quotes from the game are used in the Panzer Division song "I am Sinistar."

The theme music to the game was sampled by hip-hop artist Cage in the track "Grand Ol' Party Crash" from his 2005 album Hell's Winter featuring Jello Biafra and DJ Shadow.

Sinistar makes several appearances in the webcomic Bob the Angry Flower, and also appears as the title of one of the print editions of the comic.

Sinistar appears in the DVD version of the South Park episode trilogy Imaginationland.

Quotes from Sinistar also appear on the Dj Hazard track "Cowards Beware".

Sinistar appeared in a 3 comic 'Week of Sinistar' in the webcomic Ansem Retort.[2]

A group of students at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia wrote and staged a musical production based on the game, called "Sinistar: The Musical," in the spring of 2009.

Sinistar is featured in Sheena Easton's music video of "Almost Over You," where both Easton and her ex-boyfriend are seen playing the game (it's unclear as to whether they actually play the game or just go through the motions of doing so). In the same video, Easton also destroys a (non-working) console of Defender by shoving it off a balcony.

The sounds of Sinistar are used in the song "Sinisterrrrrrrr" by Renard of Lapfox Trax.


  • Burnham, Van (2003) "Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age 1971-1984" ISBN 0-262-52420-1
  1. Burnham (2003) p.320
  2. Noah Falstein interview, Williams Arcade Classics CD-ROM for MSDOS and Microsoft Windows, Williams Entertainment, 1996
  • We are the strange - We Are The Strange animation

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