“Successful Asteroids play requires a Zenlike diffusion of concentration, in which the player sees everything but looks at nothing in particular.”
This insight was written by David Owen in the February, 1981 issue of Esquire magazine. His article, “Invasion of the Asteroids,” is some of the finest reporting we’ve ever seen, documenting the game at the height of its popularity.
The story starts out in the video arcades of Manhattan, where the expected crowd of teens is joined by professional men in suits, who regularly forgo their lunch break for a chance to play Asteroids. The author then makes a pilgrimage to Atari HQ in Sunnyvale, California, and speaks with Lyle Rains (V.P. of engineering and the man with the idea), Ed Logg (the programmer who made Asteroids what it is), Howard Delman (head of engineers, who designed the game’s printed circuit board and created its sounds), and others.
The trip ends with a glimpse of Asteroids Deluxe, still in development at the time, and being tested at a local arcade.
David Owen’s voice is that of a fan and Asteroids purist, who understands the nuances of the game. He has gone on to have a prolific career as a journalist and author, including five books on golf — perhaps there is some connection between the games?
In any case, this article is a fantastic snapshot from the time when an Asteroids machine could be found on every corner. The article was just put online by Alex Belth at The Daily Beast: read it here.
Joystiq interviewed Atari CEO Fred Chesnais at PAX Prime 2014, where he explored his ideas for a modern-day Asteroids experience.
Says Chesnais: “For Asteroids, the initial game was – you remember the game – you get crushed by the asteroids. So what happens now? You land on the asteroid. And then what you have to do is you have to survive on the asteroid. So you can have an Asteroids game, which is basically a survival game in space.”
“You can have a survival game on an asteroid that combines crafting, space survival, PvP, PvE. And I think that’s very relevant in the current world when you have games like Day Z and Nether, that are doing very well on Steam. Just to give you an idea.”
Senior Product Lead Peter Banks says about Atari’s classics: “We’re not just bringing them back exactly as they were. We’re putting our 2014 glasses on: ‘What would this game be if we made it today?’”
When asked if his concept was stream of consciousness during the interview or an actual product in development, Chesnais says: “Coming soon. And I would play that game.”
“Stay tuned,” Banks adds.
The brand new Tilt Classic Arcade and Ale House in South Burlington, VT is a boon for northern nerds during the long winters. It features two floors of games, with pinball upstairs and cabinet games downstairs, as well as locally-sourced food and a large beer list. There are game-related drink specials (like the “Hadouken” with Habanero infused Green Mountain Vodka cut with Rookie’s Ginger Beer), and a “Game of the Week” game meat menu special.
The Asteroids machine was out of order when we arrived, but was quickly repaired and set to free play to compensate for the downtime. Our party of course took advantage of the reset to get our names on the board! There was a good mix of old and new pinball machines (Gorgar, Addams Family and Ripley’s Believe It or Not, as well as AC/DC, Metallica and Lord of the Rings) and lots of classic arcade games such as Centipede, Pac-Man, Galaga and Mortal Kombat 2.
Mensa is the smart club, for people scoring in the top 2% on IQ tests. Their American branch recently polled its members to pick the top ten video games, and arcade Asteroids came in number one!
This comes as no surprise.
We spoke to a member of Mensa, who said, “It was quite a task fending off the powerful Legend of Zelda and Diablo II lobbies!”
The full list is as follows:
2. Donkey Kong
4. Ms. Pac-Man
5. Call of Duty 4
7. Super Mario Bros.
8. Diablo II
9. Chrono Trigger
10. The Legend of Zelda
Denny’s has just released a remixed version of Asteroids — “Hashteroids” — where you shoot hash browns with a ketchup bottle spaceship.
The plot: “You’re aboard the SS Denny’s Condiment Transport ship and the mission is clear: deliver 40 tons of condiments to the 4th planet in sector 7d.”
Denny’s teamed up with Atari for their summer 2014 “Greatest Hits Remixed” campaign, creating food-based versions of Asteroids, Centipede, and Breakout on Denny’s mobile app. There will also be TV ads promoting the remixed menu.
The campaign was created by ad agency Erwin Penland, targeting parents who grew up in the ’80s. Read the full story at Advertising Age.
Twenty-two palettes’ worth of documents from Atari’s heyday were recently acquired by the International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG), housed at the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY.
The “Atari Coin-Op Divisions Collection, 1972-1999,” is a massive collection chronicling the development and production of virtually every Atari coin-operated game over that time period.
The material includes development binders and source code for Asteroids, beginning with developer Ed Logg’s handwritten notes on the control setup and sound effects.
The acquisition also includes Maze Invaders, a coin-op game which was assigned to Ed Logg and built in 1981, but never released.
For the full story of how ICHEG came by this mother lode, read Owen Good’s article at Polygon.com.
And for a brief history of Ed Logg and the birth of Asteroids, read this.
Astronomers from UCLA have observed an asteroid being ripped apart by “YORP torque.”
They used a team of telescopes from around and above (Hubble) the world, and saw big pieces becoming smaller pieces, becoming smaller pieces…
CNET reports that it’s just like in the game.
Along with the release of Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts’s first-person shooter game Titanfall in April, the Titanfall Arcade put their giant fighting battle robot vehicles into three classic Atari games: Asteroids, Centipede, and Missile Command. These Titans are better armed than our trusty triangle spaceship, so the result is pretty funny.
It seems that the online arcade was a short-lived promotion, but it lives on in YouTube screen captures.
As Atari emerges from bankruptcy, it will partner with FlowPlay to create the Atari Casino, using classic Atari properties (ie. Asteroids) as themes for social casino gaming.
We’ll wait to see what happens before reporting further, but you can read about the announcement at one of these links:
ChipsEtc.com catalogs vintage computer memorabilia. Their collection includes a paperweight from 1981, containing a 24-pin DIP ROM cartridge chip used in the Atari 2600 version of Asteroids.
“This Lucite paperweight was a gift to Atari engineers attending an Atari corporate event at the Company’s Pebble Beach get-away Lodge.”
Thanks to a reader for the tip!