Robot Wars 1994 (partially found footage and results of robot combat tournaments; 1994)
Robot Wars 1994 was the inaugural Robot Wars-sanctioned event held from 20th-21st August 1994 at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Consisting of various Lightweight, Middleweight, and Heavyweight competitions, Robot Wars 1994 is credited as the starting point for modern commercial robotic combat events. Aside from most footage of the event being lost to time, it is additionally confirmed that the original tournament records are also missing.
Marc Thorpe, who had worked at LucasFilm since 1979 and was then a senior designer for LucasToys, conceptualised Robot Wars. He initially pitched a new toyline featuring combative vehicles, but LucasToys rejected the proposal most likely because of the failure of similar toyline Wheeled Warriors in the mid-1980s. After departing LucasFilms, Thorpe began developing his idea further, after building a radio-controlled vaccum cleaner, which he later envisioned being in battle. He eventually settled on Robot Wars, which would feature remote-controlled vehicles equipped with various weapons doing battle within an arena. In time, Thorpe was hoping to develop characters within the sport, and in turn promote events and sell merchandise via licencing agreements with them. Thorpe was not the first person to envision remote-controlled robotic combat; in 1978, Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) was established by Mark Pauline, which promoted shows featuring gigantic and often at times deviant remote-controlled machines as a type of performance art. Meanwhile, the Denver Mad Scientists Club formed the annual Critter Crunch in the late-1980s, consisting of events featuring two and 20-pound machines. Wired deemed Critter Crunch as the inspiration for future robot combat television shows and events.
However, neither organisation was keen to commercialise remote-controlled robotic combat. In contrast, Thorpe saw a possible market gap, and so invested $7,000 in the concept between 1992 to 1994. He initially aimed to host events in 1992 and 1993 at the Fort Mason Center, but backed out both times after failing to find sufficient financial capital and willing combatants. However, Thorpe's decision to contact the fledgling Wired magazine paid dividends, with writer Jef Raskin impressed regarding both Thorpe's enthusiasm for the concept and for his machine, which was "armed" with a chainsaw. In actuality, Thorpe hastily placed a chainsaw he hired from a hardware store on top of his creation. Nevertheless, the March 1994 article and accommodating photo attracted widespread attention, with hundreds of peoples soon emailing Thorpe with intentions to enter his event. Therefore, Thorpe began promoting Robot Wars 1994 by March that year, to be held from 20th-21st August at the Fort Mason Center.
Thorpe still required adequate financial backing, with expected event expenditure between $100,000 to $140,000. Pitching the concept to investors proved tough, as no such event had been previously held, and the machines themselves were still under construction. Eventually, an investor was found in Gary Pini, a Smile Communications executive under the Profile Records banner. After securing $10,000 from colleague DJ David Burkeman to pay the Fort Mason Center fee, Pini and Thorpe soon signed a joint-venture deal with Profile, which would give Thorpe a $50,000 loan in exchange for Profile owning half the Robot Wars venture. With finances secured, Thorpe later hired Joe Matheny as the event's production designer. Matheny had SRL connections, and subsequently convinced Pauline to provide a speech and demonstrate one of his creations at the event.
As the date of Robot Wars 1994 loomed, media publications in America and internationally covered it, with The New York Times conducting an interview with Thorpe. More entrants emerged, including Maxis' Will Wright, who entered JulieBot for the event. The event proved successful, attracting a sold-out attendance of over 1,000, as well as television camera crews from Discovery and MTV who each recorded some battles. While Robot Wars 1994 was ultimately not profitable, it was critically acclaimed, confirming the concept's viability. Thorpe later hosted subsequent Robot Wars events from 1995 to 1997, though later legal wranglings with Profile saw Thorpe's influence decline overtime. Nevertheless, Robot Wars 1994 is credited for being the first modern robot combat event on a commercial and mainstream basis, inspiring a UK television show of the same name, and indirectly, BattleBots as well.
Compared to SRL, Thorpe's inaugural regulations for Robot Wars were comparatively restrictive. Robots could be entered into three separate weight divisions; those between ten to 40 lbs entered the Lightweight competition, 41-70 lb hopefuls contested the Middleweight tournaments, and Heavyweight combatants were allowed to weigh between 71 to 100 lbs. To enhance roboteer and spectator safety, projectile weapons were banned, as were weaponry that jammed radio signals or caused electrical faults such as cattle prods. Robots competed within a 35 by 70 feet arena filled with hazards.
The show promoted three separate events; the first was called Face-Off, consisting of one-on-one bouts that eventually became commonplace in robot combat. Matches lasted minutes, with machines competing in a knockout tournament. Mob Scene consisted of melee environments grouped by weight. Once ten minutes have elapsed, surviving robots could join the other groups until only one robot was left standing. Finally, Escort was a unique competition, where two robots worked together to escort a white mouse-shaped drone, which had no defensive capabilities. Not only would the drone need to reach its destination, the competitors were required to defend it from various traps and a House Robot seeking to end its run. Whoever delivered the drone in the quickest time was declared the victor. Ultimately, Escort was dropped following the 1994 event's conclusion.
Alas, most of the tournament records have been lost to time. Thanks to research from Team Run Amok and Mike Bungay, some results have since been recovered. The Lightweight Face-Off tournament kickstarted the inaugural event. Andy Roid vs Satoru Special was the first fight; Andy Roid consisted of a puppet with a red helmet sitting within a Big Wheel, while Satoru Special was powered by a model rocket and armed with a drill. Despite Andy Roid losing its helmet at one point from a bowling ball arena hazard, it ultimately proved victorious to the crowd's delight. Andy Roid then defeated Spiny Norman to reach the Final. Here, it would face Will Wright's JulieBot, a ramp-shaped combatant with a Julie doll head attached on top, which would still spout out lines on occasion. JulieBoy had defeated Slow-Mo and Pain Mower to reach the Final, before outmatching Andy Roid to claim the first Lightweight title.
For the Middleweight title, X1 defeated South Bay Mauler to win the competition. In the Heavyweight Face-Off tournament, The Beetle, a wooden combatant armed with pincers, defeated DooLittle after the latter experienced terminal control issues. Its second bout, against axlebot The Master, whose circular saw arm managed to cut through its foe's wooden armour and subsequently caused sparks and smoke to emit. Ultimately, The Beetle held on to claim victory by successfully pinning its opponent. Meanwhile, Ramfire 100 beat Tiny Tim and as yet an unknown Semi-Finalist to reach the Final. It is possible that Ramfire 100 defeated South Bay Mauler on route to the Final, as Gearheads: The Turbulent Rise of Robotic Sports claims Ramfire's pneumatic piston knocked out its opponent's battery. It eventually defeated The Beetle to claim the inaugural Heavyweight title.
Zomo, Omega Ex Machina, and Ramfire 100 then respectively won the Lightweight, Middleweight, and Heavyweight Escort events. Finally, two Mob Scene matches commenced. The first was a traditional Lightweight melee, which Bloodletter won. The contrastingly unique all-class Mob Scene concluded the event. The known combatants included Ramfire 100, South Bay Mauler, Spiny Norman, The Beetle, The Master, Tiny Tim, X1, and Zomo, though presumably others also competed. Tiny Tim, a forklift robot who initially bullied lighter competitors X1 and The Beetle, was then knocked out by The Master. At some point, lightweight machine Spiny Norman took a stand to Ramfire 100, even managing to outwedge its heavier foe. It even won the encounter as Ramfire suffered a steering servo failure. Alas, Spiny Norman's time was up when it was then crushed by the dome-shaped House Robot. The House Robot, despite losing its flipper to a South Bay Mauler attack, also eliminated X1 and Zomo among others, but after 10 minutes, ran out of battery power. South Bay Mauler, who lost its maces during the House Robot encounter, was the only machine left moving.
Finally, three post-tournament awards were given out. The Master was declared as the tournament's Best Design, while Ramfire 100 became a triple award winner by also achieving the Best Engineering accolade. Finally, Andy Roid's rather unique and crowd-pleasing design earned it the Strangest Robot award.
Robot Wars 1994 was filmed by both Discovery and MTV. Eight minutes of highlights were later aired on Discovery's scientific magazine program Next Step. Additionally, MTV Sports aired a quickfire minute segment on the show. Additionally, fan-recorded footage lasting a combined 23 minutes was recovered from a website, and can now be accessed on YouTube. However, most uncut battle footage remains lost to this day, which in turn has made documenting tournament results exceptionally more difficult.
However, fate was very nearly different. Also present at the event was Greg Becker, who operated a video production company and was good friends with Thorpe. Seeing the potential popularity of Robot Wars 1994, he and his crew invested $40,000 to fully record the event. The intention was then to edit the raw footage into a video package. However, upon Thorpe delivering Becker's marketing plan to Profile Records, both Plotnicki and Pini rejected it, insisting they had a more viable plan on the table. Following radio silence several months afterwards, Becker again contacted Profile, stating he wanted to release the tape. However, Profile then threatened legal action, and despite Thorpe's negotiations, the tape never got publicly released. Outside of the footage aired on Next Step and MTV Sports, the only other remnants of this tape is an eight-minute promo which claimed a one-hour tape would soon be released. The survival status of this tape remains unknown.
- 1995 Robot Wars UK Open (partially found rejected robot combat TV show pilot; 1995)
- American Robot Wars 2000 (lost MTV pilot of British robot combat game show; 2000)
- BattleBots (found Comedy Central robot combat game show; 2000-2002)
- BattleBots (partially found footage of robot combat show dress rehearsal battles; 2015-2021)
- BattleBots (partially lost build of unreleased GameCube/PlayStation 2 game based on robot combat TV series; 2003)
- BattleBots Collegiate Championship (partially lost unaired spinoff of robot combat TV show; 2009)
- BattleBots High School Championship (partially found footage of robot combat tournament; 2009)
- BattleBots Long Beach 1999 (partially found footage of robot combat tournaments; 1999)
- BattleBots Pro Championship (partially found footage of robot combat tournament; 2009)
- The Big Breakfast (lost appearance of Robot Wars team on Channel 4 breakfast show; 1998)
- Blue Peter (partially found segments of Robot Wars teams on children's television series; 1998)
- Dutch Robot Wars: Series 2 (partially lost footage of BNN robot combat game show; 2003)
- Mechanoids (partially found BBC robot combat game show; 2003)
- Plunderbirds: Talk Robots (found robot combat mockumentary film; 2019)
- Robot Wars (found cameos of robot combat-themed BBC 2 ident; 1999-2000)
- Robot Wars (lost footage and HSE documentation of behind-the-scenes accidents of BBC robot combat game show; 1998-1999)
- Robot Wars (lost near-death footage of Jeremy Clarkson from robot combat game show; 1998)
- Robot Wars (lost work on unfinished cartoon series based on robot combat game show; existence unconfirmed; 2002-2004)
- Robot Wars (partially found footage of robot combat show qualifying auditions and battles; 1998-2003)
- Robot Wars (partially found unaired or partially aired battles of BBC robot combat game show; 1998-2017)
- Robot Wars (partially found uncut battles from BBC robot combat game show; 1998-2017)
- Robot Wars Extreme: Series 1 (lost original BBC Choice version of robot combat battle; 2001)
- Robot Wars: Extreme Warriors: Season 1 (found TNN robot combat game show; 2001)
- Robot Wars: Extreme Warriors: Season 2 (partially found behind-the-scenes footage of TNN robot combat game show; 2002)
- Robot Wars Revealed (found BBC Choice spin-off of robot combat game show; 1998-2000)
- Robot Wars: Series 8 (lost unaired pilot of BBC robot combat game show; 2016)
- Robot Wars: Series 8 (found Science Channel reruns of robot combat game show; 2018)
- Robot Wars: The Kick-Off (lost BNN robot combat special; 2001)
- Robotica (found TLC robot combat game show; 2001-2003)
- Robots Revenge (partially found Discovery robot combat documentary series; 2001)
- See Hear (lost appearance of Robot Wars team on BBC magazine show; 1999)
- Why Hypno-Disc can't work in an office (found testing video of Robot Wars competitor; 2000, 2007)
- Gearheads: The Turbulent Rise of Robotic Sports documenting the formation of Robot Wars 1994. Retrieved 6th Jul '23
- Marc Thorpe detailing how he created Robot Wars and its first show. Retrieved 6th Jul '23
- Den of Geek summarising the creation of Robot Wars and how it led to the UK show of the same name. Retrieved 6th Jul '23
- Robot Combat summarising the history of early robot combat. Retrieved 6th Jul '23
- The Art Newspaper summarising Survival Research Labs and interviewing Pauline about the events. Retrieved 6th Jul '23
- Wired summarising Critter Crunch and declaring it the source of robot fighting leagues. Retrieved 6th Jul '23
- Robot Battles crediting Critter Crunch as properly conceptualising robotic combat, but deeming Robot Wars to be the first widespread event. Retrieved 6th Jul '23
- SBNation interviewing Thorpe and others regarding the formation and rise of robotic combat, including BattleBots. Retrieved 6th Jul '23
- Archived Wired reporting on Thorpe promoting the event and the contests it would consist of. Retrieved 6th Jul '23
- The New York Times interviewing Thorpe prior to the event. Retrieved 6th Jul '23
- Team Run Amok providing the rules of Robot Wars 1994. Retrieved 6th Jul '23
- Team Run Amok providing the known results of the event. Retrieved 6th Jul '23