Wonder Club world wonders pyramid logo

Video Game Vintage Title Asteroids

XBOX360 | PS3 | ATARI | XBOX | PS2


Asteroids is a multi-directional shooter arcade video game released in November 1979 by Atari, Inc. and designed by Lyle Rains and Ed Logg. The player controls a spaceship in an asteroid field which is periodically traversed by flying saucers. The object of the game is to shoot and destroy asteroids and saucers while not colliding with either, or being hit by the saucers' counter-fire. The game becomes harder as the number of asteroids increases.

Asteroids was conceived during a meeting between Logg and Rains and used hardware developed by Howard Delman previously used for Lunar Lander. Based on an unfinished game titled Cosmos and inspired by Spacewar! and Computer Space, both early shoot 'em up video games, Asteroids' physics model and control scheme were derived by Logg from these earlier games and refined through trial and error. The game is rendered on a vector display in a two-dimensional view that wraps around in both screen axes.

Asteroids has been acclaimed by players and video game critics for its vector graphics, controls, and addictive gameplay. One of the first major hits of the golden age of arcade games, the game sold over 70,000 arcade cabinets and proved both popular with players and influential with developers. It has since been ported to multiple platforms. Asteroids was widely imitated and directly influenced two popular and often cloned arcade games, Defender and Gravitar, as well as many other video games.

Asteroids Gameplay

The objective of Asteroids is to destroy asteroids and saucers. The player controls a triangular ship that can rotate left and right, fire shots straight forward, and thrust forward. Once the ship begins moving in a direction, it will continue in that direction for a time without player intervention unless the player applies thrust in a different direction. The ship eventually comes to a stop when not thrusting. The player can also send the ship into hyperspace, causing it to disappear and reappear in a random location on the screen, at the risk of self-destructing or appearing on top of an asteroid.

Each level starts with a few large asteroids drifting in various directions on the screen. Objects wrap around screen edges for instance, an asteroid that drifts off the top edge of the screen reappears at the bottom and continues moving in the same direction. As the player shoots asteroids, they break into smaller asteroids that move faster and are more difficult to hit. Smaller asteroids are also worth more points. Two flying saucers appear periodically on the screen; the "big saucer" shoots randomly and poorly, while the "small saucer" fires frequently at the ship. After reaching a score of 40,000, only the small saucer appears. As the player's score increases, the angle range of the shots from the small saucer diminishes until the saucer fires extremely accurately. Once the screen has been cleared of all asteroids and flying saucers, a new set of large asteroids appears, thus starting the next level. The game gets harder as the number of asteroids increases until after the score reaches a range between 40,000 and 60,000. The player starts with 3 lives after a coin is inserted and gains an extra life every 10,000 points. When the player loses all his lives, the game ends.

Like many games of its time, Asteroids contains several bugs. The game slows down as the player gains 50-100 lives, due to a programming error in that there is no limit for the permitted number of lives. The player can "lose" the game after more than 250 lives are collected.

Asteroids was immediately successful upon release. It displaced Space Invaders by popularity in the United States and became Atari's best selling arcade game of all time, with over 70,000 units sold. Atari earned an estimated $150 million in sales from the game, and arcade operators earned further $500 million from coin drops. Atari had been in the process of manufacturing another vector game, Lunar Lander, but demand for Asteroids was so high "that several hundred Asteroids games were shipped in Lunar Lander cabinets." Asteroids was so popular that some video arcade operators had to install large boxes to hold the number of coins spent by players.

The saucer in the original game design was supposed to take a shot as soon as it appeared. This action was altered so there would be a delay before the saucer shoots, leading to "lurking" from players. Lurking is a strategy in which the player uses thrust to keep the ship in motion, leaves 1 or 2 asteroids undamaged, and hunts for saucers, allowing the player to pick off as many 1,000-point UFOs as possible and play indefinitely on a single credit. Since the saucer could only shoot directly at the player's position on the screen, the player could "hide" at the opposite end of the screen and shoot across the screen boundary, while remaining relatively safe. Complaints from operators losing revenue due to lurking led to the creation of an EPROM restricting such chances. Usage of the names of Saturday Night Live characters "Mr. Bill" and "Sluggo" to refer to the saucers in an Esquire article about the game led to Logg receiving a cease and desist letter from a lawyer with the "Mr. Bill Trademark."

Asteroids received positive reviews from video game critics. Brett Alan Weiss, writing for Allgame, likened the monochrome vector graphics to minimalism and viewed its sound effects as memorable. Weiss found its overall design to be near-perfect and cites the intensity and controls as elements that make the game addicting. He admitted the game is easily understandable and "holds up extremely well over time." William Cassidy, writing for GameSpy's "Classic Gaming", noticed its innovations, including being one of the first video games to track initials and allow players to enter their initials for appearing in the top 10 high scores, and commented, "the vector graphics fit the futuristic outer space theme very well." Asteroids was ranked fourth on Retro Gamer's list of "Top 25 Arcade Games"; the Retro Gamer staff cited its simplicity and the lack of an proper ending as allowances of revisiting the game. It was added to the Museum of Modern Art's collection of video games.

Released in 1981, Asteroids Deluxe is the first sequel to Asteroids. Dave Shepperd edited the code and made enhancements to the game without Logg's involvement. The onscreen objects were tinted blue, and hyperspace was replaced by a shield that depleted if used. The asteroids rotate, and the added killer satellite enemy breaks apart into three smaller ships when hit that home the player's position. The arcade machine's monitor displays vector graphics overlaying a holographic backdrop. It was followed by Owen Rubin's Space Duel in 1982, featuring colorful geometric shapes and co-op multiplayer gameplay, and Blasteroids in 1987, in which Ed Rotberg added "power-ups, ship morphing, branching levels, bosses and the ability to dock your ships in multiplayer for added firepower." Asteroids: Gunner, released to iOS platforms in 2011, has a large amount of content as a free-to-play game, with 150 waves, power-ups, and an achievement system.

The gameplay in Asteroids was imitated by many games that followed, mostly "Asteroid clones". The Mattel Intellivision title Astrosmash was conceived as Avalanche! after Meteor! did not take up the cartridge's entire ROM space. Meteor!, an Asteroids clone, was cancelled to avoid a lawsuit and Avalanche! was released as Astrosmash. The resultant game borrows elements from Asteroids and Space Invaders, as with Defender and Gravitar, two popular and often cloned arcade games.

Quality Software's Asteroids in Space (1980), another Asteroids clone, was one of the best selling games for the Apple II and was voted one of the most popular software titles of 1978-80 by Softalk magazine. Others include Acornsoft's Meteors and Ambrosia Software's Maelstrom, as well as those with expanded gameplay and background, such as Moons of Jupiter for the Commodore VIC-20 and MineStorm for the Vectrex.

Complaints | Blog | Digital Media | Souls | Obituary | Contact Us | Books | FAQ